(Reuters) - North Carolina made up for last year’s title-decider heartbreak by putting together a late run to overhaul Gonzaga 71-65 in the final of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament on Monday.
Trailing 65-63 with less than two minutes remaining, North Carolina ended the contest with an 8-0 spurt to pull clear of their fellow top-seeded opponents.
The triumph at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona came in sharp contrast to the scenes of utter dejection a year ago when the Tar Heels fell to Villanova on a buzzer-beater in Houston, Texas.
“They wanted redemption,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams told reporters after claiming his third career national title.
“I told my team with three minutes left: ‘If you had told me on the first day of practice that we would be in this position I would have taken it.’ What we had to do was play the last three minutes.”
Justin Jackson converted a three-point play to put the Tar Heels ahead for good with 1:40 left and Isaiah Hicks added a crucial shot inside.
Joel Berry II led the Tar Heels with 22 points in the victory.
“I wanted to see the confetti fall on us,” Berry said. “We came out and competed down to the last seconds but we’re national champions now.”
Gonzaga, from Spokane, Washington, lost for just the second time this season in its first ever appearance in a national championship title game.
Nigel Williams-Goss had a team-high 15 points for the Bulldogs. He put his team on top 65-63 with a jumper but tweaked his ankle in the closing 90 seconds, leading to some missed shots down the stretch.
“He’s such a warrior, he blew out his ankle and was still able to get to his shot,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “The kid is a flat out winner. We got good shots and had the ball where we wanted.”
Gonzaga claimed a 35-32 halftime advantage but North Carolina started the second stanza with an 8-0 run as the teams traded the lead all the way until the Tar Heels pulled away at the death.
Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by John O'Brien