After 18 days and 63 basketball games, it all came down to this final game. The Championship of March Madness. April 3, 2017. Glendale, Arizona. Gonzaga versus North Carolina. For Gonzaga, this is a game about history. They have made Elite Eight appearances in 1999 and 2015, but never advanced further. Gonzaga has proved their naysayers wrong, and this small Jesuit school is playing to win their first ever NCAA championship. For North Carolina, this is a game about redemption. One year ago, North Carolina lost the national title by a buzzer beater against Villanova. Unable to escape Kris Jenkins’ heroic shot, this has motivated them the entire year, desiring their second chance.
From the second the ball was tipped-off, the game was fast paced and high energy. Both Gonzaga and North Carolina were catching their rhythms, with excellent ball movement. In the first 5 minutes of the game, the great ball distribution showed, as there were 11 field goals by 11 different players. The lead and momentum were constantly shifting, and by the end of the half, the score was tight, 35–32 Gonzaga.
The wise words of Hubert Davis, North Carolina’s assistant coach, turned the game around. At halftime he emphasized to his team, “Very few times in life you get second chances, you get a redo. You do. You actually get a chance to do something about it. What are you going to do?” Davis’s reminder of their mission was key. Each player was forced to remember the pain they felt of losing last year in the last second shot. They remembered the feeling of being so close to reach their dream, but falling short. This ignited the fire in North Carolina and they came out of the half with an 8–0 run. The second half was not smooth sailing to say the least, but North Carolina managed to keep their composure. Gonzaga and North Carolina were both in bonus only 7 minutes into the half, bringing a halt to the pace of the game. The game became sloppy, both teams seeming desperate and frantic. However, the sequence in the last 2 minutes is what decided the game. It began with North Carolina’s Joel Berry having a key rebound. Berry then passed to Justin Jackson for a dunk. And to further cement North Carolina’s lead, Przemek Karnowski of Gonzaga turned the ball over. With that, the score was 71–65, and the North Carolina Tar Heels picked up their 6th NCAA title.
North Carolina’s experience and ability to perform well under a huge spotlight is what helped carry them to the trophy. Gonzaga proved incompetent of the pressure, and their 14 turnovers was the nail in their coffin. Gonzaga’s spectacular three-point shooting is what was able to keep them in the game for so long. Gonzaga had a three-point percentage of 42.1 and North Carolina’s was 14.8. However, even with this remarkable difference, North Carolina was still able to excel in their mission of avenging last year’s loss.
For North Carolina, victory tastes just that much sweeter when you have tasted defeat. Instead of the confetti raining on their parade, this time around, it fell in joyous celebration of their redemption.