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The Daily Tar Heel

Kennedy Meeks-Przemek Karnowski battle down low will decide national championship game

North Carolina forward Kennedy Meeks (3) shoots over Oregon forward Jordan Bell (1) in the teams' Final Four matchup on Saturday in Phoenix.
North Carolina forward Kennedy Meeks (3) shoots over Oregon forward Jordan Bell (1) in the teams' Final Four matchup on Saturday in Phoenix.

GLENDALE, ARIZ. — There’s big, and then there’s these two.

That’s not meant as an insult, of course, but rather at the realization that both of these men — Kennedy Meeks for North Carolina, Przemek Karnowski for Gonzaga — are ambling mountains.

Meeks, who first arrived in Chapel Hill four years ago weighing 320 pounds, has slimmed considerably since then, shedding 60 pounds off his hulking 6-foot-10 frame. Karnowski’s just as big, if not bigger — he’s listed at 300 pounds in his own right, but three inches taller than Meeks.

“A very big low post matchup,” head coach Roy Williams said during his Sunday afternoon press conference at University of Phoenix Stadium. And as he let the word “big” slip, Williams couldn’t help but widen his grin and his smile.

But for such a complex point of emphasis, such a strategic focus, there really isn’t a better word to describe them. They’re massive, both physically but also in terms of what they can provide on the court.

For UNC, who will play in its second consecutive national championship game on Monday night, Meeks will almost certainly lead the way, same as he’s done all postseason.

He registered his most ever points in an NCAA Tournament game, 16, when the Tar Heels eked by Arkansas two weekends ago. And then last weekend, when Kentucky devoted itself to stopping him in the Elite Eight, Meeks responded another way, this time posting the most rebounds he’s ever had (17) in one game.

But neither of those performances compared to his effort against Oregon in the Final Four, when he almost single-handedly kept UNC alive at times. He tied his career high in scoring with 25 points and also had 14 rebounds, the last of which allowed the Tar Heels to run out the rest of the clock.

“These are the games I live for,” Meeks said of his impending contest with Karnowski. “It’ll be a lot of physical action.”

It couldn’t be anything but with Karnowski, who commands attention with his proficiency in the post. He’s averaged 12.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game this season, but he’s yet to face off against someone as physical as Meeks. Come Monday night, he’ll be able to hunker down and set up camp for himself near UNC’s rim — when he isn’t defending Gonzaga’s interior, that is.

“It’s going to be a lot of big bodies hitting around,” Karnowski said. “Obviously I’ll try to stop him from going to his moves.”

Whether or not he’s effective in doing so will likely determine which team holds up the trophy Monday night.

And then we’ll know, finally, how big these mountains really are.


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