Tar Heels get past Fairfield Smith pulls along Rupp, but it isn't easy as N.C. struggles for 82-74 win

East Regional

March 14, 1997|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The Dean stepped alongside The Baron as college basketball's all-time biggest winner last night at Joel Coliseum.

But a recalcitrant band of Stags almost postponed the milestone until next season.

North Carolina's hard-earned 82-74 victory over Fairfield in the first round of the NCAA East Regional pushed Dean Smith's lifetime coaching total to 876 wins, equaling Adolph Rupp's achievement at Kentucky.

"That's what we talked about at halftime," Smith said sheepishly, referring to equaling the record. At the time, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament champion Fairfield (12-18) led, 35-28.

All the talk was about the game, which turned out to be a dandy between a top seed and the No. 16 Stags, who finished last during the MAAC regular season after being hit hard by injuries.

North Carolina (25-6) prevailed for its 13th straight victory by raising its game in the second half, by clamping down on hot-shooting Greg Francis when it counted most and by using its size edge.

"It wasn't the prettiest basketball we've ever played, but a win is a win," said Serge Zwikker, whose 7-3 frame came in handy when the Tar heels needed an easy basket. "In the second half, my teammates were looking for me because coach Smith told us to power it inside."

All-American Antawn Jamison added that "we didn't play defense and we got rattled in the first half. There was definitely frustration because it wasn't Carolina basketball."

"I don't know if we played any better all year than we did in the second half," said Smith. "It was a marvelous effort by Fairfield. We couldn't stop them and we tried everything."

California 55, Princeton 52

California (22-8) made some defensive adjustments, continued to dominate the backboards and began running more liberally in the second half to overcome the deliberate Tigers, who had won 19 straight.

Forward Tony Gonzalez scored the final five points for the Golden Bears.

The Princeton fans began chanting "UCLA" in reference to last year's first-round upset of the No. 4 seed after a three-pointer by Brian Earl produced a 45-42 lead with 7: 41 to play.

But a re-run was not to be. A shot to force overtime was thwarted when 6-foot-9 Alfred Grigsby blocked Gabe Lewullis' attempt, sending the Golden Bears into tomorrow's second round against Villanova.

California was confused by the patient Princeton playing style in the first half and could have been behind by much more than six after shooting 33 per cent from the field (8-for-24).

Following the halftime adaptation, the Golden Bears scored eight of the first 10 second-half points.

"I felt we should have had a bigger lead at the half," said Princeton first-year coach Bill Carmody. "Then, they got right back into the game. Our offense was out of sync a little in the second half because they played a lot better on defense."

"I'm a senior, but I feel bad for those other guys because they won't have a chance to show that we're a very good team," said Princeton guard Sydney Johnson (Towson Catholic). "They [California] did a good job with their defense, keeping us on our toes."

Villanova 101, L. Island 91

The antithesis of Princeton, Long Island University used its helter-skelter, school-yard style to bother Villanova for 18 minutes.

Then, the Wildcats' superior height, deeper bench and ability to handle the pressure tactics took over.

Villanova (25-8) poured in the final eight points of the first half for a 48-43 lead before starting the second with a 30-2 onslaught that settled the outcome.

"I don't know if I've ever seen a game quite like that," said Wildcats coach Steve Lappas. "They press you so much in the backcourt, you have to attack. And I'm happy with the way our guys responded."

The Blackbirds, Northeast Conference champions, did a lot of pre-game boasting and Villanova point guard Alvin Williams said "to be honest, it inspired me a lot, just hearing that type of stuff."

Pub Date: 3/14/97

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