North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson discuss what it will take to defeat Gonzaga in the national championship. (David Wallace/azcentral sports)
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Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss talks about their David vs. Goliath status against North Carolina in the upcoming national championship game. (David Wallace/azcentral sports)
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Oregon coach Dana Altman and players on Final Four loss to North Carolina.
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North Carolina coach Roy Williams and players react to Final Four win over Oregon.
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South Carolina coach Frank Martin and players react to Final Four loss to Gonzaga.
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Gonzaga coach Mark Few and players on win over South Carolina in Final Four.
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USA TODAY Sports’ Dan Wolken previews the NCAA championship game, which will be a frontcourt-heavy battle between UNC and Gonzaga.
USA TODAY Sports
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USA TODAY Sports’ Dan Wolken recaps the two Final Four semifinal games, won in nail-biters by Gonzaga and North Carolina.
USA TODAY Sports
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FINAL FOUR: Fans react as Gonzaga survives late S. Carolina rally, advances to championship 77-73. (Alden Woods/azcentral)
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Grand Canyon University’s student section, The Havocs, were gifted tickets by their school administration to attend the Final Four.
USA TODAY Sports
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Fans arrive early for the festivities before the Final Four games Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium. (Patrick Breen/azcentral)
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Will Phoenix become a basketball city? Dan Bickley discusses the Final Four in Arizona, NBA stars resting and more in the latest Shot Clock.
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Would you spend $7,500 for three games of the best college basketball? How about $275? Reporter Perry Vandell breaks down the action on the tickets before the big games. Patrick Breen/azcentral.com
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Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks discuss what it would mean to win a national championship, at University of Phoenix Stadium on Friday, March 31. David Wallace/azcentral sports
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University of North Carolina talks nerves and expectations before Saturday’s game.
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South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell talks about missing Thursday’s practice because of illness and feeling better for Friday’s practice at University of Phoenix Stadium. David Wallace/azcentral sports
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Perkins and Karnowski talk injury, nerves and expectations before practice on Friday.
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A look at the paths taken by the remaining teams in this year’s mens NCAA basketball tournament.
By Jim Sergent and Ramon Padilla, USA TODAY.
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USA TODAY Sports’ Nicole Auerbach thinks you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t keep an eye on these players in the Final Four.
USA TODAY Sports
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South Carolina players answer the question that’s on the minds of so many college basketball fans: what the heck is a Gamecock?
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North Carolina’s Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II discuss being back to the NCAA Final Four and trying to win it all, in the locker room at University of Phoenix Stadium on March 30, 2017. (David Wallace/azcentral sports)
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Oregon’s Dillon Brooks, Dylan Ennis and Casey Benson, discuss counting their blessings, meeting Kobe Bryant and playing a Final Four in their home state, respectively, in the locker room on March 30, 2017. (David Wallace/azcentral sports)
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Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews and Nigel Williams-Goss talk about rising to the moment of the NCAA Final Four in the locker room at University of Phoenix Stadium on March 30, 2017. (David Wallace/azcentral sports)
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South Carolina’s PJ Dozier and Duane Notice talk about their confidence and under dog status for the NCAA Final Four in the locker room at University of Phoenix Stadium on March 30, 2017. (David Wallace/azcentral sports)
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Downtown Phoenix gets ready to host the NCAA Final Four Fan Fest and house the teams as they play in nearby Glendale for the NCAA Final Four games. David Wallace/azcentral.com
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Luke Maye connected on a last-second jump shot to defeat the Kentucky Wildcats and send North Carolina to the Final Four.
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USA TODAY Sports’ Nicole Auerbach goes behind the scenes of South Carolina’s win over Florida, which sends the Gamecocks to their first Final Four.
USA TODAY Sports
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The Oregon Ducks have reached the Final Four for the first time since 1939 after a 74-60 win over the Kansas Jayhawks in the Elite Eight.
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USA TODAY Sports’ Dan Wolken breaks down Gonzaga’s Elite Eight victory over Xavier.
