North Carolina’s last stop on its Redemption Tour was at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The phrase “Redemption Tour” became synonymous this season with the Tar Heels as they were looking to redeem themselves after losing the national championship a year ago. North Carolina was able to knock off Gonzaga and win its sixth national championship, but the game itself won’t be getting a rave review.
The average 14.5 million household rating to this year’s championship may have painted a different picture, but in reality, the game lacked rhythm. There was no flow because of the constant whistleblowing that led many players on both sides to end up in foul trouble. In fact, after the end of the game, it was astonishing to hear that 44 fouls were committed.
The shooting inefficiency made the game even worse to watch as North Carolina shot 35.6 percent from the field and Gonzaga stood at 33.9 percent. There couldn’t be a better showing of this struggle than the Bulldogs 7-foot-1 Przemek Karnowski. He went one of eight, a lot of which had to do with North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks using all of his 6-foot-10, 260-pound body frame. Karnowski finally faced someone who matched him physically and created a defensive wall that had his shots at the rim go on to miss.
In a night where frustration built up for viewers, there was actually something I was waiting on. I was wondering which role player was going to become a star and knock down big shots, as has become custom every year. That tagline belonged to the Bulldogs’ guard Josh Perkins, who before this game went scoreless against South Carolina. Two days later, Perkins was the story of the first half, scoring 13 points including three treys.
North Carolina truly missed those energetic instances that Luke Maye brought during the second week of March Madness. But in an era where guards and the three-point shot dominate basketball, it was crazy to see the Tar Heels go four from 27 from beyond the arc. The fact that Joel Berry II was the only one who contributed to that category makes me realize that coaches should reevaluate that aspect of the game.
Now if all you wanted to see was the intense back and forth moments in the game, all you’d need to do was fast forward to the last five minutes. Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss was finally looking like the team’s best player, scoring the last eight points for the Bulldogs. He started his takeover by making a three, only for Berry II to come back and make the last of his four three pointers. Williams-Goss would then follow up with a made free throw and a floater over Justin Jackson to give Gonzaga a narrow 63-62 lead.
He saved his sweetest shot for last as he posted up Theo Pinson to hit a turnaround bank shot on the left wing and give his team a two-point lead. From there on, it was all North Carolina as they countered with an and-one. Later on. Isaiah Hicks would drive the ball into the paint and, with some hang time, make an acrobatic bank shot. Williams-Goss’ last attempt at keeping the hopes alive for a title was blocked by Meeks. Berry II would then get the loose ball and hit Jackson with an outlet pass that led to a dunk that sealed the win for North Carolina.
Overall, the game did not have that same arousing feeling that last year’s national championship game did. I mean, how could any game top the game-winning buzzer-beater shot that won Villanova its championship in 2016? All we can hope for after watching this game is that teams from now on learn how to adjust based on the way that referees are calling a championship game.
Contact Oscar Oxlaj at [email protected]