Gonzaga and Mark Few fail to close in historic season, lose 71-65 to North Carolina

Gonzaga and Mark Few fail to close in historic season, lose 71-65 to North Carolina

GLENDALE, Ariz - Gonzaga coach Mark Few came so close to bringing a national championship to the Pacific Northwest, an area the Creswell, Ore., native has called home his entire life. 

But in the final minutes of Monday night's national championship game, his Bulldogs couldn't quite find the mettle to overcome a North Carolina team that forcibly, but narrowly, tiptoed through the best the Northwest had to offer during the Final Four at University of Phoenix Stadium. 

The No. 1 Tar Heels, who rank among the bluest of blue bloods this sport has to offer, won their sixth national title, 71-65, just two nights after escaping, 77-76 over Oregon, Few's alma mater and the last Northwest program to win a national (1939). 

The heartbreak following the loss was real for Few and his team. This was Gonzaga's chance to do something many thought was close to impossible - win a national title as a mid-major out of the WCC

“I’m hoping it will settle in and we will feel better tomorrow and in the days to come," Few said. "It doesn’t feel that great right now for a couple reasons. You’re right there on the brink of a national championship. You want to give that to your team and your program. But at the same time, the other thing that just crushes you is that you don’t get to coach these guys ever again. That was going to happen whether we won or lost, so that’s the one that kind of really hurts. But I couldn’t be prouder."

Gonzaga had ample opportunity to pull this game out. The Bulldogs led 65-63 in a game that was about as appealing to watch as bricks being laid. In this game, the bricks were being launched toward the rims at an alarming rate. 

North Carolina (33-7) made just 26 of 73 shots (35.6 percent) and shot 4 of 27 from three-point range. Gonzaga (37-2) shot 33.9 percent on 20-of-59 shooting and committed 14 turnovers, compared to a stellar four for North Carolina.

"First of all, they were excellent tonight, defensively," Few said. "They disrupted us. They climbed up into us, kind of drove our offense outside the normal area, as far as our wing touches and our entries. And we didn't do a good job of probably executing that."

Yet, there the Bulldogs were, leading with 1:53 remaining in the game. From that point on, however, Gonzaga appeared to be stuck in mud, especially guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who had given Gonzaga the lead with a jumper. 

First, NC forward Justin Jackson tied the game on a jump shot before seconds later being fouled by Williams-Goss. Jackson made a free throw that gave NC a 66-65 lead it would never relinquish. Williams-Goss went on to miss a jumper that led to Tar Heels center Kennedy Meeks scoring on a short shot to give North Carolina a 68-65 lead with 26 seconds remaining. 

Williams-Goss came back again to try to tie the game but Meeks blocked his shot and that led to a breakaway dunk by Jackson to make it 70-65 with 12 seconds remaining. 

Gonzaga's final possession resulted in a turnover and that was that.  

In Williams-Goss' defense, he did sprain his ankle late in the game.

"Sprained it pretty good," he said. "It was the same ankle that I hurt last game so it was still a little bit weak. Stepped on it wrong and rolled it. But my adrenaline was rushing. Like I said last game, nothing was going to stop me from finishing out this game. So that's what happened."

A lot of interesting things happened for both teams, mostly mediocre. This was not a well played game. The officiating seemed to be a bit whistle-happy, calling 44 personal fouls with 27 foul calls in the first half. However, Few offered no excuses in that area. 

"I had no issue whatsoever," he said. "I thought they did a fabulous job. And I'm on the losing end. And it's just not an easy game to ref. And we're throwing the ball inside. They're throwing the ball inside. Our guards go downhill. Their guards go downhill. So, I thought they were great."

Gonzaga shouldn't blame anyone but itself for the loss. The Bulldogs, like the Ducks two nights prior, blew several opportunities late with their respective games against North Carolina on the line. 

What maybe mattered most in both cases was that the experience of the Tar Heels, who lost last year's national championship game, 77-74, to Villanova on a buzzer-beater. 

North Carolina, who called this season the "Redemption Tour," has now been to 20 Final Fours. Oregon - one in 78 years. Gonzaga - its first ever. 

