GLENDALE, Ariz. — Only 40 minutes of action now separate the North Carolina men’s basketball team from what eluded it a year ago: A national championship.
All season, these Tar Heels — most of whom were part of last year’s team, the one that lost the title on an unbelievable buzzer-beater by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins — have talked about getting back here, back to the title game, back to the spot they fell just short of. In order to avenge a loss, you’ve got to get back in position to have a chance to do it, after all.
North Carolina withstood a long stretch of poor shooting in the first half in which it trailed by as many as eight points and a second-half push by Tyler Dorsey and Dylan Ennis to beat Oregon, 77-76, in the second of two national semifinal games Saturday night. UNC missed four consecutive free throws in the closing seconds but won the game with two ginormous offensive rebounds, the second of which ran out the time on the clock to secure the victory.
The Tar Heels will face fellow No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Monday night in the national championship game. Monday will be North Carolina coach Roy Williams’ 100th time coaching a game in the NCAA tournament as a head coach. He’ll be shooting for his third national title.
The remaining 2017 Final Four teams are the Gonzaga Bulldogs, Oregon Ducks, and North Carolina Tar Heels. The NCAA tournament’s premier event starts Saturday night at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. Gonzaga beat South Carolina in one national semifinal on Saturday. Oregon and UNC are playing in the other.
North Carolina vs. Oregon, 8:49 p.m. ET Saturday
National championship: 9 p.m. ET Monday
Every game is on CBS.
Both games stream live on Westwood One.
North Carolina’s got a cool opportunity on its hands. The Heels are a year removed from the downside of the most heartbreaking national title loss imaginable, on a last-second three-pointer by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins. They’re two wins away from burying that, at least to some degree, until the end of time. But if they fall short again, the pain could start to pile up quickly for a team with many holdover players. .
The stakes are big, and so is the stage. This will be a fun night.