GLENDALE, Ariz. – Nothing made much sense in the second half.
Foul calls stopped the game’s flow in its tracks and left key players on both teams in foul trouble.
Perimeter shooting – excellent by Gonzaga in the first half, poor by North Carolina – went south for both teams. For that matter, shots in the paint were missing the mark.
Gonzaga senior center Przemek Karnowski couldn’t get a 4-foot shot to fall but he could connect from the free-throw line. North Carolina’s Joel Berry II, a 79-percenter, missed two straight at the line. GU’s Nigel Williams-Goss uncharacteristically missed 4 of 8 attempts.
After all the whistles, reviews and halting play, the Zags still led North Carolina by two on a clutch Williams-Goss’ bank shot.
Less than two minutes to the finish line for the national championship, with the best defense in the country and one of the best finishers in college basketball in Williams-Goss.
The Zags came through in the final minutes to hold off Northwestern and they dug out a win over West Virginia on Jordan Mathews’ clutch 3-pointer. This time, it was North Carolina that made every big play in the last 90 seconds in a 71-65 victory on Monday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Gonzaga was stung by Williams-Goss’ ill-timed rolled ankle with 1:25 left. By then, the Zags had slipped behind when Justin Jackson escaped from the defense for a three-point play.
Williams-Goss, who scored Gonzaga’s last eight points, stayed in the game, running during a timeout to try to keep his ankle loose.
“I sprained it pretty good, the same ankle I hurt (against South Carolina on Saturday) so it was a little weak,” Williams-Goss said. “But my adrenaline was rushing. Nothing was going to stop me from finishing out the game.”
Zags coach Mark Few called Williams-Goss’ number again, but the junior guard came up short on a jump shot.
The Zags got a defensive stop, but they couldn’t get the rebound. A jump ball was called, leaving UNC with possession. TV replays apparently showed the North Carolina player’s hand was out of bounds. Few said he couldn’t see it from his angle or he would have requested a review.
The Zags’ coach had no issue with the officiating.
“These are two heavyweights going at it, playing really physical basketball,” he said. “We’re throwing it inside, they’re throwing it inside. Our guards go downhill, their guards go downhill. I thought they were great.”
Isaiah Hicks powered inside for a bucket. Williams-Goss tried to answer but he had no lift on a field-goal attempt that was rejected by Kennedy Meeks, leading to a Jackson dunk at the other end and a 70-65 lead.
The Tar Heels’ celebration erupted after a Gonzaga turnover. The Zags were left to ponder what-ifs and try to put a remarkable season in perspective.
“We broke that glass ceiling everybody said we couldn’t get over,” senior guard Jordan Mathews said. “Everybody was saying how the Zags couldn’t get to the Final Four. So we did that.
“It started in ’99 when they went to the Elite Eight. The Zags keep breaking that ceiling. I have no doubt there will be future Zags that get over this hump.”