USA TODAY Sports
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The court for the NCAA Final Four tournament is put together at the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral
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azcentral’s Paola Boivin breaks down Arizona’s loss to Xavier in the Sweet 16. Video: Michael Chow/azcentral.com
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The Arizona Wildcats, who many had in the Final Four, are bounced from the NCAA Tournament. Plus, the Oakland Raiders may soon be the Las Vegas Raiders. Will that actually happen? Video: azcentral sports
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USA TODAY Sports’ George Schroeder looks at how the Jayhawks and Ducks prevailed to set up their upcoming matchup in the Midwest region of the NCAA tournament.
USA TODAY Sports
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ULCA head coach Steve Alford acknowledges the game against the two ‘bluebloods’ of NCAA basketball with the most championships between them.
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Considered all but done after losing their star point guard and dropping six straight games in February, Xavier has improbably made a run to the Elite Eight after defeating No. 2 Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen.
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Arizona Wildcats head coach Sean Miller is the third highest-paid head coach in the NCAA Tournament and can earn close to $1 million in bonuses for winning the national title.
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Take a look at some at the faces of celebration and dejection from the tourney.
USA TODAY Sports
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The massive scoreboard known as “Colussus TV” is installed at University of Phoenix Stadium for the upcoming NCAA Final Four games. David Wallace/azentral.com
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Being on network TV means this years NCAA tourney should easily overtake last year’s viewership. Richard Deitsch explains how to watch the Madness.
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North Carolina on what it will take to defeat Gonzaga
Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss on their status against North Carolina
Oregon reacts to heartbreaking loss in Final Four
North Carolina on advancing to 2nd title game in a row
South Carolina on tough loss to Gonzaga
Gonzaga reacts to Final Four win over South Carolina
North Carolina-Gonzaga will be throwback national title game
Semifinal games come down to final plays
Gonzaga fans in Glendale react to win over S. Carolina in NCAA semifinal
The rowdiest student section at the Final Four isn’t even in the game
Fans pack University of Phoenix Stadium lawn for Final Four
Shot Clock: Phoenix a basketball city?
Which seats in the Final Four house are still available?
Oregon on what it would mean to win a national championship
UNC players talk about returning to Final Four
South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell on his illness and feeling better
Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins and Przemek Karnowski talk Final Four
Road to the Final Four means a lot of miles traveling
Top players to watch in the Final Four
Gamecocks explain what a gamecock is
North Carolina on being back to the NCAA Final Four
Oregon on counting their blessings
Gonzaga on rising to the moment
South Carolina on their confidence and underdog status
Downtown Phoenix gets ready for NCAA Final Four
North Carolina headed to Final Four with win over Kentucky
South Carolina makes history with Final Four berth
Oregon advances to first Final Four since 1939 with win over Kansas
Gonzaga advances to program’s first Final Four
Piece by piece, the court for the NCAA Final Four tournament is put together in Glendale
Paola Boivin recaps Arizona’s loss to Xavier
Shot Clock: Arizona knocked out; Raiders moving to Vegas?
Kansas and Oregon set up intriguing Elite 8 matchup
UCLA’s Steve Alford talks about playing Kentucky
No. 11 Xavier upsets No. 2 Arizona to head to Elite Eight
A closer look at Sean Miller’s salary and bonuses
March Madness: Craziest faces of the NCAA tournament
Scoreboard installed at University of Phoenix Stadium for Final Four
Media circus: A guide to March Madness
A practical joke in Mississippi illustrates the friendship between NCAA title game coaches Roy Williams, Mark Few.
Until the 1990s, Tunica, Miss., was known as one of the poorest cities in the United States. Rev. Jesse Jackson once called it “America’s Ethiopia,” and Sugar Ditch Alley, a neighborhood known for its poverty and open sewers, received widespread attention.
An influx of casinos changed the city’s fortunes and set the stage for its return to the national conversation in recent days, thanks to two coaches who will clash in college basketball’s national title game Monday at University of Phoenix Stadium:
Mark Few and Roy Williams.
