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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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?
USA TODAY Sports
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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-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
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
If this Final Four taught us anything, it’s how to feel again. We have become a desensitized bunch, consumed by metrics and memes and 140-character blasts of bluster.
But sports are about heart and passion and righteousness, too, and Saturday’s Final Four semifinal between North Carolina and Oregon gave us all of those.
It was the compassion we felt for the Ducks’ Jordan Bell, who was inconsolable in the locker room afterward for what he believed was his role in his team’s failure to box out late in the game.
He “felt terrible,” Ducks coach Dana Altman said after the 77-76 loss. “But I told him, I said, ‘Buddy, you got 16 rebounds, we wouldn’t have been in this position if it hadn’t been for you.’ ”
It was the mixed feelings we had about the Tar Heels’ success.
North Carolina was erratic but had its high moments, too, especially those from Kennedy Meeks, who grabbed the game-saving offensive rebound and finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds.
RELATED: North Carolina survives Oregon to return to title game
And there was Roy Williams, dadgum it, who is in the hunt for a championship again.
The man of many colloquialisms is also the man of many postseasons, with a whopping seven Finals Fours in the 2000s and a third national championship a possibility.
So why is it so hard to hug this North Carolina program?
Because the backdrop music for Saturday’s victory over Oregon was the low murmur of Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” The Tar Heels athletic department is still being investigated for a decades-long academic fraud case that included fraudulent classes offered by the university’s African and Afro-American Studies department.
Sorry, but it feels unauthentic to celebrate one part of North Carolina’s greatness without acknowledging the other.
And it was the happiness we felt for North Carolina players, who delivered when they needed to, setting up a title game meeting with Gonzaga and preventing the first championship meeting between two West Coast teams.
It is the pleasure we feel in an intriguing matchup, a battle between coaches who are good friends. In fact, Gonzaga coach Mark Few called Williams recently to confirm the rules of a particular card game.
And Williams has to be applauded the way he had this team ready for the postseason. Like he almost always does.
Oregon had a chance but struggled on the boards in the worst way. How appropriate that North Carolina finished the game with two big rebounds.
The smile on Williams’ face was from exactly what he talked about this week, dealing with endless questions about academic fraud.
“Therapeutic is probably the proper word,” Williams said. “We’ve had some junk swirling around that I haven’t enjoyed or appreciated or felt good about things that were being said. But I could lose myself when I went out on the court with those guys.
“These two teams have been very therapeutic for me. They’ve really made me feel good about what I’m doing.”
MORE: Oregon’s Jordan Bell misses two costly rebounds in final seconds
Saturday, he reflected on another chance to win a title after losing in the championship to Villanova last year.
“Two or three emotions,” he said. “I really don’t think about it a lot. I really don’t. It’s this team. I’m coaching a new group of kids. And making it back to the national championship game is amazing. Oh, you did it last year? Well, that still makes it even more amazing kind of thing.”
What a game.
The Tar Heels made a strong stand late in the first half and took a 39-36 lead into halftime. It was an impressive comeback considering how the game started. Oregon’s relentless defense forced North Carolina into poor decision making, with its big men hoisting ill-conceived long-range shots and its offense looking completely out of sync.
The Ducks looked to be in a good place with an eight-point lead with 4:08 to go, thanks in part to Dylan Ennis’ corner 3-point shots. But 2-for-11 shooting from Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey didn’t help and it soon became clear the Tar Heels were regrouping, getting a better handle on Oregon’s defenses.
Meeks was sensational in the first half with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Throw in a team-leading five rebounds and two steals and you have the reasons why the Tar Heels were a happy group at halftime. Also consider this: 12 Oregon turnovers. And in an interesting stat, North Carolina had zero fast-break points but 20 in the paint.
RELATED: Early look at Gonzaga-North Carolina matchup
Too bad for Oregon. It has been a remarkable run for the Ducks, who lost a key player, Chris Boucher, for the season after he suffered a torn ACL in the Pac-12 Tournament.
And it was just three years ago that many thought Altman would be gone from Oregon – either by the school’s volition or his – after the attention that accompanied the alleged sexual assault by three of his players and the university’s handling of it. None were charged in the alleged assault, but the three were still kicked off the team.
But the Ducks endured, putting together a team that includes a local basketball hero – Corona del Sol’s Casey Benson – and a senior guard, Ennis, who is 25 and serves up a much-welcomed dose of leadership.
This team is full of storylines, which overlooks an important one about Altman: He’s one of the best coaches in the country, particularly at putting pieces together and making them a cohesive unit. How Oregon regrouped after the injury to Boucher, who was averaging 11.8 points and 6.1 rebounds, was a testament to that.
They sure could have used him Saturday.
Reach Paola Boivin at [email protected] and on Twitter at Twitter.com/PaolaBoivin. Listen to her streaming live on “The Brad Cesmat Show” on sports360az.com every Monday at 10:30 a.m.