Almost exactly one year after losing the National Championship to Villanova due to arguably the best shot in college basketball history, the North Carolina Tarheels completed their mission this year by coming out on top.
It was a long journey for the Tar Heels, who last year were left with their knees on the hardwood and their faces buried in their hands as they had to deal with the agony of watching a National Title slip right out of their grasp.
It was heart-wrenching to watch from one end, but an exhilarating moment to witness from the other.
All summer long, the shot was ingrained within their minds. All summer long, they prepared for this season with a vengeance, with their minds fixated on last night where they could take that feeling of agony and turn it into a feeling of pure joy and accomplishment.
Last night, they completed their mission.
The Tar Heels faced off against a Gonzaga team who was just as hungry as they were and who had only lost one game all year.
Led by Coach Mark Few, the Bulldogs have won 81 percent of their games the last ten seasons, but during tournament time had fell short of making the Final Four.
This year, due to a balanced inside/outside attack, led by a true point guard and a mountain like center, the Bulldogs entered the National Title game, with thoughts of completing their own mission: a mission of respect.
They were doubted even as a number one overall seed because they play in a much weaker conference than most other teams in the tourney, so their mission was to ultimately silence the haters and earn the respect of the college basketball world by winning a National Title.
Unfortunately for the Zags, when it mattered most, the team who had been tested night in and night out in the ACC rose to the occasion in crunch time while the Bulldogs wavered.
For most of the game, it was a back and forth affair.
Gonzaga started the game strong, out rebounding the best rebounding team in the country in the first half and hitting some timely threes to keep their lead throughout the game.
North Carolina was struggling from the field, missing threes and shots in the post that they usually make, not getting to the 50-50 balls that they usually get to and looking out of sync offensively. Their go-to guy Justin Jackson hadn’t found his shot all game from deep and it looked as though this was Gonzaga’s game to win.
In the second half, particularly when there was 5 minutes left in the game, the tide reversed and the Tar Heels began to look like themselves. Jackson began to slash to the rim and finish at the basket, point guard Joel Berry, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, began to sink clutch threes to keep UNC ahead, and their big men began to rebound with a vengeance and finish at the rim.
On the other side, Gonzaga tightened up a little and began to take and miss uncharacteristic shots and turn the ball over in clutch situations. This came to a head in consecutive possessions when UNC had made a basket to push their lead to 68-65 with 25 seconds left and their point guard Nigel Williams- Goss decided to go for the quick to by making a spin move and an ill-advised shot over a much bigger defending while fading back that was blocked and lead to a dunk by Jackson on the other end. The next possession, Williams- Goss turned the ball over on a quick pass that led to a foul and Berry making one of two free throws, bringing the game to 71-65 which was the final score.
As the final seconds ticked down, UNC and their fans jumped up and down with the pure feeling of joy they have been seeking for the last year. Thoughts of last season immediately left their minds because they were the new National Champions.
That mission was completed.
Did you want UNC or Gonzaga to win the National Title? Let’s talk about it here or find me on Twitter @Phenombc3.