NEW ORLENS – Lame, beaten, exhausted, North Carolina kept coming. The Tar Heels were down, they were up — much worse — and they were down again. But they refused to submit, unkilled basketball zombies.
Until their bodies finally betrayed.
Kansas, very good and very happy in this tournament, won 72-69 and won the title of national champion. It wasn’t over until Caleb Love’s triple over Christian Brown went wide to the left of the edge in the final seconds, hitting the board almost exactly where Davidson’s keeper Jason Richards made his final shot against the Joyhacks in the 2008 Midwest Finals – the last time Kansas won all .
The first option in the last game – which became possible when Kansas defender Dayan Harris Jr. inexplicably went out of bounds while dribbling with 4.3 seconds to go – wasn’t even supposed to be Leo. The design of the game was for Brady Manek to cut the bar for the base screen and jump into the opposite corner for a three. “I think it would be open,” said Carolina coach Hubert Davis.
It could have been. But Manek stumbled, almost fell, staggered towards where he was supposed to be and injured himself. Another body breaks down at the worst possible moment.
Add that to Armand Bakot’s sprained ankle and Lion’s overturned ankle, and half of Davis’ rotation of six players ended in injury. The fourth Tar Heel, a second-year student, Paf Johnson, vomited on the field after receiving a blow to the stomach. It was a real plague.
North Carolina staggered from the Superdome with the difference that it had the biggest lost lead in the history of the NCAA championship, 16 points in the first half. It was also the first double-digit advantage the Heels lost in NCAA tournament history. As disappointing as that statistic was, this was indeed a lost battle of exhaustion.
Bacott, Caroline’s center for breaking the ball, injured her right ankle late in Saturday’s epic victory in the semifinals over Duke. His availability was questioned for this title. Baycott said his ankle was healed about 15 of the 24 hours before the title game, but he still played well below 100%. This was evident on the jump of the ball to start the game, when he did not rise from the ground.
“Just before the game, I couldn’t even jump,” Bakot said. “I really couldn’t, during the whole game, get pressure on the post-up, defense, anything. It was like being there and it was hard for me to really stand still. “
Paired with powerful Kansas center David McCormack, Baycott still managed to score 15 points and 15 rebounds — another outstanding performance by the guy who became the first player to score six double doubles in a single NCAA tournament. But then he injured his right ankle again in the last minute, and the Jayhawks kept the advantage of one point.
Bacott dropped the ball down the right side of the strip trying to bypass McCormack to the basket. “I thought I really got the angle I wanted,” he said. “I thought it would be an easy basket. And then I just rolled over my ankle as I climbed. “
It turned out that this brutal turnaround was decisive in the game, although Kansas surprisingly did not attack the basket with a five-on-four advantage, while Bacot jumped on one leg to return to defense. After that timeout due to injury, the Jayhawks did what everyone in the world knew they would do, throwing the ball inside McCormack while Manek tried in vain to fight him in the tripod. Weighing 20 pounds, Manek had no chance as McCormack dropped his jump hook on the 22 seconds remaining until the final points of the match.
Earlier accidents have taken their toll on the Tar Heels as well. Love limped around the field for a while after his overturned ankle. He made only five of 24 shots, failing to conjure up magic in the second half that he showed against UCLA in World 16 and Duke in the Final Four. Manek, who ended the game by stumbling, received a cold blow with Mekormak’s elbow in the opening minutes. And Johnson suddenly fell on the field and returned with 4:23, after a great game of the reserve wing. (Millions of people watching could identify with vomiting in New Orleans, albeit for different reasons.)
Fatigue was probably also a factor, as Carolina could not withstand her performance in the first half. The legs that were not injured were certainly tired. “We missed the shots we usually make,” said guard RJ Davis. “It’s coming a little.”
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The physical and mental effort invested in Duke’s victory on Saturday night in the classic game did its part as expected. This was reminiscent of Wisconsin in the Final Four in 2015, when the Badgers defeated undefeated Kentucky in the semifinals, and then two days later hit the wall against Duke in the second half.
Still, Carolina eventually had her chance. Harris would have fallen in the Fred Brown / Chris Weber Hall of Fame in New Orleans if his unforced change had given way to a tied three from Heels. But that would only force overtime, and without Bacot, Carolina would probably be cooked at that moment.
Kansas was incredibly lucky with injuries during this tournament. In the second round, he met the team of Creighton, who was without striker Ryan Nembhard and center Ryan Kalkbrener, the best defensive player in the East. In the Final Four, he faced Villanov without his best player, defender Justin Moore. And then Caroline’s bodies fell apart on Monday night.
Combine that with the best of all: The NCAA has failed to complete a major case of offenses facing the Johaxes, dating back to the 2017 federal corruption investigation into sport. The team won the national title while under investigation and faced five charges of great offense is the champion of our time. Great moment of the first level, if you will.
This three-point defeat ended an incredible month for North Carolina and its first coach. The Heels advanced from the bubble team to the national runner-up a month later in March, with two epic victories over Duke and harassing the current national champion Baylor in between. They were only the fifth No. 8 seed to qualify for the national title, the first since 2014, and confirmed Davis ’engagement after suffering significant criticism in the middle of the season.
Davis was trying to chart a unique path to the championship. Only two coaches won NCAA tournament titles in their first year as head coach: Steve Fisher, a temporary who got a job in Michigan in 1989; and Ed Jucker in Cincinnati ’61. Both were 44 at the time and had previous experience as coaches — Fisher at high school level, Jucker at several small colleges.
Davis has climbed to what is considered the best coaching job in the country at the age of 50, after spending only nine seasons in the profession. And although he shared one trait with Fischer and Jaker – all three were trusted assistant coaches in their schools before promotion – Davis was hardly a lifelong convict in the profession. After a long NBA career, he spent time as a TV analyst at ESPN before joining Roy Williams ’2012 staff. His only experience as a head coach was leading an unusual North Carolina junior university team.
For most of the season, no one looked at Carolina and imagined the Final Four team, let alone the national champion. But Davis did.
He put pictures of Caesar’s Superdome in players’ closets in September and invited them to a Zoom call with his parents to tell them they should book a trip to New Orleans. “It was very shabby at the time,” said Carolina striker Brady Manek. “It was funny.”
That said: Manek admitted that he still has his Superdome picture in his locker at the Dean Smith Center. Shabby but effective.
Promoted for a low annual salary ($ 1.75 million), Davis should get a huge raise. He proved to be completely worthy of his dream job.
“I love what I do,” he said. “I just love being the head coach at the University of North Carolina and coaching these kids.
More on March Madness:
• The historic return brings Kansas back to the summit
• Too early among the top 25 men for the 2022-23 season.
• NCAA Edition 2022 One great moment Video