It's a tough ending for Oregon Ducks' Dillon Brooks

North Carolina struggled for much of the first half on Saturday, digging themselves a 30-22 hold as they missed 18 of their first 24 shots.

When it was all said and done, Theo Pinson was dribbling the clock out as OR laid on the floor in disbelief, their chance to win gone in the blink of a missed box out.

Never happened. And after Keith Smith's layup pulled OR within one with 7 seconds left, it looked like it would come down to free throws. In January, Portland - the Pilots, not the Trailblazers - scooped up 21 offensive rebounds against Gonzaga in one game.

After how Kennedy Meeks carried North Carolina from beginning to end against OR on Saturday, it would have been a shame for his final moment in this national semifinal to be a pair of missed free throws with 5.8 seconds to play. The Heels had two missed free throws that should've sent the Ducks the other way, only needing a two-pointer to win at the buzzer.

They will be matched up, in part, against North Carolina's sturdy man in the middle, senior Kennedy Meeks.

And, after he'd bricked those two foul shots and been rescued by teammate Theo Pinson with an awesome tap-out of the second miss to point guard Joel Berry, Meeks bulldozed Bell to grab the second of Berry's two errant free throws and fired the ball out to Pinson to dribble away the time that remained before the buzzer.

That's how redemption turned into survival for North Carolina, 77-76 over the Ducks. Gonzaga coach Mark Few said there was a "very high probability" that Karnowski wasn't going to play again. "At the end of the day, we're moving on".

OR is the third college basketball program that coach Dana Altman has taken to the NCAA tournament.

"He just took it from me, " Bell said of Meeks.

"Without him, we wouldn't have been in this position", Brooks said.

Somehow, Oregon got close after a miserable shooting game.

North Carolina led the entire second half as neither of the Ducks' two big scorers - forward Dillon Brooks and guard Tyler Dorsey - could get hot enough to make it a one-possession game until the final minute.

OR (33-6) shot 37.9 percent, including 7 of 26 from behind the arc, and it committed 16 turnovers. Twice he got to celebrate winning the final game of the season with the Tar Heels, pushing their total to five tournament titles. This is North Carolina's record 20th Final Four. Berry was too. North Carolina's point guard wasn't so hot himself from the field Saturday.

You had to feel a CBS official or two maybe three helped will the Tar Heels to the win (just a guess) given that the interest in a Gonzaga-Oregon matchup was as appealing to those in the east as a NY snowstorm in April.

As players milled about to await the resulting free throws, Bell gestured with his arm in frustration and muttered something to two of his OR teammates, presumably about not letting the Tar Heels stomp their way to so much success around the basket.

GOOD COMPANY: According to ESPN Stats and Info, Meeks joins Larry Bird, Ed O'Bannon, Carmelo Anthony and Danny Manning as the only players to reach 25 points and 14 rebounds in the Final Four over the last 40 years.

"Coach told us it was going to be a man's game, and us four big men had to do a great job on the inside", Meeks said. He finished with eight points and eight boards. Maybe he thought the Heels would just concede the rebound and get back to defend, as is standard practice for lots of teams shooting end-of-clock foul shots. On the second, Meeks outfoxed two opponents with scant contact and took that thing and North Carolina's season-long mission in his considerable hands.

Brooks, Oregon's usual go-to guy, wasn't even there for the finish. The Ducks stayed within striking distance at the free-throw line, where they made 25 of 28.

But they don't ask how, they ask how many offensive rebounds you grabbed. The Ducks fouled Meeks.

Halftime - North Carolina 39-36.

  • Leroy Wright