LENDALE, AZ (RNN) – The North Carolina Tar Heels have won their sixth national championship with a 71-65 victory over the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the 2017 NCAA basketball championship game.
The win comes a year after the Tar Heels lost in a buzzer-beater in the championship game in 2016.
North Carolina’s Joel Berry II and Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss led each team’s scoring efforts.
Berry II led the game in scoring with 22 points, and was awarded as the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four as he gave heroic efforts through injuries to both ankles during the tournament.
Williams-Goss finished with 15 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists.
Locked in a defensive struggle, Gonzaga and North Carolina battled in a game full of poor shooting and a load of foul calls, with neither team shooting over 36 percent from the field.
North Carolina, the nation’s best rebounding team, won despite losing the game’s rebounding battle. The Tar Heels shot a dreadful percentage from the three-point line, converting on less than 15 percent of their shots from behind the arc.
Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski had a tough game as he struggled with foul trouble and horrid shooting. He finished with only 9 points and shot 13 percent from the field, with most of his missed shots coming right at the rim.
Gonzaga held a slim 35-32 lead over North Carolina at the end of the first half.
North Carolina gave coach Roy Williams his third national championship after titles in 2005 and 2009 and a loss at the buzzer in last year’s championship game against Villanova. Th game marked the 100th NCAA tournament game for Williams.
The Tar Heels’ return to the championship game for a consecutive year is a rare one in the history of the NCAA tournament.
Teams have only accomplished the feat six times before, including a Dean Smith-coached North Carolina team that won the title in 1982, after falling short in 1981.
The Tar Heels are basketball aristocracy, but Gonzaga has been a small-school challenger for years.
Gonzaga first burst onto the national scene in 1999 when the unknown mid-major made it to the Elite Eight. But the Bulldogs have never gone further until now. Coach Mark Few was an assistant that first year, took over as head coach the next season, and has taken the team to the tournament each of his 18 years.
Before this year’s tournament, Gonzaga had a history of not being able to defeat the nation’s top ranked teams.
With a core group of seniors and juniors, this year’s team has proven to be a formidable opponent for the Tar Heels, along with touting a record of 37-1.
Gonzaga’s only loss came to Brigham Young in the final game of the regular season.
North Carolina is 32-7 against a tougher schedule, but both teams have been dominant this year. Both are No. 1 seeds and both have been ranked No. 1 in the nation during the regular season.
Both had to dispatch tough opponents on the way to the finals.
Big man Kennedy Meeks saved the Tar Heels with 25 points and 14 rebounds in Saturday’s 77-76 win over Oregon.
Guard Nigel Williams-Goss led the Zags’ 77-73 win over South Carolina with 23 points, five rebounds and six assists.
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