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.
The top-seeded Tar Heels advanced to a second-round matchup tomorrow at 12: 15 p.m. against No. 9 Colorado, which scored a surprisingly easy 80-62 victory over Indiana and Bobby Knight in the day's finale.
"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."
Colorado 80, Indiana 62
With All-American guard Chauncey Billups thriving, the Buffaloes jumped to a quick 12-point lead and were never seriously threatened by a traditional power that has now lost three straight first-round games.
Billups had 20 first-half points and finished with 24 and the Colorado defense held the Hooisers to 35 percent field-goal accuracy.
"I think we're a better team when all the odds are against us," said Billups. "Everybody was looking for a Dean Smith-Bobby Knight matchup and kind of wrote us off. We felt we had something to prove."
Knight, who questioned the late starting time Wednesday, was subdued in the post-game interview session.
"They beat us soundly in about every way you can," he said of Colorado (22-9). "I was very impressed with the way they played defense -- studying them and once we played them, I think they were even better than I thought."
"We just didn't come out and compete at all," added guard A. J. Guyton, who led Indiana with 17 points. "It's a matter of wanting to do it and we didn't want to."
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.
"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).
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.
Pub Date: 3/14/97