The redemption tour was complete last night in Phoenix. Even with Kris Jenkins in the building, the Tar Heels were able to capture their sixth national championship in program history and third under head coach Roy Williams.
You can complain all you want about the refs who blew their whistle every time there was initiated contact. You can complain that there was no buzzer-beater to clinch the title. You can complain that the second half felt like an eternity.
I don’t care, as college basketball fans, THIS was a college basketball national championship game.
The question all tournament was how UNC’s Joel Berry would hold up despite playing with basically no ankles. Even with all the injuries, Berry was named the MOP of the Final Four after scoring 22 points while shooting 7-of-19 from the field in the title game. In addition, the Tar heel’s best player, Justin Jackson, was 6-of-19 overall, 0-for-9 from behind the three-point arc, and finished with 16 points.
The offense wasn’t the difference maker obviously in this national title game. On this night in April, the Tar heels stepped up and won ugly which many were not accustom to seeing out of this group.
North Carolina used its size, experience, and depth up front to throw off Gonzaga big men, especially 7-foot-1 and 300 pound Przemek Karnowski who was 1-of-9 in the game and ended up with only nine points; seven of which came from the free-throw line. The ‘Heels were able to force diaper dandy Zach Collins into fouling which led him to sit out a good portion of the contest and ultimately fouling out with a little over five minutes to go in the second half.
Not only was the Gonzaga frontcourt having issues with UNC’s length, but the guards most notably Nigel Williams-Goss could never get into a consistent rhythm offensively.
During a majority of the first half, Roy Williams decided to defend Williams-Goss with his smaller guards Berry and Nate Britt. More often in the second half, Williams and the ‘Heels made the adjustment and agreed it’d be best to guard Williams-Goss with more length. Junior forwards, 6-foot-6 Theo Pinson and 6-foot-8 Justin Jackson were assigned to frustrate the All-American Goss who struggled all second half getting into the lane and shooting over the taller Tar Heel defenders.
After having the game of his life in the national semifinal win over Oregon on Saturday, senior big man Kennedy Meeks was almost a non-factor on Monday ending up with 7 points and 10 rebounds while being hampered with foul trouble all game long.
Fouls, what a concept.
Offense wins games, defense wins championships.
Coach Roy Williams is known for having high-powered offenses during his tenure in Chapel Hill.
Throughout this tournament, the Tar Heels stingy defense tamed players such as the explosive De’Aaron Fox who was coming off a 39 point outing against fellow freshman star Lonzo Ball. Also, Tyler Dorsey who claimed the label as “Mr. March” for Oregon, scored a quiet 21 points against the ‘Heels in the Final Four while being closely guarded by Theo Pinson for a majority of the contest.
But on Monday night when the shots weren’t falling, the whistles were plenty, the rims were clanking, and the stakes were high, North Carolina pushed aside their offensive struggles away and focused on what teams can do no matter where they play. Defense.
Over the course of the year, North Carolina was interpreted as one of the best teams in the game of college basketball.
Watching this North Carolina team throughout the tournament, even with all the returning talent they had coming back from last year’s national runner-up squad, I don’t think I’ll remember this team 10-15 years down the road. Meaning, I never watched North Carolina and thought to myself, “Wow, these guys are amazing.”
This goes to show how much more impressive this run was.
Nowadays, the hot topic around college basketball is the one and done and bringing in the top high school players from around the country.
What makes this North Carolina team special is the fact that not only did they win the NCAA Tournament while not playing their basketball during their run. But also, with all the hype around the one and done, this team cut down the nets with experience and grit.
Complain about how both teams shot atrociously from the field, I’m not disagreeing with you.
But, in the end, the difference between North Carolina and another program bringing the national title trophy back home is this.
Great things happen to those who buckle down, get in a stance, and even when things aren’t going their way, get down and dirty on the defensive end.
Photo via Bob Donnan (USA Today Sports)