Ratings boost: NCAA title game viewership up 30 percent

North Carolina won 71-65. Gonzaga stormed right back with an 8-0 run of its own to make it 43-40 with 14:34 left.

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip).

Justin Jackson delivered the go-ahead three-point play and North Carolina scored the last eight points for a 71-65 win over Gonzaga and a title that heartbreakingly eluded the Tar Heels past year.

Carolina shot 35 percent from the field, a percentage point worse than it did in Saturday's semifinal win over OR, which stood, for two days, as their worst shooting night in a tournament win since 1967.

Gonzaga might not attract future National Basketball Association lottery picks, but Mark Few's brand extends beyond the United States, attracting worldwide players and transfers like Nigel Williams-Goss to Spokane.

But most of the team that finished 37-2 is expected to return and is nearly certain to have enough talent to earn a 20th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. "So we were at fault just as much as anybody else", Williams said.

In 2016 in Houston, UNC lost in a thriller, succumbing to Villanova on that last-second three-pointer by Kris Jenkins. For their efforts, the Bulldogs earned the No. 1 seed for the West region for the NCAA tournament.

Fans of the Tar Heels called it the Road To Redemption while the rest of the nation thought it might have been the road to corruption as college basketball spectators watched blown call after blown call in the final minutes hand a title that David had won to Goliath. Fortunately for the Heels, Final Four MVP junior guard Joel Berry should return and prevent the team from falling off the map. Now their biggest unrealized goal is a national title.

"I had no idea", Gonzaga coach Mark Few said after the game. "But I'm hoping and knowing that perspective will come with time". UNC was shooting a season-low 30.6 percent from the field at this point and hit just two 3-pointers to the Zags' five.

"We threw the ball into the post and I didn't deliver", Karnowski said after the game.

But that is not really the true measure of Karnowski's impact on the program. He has the most wins of any player in Division I history, at 137, and was a part of both Gonzaga teams that reached No. 1 rankings and a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, including the 2013 team. Josh Perkins added 13 points.

Meeks and sidekick Isaiah Hicks - who combined for 65 percent of the Heels frontcourt minutes this season will graduate. "But we got three because I've got these guys with me and that's all I care about right now - my guys". A program mired by NCAA investigation for years has returned to its previous elite form and won a title just in time for some top contributors to move on to the National Basketball Association.

Meeks had 25 points and 14 rebounds in the semifinal win but seven points and 10 boards against the Zags. Many have suggested he may be a one-and-done player. Jackson had 16 points, while Hicks had 13 points, nine rebounds, two blocks and one steal. Moments later, Williams-Goss twisted an ankle and could not elevate for a jumper that would've given the Bulldogs the lead. Williams-Goss played his first two seasons at Washington and had to sit out a year before playing this season.

Gonzaga is in stronger shape for next season, but its future is also in doubt until we find out who is declaring for the draft.

Berry, along with most of Roy Williams' players, returned for another run. He is 503-113 as coach of the Zags since 2000 and has never missed an NCAA Tournament. Little-used Rui Hachimura, a player from Japan with huge potential, is also back. For the first time, they went undefeated through their tough nonconference slate. That ended when BYU came to Spokane and beat them 79-71 in the regular-season finale.

  • Angelo Rivera