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NCAA Tournament: Championship Game Preview

Eric Evans Photography

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 1 North Carolina  8:20pm CT  CBS 

GLENDALE, ARIZ. – The stage is set for Monday night’s NCAA Championship Game with one seeds Gonzaga and North Carolina squaring off in Glendale at the University of Phoenix Stadium.

The semifinals lived up to the hype on Saturday with both games being decided by a combined total of five points. Gonzaga led by 14 with 11:35 remaining in the second half until South Carolina stormed back on a 16-0 run to take a two-point lead with 7:06 remaining. The Bulldogs reclaimed the lead just 21 seconds later though on a Zach Collins three pointer and eventually held off the Gamecocks 77-73.

In the later game, North Carolina appeared to be in control and on its way back to another championship game, but late in the second half the Ducks converted on a three-pointer from Tyler Dorsey and a layup by Keith Smith to cut the Tar Heel lead to just one point with six seconds remaining. The four missed free throws between North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks and Joel Berry in the final five seconds could have cost them the game, but Jordan Bell was unable to get both rebounds for the Ducks. The Tar Heels escaped with a 77-76 victory and now get another opportunity to play for a national championship.

It’s hard not to get excited about a Gonzaga-North Carolina national title matchup with the talent that both teams bring to the table. Mark Few’s squad is in unchartered territory as they look to win the program its first national championship. On the other hand, Roy Williams and Co. hope to avenge last year’s national championship loss to Villanova and secure the program a sixth national title.

Gonzaga’s solid guard play with All-American Nigel Williams-Goss and Jordan Mathews give it one of the toughest backcourts in the nation, add Przemek Karnowski’s 7-foot-1 present to the mix in the paint, and the Bulldogs are difficult to defend. It’s critical in this contest that Karnowski stay out of foul trouble with the height and length that North Carolina presents on the boards. 7-foot freshman forward Zach Collins will also look to be a key playmaker for Gonzaga after recording his first double-double of his college career in the semifinals.

After surviving tests from Kentucky and Oregon in back-to-back games by a combined total of three points, North Carolina has to be a better shooting team in this matchup with Gonzaga being arguably its best opponent yet in this tournament.

Besides All-American Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks, who combined for 47 points against Oregon, the Tar Heels were only 8-of-42 from the field. Also, the Tar Heels are the best rebounding team in the nation and the Ducks managed to match them at 43 rebounds. This team clearly has the ingredients to win a championship, but will it be able to do enough late to hold on against Gonzaga?

What’s intriguing about this championship contest is how evenly matched both teams are. The matchups on both the perimeter and in the paint will be exciting to watch, particularly the back-and-forth scoring between Williams-Goss and Jackson.

Monday night’s showdown will come down to who makes big plays and critical baskets late in regulation. If North Carolina fails to convert, as it did in the final six minutes of the game on Saturday, there is no question that Gonzaga will earn the WCC its first national title since San Francisco in 1956. The Tar Heels have the experience of playing on this type of national stage, but they need to win the 50-50 balls, shoot better than 37 percent from the field and avoid any last second chances that might give Gonzaga an opportunity to win the game.

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