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Gonzaga to play North Carolina for NCAA championship

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			Gonzaga to play North Carolina for NCAA championship

GLENDALE, Ariz. — North Carolina missed the shots. No surprise there.

Kennedy Meeks saved the game. No surprise there, either.

Meeks, the only Tar Heel who could shoot straight Saturday night, grabbed the game-saving offensive rebound in a 77-76 semifinals victory over Oregon after the ice-cold Tar Heels missed their fourth straight free throw down the stretch. The Tar Heels return to the national title game to face Gonzaga on Monday.

All part of a career night for the North Carolina senior, who was on the bench last year when Villanova devastatingly ended the Tar Heels’ chance at a title with a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

In this one, Meeks finished 11 for 13 for 25 points and 14 rebounds, none more important than the last one.

The rest of his team: 14 for 55 from the floor. Justin Jackson was one of the few to break through. He had 22 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

“If it wasn’t for Kennedy Meeks, we wouldn’t have been in the basketball game,” Carolina coach Roy Williams said.

In some ways, losing this one might have felt every bit as bad as the Villanova loss last year for this, a team on a mission with only one acceptable destination.

Mostly on grit, rebounding and Meeks, North Carolina (33-6) led this game the entire second half and appeared poised, time after time, for a knockout of the never-say-die Ducks (32-7).

Never happened. And after Keith Smith’s layup pulled Oregon within one with 7 seconds left, it looked like it would come down to free throws.

It did, and it wasn’t pretty.

First, Meeks got fouled, stepped to the line and calmly bricked two. But Theo Pinson got inside and batted the ball back out to Joel Berry II, who got fouled with 4 seconds left.

Berry missed both, too. But Meeks outmuscled Jordan Bell for that final rebound, threw it outside, and this ugly affair was over.

“My main focus was, if Joel missed the second free throw, to hit the offensive glass hard,” Meeks said.

Gonzaga got in its first title game by beating South Carolina in the other semifinal.

Nigel Williams-Goss scored 23 points, Gonzaga’s big men combined for 27 and the Bulldogs kept South Carolina from taking a game-tying shot in a 77-73 victory Saturday night in a matchup of first-time teams at the Final Four.

“Just an awesome, awesome basketball game, with just how hard both teams competed,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It took everything we had to hold them off and come back.”

The Bulldogs’ 7-footers, senior Przemek Karnowski and freshman Zach Collins, took care of things on both ends of the court, combining for 18 rebounds. Collins also had a career-high six blocks.

“That’s my job is to go in and rim protect,” said Collins, who had 14 points and 13 rebounds. “I had four fouls today. But I thought, you know, getting those blocked shots would help us.”

Gonzaga (37-1), the top seed in the West Regional, will face North Carolina, the top seed in the South, for the title on Monday night.

“To be playing the last game of the year, that’s crazy cool,” Few said.

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