Record changer: Smith tops Rupp Win 877 at UNC sends coach past Ky. legend as all-time winner

Colorado a 73-56 victim

Heels' Sweet 16 date is 15th in 17 seasons

March 16, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- As the final seconds were counted down yesterday, the powder blue-and-white signs popped up all over the Lawrence Joel Coliseum. As the final buzzer sounded, North Carolina center Serge Zwikker raced onto the court, snatched the ball from a Colorado player and ran with a security guard in hot pursuit.

She was chasing a piece of history because Dean Smith no longer is.

With his team's 73-56 victory over the ninth-seeded Buffaloes in the second round of the NCAA tournament's East Regional, the legendary Tar Heels coach surpassed Kentucky's Adolph Rupp as college basketball's all-time winner. Except for the first half, when top-seeded North Carolina fell behind after losing Vince Carter to an injury, the 877th victory seemed as routine as hundreds of others.

"It's never been a goal of mine," Smith said of a record that will be difficult to break. "It's never been a goal at any point. I'm not oriented that way. My goal was to win. What was this? Our 26th win? We'd like to win 27, that's my goal."

Said Zwikker: "I'm proud that we did it this year. But you really can't say it was just this team, because down the hallway at this moment, there are 20 teams standing around, a lot of guys who helped Coach Smith get victories. But I'm proud to be on this team and hopefully we can put this behind us and concentrate on the next game."

On the same court where they suffered their worst defeat of the season, the Tar Heels won for the 16th consecutive time overall to advance to Friday's Sweet 16 in Syracuse, N.Y. It marks the 15th time in the past 17 years and the 21st time in Smith's 36 years that North Carolina has reached the Sweet 16.

"We're delighted that we'll be playing next week against either Villanova or Cal," Smith said. The Tar Heels will face the fifth-seeded Bears, who later beat the fourth-seeded Wildcats, 75-68, in a game that was merely an afterthought for the crowd of 14,368. "This wasn't an easy victory but one we've very pleased with," Smith added.

It wasn't easy for Smith, given the attention surrounding his pursuit of a record that had stood since Rupp retired in 1970. It wasn't easy for the Tar Heels, given the loss of Carter with a pulled groin midway through the first half as Colorado (22-9) scored the last eight points to lead at halftime, 31-30.

But that was before freshman point guard Ed Cota took over. With North Carolina (26-6) leading 38-37, a three-pointer by Cota started a 17-4 run. In that stretch, Cota hit two threes, led sophomore forward Antawn Jamison (19 points, 16 rebounds) for a running lob tip-in, set a screen for sophomore forward Ademola Okulaja (12 points, 11 rebounds) that led to a rare four-point play and hit two free throws.

"When Vince got hurt and we knew he wasn't going to play, I knew I had to take a few more shots," said Cota, who hit six of seven shots to finish with 16 points, six rebounds and five assists. "When I hit that [first] three, I thought that got me going and got us going."

Said Colorado coach Ricardo Patton: "He's just a terrific point guard. He's very quick and he's very difficult to defend. He can lTC blow by people and that's what he did today."

Cota turned the last 15 minutes into a prolonged countdown to the low-key celebration that followed Smith's historic victory. Led by the frustrations of All-America guard Chauncey Billups, who was unable to hit from the outside, the Buffaloes seemed almost like indifferent participants.

In the stands, many in the pro-Carolina crowd held up signs with the number 877 on it. One read "Dean Rupp-tures Record". Another read "877 Puts Dean In Carolina Heaven." Among those who came for the game were players from Smith's first team as obscure as Hugh Donohue and from his first championship team as famous as Sam Perkins.

"I was one of those guys who wanted him to walk away as soon as he got it," said Donohue, a retired New York City policeman who now coaches the women's team at Mercy College, a Division III school in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. "But now that he's got it, I want him to go on as long as he wants."

Said former Tar Heels center Mitch Kupchak, now assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers: "I graduated over 20 years ago and I never really thought about him getting the record until everybody started talking about it the last few months. Being here is one of the highlights of my career."

After avoiding the subject for the past few weeks, Smith finally spoke about what it meant.

Smith thanked the university officials who supported him "even back when I was hung in effigy that one time" and every one of the assistants who had worked for him. "I can't name all the players," he said. "I could, but it would take some time.

"I've been fortunate to have some great players, some good players who became better and some that helped the team and didn't play a lot. They'll all share in this moment if there is such a thing as this moment. I didn't dream they were all coming back. I don't know how they got tickets."

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