By the end, it was all celebrations and hugs. But in the middle of North Carolina’s 71-65 victory over Gonzaga in the NCAA championship Monday night, Roy Williams yelled at Kennedy Meeks one final time. The coach then emphasized his point with a furiously hard slap of the hardwood with his open right palm.
So what was all that about? Meeks, the senior forward from Charlotte who won a national title in his last collegiate game just like he dreamed of, explained it to me later after all the confetti had fallen.
“There was a little miscommunication at the free-throw line,” Meeks said in the Tar Heels’ winning locker room. “The ref kept telling me to hurry up (and shoot). ... I guess Coach thought I was ignoring him, which I would never do. ... I apologized.”
To set the scene, the Tar Heels had trailed almost all of the first half but were staging a mild comeback when Meeks got fouled with less than a minute left and Gonzaga ahead 33-30.
Meeks then went to the free-throw line, shot two and missed both. On Gonzaga’s next possession, Meeks committed a quick foul. At some point during that sequence, Williams wanted to get Meeks’ attention but could not.
Williams then took the senior out and yelled at the former West Charlotte star as Meeks tried to explain what he had been thinking. The coach then slapped the floor and moved on to the next play.
“At the end of the day, it was not that serious,” Meeks said. “That’s part of the game. ... I have nothing but respect for Coach Williams.”
Meeks was a big part of UNC’s 8-0 run to end the game, coming up with a huge block and then a steal in the game’s last 20 seconds to wreck two straight Gonzaga possessions. He seemed proudest of the steal.
“I kind of hid behind the defense, you could say,” Meeks said.
Meeks’ game against Gonzaga was not nearly as huge as his 25-point, 14-rebound effort against Oregon in a national semifinal Saturday, but he still finished the Final Four with 32 points and 24 rebounds in two games. Meeks received some support on social media for the Most Outstanding Player award that ultimately went to Joel Berry.
As for the yelling from Williams, Meeks acted like it was nothing new – because it wasn’t. And Williams said before the game that Meeks was the player he had ridden the second-hardest ever in his coaching career (Brice Johnson held the No. 1 spot, the coach said).
Williams had laughingly characterized his relationship with Meeks as “love and hate” before the game, but Meeks took exception to that. Meeks said he couldn’t agree with statement because he doesn’t hate anybody, and certainly not his coach.