Saturday night was a big night in the college basketball world, as the 4 remaining teams squared off at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
As a reward for their success, the NCAA grants the remaining four teams the opportunity to play in a professional football stadium. This tradition continued Saturday night when the No. 1 seeded Gonzaga University faced off against the No. 7 seeded University of South Carolina.
This was the first Final Four in over 40 years where two teams made their championship weekend debut.
A scary moment for Gonzaga Bulldogs fans came late in the first half when senior forward Przemek Karnowski took a shot to the eye and was forced to leave the game. Karnowski has been a vital part to the Gonzaga program recording a NCAA-record 136 wins during his collegiate career.
Without the winningest player in college basketball history, the Bulldogs took it upon themselves to step up. They went on a 14-5 run to close the first half, and took a nine-point lead into halftime.
The resilient South Carolina Gamecocks stormed back in the second half to take the lead. They increased their defensive pressure which helped promote open shots on offense. Sophomore guard PJ Dozier netted 17 points for the Gamecocks in 30 minutes of action.
The Gamecocks were unable to carry their momentum through the second half. They went cold on the offensive end, only connecting on two shots over the last seven minutes of the game.
The Bulldogs recaptured the moment and held on to win 77-73 behind 23 points, six assists, and five rebound from junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss. The Bulldogs celebrated their first ever entrance into the big dance championship.
As they stormed to the locker room to celebrate their victory, the second game of the night began between the No. 1 seeded University of North Carolina and the No. 3 seeded University of Oregon.
North Carolina was the most picked team to win the tournament, according to Sportscenter, with 15% of all brackets choosing them as champions.
The entire game was battled back and forth, with neither team pulling away. North Carolina headed into half with a slim margin of three points. The Oregon Ducks matched the North Carolina Tar Heels on both ends throughout the first half, and limited Tar Heels senior guard Joel Berry III to just 11 points on 2-14 shooting.
The second half was much of the same. Ducks star junior forward Dillon Brooks had to sit more than he usually does because of foul trouble. He contributed 10 points and six rebounds, but committed six turnovers before fouling out.
Without one of their best players, the Ducks looked to junior forward Jordan Bell, and sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey to close the game. Both players had a significant impact, but ultimately came up short.
The Tar Heels played through their two big stars, senior forward Kennedy Meeks and junior forward Justin Jackson.
Down the final minute of action, the Heels missed four consecutive free throws that would have put the game out of reach for the Ducks. A huge offensive rebound from Kennedy Meeks cemented the Tar Heel win.
The combination of Meek’s rebounding and inside scoring with Jackson’s shooting ability from outside help lead the Tar Heels to 1 77-76 victory.
After falling short in 2016, the Tar Heels won the NCAA men’s basketball championship late Monday night, defeating Gonzaga 71-65.