National Championship Game: U.N.C. and Gonzaga Trade Leads

by admin April 4, 2017 at 3:20 am

Notably, Przemek Karnowski, who shot 60 percent this season, is 1-8. Gonzaga has gone seven minutes without a basket.

Neither Team Can Find the Basket

The game swung back and forth, with neither team able to pull away.

A highlight for Gonzaga was Karnowski lunging to the basket and finally scoring his first points of the game.

North Carolina was staying close despite a poor game by its biggest star, Justin Jackson, He was shooting 3 for 13, missing all seven of his three-pointers.

Also struggling was Gonzaga star Nigel Williams-Goss, shooting 2 for 10.

Gonzaga’s Zach Collins in Foul Trouble

Zach Collins made a 3-point play after a pass from Przemek Karnowski, then Jordan Mathews hit a 3-pointer to regain the lead for Gonzaga with 16 1/2 minutes left. But Collins picked up his fourth foul just afterward. That will put extra pressure to perform on the Zags’ other big man, Karnowski, who is 1-6 from the floor.

Tar Heels Start Second Half on a Run

Joel Berry made an easy bucket off a steal, Justin Jackson made two free throws, and North Carolina reclaimed the lead in the first 35 seconds of the second half.

It was the start of a good stretch for North Carolina, who rode an 8-0 run to start the half. Gonzaga missed three straight shots in the lane, prompting Coach Mark Few to call a much-needed timeout.

Gonzaga Takes Advantage of Tar Heels’ Poor Shooting


Gonzaga’s Zach Collins (32) dunked over North Carolina’s Nate Britt (0) during the first half.

Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Gonzaga held a 35-32 lead over North Carolina at halftime of the national championship game.

It was a lively game, with plenty of action, but neither team shot especially well. Gonzaga was 12 for 30, while North Carolina made 11 of 35 shots, including 2-13 from 3-point range.

Przemek Karnowski, one of Gonzaga’s 7-footers, looked a little lost, shooting 0-4, all from close range, after getting a finger in the eye in the semifinal. But the other big man, freshman Zach Collins, a possible top 10 N.B.A. draft pick, came off the bench to chip in two baskets and four rebounds.

Guard Josh Perkins of Gonzaga led all scorers, with 13. Gonzaga outrebounded the best rebounding team in the country, 24-23.

North Carolina was led by 9 from Joel Berry II, whose ankle injuries had caused pregame concern.

Marc Tracy: Not to harp on this theme, but it’s the battle of the bigs. North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks had a couple great moves on Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski. But overall it is a battle that favors Gonzaga, if they can keep their guys on the floor. Their two favorites, Karnowski and Zach Collins, both have two fouls, though, which is why relatively untested freshman Killian Tillie has played five minutes (after playing seven total last game).

Beyond that, I think the rim has been unkind to both teams. U.N.C. point guard Joel Berry II clearly is not limited by his ankle. I sense that Gonzaga is content to let U.N.C. take very deep shots, and so far the Zags have not been punished, with U.N.C. making just 15.4 percent of their 3-pointers. If that number regresses to the mean significantly, U.N.C. could run away with it. But I’m betting we go down to the wire on this one.

Gonzaga Builds a Lead, but Tar Heels Close


North Carolina’s Theo Pinson dunked past Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski (24) during the first half.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Another 3 by Josh Perkins and a Johnathan Williams jumper gave Gonzaga a 7-point lead with 10 minutes left. Perkins was the top scorer with 8, but everyone was getting involved in the fast paced, back-and-forth game. Five Bulldogs and seven Tar Heels have scored.

A Joel Berry three-pointer and a basket by Justin Jackson pulled the Tar Heels back to within 2.

A surprise early stat. Though North Carolina is one of the best rebounding teams in the country, it is being outrebounded by Gonzaga so far, 14-8.

Zach Schonbrun: Michael Jordan is not in attendance tonight, as he was for the championship game last year. But Michael Phelps is here. With a very unfortunate tan.

Tight Start in Championship Game


North Carolina’s Isaiah Hicks (4) blocked a shot by Gonzaga’s Zach Collins during the first half.

Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

North Carolina led 8-7 with 15:33 left to go in the first half in Phoenix.

Both teams struggled to make buckets in the early going, with big Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski missing two from close range.

Just before the first time out though, the teams traded three-pointers, with Josh Perkins of Gonzaga and Joel Berry of North Carolina sinking them.

Perkins led all scorers with 5 points.

Marc Tracy: Interesting that Gonzaga started with just one true big man, Przemek Karnowski. North Carolina is best down low, with Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, both of whom are in the game. And Gonzaga has a stellar second giant to go along with the 7-foot-1 Karnowski in 7-foot freshman Zach Collins, who entered the game after just three minutes. In the semifinal win over South Carolina, Gonzaga looked at its best when both were on the floor. My guess is that Gonzaga wants to limit Collins’s minutes, at least in the first half, to ensure he doesn’t get into foul trouble.

