NCAA championship 2017: Three reasons Gonzaga fell short of first title against UNC

By Ron Clements 4 April 2017 221
NCAA championship 2017: Three reasons Gonzaga fell short of first title against UNC

Gonzaga's first trip to the Final Four did not end with a national championship as North Carolina made a pair of defensive stops late to hang on for a 71-65 victory at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. 

Kennedy Meeks came up with a blocked shot and a steal in the final 17 seconds to secure the victory for the Tar Heels (33-7), who lost to Villanova in last year's championship game.

Neither team shot the ball particularly well and there were several questionable calls by the officials, who called 22 fouls on each team. 

Despite that, the Bulldogs (37-2) had their opportunities, but failed to capitalize on several UNC mistakes. 

Here are three reasons why Gonzaga lost:

1. Too many scoring droughts — Gonzaga held a 35-32 halftime lead, but UNC went on an 8-0 run to start second half. A Zach Collins jumper ended a scoring drought of 4:47 and the Bulldogs scored next six points to retake the lead at 41-40. 

But the Zags failed again to score for a period of seven minutes later in the half and were just 20 of 59 (33.9 percent) from the floor. The Tar Heels put the game away with a 9-2 run over the final two minutes of the game. 

2. UNC dominated the paint — Przemek Karnowski was just 1 of 8 from the floor and turned the ball over four times. Gonzaga's Polish 7-footer scored nine points and had nine rebounds, but he and fellow 7-footer Zach Collins were dominated in the paint by the Tar Heels big men. 

Meeks, UNC's 6-10 senior, scored just seven points, but had 10 rebounds, including four on the offensive glass. UNC forwards Isaiah Hicks (13 points, 9 rebounds), Theo Pinson (6 points, 9 rebounds) and Tony Bradley (5 points, 7 rebounds) added to the victorious effort. 

Gonzaga had 48 total rebounds to UNC's 46, but the Tar Heels had 15 boards on the offensive glass. Those second-chance opportunities led to the Tar Heels taking 73 shots from the floor compared to 59 attempts by the Bulldogs. 

3. Foul trouble — Overzealous officiating led to four Gonzaga players with four fouls with 7:52 remaining, the fourth on Karnowski coming on a very questionable flagrant 1 foul as he made contact with the head of UNC's Joel Berry, who was called for a reach-in foul. Karnowski was not initially whistled for a foul as the call went against Berry, but went to the monitor to review the play. 

Collins picked up his fourth foul on another questionable call with 15:53 remaining in the second half. Collins fouled out with 5:03 remaining in the game, allowing Meeks and company to truly take charge inside. 

Had Gonzaga won, one of the reasons given for a Tar Heels loss would be missing 11 of their 26 free-throw attempts.

Gonzaga also had 26 shots from the foul stripe, making 17 of them. 

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Ron Clements