The Bulldogs could have other looks at claiming a national championship. Maybe next time they will cash in. Maybe not. Either way, this season made it clear that a team from a second-tier conference could compete with the best of the best. 

"How many teams would take 37-2, league champs, national runner-up?" Gonzaga guard Jordan Matthews said. "We broke that glass ceiling everybody said we couldn't get over. Everybody was saying how the Zags couldn't get to the Final Four. So we did that."

And then some. 

Gonzaga's national title bid falls short in 71-65 loss to North Carolina

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Gonzaga's national title bid falls short in 71-65 loss to North Carolina

North Carolina 71, Gonzaga 65

How Gonzaga lost: No. 1 Gonzaga (37-2) fell just short of defeating No. 1 North Carolina (33-7) in the NCAA championship game, losing 71-65 Monday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

North Carolina, which defeated Oregon 77-76 in the Final Four on Saturday, scored the game's final eight points to erase a 65-63 deficit with 1:53 remaining after Nigel Williams-Goss scored on a jump shot for Gonzaga. 

The game-clincher came on a breakaway dunk from NC's Justin Jackson following center Kennedy Meeks blocking a shot by Williams-Goss with Gonzaga down three points. Jackson's dunk made the score 70-65 with 12 seconds remaining in the game.  

Both teams played horribly. Gonzaga shot 33.9 percent on 20-of-59 shooting. That was compounded by 14 turnovers compared to four for North Carolina. The Tar Heels were brutal on offense, making just 26 of 73 shots (35.6 percent) and shot 4 of 27 from three-point range. 

Key sequence: The brick-littered game appeared to be destined for a close finish, and the Bulldogs had the upper hand for a brief moment after Williams-Gosss' jumper game Gonzaga a lead, 65-63. Jackson scored to tie then Williams-Gosss fouled him seconds later leading to a free throw that gave NC a 66-65 lead with 1:40 on the clock. 

Williams-Gosss followed up by missing a jump shot that led to Meeks scoring on a jumper following him corralling an offensive rebound following a missed shot by Joel Berry II. That made the score 68-65, NC with 26 seconds remaining. 

Williams-Gosss came back again to try to tie it but had his shot blocked by Meeks, leading to the Jackson dunk to ice the game. 

Top performers: Williams-Gosss led Gonzaga with 15 points on 5-of-17 shooting. He also had six assists and nine rebounds. 

Josh Perkins had 13 points and five rebounds for the Bulldogs. 

Berry was named Final Four MVP after giving NC 22 points and six assists. NC forward Isaiah Hicks had 13 points and nine rebounds. 

Poor performances: Justin Jackson, NC's best player, made just 6 of 19 shots and went 0 for 9 from three-point range. But he made some clutch baskets late. 

Przemek Karnowski had a rough night inside against North Carolina's big men. He finished 1 of 8 from the field for nine points and nine rebounds. 

 

Yes, not getting those late rebounds hurt the Ducks, but...

Yes, not getting those late rebounds hurt the Ducks, but...

Oregon's Jordan Bell is obviously going to hurt for a while over not being able to grab two key rebounds off missed North Carolina free throws Saturday night in the NCAA semifinals. But come on, the Ducks would have had to go the length of the court and hit a rushed shot to beat the buzzer in order to win that game. Yes, I know. It's happened before. But...

I'd suggest there are certainly other things that are just as valid reasons for losing that contest. To wit:

  • How about hitting a three-point field goal once in a while? My goodness, the college three-point line is close enough there's really no excuse for not hitting at least 40 percent of them. The Ducks managed to nail just seven of 26 (26.9 percent) of their threes. That's just not good enough.
  • There were 16 turnovers, too. In a big game, Oregon could not afford to give up that many possessions to an outstanding team.
  • For some reason this is not being talked about but it was a huge part of what happened inside the final six seconds of the game. The Ducks had the ball, trailing by three points, when Oregon's Keith Smith popped open for a layup, which he converted, with six seconds to go. Now if Oregon still had a timeout left, or if the college game had the NBA rule where a timeout late in a game allows teams to move the ball to the front court. that would have been fine. But really, I'd much rather have seen the Ducks try to find an open three-point shot. Tie the game right then and there. But that late, going for a two -- even a near-certain two -- still leaves your team a point short. And I didn't feel, at that moment, there was enough time left to get that single point. Oregon got incredibly lucky that the Tar Heels could not make one free throw in four attempts and that kept hope alive. But it was a faint glimmer.
  • Yes, I know. The NCAA tourney has seen a couple of golden moments when players, Tyus Edney and Danny Ainge come to mind, scrambled the length of the court in a few seconds to win a game at the final horn. But we don't as easily remember the countless other times when such a mission failed.

