GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Two No. 1 seeds, one in its first Final Four, the other a perennial contender, will meet for the NCAA national championship.
It could be quite a brawl.
When Gonzaga meets North Carolina Monday night, it’s a matchup of marauding big men in the middle and deep rosters.
“They’re big just like us and they match up with us pretty well,” North Carolina’s Theo Pinson said. “Their guards are really good. We just got to play the game and execute.”
The centers are beastly.
Gonzaga (37-1) brings 7-foot-1, 300-pound Przemek Karnowski. He will have 3 inches and 40 pounds on the Tar Heels’ 6-10, 260-pound Kennedy Meeks, who may have had the best game of his career in Saturday night’s 77-76 win over Oregon.
Meeks matched his career high with 25 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, the last to preserve the victory after the last of North Carolina’s four missed free throws in the final 6 seconds.
“Kennedy, I thought, was awesome,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “I thought he controlled everything inside — 25 points, 14 rebounds, 11 of 13 (shooting).”
Karnowski will be a load, as he is with every opponent. He was one of the main reasons that Gonzaga regrouped after blowing a 14-point second half lead to beat South Carolina 77-73.
But the Zags also have 7-foot, 230-pound Zach Collins, whose 3-pointer gave Gonzaga the lead. Collins had 14 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots to help propel Gonzaga — in its first Final Four — into the title game.
“I’m really happy for him,” Karnowski said. “His work ethic is awesome. He’s been playing well for us the entire season. Whenever I go to the bench he gets in, and basically our team doesn’t drop a bit. So he’s been huge for us.”
North Carolina (32-7), the No. 1 seed in the South, will be seeking its fifth national title. Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed in the West, finally has made it after knocking on the door so many times under coach Mark Few.
“I’ve had some really, really tough teams,” Few said. “I’ve had some really close teams. I’ve had some teams that have been crazy efficient on the offensive end and ones that have been pretty darned good on the defensive end that probably didn’t get credit for it. These guys are all of that. All of it.”
North Carolina comes at opponents in waves, and Williams — in search of his third NCAA crown, has a veteran bunch. He starts two seniors and three juniors.
Gonzaga doesn’t generally get one-and-done elite stars, so it’s an experienced group, too — two seniors, two juniors and a redshirt sophomore.
In many ways it’s a throwback to those days when the best of the best would stick around in college for a little while.
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