Finally, after a year of reliving the nightmare that was Villanova's Kris Jenkin's last second three-point shot that robbed them of the championship, the University of North Carolina has got the monkey off its back. They are 2017's NCAA Men's Basketball Champions following a hard-fought 71-65 victory over Gonzaga in the finals.
While not as dramatic as the 1982 championship that featured the winning basket by a certain freshman named Michael Jordan, this years victory maybe just as sweet, if not even more. The Tar Heels regarded this conference as a redemption tour, and put in extra time on the practice court and the weight room, driven by the memory of the Jenkins shot in the 2016 NCAA finals.
The road to redemption was anything but a walk in the park for coach Roy Williams' team. Sure they have the pedigree and the finals experience from last year, but UNC was facing a Bulldogs team that was just as mean and hungry. This was the Zag's first trip to the finals, after their first trip to the Final Four where they waylaid fellow first-timer South Carolina behind the solid plays of their top scorer Nigel Williams-Goss and big man Przemeck Karnowski.
And for much of the game, it looked like Gonzaga would go on to their Cinderella finish, posting a 35-32 halftime lead, and then a 2-point lead with 1:52 left in the game that featured 52 free throws. That was when the Heels' leading scorer, Justin Jackson, caught a pass under the basket that lead to an And 1 and the lead that they would not relinquish. Point guard Joel Berry II topscored with 22, and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
For Coach Williams, this would be his third championship, putting him one ahead of his mento, the legendary Dean Smith, and behind only John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, and Adolph Rupp.
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