This was the worst game Oregon played in the entire tournament and North Carolina certainly deserves some credit for that. But the Heels didn't play well, either, and the Ducks had a lot to do with that, too. Tough ending to a terrific season. The farther you go in a tournament, the more it hurts to lose.

And as you've probably heard before, losing hurts more than winning feels good. I just don't think Bell should bear the brunt of those feelings.

Oregon's comeback falls short, lose 77-76 to North Carolina

Oregon's comeback falls short, lose 77-76 to North Carolina

North Carolina 77, Oregon 76 

How Oregon lost: No. 3 Oregon (33-6) had a chance to steal this game in the end but twice failed to secure an offensive rebound after No. 1 North Carolina (32-7) missed four free throws in the final six seconds of this Final Four matchup Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks missed two free throws with the Tar Heels up 77-76 with 5.8 seconds remaining but Theo Pinson grabbed the rebound and got the ball to Joel Berry II, who was then fouled by Tyler Dorsey with 4.0 seconds remaining.

Berry then proceeded to miss two free throws, but this time it was Meeks who who grabbed the rebound and got the ball to Pinson, who ran out the clock for the win. 

That ended what had been a gutty performance by the outmatched Ducks, who were down by as much as 10 in the second half. But despite poor overall performances by Dorsey and Dillon Brooks, the Ducks were able to battle back and had a chance to win it late. 

North Carolina will face No. 1 Gonzaga in the championship game. The Bulldogs won 77-74 over No. 6 South Carolina in the day's first game.

The first half produced some odd basketball. Oregon struggled to hold on to the ball while NC couldn't make shots. At one point early, UO had committed six turnovers and NC was shooting 17.6 percent from the field. Oregon fought of its turnoves to build a 30-22 lead with 4:07 remaining in the half.  The Tar Heels then began making shots but Oregon continued to cough uup the ball. The Ducks finished with 12 turnovers in the first half. NC raised its shooting percentage to 40 percent by making seven of their last eight attempts, and consequently went on a 9-4 run to close the half and lead 39-36. 

Dorsey, clearly disrupted by NC's perimeter length on defense, missed all four of his shot attempts in the first half to finish with four points on free throws. Brooks also struggled, making 2 of 7 shots for six points. 

Oregon wasn't helped by an apparent ankle injury to Jordan Bell, who left the game for a couple of minutes before returning, but appeared to be bothered by the injury. 

Pritchard scored the team's first five points but three personal fouls limited him to six minutes of action in the first half. 

Meeks had 25 points and 14 rebounds. Justin Jackson scored 22 for North Carolina. 

What it means: Oregon advanced to its first Final Four since 1939 but came away empty. Still, this was the greatest season since then and is something the program can be proud of. Still, coming so close to defeating the Tar Heels here tonight will sting for some time. 

Key sequence: NC led 56-49 with 11:57 remaining in the game. At this point, Dorsey and Brooks are a combined 3 of 14. UO was 4 of 14 as a team in the half, including 1 of 8 on threes. 

Dorsey finally hit his first three-point shot while in transition off of a miss by Jackson to make it 56-52. But Pinson answered with a wide-open three for NC. The Tar Heels went on to methodically build a 71-62 lead with 5:54 remaining.

But the Ducks would not go away. Dorsey hit some free throws - he made 12 of 12 on the night - and Ennis made a three. Dorsey hit one of his three three-point field goals and then made another to make the score 77-74 with 46 seconds remaining.

Keith Smith got a made layup off of an assist from Ennis following a missed Pinson jumper and that set up the final seconds of action.

