Gonzaga Aims For First Title Against High-Flying North Carolina

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GLENDALE (CBSMiami/SportsDirect) – The Madness of March is about to end, and the final game of the season promises to be epic.

Gonzaga is in uncharted territory while North Carolina aims to make up for last season’s NCAA Tournament championship game loss when the two No. 1 seeds collide Monday in Glendale, Ariz.

The Bulldogs are in the title game for the first time in school history while the Tar Heels, who lost to Villanova last season, are looking to win their sixth national crown.

North Carolina suffered a 77-74 loss last season when Villanova’s Kris Jenkins drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer and the players were constantly reminded of the fact during their NCAA Tournament run.

“I think you’re always going to have that in the back of your mind because it was a heartbreaking experience for us,” said senior center Kennedy Meeks, who matched his career high of 25 points and collected 14 rebounds in Saturday’s 77-76 victory over Oregon.

Gonzaga regularly hears a different refrain that suggests they aren’t a championship-caliber squad because it plays in the middling West Coast Conference.

“I think the respect thing has to go out the window,” junior point guard Nigel Williams-Goss said after scoring 23 points in Saturday’s 77-73 victory over South Carolina.  “You have 37 wins in a college season, I mean that’s just unbelievable. And to be playing the last game of the season, we have a chance to play for it all and we’re here to win it.”

TV: 9:20 p.m. ET, CBS

ABOUT GONZAGA (37-1): Backup freshman center Zach Collins displayed why he is the program’s top NBA prospect by contributing 14 points, 13 rebounds and a career-best six blocked shots versus South Carolina.

The trio of Collins (averages of 10 points, 5.9 rebounds), senior center Przemek Karnowski (12.3 points, 5.8 rebounds) and junior power forward Johnathan Williams (10.2 points, team-best 6.5 boards) will be counted on to neutralize North Carolina’s strong interior play.

Williams-Goss (team-best 16.9 points), senior shooting guard Jordan Mathews (10.8 points, team-leading 83 3-pointers) and sophomore guard Josh Perkins (eight points per game) combined for 130 of the Bulldogs’ 263 steals.

ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA (32-7): Meeks is a beast on the boards with a 13.3 rebounding average over the past four games and is averaging 12.7 points and a team-leading 9.4 rebounds — a big reason why the Tar Heels boast the best rebounding margin (12.7) in the country.

Junior forward Justin Jackson leads the Tar Heels in scoring (18.3) and 3-pointers (105) and recorded three 20-point outings in the tourney, including 22 points against Oregon.

Junior point guard Joel Berry II (14.5 points) is playing through two sprained ankles – he was 2-of-14 shooting against the Ducks – while senior forward Isaiah Hicks (11.8) also averages in double digits.

TIP-INS

  1. The programs split two previous meetings with North Carolina’s victory coming in the Sweet 16 of the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
  2. The Tar Heels lead the nation in offensive rebounds (15.8) per game.
  3. The Bulldogs rank second nationally in field-goal percentage (50.8) behind UCLA (52.2).

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Sports Direct Inc. contributed to this report.)

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