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North Carolina wins national title

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By Shannon Ryan
Chicago Tribune (TNS)
Tuesday, April 4, 2017

GLENDALE, Ariz.--This time, it didn’t go in.

With North Carolina leading Gonzaga by three inside the final 20 seconds Monday night, Kennedy Meeks blocked a shot by Nigel Williams-Goss to help the Tar Heels stave off the Bulldogs 71-65 for the program’s sixth national championship and avenge last season’s loss in the title game.

Villanova’s buzzer-beater victory last April hovered over the Tar Heels for an entire year. But as Meeks beamed and clutched his teammates, last year was finally forgotten.

The sixth title moves North Carolina ahead of rival Duke and Indiana for third-most all time, trailing only UCLA (11) and Kentucky (eight). Coach Roy Williams won his third national title in Chapel Hill—one more than Dean Smith—and thrust his arms into the air and jumped at the buzzer.

“They wanted redemption,” said Williams, the sixth coach to win three or more NCAA championships. “One of the things we had to be tonight was tough enough. I think this group was tough enough.”

North Carolina (33-7) led 68-65 with 22 seconds remaining after Isaiah Hicks banked in an off-balance shot in the lane. Williams-Goss drove to the hoop on the other end, but Meeks’ block bounced the ball to Joel Berry II, who passed downcourt to Justin Jackson to finish things off with a dunk.

After Meeks came up with a steal on the next possession, Berry made a free throw with three seconds left for the final score.

The game was hyped as a big-man showdown. On both teams, the giants struggled with fouls.

It was the player with two bum ankles who helped carry the Tar Heels.

Berry, who sprained both ankles during the NCAA tournament, led all scorers with 22 points and added six assists. He clutched the ball and screamed near the sideline at University of Phoenix Stadium once the Tar Heels were assured of victory.

North Carolina shot a miserable 4 of 27 on 3-pointers, but Berry hit all four of them in 13 attempts and was named the Final Four’s most outstanding player.

“My teammates believed in me,” he said. “My teammates said just keep on pushing. I couldn’t do it without them. I wasn’t 100 percent but I gave it my all.”

It wasn’t a game of beauty. The Tar Heels shot 35.6 percent from the field, the Zags 33.9 percent. North Carolina ended the game on a 9-2 run.

“I don’t think either team played really well,” Williams said.

Meeks picked up his fourth foul with less than 10 minutes to play, and Hicks collected his fourth later in the second half.

Three Gonzaga big men also found themselves in foul trouble. After posting a double-double against South Carolina in the Final Four, Zach Collins picked up his fourth foul less than five minutes into the second half and fouled out with 5:03 remaining. Johnathan Williams also picked up his fourth foul in the second half.

Center Przemek Karnowski, who shot just 1 of 8, picked up his fourth on a flagrant foul, mauling Berry with eight minutes remaining.

Hicks, who had been in a shooting slump, finished with 13 points and nine rebounds, while Meeks had a game-high 10 boards. Jackson scored 16 for the Tar Heels, including a three-point play that gave them the lead for good with 1:40 to go.

There is still one cloud over the Tar Heels. The program faces the uncertainty of an ongoing NCAA infractions case that has stretched into its third year, revolving around allegations of academic fraud in the athletic department.

But on Monday night, the Tar Heels celebrated on the court.

Kris Jenkins, who hit the game-winner last season for Villanova, clapped in the stands directly behind North Carolina’s bench, wearing a UNC shirt and rooting for his brother, Nat Britt, who plays for the Tar Heels.

The Tar Heels can put last year behind them now.



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