Here are the keys to the game for each team.


North Carolina leads the nation in rebounding.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Rebounding. Gonzaga Coach Mark Few showed little hesitation when asked the biggest challenges for the Bulldogs in this matchup: keeping North Carolina off the glass. The Tar Heels lead the nation in rebounding, and their two crucial offensive boards against Oregon preserved the win in the closing seconds. The Bulldogs have the size and experience to match up well with U.N.C.’s aggressiveness on the boards, but they will need to have all hands on deck. North Carolina’s offensive rebounding ability can become like another offense unto itself, especially for a team struggling to shoot. If the Bulldogs can limit that, it could be a big factor.

Carolina’s Shooting Woes. The Tar Heels were the only team in the Final Four that had actually played in an 80,000-seat stadium before. Yet they shot the ball on Saturday in the dome like they were playing darts blindfolded. They had not shot that poorly (36.8 percent) in an N.C.A.A. tournament win since 1967. But it was not just outside shooting — bad misses inside contributed to the struggles, particularly from the normally reliable Isaiah Hicks (1 of 12 shooting) who has been in a bad funk. North Carolina will need to clean up its act from the field in order to win this game. Gonzaga has held opponents to just 34 percent shooting in this tournament.

Joel Berry II’s Health. North Carolina’s junior point guard is still dealing with injuries to both ankles that have taken a toll on his performance. Berry played 35 minutes in the Tar Heels’ win over Oregon, but he shot just 2 of 14 from the floor for 11 points. Berry said Sunday his ankles are improving and he woke up without any stiffness, which is a good sign. U.N.C. relies on his penetration and fast break ability to kickstart its offense, and he will be needed on defense to slow down the hot Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss.

Underdog Mentality. The Bulldogs have heard throughout the tournament that they did not deserve a No. 1 seed, they could not beat good teams or win close games, and their one-loss record was inflated by a weak West Coast Conference. It has fueled them to keep proving the doubters wrong. It is unfair to label Gonzaga as a Cinderella anymore — the program has been too good and too consistent for too long for that. But the Bulldogs have never won a national championship in any team sport, and they are facing one of the most tradition-laden programs in college basketball. It is hard not to view Gonzaga as an underdog, which is just the motivation the Bulldogs like to hear.

Redemption Mentality. Only three teams have ever won a national title after losing in the title game the year before. But no team had suffered the heartbreak of last year’s championship game defeat like North Carolina. For the Tar Heels to have advanced this far is a testament to the mental toughness of these players, many of whom were on the floor that night in Houston a year ago. North Carolina has tried not to make this season all about redemption, but it is clear what will fuel their motivation tonight.

How Gonzaga got here …

Gonzaga, making its 19th consecutive N.C.A.A. tournament appearance but its first trip to the Final Four, advanced to the national championship game with a 77-73 victory over South Carolina at University of Phoenix Stadium. You can read our Final Four game report here.

… And how its opponent, North Carolina, returned.

A year after they were denied a title at the buzzer against Villanova, North Carolina withstood another — and refreshingly different — heart-wrenching finish in a national semifinal Saturday night to beat Oregon, 77-76, at University of Phoenix Stadium. It was not with a buzzer-beating shot, but instead with four last-second misses that the Tar Heels somehow moved on to the final. You can read our Final Four game report here.

If you’re watching the game, this song will be stuck in your head.

Late in 1992, when he was asked to submit samples for a new theme song for CBS’s coverage of the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament, Bob Christianson did what he usually does. He paced his small basement studio. He washed dishes and scrubbed the floor. He ironed clothes.

His best melodies have often crystallized better away from the piano. “If I write at the piano,” he said, “my fingers tend to go where they are used to going.”

This time, his fingers would not arrive at the eight notes that would come to define March Madness for nearly a quarter-century until he formulated the right groove — a groove inspired by the percussive heartbeat of the tournament itself: a dribbling basketball.

Read the complete story about the origin of the March Madness theme song here.

What do you get when you mix a ladder, sharp scissors and sweat?


Chris Silva cutting off a strand of net after South Carolina reached the Final Four with a 77-70 win over Florida.

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

It wasn’t long after the Michigan men’s basketball team won the Big Ten tournament this month when the moment arrived for the Wolverines to claim their polyester scalp: to bring out the ladders and let each player, coach and staff member take part in cutting down the nets.

When the assistant coach Billy Donlon’s turn came, he made his snip, retreated down the ladder and handed off the scissors to his fellow assistant Jeff Meyer — gripping the blades and offering the handle, the way he and everyone else were taught in kindergarten. But when Donlon looked down moments later, he recalled last week, he saw his palm covered in blood.

Read more about this N.C.A.A. tournament tradition here.

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