GLENDALE, Ariz. – A year removed from a heartbreaking loss in the national championship game, North Carolina returned on Monday night and made amends by defeating Gonzaga, 71-65, for the program’s sixth national title.
UNC held Gonzaga to 34.5 percent shooting, including a field goal drought lasting more than eight minutes in the second half, to overcome a 35.6 percent shooting display. The Tar Heels ended the game on an 8-0 run.
Joel Berry entered the national championship game hobbled by a pair of sprained ankles and shooting 28.3 percent in five tournament games. The junior point guard topped his 2016 title game performance by scoring a game-high 22 points on 7-of-19 shooting to earn Most Outstanding Player honors. That award will send his jersey into the Smith Center rafters.
Hicks, who entered the title game averaging 6.0 points on 31 percent shooting in his previous four outings, stepped up when his team needed him most, making three field goals in the game’s final 6:23, including a critical basket over Johnathan Williams with 26 seconds to play.
Nigel Williams-Goss intended to capitalize on his size advantage over Joel Berry and Nate Britt from the outset, backing down both players on several early possessions. It didn’t take long for Roy Williams to make a defensive move by switching Justin Jackson and his 6-foot-8 frame on the 6-foot-3 Gonzaga guard.
The strategy was effective as Jackson’s length frustrated Williams-Goss, who finished with 15 points on 5-of-17 shooting.
When asked on Sunday about his team’s ability to match UNC in the post, the first key Gonzaga head coach Mark Few mentioned was a need to stay out of foul trouble. The Tar Heels had little success in the paint early, but kept going to the well and eventually loaded up the Bulldogs’ trio of post players – Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews and Zach Collins – with two fouls each before halftime.
The fouls continued to mount for Gonzaga as Collins picked up his fourth foul with 15:53 to play and Williams and Karnowski were playing with four fouls over the final eight minutes.
The Tar Heels’ early advantage, however, disappeared after halftime. UNC was whistled for 13 fouls in the first 12 minutes of the second half. Kennedy Meeks picked up his fourth foul with 9:42 to play and Isaiah Hicks joined him with 3:08 remaining.
UNC ultimately won the war of attrition, as Collins fouled out with 5:03 to play. Forty-four total fouls were called, compared to 46 made field goals.
NCAA Title Game Starts/Plays
Joel Berry, Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks joined Jimmy Black, Sam Perkins and James Worthy as the only Tar Heels to start in two national championship games. Nate Britt, Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson joined Jim Braddock, Chris Brust and Matt Doherty as Tar Heels who also played in two national championship games.