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Gonzaga Basketball

North Carolina reached deep into its bag of big plays to defeat Gonzaga

Kennedy Meeks’ block shot that led to this dunk by North Carolina’s Justin Jackson is one example of how the Tar Heels made big plays in the final minute to defeat Gonzaga. (Chris Steppig / Associated Press)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Gonzaga was able to counteract North Carolina’s biggest strength, outrebounding the Tar Heels 49-46. They also shut down the Carolina offense for the most part, holding UNC to 35.6 percent shooting from the field.

But the new national champions found other ways to win.

UNC usually creates extra possessions through superior rebounding. The Tar Heels average 13 more rebounds per game than their opponent, a stat only one other team has matched since 1980.

On Monday night the Tar Heels found other ways to get extra possessions. They blocked eight shots and stole the ball seven times. And they did not give possessions away.

“We had four turnovers. That’s the biggest thing that we wanted to take care of, because they’re a great defensive team,” said UNC senior Kennedy Meeks. “They do a great job getting in the passing lanes. For us to have four turnovers against the best team in the country is big time for us.”

After trailing for most of the first half, creating extra possessions is how the Tar Heels took the controlling position in the second. Just six seconds into the second half, Isaiah Hicks stole the ball from Josh Perkins, which led to a Joel Berry layup. Perkins turned it over again just seconds later, leading to a pair of free throws by Justin Jackson.

The Tar Heels took the lead and would not trail by more than three points again in the game. They also created extra possessions in the game’s most pivotal moments, with Meeks blocking Nigel Williams’ floater with 16 seconds to play and stealing the ball following Justin Jackson’s dunk.

“Before this game I didn’t know we’d make the plays we needed to down the stretch,” Jackson said. “But those last three minutes were our best three minutes of the game and that’s what propelled us to be a national champion.”