The Gonzaga-North Carolina game has been tagged as one of many contrasts: West Coast vs. East Coast; mid-major vs. Power Five; Final Four novice vs. Final Four royalty. It is also one featuring a rich friendship between two coaches born 2,200 miles apart with careers firmly entrenched in different parts of the country.
“I like people,” Williams said. “I try to start everybody out in the middle. You can go either direction. We’ve played poker together. We’ve played golf together. We’ve gambled together.”
The depth of levity in a relationship is often a good sign of its healthiness. That’s where Tunica comes in.
In 2009, the two teams were scheduled to face each other in an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game in Memphis. On the Monday before, Williams reached out to Few to see if he and his Gonzaga staff were up for a night of gambling on the Wednesday before their Friday game, after the players had hit their midnight curfew.
Few said yes but Williams told him to think about it for 24 hours.
“I’m an older guy, I’ve been around a while (but) somebody might find something negative,” Williams said. “He said, ‘No, I’m in.’ … I called him the next day and he answered the phone and said, ‘Gamblers Anonymous.’”
The coaching staffs climbed into their cars after midnight, headed to nearby Tunica, lost money playing craps and headed back several hours later.
Outside of the city, Williams was pulled over by police. He was speeding a bit but it was more because he was in a car with NCAA logos all over it. Law enforcement worried it was stolen.
After police realized who he was, Williams told them, “I’ll give you $100 if you’ll stop Mark Few. He’s about 15 minutes behind me.”
Few said he later learned Williams told police, “There’s another, like, little Ford Fiesta coming. Make sure you pull them over because they’re illegal, they don’t have seat belts.”
Alas, Williams was disappointed to learn the police never did pull Few over, but both coaches still chuckle about the story.
Few is just happy it stayed quiet all these years.
“I defer to him as (having) the best-kept secret forever, because I think we probably would have got crucified at the time for doing that.”
SCOUTING REPORT: Gonzaga vs. North Carolina
The two knew each other first through mutual friends, including Jerry Green, who was an assistant on Williams’ staff at Kansas, and Mark Turgeon, now the coach at Maryland.
They soon bonded at Few’s first Nike coaches trip.
Few and his wife, Marcy, “didn’t feel like we were worthy,” the Gonzaga coach said. “We didn’t feel we belonged when there’s Roy and Coach K (Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski) and (Syracuse’s Jim) Boeheim and all these guys are walking around.
“And, bang, right when we got there (Williams) and Wanda took Marcy and I under their wing and treated us like we were anybody else. Couldn’t have made us feel better and more welcomed.”
Williams is so adept at cards that Few and his family have renamed a seven-card stud game “Roy Williams.”
“We were stuck at the lake two summers ago with my kids and we had a discrepancy,” Few said. “So we called Roy on the cell phone, and my kids now think the world of him because he picks up the phone and I put him on speaker and he had to explain ‘Roy Williams’ to them.”
RELATED: Early look at National Championship
They are friends until Monday, when they are rivals.
For all they have accomplished, both still have something to prove.
A victory for Gonzaga would quiet the critics who all season long have said the Bulldogs wouldn’t find the same success if they regularly completed with the top teams in a Power Five conference.
A victory over the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Tar Heels would finally quiet critics, even if they are bit misguided for not appreciating Gonzaga’s 19 consecutive tournament appearances and strength of schedule in non-conference games.
For Williams, some have suggested his success has come from all the great players he recruits and not because he is a gifted coach.
FINAL FOUR ARIZONA: Get the latest college basketball news
This year’s team has a different makeup from those of his past. It is not loaded with cream-of-the-crop players. His most recent recruiting classes have not been considered among the best in the ACC.
“In the first 10 years, we recruited 26 McDonald All-Americans, and the last three I think we got one,” Williams said.
He was talking about the impact academic fraud allegations directed at the university has had on recruiting, but it also speaks of his ability to coach up a team.
Both have something to prove tomorrow.
Both want to win, too, although surely the losing coach will be happy for the other.