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Gonzaga guard Nigel Willaims-Goss reacts to the end of the game vs North Carolina.

Gonzaga guard Nigel Willaims-Goss reacts to the end of the game vs North Carolina. 

RECAP: North Carolina Completes Redemption Tour

364 days later, the North Carolina Tar Heels redeemed themselves.

364 days later, the North Carolina Tar Heels redeemed themselves.

The road to redemption started with Kris Jenkins’ 3-point heartbreaker at the buzzer to bring the hardware home to Villanova in last year’s title game. North Carolina would enter the offseason dazed and confused, wondering what would be next for them. To say that Head Coach Roy Williams had his hands full with this team would be an understatement.

North Carolina entered the tournament as one of the favorites to make it to the dance, but ever since the 103-64 win over Texas Southern in the first round, fans of the blue blood school held their breath. They needed a 12-0 run against Arkansas to escape 72-65. The Heels needed another 12-0 and Luke Maye to become a hero with a shot at the buzzer to down Kentucky 75-73 and reach the Final Four. And they had to scratch and claw down in the paint to get two huge rebounds to hold off Oregon 77-76 to reach the Finals. On top of that? Joel Berry II and his sprained ankle seemed to be a ticking bomb waiting to go off to end the Heels season.

In other words, the phrase “survive and advance” is the epitome of the Heels run to the playoffs. But let us not forget who stood in their way to the title.

Enter the Gonzaga Bulldogs and Head Coach Mark Few. Sporting a 37-1 overall record, the nearly perfect Bulldogs were not so loved by critics. If Gonzaga had any other school on the front of their jersey, no one would bat an eye. Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Mathews and the Zags’ 7-foot duo of Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins was something to not take lightly. But because Gonzaga infamously failed to reach the Final Four in each of the past 18 years, everyone is wondering when the inevitable would happen. When would the Bulldogs of old show up?

They struggled with South Dakota State in the first round, nearly allowed Northwestern to manage a 20-point comeback in the second round and beat out a tough West Virginia squad in a foul infested game. It was not until the Elite Eight against Xavier and the Final Four against South Carolina that Gonzaga was back to full form. One win away from erasing the stigma that they could not win the big game. For North Carolina, one win away from waking up from a bad nightmare. Kris Jenkins, the villain in the heart of North Carolina fans, was now sitting behind the North Carolina bench. Why? To support his brother Nate Britt who plays for North Carolina. The same brother he had to beat last year.

There is no better setup for this duel in the desert.

The first half saw momentum swing after momentum swing. Gonzaga got out to a 7-point lead late in the half but North Carolina would battle back, ending the first half only down 35-32. Fast forward to under two minutes to go in the game and for North Carolina fans, the scene was all too familiar to last year, a tied game on the big stage. For Gonzaga fans, just two minutes away from the biggest win in school history.

In steps Nigel Williams-Goss, next in line to put the dagger in the hearts of the North Carolina faithful. With 1:53 left on the clock, William-Goss banked in a shot to give the Bulldogs a 65-63 lead and completing his run of eight straight points. But North Carolina, determined to bounce back, dug deep and finished the game like they needed to. Playing North Carolina basketball.

The Tar Heels buckled down on defense, not letting Gonzaga score another point in the final two minutes. On the offensive side, North Carolina finished on an 8-0 run to take down the Bulldogs 71-65. There was no late-game dramatics, no buzzer beating shots. With time running out, North Carolina fans finally exhaled as the confetti started to fall. Roy Williams threw his hands in the air. The team rushed the court as the redemption story was complete. Justin Jackson, who almost left North Carolina for the NBA last year but decided to come back, simply said, “We were down three, so we had to be the aggressor. We came out and hit them in the mouth.”

Down for the count are the Bulldogs, but they will be back. For now, North Carolina reigns supreme over the college basketball landscape once again. Roy Williams has his third championship and North Carolina now holds six titles.

Now the tour to repeat begins.


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