The Gonzaga Bulldogs answered quite a few questions Saturday night by building a 14-point second-half lead, watching South Carolina come all the way back to take a two-point advantage and then finding a way to take charge at the end and secure a 77-73 victory.
The Bulldogs will play North Carolina for the national title Monday night, and they will have a chance to win the first NCAA basketball championship in school history.
It started with defense for Gonzaga. South Carolina quickly learned that every shot would be challenged, especially when the Gamecocks brought the ball inside and tried to score close to the basket.
Big man Przemek Karnowski got hit hard in the face in the first half, sending him to the locker room. However, after the medical staff checked him out, he was able to return to the floor. He played an effective game with 13 points and five rebounds.
After Gonzaga built a 65-51 lead, it appeared the Gamecocks just didn't have enough to compete. However, Frank Martin's team has been scrapping throughout the tournament. It cut into the lead and gained confidence from that rally.
The Gamecocks would eventually tie the game and even take a 67-65 lead, because there was no quit in them.
But Gonzaga would not go away or fall apart just because South Carolina had rallied. Karnowski and Nigel Williams-Goss kept their poise, and the game became a dogfight in the final minutes.
The Bulldogs steadied themselves with a 7-0 run, punctuated by a dunk and a layup from Karnowski. Williams-Goss and Zach Collins provided key assists, and Gonzaga relied on its defense the rest of the way. That characteristic has been one of the Bulldogs' strengths all season, and it helped see them through in the Final Four.
Oregon had a great start and nearly a miraculous finish, but the Ducks could not overcome North Carolina's size and strength. The Tar Heels are going back to the national championship game as a result of their 77-76 victory Saturday night.
The Ducks' athleticism and defensive presence was quite apparent at the start, and North Carolina took a while to get its offense going.
But as the first half wore on, the Tar Heels started to use their size, strength and skill to take the lead and assert themselves. Isaiah Hicks made a signature play with this two-handed jam.
While it wasn't a big lead, North Carolina went into the locker room with a three-point advantage. It felt like more because the Tar Heels had to overcome an early eight-point deficit to get there.
Kennedy Meeks had a sensational game for the Tar Heels with 25 points and 14 rebounds, including eight off the offensive glass. Meeks made the most of every opportunity he had, connecting on 11 of 13 shots from the field.
It felt like North Carolina was in charge throughout the second half, but the Ducks would not go quietly. They pulled to within a point, but they never had the opportunity to take the lead because the Tar Heels came up with two crucial offensive rebounds after missed free throws in the final seconds.
North Carolina is the best rebounding team in the nation, and they had 17 offensive rebounds against the Ducks.
North Carolina held on by one point and will now face the Bulldogs in the title game Monday night. Head coach Roy Williams will be looking to win the third national championship of his career.