Gonzaga lost 71-65 to North Carolina and the Tar Heels won their sixth National championship after an ugly, physical game played at a slow pace and with the two teams staying fairly close from start to finish. It was an anticlimactic way to end a season in which both teams played much better than what they showed in the final.
The pressure of the moment was obviously a factor. Gonzaga had a chance to make history: the value of a title for a western team from a non-power conference, on top of being the first title for the university. North Carolina, on the other hand, had everything to lose and had to deal with the possibility of losing two consecutive finals.
That pressure translated into a bad game, with both teams shooting poorly and in which every made basket counted double. As if it was not enough, the referees ended up stealing the spotlight, whistling over 1 foul per minute (44 total for the game) and inevitably influencing the game and raising harsh criticism (“the worst officiating of the year, and this is the final” was one of the comments thrown on CBS during the live coverage of the game).
The Tar Heels had the third worst performance ever from behind the three-point line in the Ncaa final history and shot 29.4% for the tournament, the worst three-point percentage from an Ncaa champion since the three point line was introduced into the game, 1987.
Gonzaga shot 42.1% from behind the arc and an abysmal 30% on 2P shots, while North Carolina shot 47.8% from inside the arc and 14.8% from outside. Only five players scored in double figures. All of the above played a part in allowing Joel Berry (22 points, 7-for-19 FG, 4-for-8 FT, 6 assists) to earn Most Outstanding Player honors.
North Carolina deserved to win. It was an ugly game with plenty of fouls to deal with, but UNC kept its focus, especially in the final minutes. Gonzaga outrebounded the opponent (49-46) and shot better from behind the arc but had 14 turnovers to 4 for the Tar Heels. The Bulldogs finished the first half with a 3-point lead but suffered an 8-0 run to begin the final stretch that put UNC back into the game, on a mental level more than anything. Gonzaga scored only 8 baskets in the whole second half, including a three-pointer Jonathan Williams banked in.
The whole second half was balanced and the score stayed close until the final minutes, when Nigel Williams-Goss sprained an ankle at the worst possible moment. The Bulldogs guard had just scored 4 consecutive points and did so showing great confidence and composure. He decided to stay on the court despite the injury and took two more shots. The first went short and the second, with less than 20 seconds left in the game, produced the block that allowed Justin Jackson to dunk on the other end to ice the game.
The final score was a consequence of those who did not deliver more than those who did. Jackson, the ACC MVP, had a good game on defense but was never effective on offense. The same could be said of Przemek Karnowski, who finished 1-for-8 from the field and missed too many bunnies. Among Gonzaga’s guards, beside NWG, Josh Perkins had a great first half (3-of-4 3P) but he completely disappeared in the final frame. Isaiah Hicks, on the other hand, scored a tough shot with 25 seconds left to give North Carolina a 3-point lead that turned out to be the closest thing to a game winner this game could offer.