Top-seeded teams Gonzaga and North Carolina prevailed in a pair of thrilling finishes on Saturday to advance to the final of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.
Gonzaga squandered a 14-point, second-half lead before holding on to edge South Carolina 77-73, while North Carolina grabbed an offensive rebound after missing two free throws in the final seconds to beat Oregon 77-76.
Gonzaga advanced to their first NCAA tournament final, which will be held on Monday, while North Carolina are trying to make amends for losing last year’s championship on a buzz-beater by Villanova.
“It’s a dream to get (to the championship),” North Carolina coach Roy Williams told reporters.
“Now we’ve got to play better but (Gonzaga) has been fantastic all year long. They only lost one game. It’s hard to imagine.”
North Carolina senior Kennedy Meeks delivered 25 points and 14 rebounds, including the final one that preserved their lead, as the Tar Heels held off an Oregon fightback from seven points down with just over three minutes remaining.
“Oregon did a great job of fighting back, Meeks said. “It’s a great opportunity (to get back to the final). As long as we stick together I think we’ll be fine.”
In the earlier game, Gonzaga was led by point guard Nigel Williams-Goss who finished with 23 points, five rebounds and six assists. South Carolina had a chance to tie the game while trailling 75-72 and taking possession with 12.7 seconds left but they did not get a shot away and following Gonzaga coach Mark Few’s instructions, guard Josh Perkins committed a foul with 3.5 seconds remaining, sending Sindarius Thornwell to the line.
Thornwell made one to bring the score to 75-73 before Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie grabbed the defensive rebound and was fouled. Tillie made two free throws with two seconds remaining to ensure victory.
“Man, just an awesome, awesome basketball game, with just how hard both teams competed,” Gonzaga’s Few said.