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Off the cuff: I've been saying that Carolina's free throw shooting could be the Tar Heels' downfall. As it turned out, it may have worked to their advantage to miss those free throws against Oregon.

Had Meeks hit both free throws, giving Carolina a three-point, Oregon could have tied it with a three and forced overtime. Had Meeks missed the first free throw and hit the second, the Heels would have been up by two and a last-second three - like what happened last year - could have ended Carolina's season.

Same scenario when Berry missed his two free throws less than two seconds later. Pinson's tip out was a thing of beauty - right to Berry. And Meeks' rebound, with his big paw getting in there, sealed the victory.

Oregon didn't play it well but Pinson and Meeks deserve the credit for sealing the victory.

When Joel Berry hit a three seconds into the game, I thought it was over already. The big question was how Berry would play with the two bad ankles. Unfortunately for the Heels, that opening shot was an anamoly as Berry didn't hit another field goal until he scored one with 5:50 left in the game. Along the way he missed four of his nine free throws too.

Can the Tar Heels get through one more game without a healthy Berry playing well or an unhealthy Berry playing even just below average offensively? Probably not without another career performance from someone - like what Meeks did against the Ducks.

Carolina shot only about 37 percent from the floor as a team but Oregon shot only 38 percent. The Tar Heels offensive rebounds allowed them a few more shots and the Heels capitalized on 16 Duck turnovers, including 12 in the first half.

Of concern was Hicks' poor play - not just his shooting but a couple of bad turnovers and only three rebounds in 20 minutes.

Recent hero Luke Maye fell off the radar again as he missed all three of his shots in 13 minutes of play.

Unheralded bright spots including Nate Britt, who was a stablizing force in his 22 minutes of play. He hit a big three, had three assists and didn't turn the ball over.

Pinson didn't shoot well but he did score eight points, and had eight rebounds, five assists, a blocked shot and only one turnover.

Gonzaga will have bigger men to deal with inside and if the Zags hit some outside shots, the Tar Heels are going to be in trouble - unless they find another way to win... again.

Tar Heels 77, Oregon 76
UNC finds a (new) way to get to finals

North Carolina coach Roy Williams said it's amazing to get to national championship for a second straight year and the Tar Heels found a new way to get there - by missing free throws. (4/1)

"Relieved, lucky, fortunate but we're still playing," Coach Williams said.

With a one-point lead, the Tar Heels missed four free throws in the last six seconds but twice were able to get the ball back to run out the time and defeat Oregon 77-76 to advance to Monday night's title game against Gonzaga.

After a hobbled Joel Berry hit a three from the right wing to put the Heels up 71-62 with 5:50 left, Carolina didn't score a field goal the rest of the way.

The Heels hit six of eight free throws to go up 77-71 with less than a minute to go.

But Oregon's Tyler Dorsey, who led the Ducks with 22 points, hit a big three that banged on the iron four times before falling in with 42 seconds left to make it a one-possession game at 77-74.

Carolina ran the clock down before Theo Pinson missed a shot with time running down. Oregon rushed it up and scored a bucket to make it 77-76 with six seconds to go.

On the inbounds, Kennedy Meeks, who had been the hero of the game for the Heels, was fouled and went to the line for two free throws. He missed them both but Pinson was able to knife in to knock the ball out to Berry, who was fouled with four seconds left.

And, Berry, who hits 81 percent of his foul shots, missed both of them. This time Meeks reached in and grabbed the rebound, throwing it out to Pinson who dribbled out the clock.

Meeks scored a season-high 25 points and hauled in a game-high 14 rebounds to lead the Heels. With Berry hitting only two of 14 shots and with fellow big man Isaiah Hicks having perhaps his worst game of the season by scoring a mere one of 12, Coach Williams said Carolina "needed Kennedy to score more today."

He not only scored a lot of points, he scored a lot of big points. Carolina trailed 30-22 in the first half - the Heels largest deficit of the game and in the NCAA Tournament - before going on a 17-6 run.

During the run, Meeks got open inside and Nate Britt found him for a bucket that gave the Tar Heels a 37-36 lead. Carolina never trailed again.

Up 39-36 at the half, the Heels extended the margin to eight after Justin Jackson hit a three in transition after three minutes to the second half to make it 46-38.

Free throws by Jackson after a steal gave Carolina a nine-point lead at 56-47 with under 13 minutes to go.

A Meeks bucket inside, on a dish from Pinson, gave the Heels their largest lead of the game at 66-56 with 8:30 to go. It never got down to a one-possession game until the hectic last minute.

Other than the tp out and rebound in the closing seconds, Coach Williams pointed to Meeks and Jackson making the difference. "Kennedy contributed everything inside and Justin made three big threes in the second half," he said. Jackson finished with 22 points.

Coach Williams was also happy with Carolina's defense, particularly in the second half, but he noted that Oregon didn't shoot as well as the Ducks normally do plus the Heels fouled to send Oregon to the line. As a result, the Ducks hit 15 of 16 free throws down the stretch to stay in it, making it ironic that Carolina's missed free throws may have actually helped the Heels.

The Tar Heels practice offensive rebounding on missed free throws and tip-out drills every day, Coach Williams said.

In order to beat Gonzaga Monday night, he knows the Tar Heels need to play better though rather than relying on new ways to win.

"Joel didn't play very well but he got through the game without hurting his ankle," Coach Williams said. "I'm hoping he plays better Monday night."

Carolina, now 32-7, plays Gonzaga for the national championship Monday starting at 9:20 p.m.

Box Score

Meeks shoots and scores against Oregon.
(UNC Sports Information photo by J.D. Lyon Jr./@tarheel_photo)

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