North Carolina downs Ducks, will take on Gonzaga in championship game

Posted at 8:54 PM, Apr 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-02 09:46:35-04

The Oregon Ducks came just two points away from making Monday's championship game matchup an all-west coast affair.

The top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels built a double-digit lead and held on for a one-point victory against the No. 3 seed Ducks, 77-76 in the second game of the national semifinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on Saturday. UNC moves on to face Gonzaga, which survived a nail-biter of its own in the early game, 77-73 vs. South Carolina.

It's the first time in 25 years that all four semifinal teams scored at least 70 points.

This will be North Carolina's second straight championship game appearance; the Tar Heels fell to Villanova on a last-second shot in last year's game. Gonzaga will make its first-ever title game appearance.

Here are three big takeaways from the Tar Heels' win.

1. Rebounding does in the Ducks.

I picked North Carolina to beat Oregon primarily because the Tar Heels are the nation's best rebounding team. They reminded the nation of that fact in the game's final seconds when they came up with a pair of crucial rebounds following free-throw misses.

Kennedy Meeks' team-high 14th rebound with four seconds remaining sealed the Ducks' fate, as Oregon badly missed injured forward/rebounding machine Chris Boucher on Saturday.

2. Kennedy Meeks is a beast.

Speaking of Meeks... the 6-foot-10, 260-pound senior matched his career-high at UNC with 25 points on Saturday, as he made a ridiculous 11 of 13 field-goal attempts.

Meeks has pulled down 31 rebounds in his last two games -- but he'll face a larger Gonzaga team on Monday. The battle between himself and Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga's 7-foot-1, 300-pounder, will be fun to watch.

3. Dillon doesn't get the job done.

Dillon Brooks won the 2016-17 Pac-12 Player of the Year award, and it was well deserved. But when the Ducks needed him most, the 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward was nowhere to be found -- and that fact was quite literal in the game's final 92 seconds.

Brooks appeared to struggle with his confidence throughout the game, and it showed on the stat sheet, as he scored just 10 points on 2 of 11 shooting from the field (0 of 3 from 3-point range). He eventually fouled out on a silly foul with 1:32 to play.

Brooks wasn't the only Oregon player to come up short, especially from distance, as the team went 7 of 26 from beyond the arc for the game. But the Ducks' leader wasn't able to make the big plays his team needed down the stretch.