GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Two college basketball programs on opposite ends of the country and with much different histories will face off for the national championship on Monday.
North Carolina and Gonzaga pulled out hard-fought wins in the semifinals to set the stage for the title game. North Carolina has five national titles, and Gonzaga is making its first appearance in a championship game.
Kennedy Meeks matched his career high with 25 points and grabbed 14 rebounds as North Carolina won 77-76.
Meeks’ final rebound was the most pivotal, coming after a missed free throw in the closing seconds.
North Carolina missed four straight free throws at the end of the game but got offensive rebounds in both cases to emerge victorious.
Dylan Ennis and Tyler Dorsey scored 21 and 18 points for the Ducks. Dillon Brooks had a rough night for Oregon, making 2 of 11 shots and committing five turnovers before fouling out.
North Carolina’s academic scandal was brought up on the CBS broadcast during the second half of the Tar Heels’ national semifinal against Oregon.
Jim Nantz suggested that recruiting has been tough for the Tar Heels because of the scandal, noting the team has an upperclassman-dominated roster. “They’ve had to live with all of this, all the swirling innuendo with what went on there with all the academic fraud allegations,” he said.
North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham told The Associated Press earlier this week that it “would be inappropriate to try to estimate a timeline” as to when this saga might end. The NCAA’s ongoing probe of the Tar Heels is tied to irregularities in an academic department and led to five broad-based charges against the school that include lack of institutional control.
Current UNC players were years away from arriving in Chapel Hill when it began.
The Final Four brought the largest crowd to attend a sporting event at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Organizers say attendance was 77,612. That is dramatically more fans than the building typically holds for Arizona Cardinals football games. Average attendance for Cardinals games is about 64,000. The Cardinals have sold out every game since the building opened in 2006.
The stadium can hold thousands more seats for basketball in what marks the first time the Final Four has been in Arizona.