GLENDALE, Ariz. — Two big men hiding in plain sight, one from Gonzaga and one from North Carolina, had breakout games Saturday in the Final Four and carried their respective teams into the NCAA Tournament title game.

Getting career-best performances from unexpected sources is the unifying catlyst for Monday’s captivating title-game matchup of the Zags and Tar Heels, two No. 1 seeds.

For Gonzaga, it was the spiky-haired temptation of potential, Zach Collins. For UNC, big-boy senior Kennedy Meeks

Prior to tip, neither of the two were rendered as deciders. Then Collins went out and gave Gonzaga an element it needed in order to send off South Carolina. The 19-year-old was at his efficient best, nailing the Gamecocks for 14 points (on 6-of-10 shooting), 13 rebounds and six blocks in 23 minutes worth of work. 

Gonzaga won 77-73, before it was Meeks’ turn in a 77-76 victory vs. Oregon that which capped a pretty good night for college basketball, even if the games didn’t go the way almost anyone expected. 

Collins will be the talk of the next 48 hours. The projected first-round pick might well now be the projected lottery pick thanks to how he performed on the biggest stage. You have your best game ever in front of 77,612 people, we’re all going to take big notice. Collins said he had a few mixed emotions upon getting to the stadium but steadied himself in time for the national anthem. 

Zach Collins played with heart in his 14-point, 13-rebound game vs. South Carolina. USATSI

“I know I had a rough couple of games prior to this,” Collins said. “And hearing everyone on social media about how I wasn’t ready for this stage and about how the speed of the game was too much for me. And that really made me really mad.”

Collins gave a little of everything, including that wait-what? tide-stemming 3-pointer that gave Gonzaga a lead it would never relinquish, putting the Bulldogs up 68-67 with 6:45 to go. 

“It completely bricked,” Collins said. “It was probably the ugliest shot I’ve ever taken. Luckily it bounced it. I don’t know it did. I’ve never seen a shot like that. … I don’t know how the hell it went in.”

Said Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd in the locker room afterward: “That 3 was huge. The wheels, you feel like they’re coming off, and it’s one of those shots: he missed it so bad, it went in. … It was clutch. I was impressed he had the courage to step up and shoot it.” 

Meeks wrote himself quite a story, too. In getting Carolina to worm its way past Oregon, he tied a career-high with 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting, plus snagged 14 rebounds and got three steals. The best part: his redemption. Meeks’ missed foul shots with 5.8 seconds to go could have given Oregon a chance to win the game. 

Then Theo Pinson saved the moment by grabbing Meeks’ miss and getting the ball to Joel Berry. How poetic that Meeks made good after Berry — an 81-percent foul shooter — stunningly missed both his foul shots. Appropriately, he grabbed the game’s final rebound. UNC has been the best team on the offensive boards in college hoops. Meeks is the biggest reason. He deserved that 14th rebound. 

After the first miss, Meeks was talking to himself. Me and the rim. Me and the rim. And so it was. Only him and rim. No net. He thought the first foul shot was good. Nope. Just front of the iron. The second one, Meeks was emotionally rattled, he said, after missing the first. 

“I’m still a little down on myself because I want my team to be able to count on me in those situations,” Meeks said. “You get down on yourself because you know those are two big free throws. Every practice I work so hard just to try to make as many free throws as I can before we leave.” 

Understandable for Meeks to head back to the hotel with small cloud, but his coaches and teammates will assure him that they don’t win without him. He was the single most important player of any on Saturday night — in either game. Remember, this came after Meeks had 17 rebounds and four blocks against Kentucky in the regional final. He’s got the chance to finish his career in epic fashion. 

Kennedy Meeks thrived no matter how many Oregon players tried to stop him. USATSI

“I kind of realized that during the Butler game, when coach got on me for not boxing out and I sat out for a couple of minutes,” Meeks said. “And I just knew that it’s important for me to do so, just to help my team out in any way I can. And it takes you a long time to really get over that you don’t have to score to be effective, you don’t have to shoot all the shots to be effective.” 

It’s going to be fantastic to watch Gonzaga and UNC develop their wars in the key on Monday night. Collins wasn’t Gonzaga’s only key piece, but his harmony with Prezemek Karnowski — a dual-playing-time development that Collins and Karnowski had been waiting all season for — produced a dynamic that was both effective and efficient. 

“We don’t get this far without Przemek,” Collins said. “He’s taught me so much about just how to play as a big in college basketball. His leadership is really incredible. … We needed him this year.” 

Gonzaga coach Mark Few decided in the moment, early in the game and on instinct, to ride with Karnowksi and Collins on the floor at the same time. Their hi-low movement, their ability to wall up and make darkness out of daylight for South Carolina was unlike anything we’ve seen from any college basketball team in many seasons. Obedient rim protectors, and it’s not just them. 

“J3 (Johnathan Williams) saved us the last two games,” Collins said. “But that’s what great about this team. We have so much depth that any given night it can be someone different to get us going.” 

Collins’ final block, with 1:21 to go in a 3-point game and when he had four fouls, was the rally move and defining statement in the Zags’ win. 

“It’s been a sneaky little secret at Gonzaga,” Lloyd said of the program’s rim-protecting arsenal. “(Collins) understands it’s a process and he understands he’s not there yet, so to see him get rewarded on this stage is encouraging.” 

Roy Williams said the team felt lucky and relieved to move on after sputtering its way to a win over Oregon. Few unleashed his secret weapon and it worked to big dividends. The interesting element to the Final Four every year is how certain players step up and become major plot points to the championship course. Collins and Meeks are no sure thing to repeat what they’ve done in the title game, but neither team would be playing on Monday had those two not picked the national semifinals to find their way to the best games of their careers. 

And now we’ll get to see them face off against each other. A befitting finish for both teams and players. Monday night can’t get here soon enough.