Arrow-right Camera
Subscribe now
Gonzaga Basketball

Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson hold the key to victory for the North Carolina Tar Heels

North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks, left, and Justin Jackson react during the second half in the semifinals of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament against Oregon, Saturday, April 1, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Two juggernauts will go head-to-head on Monday, and with all due respect to the No. 1 seeds competing for a national championship, we’re not talking about the teams.

There are few players able to use their size as a weapon against Gonzaga’s 7-foot-1, 300-pound center Przemek Karnowski. But 6-10, 260-pound Kennedy Meeks may be one of them.

North Carolina’s sizable but soft-handed center bruised the Oregon Ducks inside, scoring 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting in UNC’s 77-76 Final Four victory. It’s UNC’s star frontcourt players who made the difference for the Tar Heels – Meeks and ACC Player of Year Justin Jackson shot 65 percent from the field while their teammates made just 19 percent of their shots.

UNC’s stars played brilliantly on Saturday and yet the Ducks were within a single rebound of pulling the upset. But that’s the thing about the Tar Heels. They always get the rebound.

The Tar Heels lead the nation in rebounding margin, averaging 13 more than their opponent. That’s the best margin in school history by two boards per game, and the second highest of any school since 1980.

On Saturday, both schools collected 43 boards and the margin was razor thin. That’s encouraging for Mark Few’s Gonzaga squad, although the ending should not be.

UNC missed its final three free throws, exactly what the Ducks needed to set up a winning shot. But after the first miss, UNC’s Theo Pinson secured the offensive rebound. Joel Berry II was fouled and missed both shots with 4 seconds left, but Meeks got another offensive board and the Tar Heels drained the clock.

Here’s what Few said a couple hours earlier, when asked about the merits of fouling when up three points in the final seconds of a game:

“You have to rebound the free throw, and we have been as bad at rebounding free throws – I think we gave up I think two dead-balls, one today. For whatever reason we just don’t rebound free throws very well.”