GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Their pedigrees are different, but both teams are loaded with veterans. Both have some heft in the middle.
When Gonzaga meets North Carolina for the NCAA national championship on Monday night, it could be quite a brawl.
“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.
Both teams, coincidentally, scored 77 points in their rollicking semifinal wins in front of a crowd of 77,621 at University of Phoenix Stadium, the second-largest ever for a Final Four semifinal.
On the perimeter, North Carolina will have to deal with Nigel Williams-Goss, the big, athletic guard who sat out a year after transferring to Gonzaga from Washington.
Williams-Goss left the sputtering Huskies program for just this sort of opportunity.
“I feel blessed, blessed to be part of something so special,” he said. “The journey we’ve been on has just been unreal, and we just never stopped believing and we’ve had the utmost confidence in ourselves the entire season long.”
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.
And it’s a big leap for Gonzaga, a mid-major school with an enrollment of about 7,400 facing the big dogs from the ACC.
“I guess they were making comments that we were the most nervous team in the tournament,” Williams-Goss said. “And, you know, we just heard everything this year. We’ve heard the conference (West Coast), we’ve heard we haven’t played tight games, that we’re not tough, we’ve heard everything.”