Just a year after watching Kris Jenkins drill a three to take home the title, UNC was back in the national championship game with one thing on their mind: revenge.
Standing in the way of the Tar Heels’ hopes was a well rounded Gonzaga unit, who only suffered one loss throughout the entire season. Gonzaga had ended two underdog’s hopes prior to the championship, dismantling Xavier and squeezing by South Carolina. The Tar Heels, on the other end of the spectrum, snuck by both Kentucky and Oregon to secure their spot in yet another NCAA Championship.
The only two things these teams have in common is their seeding, both being placed as No. 1 in their respective brackets. Aside from that these two teams were worlds apart in terms of tournament experience. UNC has been to a total of 20 final fours, the most among any team in NCAA Division 1 Basketball. Gonzaga was making their first final four appearance ever, capped off by their first ever trip to national championship game. In terms of experience, UNC had the clear advantage.
Gonzaga managed to keep the lead a majority of the first half. Both teams put on ice cold shooting performances, with neither team making more than 36% of their shots from the field. UNC saw an ice cold performance from three land as well, only knocking down 4 of 27 shots from beyond the arc. The first half of the game seemed slow and sluggish due to lack of offense and the constant foul calls that intervened constantly.
The Zags managed to take a 35-32 lead into halftime. At this point it seemed that Gonzaga had defended UNC’s shooters well while simultaneously knocking down just enough shots to keep them one step ahead. UNC wasn’t going to lie down and accept another heartbreaker.
UNC started the second half on an 8-0 run, taking a 40-35 lead and shifting the momentum of the entire game. Gonzaga would reply immediately with an 8-0 run of their own, giving them a 43-40 lead. The second half consisted of a bunch of quick lead changes, both teams putting it all on the line in front of almost 23 million viewers who tuned in for the finale.
The Zags took a 55-53 lead thanks to a Nigel Williams-Goss jumper with 1:55 left in the game. This, however, would be the last basket Gonzaga would score all season. It only took UNC 15 seconds to score and and one layup, leaving only 1:40 left to play. UNC’s Justin Jackson would convert the free throw to give the Tar Heels a 66-65 lead. After a good defensive stop, UNC came back down the floor and took a ton of time off the clock. After an offensive rebound, a won jump ball, and a successful jump shot, UNC led 68-65 with only 27 seconds left. Nigel Williams-Goss would try to hit a jump shot on the other end for Gonzaga but was denied hard by Kennedy Meeks. UNC would come down the floor and put the exclamation point on this one in the form of a Justin Jackson dunk with 12 seconds left. UNC would hit one more free throw before the time expired, leaving the Tar Heels with a 71-65 victory over Gonzaga.
UNC has their 7th NCAA title, with the last one coming in 2009 against Michigan State. Gonzaga, despite losing the national championship, managed to make their first final four appearance and notch the most wins in school history. After an ice cold first half, UNC decided to control their own destiny and complete that all so important revenge run, topping Gonzaga in a physical showdown of No. 1’s.