High-flying Ducks: Ennis had 18 points on 7 of 19 shooting. Jordan Bell gave the Ducks 13 points and 16 rebounds with four blocked shots. 

Fowl play: Dorsey scored 21 points but made just 3 of 11 shots. Brooks finished with 10 points on 2 of 11 shooting and had five turnovers before fouling out late in the second half.

His presence was missed down the stretch. 

Oregon committed a whopping 12 turnovers in the first half. 

Oregon shot 37.9 percent from the field. 

Up next:  Oregon will wait and see if Dorsey, Bell and/or Brooks head for the NBA along with seniors, Chris Boucher and Dylan Ennis. If two of the three return, the Ducks could be back here again next season. 

North Carolina hopes to avoid making the list of #ThingsJordanBellCouldBlock

North Carolina hopes to avoid making the list of #ThingsJordanBellCouldBlock

GLENDALE, Ariz. - You know you've got it going on when someone in the social media world creates a meme about you achieving superhuman feats. Take the shot-blocking prowess of Oregon forward Jordan Bell, for instance.

A search of #ThingsJordanBellCouldBlock on Twitter produces memes of Bell blocking a variety of items, including: A meteor from hitting the earth, the Titanic from sinking, the Death Star from destroying a planet and the Auburn kicker from making the winning field goal against Oregon in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game.

What's not available yet are images of Bell blocking the shots from Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Tony Bradley, Austin Jackson and Luke Maye. They make up North Carolina's five players 6-foot-8 or better that will be attacking the 6-9 Bell when the Tar Heels (31-7) and Ducks (33-5) meet in Saturday's Final Four at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Bell, who had eight blocks last week against Kansas in the Elite eight, will have to contend with all five of those Tar Heels, and a few more from their 10-man rotation, in order for the Ducks to win a game in which North Carolina has a decided size advantage. The Tar Heels plan to give him plenty of opportunities. NC's game plan is to attack Oregon's lone impact big man. 

“We’re going to try to go at him and hopefully get him in foul trouble,” Maye said.

“The best thing to do to a shot blocker is to just go right at him,” said Hicks. “Don’t give him a chance to block it.”

Many teams have tried to do just that and have failed. Namely the Jayhawks. They kept going inside and Bell kept rejecting their shot. Those Bell didn't block, he either altered or impacted with his mere presence. 

“He’s a grown man in the paint,” Bradley said.  “It’s going to be a great challenge."

Oregon coach Dana Altman said Bell has taken his game to another level since the Pac-12 Tournament when the team learned that 6-10 senior forward Chris Boucher would be lost for the season. Junior Kavell Bigby-Williams offers size at 6-10, but hasn't shown that he is ready to make big contributions in big games.

In UO's first game without Boucher, the Ducks lost 83-80 to Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game while having some trouble inside against the Wildcats. That has changed since, and Bell is the key reason why. 

"That dude is a freak," NC forward Theo Pinson said. 

Hicks said what makes Bell special is his ability to anticipate the shot, and "having the ability to jump quick." He said shooters have to be mindful of Bell after beating the man guarding them. 

“Most of (his blocks) come from the weakside so you’ve got to be aware of that," Hicks said. "You’ve got to know that you have an open teammate when you drop to the basket because he’s going to help. "

Junior All-American Justin Jackson said the Tar Heels must be savvy against Bell. 

"I think there are going to be a lot of times where there are going to be pump fakes involved, or drop offs involved," Jackson said. "It will be key to try to get him in foul trouble." 

The problem there is that Bell averages just 1.7 personal fouls per game, has fouled out only once this season while reaching four fouls only once since November, and has has committed just three personal fouls in four NCAA Tournament games with 12 blocked shots.

"I think part of it has just been his focus," Altman said. "And he's risen to the occasion. I think he knew when Chris went down that there was going to be more pressure on him to perform. And fortunately for us he's handled that pressure very well."

The bottom line for UO is that if Bell can be disruptive on defense, the Ducks have a chance to win. If not, and if NC's bigs can get to the basket and score, Oregon's season ends on Saturday. 

