By Will Keyse
After a game-winning shot from Villanova University’s (Villanova, Pennsylvania) Kris Jenkins downed University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, North Carolina) in the NCAA National Championship game last spring, everything the North Carolina Tar Heels did this season was with the goal of getting back to the big stage.
On Monday April 3, North Carolina battled Gonzaga University (Spokane, Washington) in Phoenix for the chance to come away with a national championship, and held off the Bulldogs to capture the elusive title by a score of 71-65.
UNC’s victory represented the sixth time in school history that the Tar Heels came out on top of the college basketball world, good for third among all NCAA teams. It also represented the third time that head coach Roy Williams has led the school to a championship, which leaves him tied for fourth among college coaches all time. Among active coaches, Williams trails only behind Duke University’s (Durham, North Carolina) Mike Krzyzewski.
The Tar Heels came into the tournament as a number one seed in their South Regional bracket, and easily blew past Texas Southern University (Houston, Texas) 103-64, and held off a resilient University of Arkansas team (Fayetteville, Arkansas) 72- 65 to make it to the Sweet Sixteen.
North Carolina did not have much trouble in their matchup with Butler University (Indianapolis, Indiana), and earned a 92-80 win over the Bulldogs, getting 26 points from their star guard, Joel Berry (Orlando, Florida). From there, things got a little tougher for the Tar Heels.
The Elite Eight brought a contest with fellow perennial powerhouse, John Calipari’s University of Kentucky Wildcats (Lexington, Kentucky). The final seconds of the game brought a whirlwind of events, with Kentucky tying the game on a difficult three-point shot from first-year student Malik Monk (Bentonville, Arkansas) before North Carolina’s sophomore Luke Maye (Huntersville, North Carolina) nailed a game winning jumper as time ran down, ending the game 75-73.
In the Final Four, North Carolina squared off against the University of Oregon (Eugene, Oregon), and came out victorious in dramatic fashion for the second game in a row. The Tar Heels were up consistently throughout the game, and a last minute surge from the Ducks brought Oregon within one before North Carolina secured an offensive rebound and ran out the clock to win 77-76. In the championship Monday night in Phoenix, North Carolina faced yet another heated battle. With one minute and 40 seconds left, Gonzaga held a one-point lead until junior Justin Jackson (Spring, Texas) converted a three-point play to put the Tar Heels permanently in the lead. Several defensive stops and two buckets later, the North C a r o l i n a Tar Heels were the 2017 NCAA champions.
North Carolina will look to repeat their championship run next season without the services of five graduating seniors, two of whom were in the starting lineup. Whether or not Justin Jackson and Joel Berry return to the team next year will play a big part in the team’s future succe