NCAA championship 2017: Three reasons UNC overcame Gonzaga to earn national title redemption

By Alec Brzezinski 4 April 2017 204
NCAA championship 2017: Three reasons UNC overcame Gonzaga to earn national title redemption

Roy Williams earned his third national championship Monday when North Carolina fought through a woeful shooting night to win 71-65 in Glendale, Ariz., earning redemption from a heartbreaking loss to Villanova one year ago.

UNC is the fourth team in history to win a national title after a runner-up finish the year before and first since Kentucky in 1998.

It was not pretty after halftime. The refs took the game out of the players' hands by calling way too many fouls — 44 in all — but North Carolina outlasted Gonzaga to win.

Here are three reasons why North Carolina won:

1. Joel Berry II rediscovered his form — An ankle injury hampered him Saturday, and it showed in the star point guard's performance. But Berry displayed grit and determination Monday while helping the Tar Heels avenge last season's title loss.

Berry scored a game-high 22 points with six assists and was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. His outside shooting (4 for 13 from beyond the arc) was still poor, but he made enough of an impact to help North Carolina win. The Tar Heels have few perimeter scoring options, so losing Berry would have ended their title hopes.

Berry is the first player to score at least 20 points in back-to-back title games since Bill Walton in 1972-73.

2. Ability to get Gonzaga in foul trouble — North Carolina has a number of options in the post, which is something Gonzaga had not faced often this season. Zach Collins, Gonzaga's super freshman center, fouled out with 5:03 remaining but got his fourth foul early in the second half, a product of North Carolina's great positioning.

Tar Heels center Kennedy Meeks, who scored seven points with 10 rebounds, made life frustrating for Gonzaga's big men. The refs may have taken this game into their own hands a bit, but North Carolina did a great job rebounding and shifting into the right positions to force Bulldog fouls.

3. Roy Williams wouldn't be denied — Injured point guard, lack of depth and the demons of last year's last-second championship game loss were all playing against Williams this season. He didn't let it affect him, however, while he passed his mentor and UNC icon Dean Smith in championships.

Williams became the sixth coach to win at least three national championships in his career. He displayed patience and the ability to change offensive formations Monday with ACC player of the year Justin Jackson struggling (16 points, 0 for 9 fro 3-point range).

Williams got the most out of guys like Meeks and Isaiah Hicks when it mattered most, which allowed the Tar Heels to contend with Gonzaga's massive frontcourt.

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Alec Brzezinski