GLENDALE, ARIZ. – The sounds of the NCAA championship game were whistles and moans.
It just never seemed there was a flow to the game that North Carolina won 71-65 over Gonzaga for the Tar Heels’ sixth national title.
In many corners, this game will be remembered for these three men: Michael Stephens, Verne Harris and Mike Eades, the referees who called 27 fouls in the second half, completely busting up the flow of the game.
Each team had 22 fouls, but it was the big men who took the brunt of it.
Both teams liked to get the ball inside, but when it did go in there was usually a whistle. Kennedy Meeks, the man in the middle for North Carolina, finished with seven points, four fouls and a huge blocked shot in the final seconds.
Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski never got in the flow of the game and finished with nine points and four fouls. His backup, fellow 7-footer Zach Collins, played only 14 minutes and fouled out with 5 minutes, 3 seconds to play.
The most bizarre sequence: With 8:02 left, North Carolina point guard Joel Berry II got called for a foul for (maybe) making contact with Karnowski and stripping the ball from the big man’s hands. But as Karnowski was flailing, he grabbed Berry around the neck and, after a long delay, got called for a flagrant foul of his own.
That resulted in four consecutive free throws, a 52-52 tie and booing from every corner of Phoenix University Stadium.
Zags coach Mark Few handled it with class, calling the referees “three of the best officials in the entire country.”
North Carolina coach Roy Williams earned his third national title, putting him one ahead of his mentor, Dean Smith, and now behind only John Wooden, Adolph Rupp and Mike Krzyzewski.
“I think of Coach Smith, there’s no question,” Williams said. “I don’t think I should be mentioned in the same sentence with him. But we got three because I’ve got these guys with me.”
• Few might have wanted further review on a scrum with 50 seconds left. Officals called for a held ball, which gave possession to the Tar Heels, on a pileup underneath the UNC basket. It set up the Isaiah Hicks layup to put Carolina ahead by three. One problem: Meeks’ hand was out of bounds. “That was probably on me,” Few said. “From my angle, it didn’t look like an out of bounds situation or I would have called a review. That’s tough to hear.”
• Berry, hobbled by two bad ankles, played a strong championship game after a clunker in the semifinals and was named the outstanding player of the Final Four. The junior floor leader scored 22 points and handed out six assists, bouncing back from a 2-for-14 shooting performance against Oregon on Saturday. During the postgame celebration, he acknowledged he wasn’t 100 percent but said he gave it his all.