GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Kennedy Meeks kept attacking the boards, posting up deep in the paint and playing with an aggressive edge that hasn't always been there through his North Carolina career.
The Tar Heels needed every bit of it, too, to survive against Oregon in the Final Four.
The 6-foot-10 senior matched his career high with 25 points to go with 14 rebounds — ripping one down to sealed the win — to help the Tar Heels beat the Ducks 77-76 in Saturday's national semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. That sent the Tar Heels (32-7) back to the national championship game for the second straight season, putting them on the doorstep of their season-long goal to return and win.
"He was the main guy that kept on playing. It was hard to get kind of used to that zone that they were playing, but he kept on competing inside for the boards and he posted extremely low," Justin Jackson said. "And when we found him, he was able to finish."
It was a huge moment for a player who has battled weight issues early in his career, struggled at times to finish explosively around the rim and occasionally drew the ire of coach Roy Williams for lacking an edge in his game. On a night when the Tar Heels sputtered through much of their execution, Meeks made 11 of 13 shots and had three steals in 30 minutes.
"It takes you a long time to get over that you don't have to score to be effective," Meeks said. "I took it upon myself to do the best job I could whether that was scoring, rebounding the ball, playing defense."