April 24, 2017

Tar Heels bring back a sixth NCAA title

09 April 2017, 02:56 | Leonard Manning

Until next time: Gonzaga's season ends with a 71-65 loss to North Carolina in the national championship

Redemption: Tar Heels take NCAA title, 71-65, over Gonzaga

NOTES: North Carolina appeared in its 11th national championship game, having it won it in 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005 and 2009.

But the refs ruined what had the potential to be a great national championship.

The Tar Heels have erased the memory of last year's buzzer-beating loss to Villanova in the NCAA title game by topping Gonzaga, 71-65 to win this year's national championship. With Gonzaga trailing by three and looking to tie, Kennedy Meeks blocked a determined Nigel Williams-Goss and the play led to a breakaway and game-securing dunk. "For us to have four turnovers against the best team in the country is big time for us".

Gonzaga was efficient on offense, as it always seems to be, and added a dash of gritty defense, the piece that had always been missing.

The dean dome was the team's first stop after returning from Phoenix, the site of the 2017 Final Four.

North Carolina forward Theo Pinson has been the source of comedic relief for the Tar Heels throughout this remarkable NCAA title run. Zach Collins picked up his third and fourth fouls within three minutes of coming in for the first time in the second half, the latter coming with 15:53 still to play. I could look at North Carolina this year and see the exact same thing.

North Carolina still couldn't deliver a decisive run, and it was a one-possession game for much of the second half, when foul trouble dogged both teams.

That left Gonzaga unable to effectively initiate its inside-out game or protect the rim as aggressively as it had in the first half.

"To be so close for us is a temporarily crushing blow right now", Few said.

The second half featured two teams teetering back and forth as if on a seesaw, a tight, nerve-wracking game befitting the grandest of the sport's stages.

What made the missed call even worse was an official was standing over the scramble, watching the play unfold and didn't notice Meeks hand.

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"I had no idea". "I can't even. I don't know what it would have felt like if we didn't make it previous year. That's tough to hear".

At Gonzaga — a program on fantastic footing thanks to two decades' worth of building led by Few — they'll regroup and reload and try to finish the deal next year.

Berry was 2-for-14 shooting in North Carolina's 77-76 semifinal win over OR but was somewhat better in the title contest, going 7 for 19 from the field but 4 for 13 from 3-point range.

While the performance was far from their best, the Tar Heels simply did enough to erase some demons they carried with them over the past 365 days. The Bulldogs led 35-32 at the half, but North Carolina came out of the locker room flying.

That helped lead to a stretch of more than eight minutes without a field goal and left the Zags reeling, but not out of it due to their defense. Those other games it might not have fell for him out of frustration, ball not going in the basket.

Trailing 65-63 with less than two minutes remaining, North Carolina ended the contest with an 8-0 spurt to pull clear of their fellow top-seeded opponents.

Karnowski had nine points on 1-of-8 shooting.

Last year's outcome was on North Carolina's mind - but not in a crippling, self-defeating way.

Gonzaga's big men, such a crucial part of the Bulldogs' game, were effectively neutralized by fouls.

Correction: April 4, 2017 12:00 am - An earlier version of this story incorrectly said North Carolina's Joel Berry II is a senior.

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