GLENDALE, Ariz. — It’s a bit premature for Kennedy Meeks to wax nostalgic.
After all, the 6-foot-10-inch, 260-pound power forward has one more game before his college basketball career at North Carolina ends and can look back on the good times and the bad.
The Tar Heels (32-7), winners of the South Regional as the top seed, meet the Gonzaga Bulldogs (37-1), the No. 1 seed and winner of the West Regional, for the national championship Monday at University of Phoenix Stadium. Meeks, who has become a star with the media with his deadpan humor, characterized the final act as one more part of the process.
“You have to treat it like any other game,” he said Sunday. “Of course, it’s definitely the biggest stage. But as long as we come in with the right mindset, we’ll be fine.”
Meeks is coming off a monster performance Saturday, scoring a career-equalling best 25 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in the Tar Heels’ 77-76 win over Oregon in the Final Four semifinals. That 14th board may have been the biggest as it came off a missed free throw by Joel Berry II with four seconds left and it prevented Oregon from getting one final shot to win.
It’s one of the many things North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he will miss about having had Meeks in his program.
“It’s been love and hate and I say it with tongue-in-cheek kind of thing because I’ve been on him really hard,” Williams said. “I have a great deal of respect for him. When he got here and lost 50, 60 pounds, whatever it was because that has to be extremely difficult.
”But I keep pushing him, pushing him and he keeps coming back. Hopefully at he end we’ll both look back on it and think it’s been a great partnership.”
Meeks said he’s ready to get into a physical low-post matchup with Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga’s own wide-body.
“I like playing physical,” Meeks said. “I think I need to do a good job of running the court, post up hard and drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line and make the free throws.”
Karnowski said he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of big bodies hitting around,” Karnowski said. “He’s a big guy like me. He likes to play it back to the basket a lot. So obviously I’ll try and stop him from going to his moves.”
Williams said it will be a different look from most of the Tar Heels’ games this season.
“It’s a very big low-post matchup,” Williams said. “All year long we’ve had to send our guys out on the court to play against all those screen-and-pop guys that want to shoot 3-point shots. Now, we’ll have the first option of going inside and in that sense it will be something we haven’t done a lot of this year.”
For Meeks, he’ll try to give people one more thing to remember before he tries to keep his basketball career going in the pro ranks, whether it’s the NBA or Europe.
“Whatever I have to do to help my team come out victorious, I’ll do,” Meeks said. “I want to make my last game memorable by winning a national championship. We’re in that position and we have the right people to make that happen.”
Contact Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow @stevecarprj on Twitter.