By Steve Silverman
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It should not matter to North Carolina or its fans, but the championship game performance by the Tar Heels and Gonzaga Bulldogs on Monday night was a classic stinker.
As the years go by, Roy Williams will be able to remember his third national championship team with happiness and pride, but when it comes to the pantheon of North American championship sports events, the Tar Heels’ 71-65 victory was among the worst in memory.
The tone was set by the whistle-happy officials who were more than happy to call fouls every time one player breathed on another. However, the players also contributed greatly to this mind-numbing show.
Since Gonzaga lost, the lasting image may be big man Przemek Karnowski missing not one, not two, but seven shots around the rim that could have been easy Gonzaga baskets on another night. Karnowski is not a graceful player, but he is strong, assertive and has some talent. None of that was on display against the Tar Heels.
North Carolina star Justin Jackson was brilliant in the tournament all the way until the championship game. Jackson has been the picture of confidence throughout the year, but he connected on just 6-of-19 shots with the championship on the line, and was a brutal 0-of-9 from beyond the arc.
The Tar Heels pulled the game out in the final few possessions, but it looked like they were doing everything they could to lose the game up until then. Championship teams often thrive at the free-throw line, but the Tar Heels were 15-of-26 in that area, and they were as knock-kneed as a team of eighth-graders playing in their second game together whenever they had to approach the line.
That included point guard Joel Berry II, who was just 4-of-8 from the line. However, he hit all four of North Carolina’s 3-pointers in the game, and he deserves recognition for that.
PHOTOS: North Carolina Beats Gonzaga
Berry was 4-of-13 from 3-point range, and the Tar Heels were a brutal 4-of-27 as a team.
Williams realized that both teams were awful.
“I don’t think either team played really well,” he dead-panned after the game.
The Zags and Tar Heels have plenty of company when it comes to putting on a stinker of an event in a championship game or series.
Here area few that have stood out over the years.
Super Bowl V: Baltimore Colts 16, Dallas Cowboys 13
This game quickly became known as the “Blunder Bowl,” because the two teams combined for 11 turnovers. The Colts won the game on Jim O’Brien’s 32-yard field goal with five seconds remaining.
O’Brien, a rookie kicker, was not exactly a tower of confidence as he went onto the field to attempt the kick. While 32 yards does not seem like much, O’Brien was shaking as he attempted his old-school, straight-on kick. He had had a previous extra-point attempt blocked in the game and was thrilled when his low-trajectory boot made it through the uprights.
2002 NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers 4, New Jersey Nets 0
A sweep indicates that a series was noncompetitive and the champions were head and shoulders better than their opponents. That does not mean it has to be a bad series.
While the championship Lakers may have been a great team under Phil Jackson, but they did not look it against the Nets. They set the tone for the series by connecting on just 33 of 72 shots in Game 1 and going 1-of-10 from beyond the arc.
Even with that performance, the Nets simply could not overcome. They fell behind by 15 points after the first quarter and spent the rest of the game failing to catch up.
1997 Stanley Cup Final: Detroit Red Wings 4, Philadelphia Flyers 0
Detroit and Philadelphia, both No. 3 seeds in their respective conferences, seemed evenly matched heading into the series, and the Flyers had home-ice advantage. However, they had nothing left in the tank. The Red Wings picked up a pair of 4-2 wins in Philadelphia before returning home and recording a 6-1 victory at the Joe. The Flyers offered no resistance until the fourth game, which they dropped by a 2-1 margin.
The Flyers’ poor play turned the Stanley Cup Final into a nonevent.
2003 World Series: Florida Marlins 4, New York Yankees 2
The Yankees had beaten the Boston Red Sox in dramatic fashion when Aaron Boone launched an 11th-inning home run in Game 7, while the Marlins rebounded from a 3-1 hole to beat the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS.
As a result of those dramatic finishes, the World Series was anticlimactic. The first three games were fairly decent, with the Yankees taking a 2-1 lead. However, when the Marlins won Game 4 on a 12th-inning home run by light-hitting Alex Gonzalez, the Yankees seemed to lose interest.
The Marlins held on to win Game 5 by a 6-4 margin, and Josh Beckett shut down Joe Torre’s offense in Game 6 by pitching a five-hit, complete-game shutout.
It may have been the World Series, but it had all the drama of a three-game series in April.
It was a stinker, and it was not worthy of the World Series stage.
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