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April 30 2017, 06:43 | Van Peters
North Carolina Tar Heels junior forward Justin Jackson
The Ducks were riding high heading into the Pac-12 Tournament, but suffered a blow in the semifinals when they lost senior big man Chris Boucher of Montreal - the team's top shot blocker - to a torn left ACL. Head coach Mark Few's Zags will try to become the first team from the Pacific time zone to win a title since the 1995 UCLA Bruins - at the Kingdome, the last time the title was contested in the West - and the first western conference member since Arizona in 1997.
The Tar Heels (32-7), winners of the South Regional as the top seed, meet the Gonzaga Bulldogs (37-1), the No. 1 seed and victor of the West Regional, for the national championship Monday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
"If it wasn't for Kennedy Meeks, we wouldn't have been in the basketball game", Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "And with six blocks, you know, my career high is seven, but six is still good".
Seth Davis of CBS Sports was a big fan of the Zags decision to foul with 3.5 seconds left in the game while up three, forcing SC to shoot two free throws.
"To be playing the last game of the year, that's insane cool", Few said.
It was so appropriate that the Tar Heels sealed Saturday's win over OR with two offensive rebounds off missed free throws.
Second, Carolina has had three close games in this tournament: a 77-76 win over OR in the Final Four, a 75-73 win over Kentucky in the Elite Eight and a 72-65 victory over Arkansas in the second round in which UNC was losing 65-60 with three minutes left.
That's going to be the determining factor on Monday night, as the Tar Heels make up for inconsistent outside shooting by being the best offensive rebounding team in the nation. Killian Tillie rebounded for Gonzaga, was fouled and made two free throws to cement the game.
"Nobody thought we'd be the team everybody thought we would be". "He realizes this is his senior year, this is it. Coach, he's rode him, and he'll tell you he's rode him". Guard Nigel Williams-Goss has had an up-and-down tournament but is coming off a 23-point game.
"We said all year that we're a tight group", Williams-Goss said. "Now I want my brother to get one". "Now we're 40 minutes from a championship". Collins put the Bulldogs ahead to stay with a 3-pointer that erased the Gamecocks' 67-65 lead.
"What these kids have done is pretty special", said SC coach Frank Martin, tearing up at times in the news conference. But if you dive a bit deeper into the numbers, this also is a bit inflated (or deflated?) against some of the competition the Zags have played this season. "If that does happen, I'm not sure what anybody can say". "They forced me to pass it out on my drives".
"The journey we've been on has just been unreal". All four average between 5.7 and 6.6 rebounds per game. He left for the last 5 minutes of the half, but Collins picked him up, finishing with 8 points at halftime. "I don't know what easy is all about", Martin said. "He'll be battling down low with 7'1", 300-pound Przemek Karnowski, 7'0", 230-pound center Zach Collins and 6'9", 228-pound forward Johnathan Williams.
Hicks said his confidence is fine and he's not pressing. "I've never won a game from the bench".
The Gamecocks (26-11) had reached their first Final Four as a No. 7 seed on the strength of Thornwell's scoring and their havoc-creating defense. 2, 3 and 4 seeds in the East region. So the Bulldogs have a lot to prove on the Big Stage and they have the chance of a lifetime to do so on Monday Night. After their 83-80 loss to Arizona, they swept through the Midwest Region, surviving close calls with Rhode Island and MI, then shocking Kansas in a 74-60 win at Kansas City in the Elite Eight.
The teams combined for 14 blocked shots, eight by Gonzaga. The Bulldogs, who had a considerable size advantage, were determined to ride their two 7-footers, and, boy, did the Zags' twin towers deliver. Thornwell made the first of two free throws to make it 75-73.
For North Carolina, it's more of the same. In the chaotic closing seconds, Williams-Goss was practically in Carter's jersey as he dribbled around trying to get off a tying 3-pointer.
OR fans reciprocated the love on Saturday by cheering loudly for the Bulldogs during their matchup against the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Instead, the Zags (37-1) had another "rock fight", as Few called the West Virginia game, against the just-as-physical SC.
Meeks is a 6-foot-10, 260-pound (listed) interior dump truck, an unstoppable force on the glass, the centerpiece of the best offensive rebounding attack in college basketball and the best reason to think North Carolina can meet and exceed Gonzaga's as-yet-unmatched interior strength when titans collide Monday night in the national title game.