Final Four 2017: Three reasons why North Carolina beat Oregon to reach title game

By Alec Brzezinski 2 April 2017 295
Final Four 2017: Three reasons why North Carolina beat Oregon to reach title game

Two No. 1 seeds will be playing for the 2017 NCAA Tournament championship.

Hours after Gonzaga earned its first trip to the championship after upending No. 7 South Carolina, North Carolina outlasted No. 3 Oregon 77-76 Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. 

Oregon junior Dillon Brooks, a 6-7 forward, fouled out with 1:32 remaining in the second half to hamper the Ducks' run. The Tar Heels (32-7) used the break to their advantage to fight off a pesky Oregon squad.

Here are three reasons why North Carolina won:

1. Kennedy Meeks was unstoppable in the paint — Fresh off a 17-rebound performance in the Elite 8 against No. 2 Kentucky, Meeks elevated his game even further by scoring 25 points on 11 of 13 shooting with 14 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end, the last of which came on a missed free throw to seal the win.

Oregon had no answer for Meeks in the paint. Jordan Bell tried to put a body on the 6-10 North Carolina senior, but Meeks was too strong and too skilled. There was a lot of chatter that Chris Boucher — Oregon's center out for the year with a torn ACL — would have made a difference in this game. While Boucher was the team's leading shot blocker, even his presence may not have been enough to stop Meeks.

"If it wasn't for Kennedy Meeks, we wouldn't have been in this basketball game," Tar Heels coach Roy Williams told CBS Sports following the game.

2. Tar Heels were quietly great on defense. The Ducks (33-6) never gave up while making this game nerve-racking for North Carolina fans towards the end of the game, but the Tar Heels, usually maligned for their defense, was spectacular Saturday at stopping Oregon.

North Carolina forced 16 Oregon turnovers, which was the most the Ducks committed all tournament — their previous most was 14 against Rhode Island.The Tar Heels also held Oregon to just 38 percent from the floor and 27 percent from beyond the arc.

3. Justin Jackson was too versatile for Oregon — North Carolina had two MVPs in this game. Meeks punished the Ducks in the paint on both ends of the court, and Jackson was the maestro that conducted the Tar Heels' offense.

With point guard Joel Berry II struggling through an ankle injury — he scored 11 points on 2 of 14 shooting — Jackson stepped up as the team's leader. The ACC Player of the Year finished the game with 22 points, two assists and two steals. He made clutch shots at the beginning of the second half, which helped burry the Ducks.

Jackson has emerged as one of college basketball's best all-around players. He shouldn't have to wait long to hear his name called in this summer's NBA Draft.

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Alec Brzezinski