And that’s it.
North Carolina does it. A year after falling short, the Tar Heels return to the national championship game and close the deal this time with a 71-65 win over Gonzaga on Monday night in Glendale, Ariz.
Senior froward Isaiah Hicks has struggled during the past four NCAA tournament games. He might have just hit the shot of his life. Hicks bank shot with 25.4 seconds left extended UNC’s lead to 68-65 and put them in position to win their sixth NCAA title.
Justin Jackson with a huge three-point play to put UNC up 66-65 on Gonzaga with 1:25 left in the national title game.
Jackson has struggled from outside but he hit a layup and was fouled by Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss and made the free throw.
North Carolina has Joel Berry and that might all it needs to win it all.
Berry is 4 of 12 from the 3-point line — the rest of the team is 0 for 13 — but the Tar Heels have a 62-60 lead over Gonzaga at the under-4 timeout in the national championship game.
Berry’s 3 at 4:15 put the Heels up after Nigel Williams-Goss briefly gave the Zags a 60-59 lead with a 3 of his own. Gonzaga is 8 of 18 from the 3-point line but just 6 of 24 from the floor in the second half.
Fouls, fouls and more fouls.
There are have been 22 fouls called in the first 12 minutes of the second half. Gonzaga has been in the double-bonus since the 10:13 mark and big man Przemek Karnowski is going to have pay rent at the foul line soon.
But UNC has a 54-52 lead at the under-8 timeout, despite big man Kennedy Meeks going to the bench at the 9:42 mark after he picked up his fourth foul.
With Justin Jackson struggling from 3 (0 for 8), it has been Joel Berry who has carried UNC on offense with 18 points. The Heels have played stifling defense in the second half. The Zags are shooting just 15.8 percent (3 of 19) from the floor.
Berry did miss a pair of free throws after a flagrant 1 foul was called on Karnowski at the 8:02 mark. Berry crashed into Karnowski and then was pulled down by the 7-footer but the foul was called on Berry. After a video review of the play, Karnowski was called for a flagrant 1 foul, which is his fourth personal foul.
Neither side is pleased with the officials. The fans definitely aren’t. Both teams reached the bonus before the 15-minute mark of the second half.
Incredibly, UNC is 3 of 18 from the 3-point line — and Joel Berry is the only Tar Heels with a made 3 — yet still has a 47-46 lead at the under-12 media timeout.
The Zags are just 3 of 15 from the floor in the second half and that’s directly a function of UNC’s defense.
Gonzaga strikes back but big man Zach Collins just picked up his fourth foul at 15:53 in the second half.
A 3-pointer by Jordan Mathews has the Zags up 41-40 at the under-16 but Tar Heels have the ball and a chance to make a little hay with forwards Collins, Johnathan Williams and Przemek Karnowski dealing with foul trouble.
That was quick.
UNC was down three at the half but the Tar Heels have scored the first eight points of the second half and have a 40-35 lead.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few called a timeout, at 17:15, ahead of the under-16 media stoppage.
Fouls are still a problem for the Zags, too, with Zach Collins and Johnathan Williams both picking up their third fouls in the first 3 minutes of the second half.
Gonzaga sophomore guard Josh Perkins averages 8.0 points per game on the season. He didn’t score in 22 minutes in Gonzaga’s win over South Carolina in the semifinals on Saturday.
So guess who Gonzaga’s star is in the first half? Perkins has 13 points and has made three 3-pointers to give the Zags a 35-32 lead at the half of the national championship game.
Foul trouble is starting hurt Gonzaga. Perkins picked up his second foul at 2:03 and sat for the rest of the first half. Two other starters and Gonzaga’s top bench player also have two fouls.
UNC has taken advantage as Gonzaga has gone smaller and the Heels have been able to close the rebounding gap (24 to 23 for the half).
UNC hasn’t gotten much from Kennedy Meeks (four points) or Justin Jackson (0 for 6 from the 3-point line) but are still squarely in position to win.
Grant Hill just made the same point on the broadcast.
Joel Berry leads UNC with nine points. The Heels are just 2 of 13 from the 3-point line while Gonzaga is 5 of 9.
Very little thus far for UNC from Kennedy Meeks, who has been its best player in the tournament.
Meeks made his first shot but missed his next two and then got a long rest on the bench. He has two points and two boards in 8 minutes. Obviously, UNC needs more from him but Gonzaga’s size is at least part of the problem.
Not surprisingly, with Meeks struggling to get going, UNC has been out-rebounded 22 to 16. Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins also has made three 3-pointers give the Zags a 28-21 lead the under-4 media timeout.
To repeat: keep an eye on the 3-point line.
Gonzaga went on a 7-0 run, and led 21-14, but then missed two open 3s. Joel Berry answers with a 3, to break a UNC drought and then Justin Jackson scored on a putback to cut Gonzaga’s lead to 21-19 at the under-8 media timeout.
CBS having some trouble keeping the names straight for North Carolina. In the pregame, Clark Kellogg referred to Justin Jackson as Josh Jackson, the Kansas freshman, and Jim Nantz during the first-half action, confused Nate Britt for the NFL player Kenny Britt.
Nantz quickly corrected himself and got it right when Britt hit a circus layup at 12:35 to tie the game at 14.
The Zags have scored the past five points, a second 3 from Josh Perkins, to take a 19-14 lead at the under-12 media timeout.
North Carolina has an 8-7 at the under-16 media timeout with Joel Berry knocking down his first shot, a 3 from the left elbow.
In the opening minutes, Gonzaga big man Przemek Karnowski has a pair of defensive rebounds over Kennedy Meeks but Meeks hit a step-back jumper on the first possession of the game.
Smart early move by Roy Williams to go with the lucky argyle jacket. Wore a very sharp blue pinstripe for last year’s title game, would not be surprised if that suit is still crumpled in a corner somewhere in a Houston airport.
Save the pregame picks so you can harass your favorite CBS personality after the game.
Charles Barkley: Gonzaga
Kenny Smith: UNC
Clark Kellogg: UNC
Nothing says “2017 Final Four” like Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator” from 1989. Solid work there from CBS to strike a chord with college kids and get us ready for the big game.
Some keys to consider with about 20 minutes until tipoff between North Carolina and Gonzaga for the national championship:
1) Big meets Big
Kennedy Meeks has been UNC’s best player during the tournament. The Carolina big man was a monster in the win over Oregon with 25 points and 14 rebounds. His 17 rebounds in the win over Kentucky were relegated to a footnote, after Luke Maye’s game-winning shot, but just as important to the final cause.
The catch here for UNC and Meeks is Gonzaga has some size, and quality size to throw at him in Przemek Karnowski (7-1, 300 pounds) and Zach Collins (7-0, 230). Collins, a freshman, had a standout game in the Final Four win over South Carolina. How will he fare on the biggest stage?
2) It’s go time
UNC has waited all year for this game. Now’s the time to pour it out. Meeks and Justin Jackson already have the gas pedal pegged. To finish the job, and close the redemption tale after last year’s loss to Villanova, it’s going to take more from Joel Berry and Isaiah Hicks.
3) 3s for 2s
In UNC’s last three losses (at Duke, at Virginia, vs. Duke in the ACC tournament), they were out-scored 99 to 39 at the 3-point line.
Gonzaga doesn’t use the 3 as its primary means of scoring but in its biggest regular-season wins (Arizona, Florida, Iowa State) it was 28 of 57 (49.1 percent) from the 3-point line. The Zags went 12 of 24 in the regional final win over Xavier and 9 of 19 in Saturday’s win over South Carolina.