North Carolina has a plan for slowing down Dorsey and Brooks

North Carolina has a plan for slowing down Dorsey and Brooks

GLENDALE, Ariz. - North Carolina has watched the game video. The Tar Heels have poured over the statistics. They know the deal regarding Oregon stars, Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks. Slow them down during Saturday's Final Four matchup, or forget about playing on Monday. 

The how is the problem. The plan: Try to keep the ball out of their hands to begin with. 

“For us, we have to try and make it as hard as possible for him to catch it,” North Carolina junior forward Justin Jackson said. “It’s extremely hard to stop somebody who’s got it going like that when they have the ball.”

If No. 3 Oregon (33-5) is going to upset the No. 1 Tar Heels (31-7) at the University of Phoenix Stadium the Ducks must receive high-end performances from Dorsey, a sophomore, and Brooks, a junior.

"They're so athletic," NC coach Roy Williams said of Oregon. "I try to figure out who the dickens do I have that can guard them. They present a lot of problems."

The two have carried the team offensively. Dorsey, who after an inconsistent regular season that saw him make three or fewer field goals 14 times, including six outings of one or zero field goals made, has been on fire since the Pac-12 Tournament. He's averaging 23.5 points per game on 62.3 percent shooting, including 57.8 percent from three-point range. 

"He's been on a tear, no doubt about it," UO Coach Dana Altman said.

Brooks, the Pac-12 player of the year, is averaging 17.6 points on a modest 40 percent shooting, but he has hit several clutch shots along the way and is the team's best all-around playmaker. 

“It’s going to be tough," North Carolina junior forward Theo Pinson said. "Big-time scorers. They can shoot the ball at a high level. They are one-on-one players, so at the same time, you’ve got to take on that challenge. Get put on an island and see what you can do.”

It might take many Tar Heels on that island to deal with Dorsey, who hasn't met a shot he didn't like in this tournament. 

“A guy that hot, you’ve just got to be there and make it tough for them,” Pinson said.

That comes through pressure and disruption. Don't, Pinson added, let him get into rhythm. 

“At the same time, he’s making shots all type of ways, so it doesn’t even matter,” Pinson said. “You just try to be there as much as you can.”

On the other end, Oregon will have its hands full with Jackson, who at 6-foot-8 is one of the more versatile wings in the country. The first-team All-American is averaging 18.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. 

“Great player," Brooks said. "One of the best players in the country. He’s versatile, he's 6-8, he can shoot it from anywhere on the floor. He has length.”

Jackson and Pinson will look to use that length to disrupt Dorsey and Brooks. How well that works could decide the game. 

Oregon's Dana Altman has upset NC's Roy Williams before, can he do it again?

Oregon's Dana Altman has upset NC's Roy Williams before, can he do it again?

Oregon coach Dana Altman has steadily been establishing himself as an elite coach on a national level. Guiding the Ducks to the Final Four this weekend in Glendale, Ariz., is his crowing achievement.

On Saturday, Altman will take on a certified legend within the profession in North Carolina coach Roy Williams (814-216), winner of two national titles with the Tar Heels (31-7).

“He’s very well respected in the coaching ranks,” Altman (597-312) said during a recent teleconference. “He’s done an outstanding job for a long, long time. As a coach I admire that and I think the coaching profession does.”

The 66-year-old Williams’ resume is off the charts. In 14 seasons with the Tar Heels he has won two national titles, lost the title game last year, been to five Final Fours, eight Elite Eights and nine Sweet 16s.

At Kansas – a Williams' era Altman is all too familiar with - from 1988 through 2003, Williams reached the championship game twice (lost both), the Final Four four times, the Elite Eight five times and the Sweet 16 nine times.

All told, Williams has made 27 NCAA Tournament appearances. He has reached the Sweet 16 a total of 18 times, the Elite Eight 13 times, the Final Four nine times, the championship game four times and has two national titles.

Altman, 58, said he most admires Williams' ability to steadily put good teams on the court.  

“The consistency with how hard his teams play game in and game out, not only are they consistent from year to year, but game in, game out, they just perform," Altman said. 

No. 3 Oregon (33-5) plays No. 1 North Carolina in the Final Four on Saturday when Altman will try to pull off the upset against William’s team favored by 4 ½ points. Altman has achieved big upset wins over Williams in the past.

Altman coached at Kansas State as an assistant from 1986 through 1989 and then as the head coach from 1990 through 1994.  Williams spent 16 years as the head coach at Kansas from 1998 through 2003 before heading to North Carolina.

Kansas, a national power then and now, dominated the rivalry, but on Jan. 17, 1994, when the Jayhawks were ranked No. 1 in the nation, the Wildcats pulled off a 68-64 upset win at Allen Fieldhouse.  It was one of four conference wins for Kansas State that season.

“Guys stepped up and it was one of the times we got ‘em,” Altman said. “It was a big upset. I was really happy with the guys.”

Kansas got its revenge, however, taking down the Wildcats, 65-56 on the road on Feb. 12, and then again 73-52 during the first round of the Big Eight Tournament on Mar. 11.

Kansas went on to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament that season. KSU finished the season 20-14 (4-10).

Overall, Williams went 8-2 against Altman during their in-state rivalry. Altman got a win over Williams in the semifinals of the Big Eight Tournament on Mar. 13, 1993 by the score of 74-67 after losing to the Wildcats twice during the regular season.

“That was a long time ago and we had some good games, but unfortunately he won most of them,” Altman said. “Roy was doing a great job at Kansas, but we upset him a couple of times.”

Williams is doing another great job at North Carolina and as fate would have it, Altman will get another crack at pulling off an upset over his former rival. 

No. 3 Oregon will face storied No. 1 North Carolina in the Final Four

No. 3 Oregon will face storied No. 1 North Carolina in the Final Four

The Oregon Ducks went through a legendary Kansas program to reach the Final Four where they will face an even more storied college basketball program in North Carolina at 3 p.m. on Saturday at the Final Four in Phoenix, Ariz.  

The No. 1 Tar Heels won the South Region today by defeating No. 2 Kentucky, 75-73 in Memphis, Tenn.  

Oregon (33-5) put on a spectacular performance while upsetting the No. 1 Jayhawks (31-5) in the Midwest Regional finals Saturday in Kansas City, Mo.  The Ducks might need an equally great showing to do the same to the Tar Heels (31-7). 

North Carolina is one of the deepest teams in the nation, often playing a 10-man rotation, as it did Sunday against the Wildcats (32-5). 

Plus, the Tar Heels have tons of front court depth, something UO sorely lacks. The Ducks play just two players taller than 6-foot-7, junior forward Jordan Bell (6-9) and junior forward Kavell Bigby-Williams (6-10). Only Bell is a consistent performer. So much so that he was named the Midwest Regional MVP

The Tar Hells, coached by Roy Williams (814-216 overall, 396-115 at NC), rotate five players that stand 6-8 or better: Senior Kennedy Meeks (6-10), freshman Tony Bradley (6-10), senior Isaiah Hicks (6-9), junior Justin Jackson (6-8) and sophomore Luke Maye (6-8).

Maye hit the game-winning jump shot with .3 seconds remaining to defeat Kentucky. Jackson is an All-American averaging 18.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Meeks gives the Tar Heels 12.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. 

Despite all of the team's size, NC averages a modest three blocked shots per game. Bell had eight blocks against Kansas and is averaging 2.3 on the season. 

North Carolina has an elite point guard in Joel Berry II, who is averaging 14.7 points and 3.6 assists per game. 

NC's size certainly will provide a test inside for the Ducks. But Oregon can counter with the hottest offensive player in the nation in sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey, and Pac-12 player of the year, junior forward Dillon Brooks. 

History of success is certainly on North Carolina's side. The Tar Heels, producer of legendary stars like James Worthy, Michael Jordan and Vince Carter, will be going to their 20th Final Four seeking their sixth national title. Most recent titles came in 209 and 2005. NC lost the national championship game last season to Villanova. 

The Ducks will be making their first trip to the Final Four, but second to the semifinals. When the Ducks won the 1939 national title there was no formal Final Four round held at a single site.