This version of “Wednesday Watch” covers a record-setting day in college basketball history as North Carolina head coach Dean Smith surpassed Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp for the most Division-I coaching victories.
team led by former NBA Finals MVP Chauncey Billups, Smith earned his record-breaking 877th coaching win, which might have seemed to be just a pipe dream during his fourth year of coaching. The Tar Heels would finish 15-9 that year, with Smith being hung in effigy on campus at one point that season!
Smith would ultimately end up with two more wins after the Colorado game, beating California in the Sweet Sixteen and Louisville in the Elite Eight before losing to Arizona in the Final Four.
Smith would retire prior to the 1997-1998 season, with his record of 879 career victories lasting nearly 10 years.
Former Indiana and then Texas Tech head coach Bobby Knight would eventually break Smith’s record on New Year’s Day 2007.
Since then Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim have passed the great Knight and the late Smith.
Here are the 10 coaches with the most wins in Division-I history.
1. Mike Krzyzewski (1043 wins)
2. Jim Boeheim (989)
3. Bob Knight (899)
4. Dean Smith (879)
5. Jim Calhoun (877)
6. Adolph Rupp (876)
7. Eddie Sutton (806)
8. Lefty Driesell (786)
9. Roy Williams (783)
10. Lute Olson (776)
Why You Should Watch This Game: History and respect. It becomes apparent from the beginning to the end of this telecast how beloved Smith was throughout the college basketball world, not only by his current and former players but opposing coaches. At halftime of this game, CBS ran a special tribute to Smith, with the likes of Kansas’ Roy Williams, Georgetown’s John Thompson, Wake Forest’s Dave Odom and Kentucky’s Rick Pitino saluting his greatness. After the victory, the modest Smith was swarmed by his players and cheered by at least 17 former players in the stands, including Sam Perkins, George Karl, Mitch Kupchak and Billy Cunningham.
What You Would Have Been Watching from North Carolina: After surviving a first-round scare against Fairfield in the first round of the 1997 NCAA Tournament, North Carolina was looking for a more dominant performance worthy of a No. 1 seed. The Tar Heels were saved by senior center Serge Zwikker, freshman guard Ed Cota and sophomore forward Vince Carter late in the first-round victory, which marked Smith tying Rupp at 876 wins.
What You Would Have Been Watching from Colorado: In head coach Ricardo Patton’s first full season at the helm, the Buffaloes were experiencing some history of its own, having won a then-school record 22 wins. Speaking of Bobby Knight, his No. 8 seed Indiana Hoosiers were crushed by Colorado 80-62 in the first round of the 1997 NCAA Tournament. It would have been interesting if Smith had set the record against Knight, whose 1980-1981 Hoosiers team led by Isaiah Thomas defeated UNC in the 1981 NCAA Championship game, which took place the same day that President Ronald Reagan was shot. Back to those Buffaloes, Colorado was 7-for-9 from the three in the first round, with Chauncey Billups scoring 20 of his 24 points in the first half. The victory against Indiana was Colorado’s first NCAA Tournament win since way back in 1963. Colorado was also seeking its first back-to-back NCAA Tournament wins since 1955, during which the Buffaloes reached the Final Four.
What I Remember Watching: I don’t remember watching this game. It was the first game of the second round, which means it was not competing against any other tournament game during its 11 a.m. (CT) Saturday time slot. At the time I might have been at freshman baseball practice. With that said, I do remember watching the “Road to the Final Four” show before the 1997 Final Four, with Clark Kellogg providing a voice over about Smith’s accomplishment over a great image of Smith being hugged by his players before he could even get to shake hands with the Colorado coaches. It was pretty cool to see how happy the Carolina players were for Smith, and even cooler to see Smith try to run off the floor after the win. He would be corralled by CBS’ Andrea Joyce and do a humble interview with Antawn Jamison and Shammond Williams.
Who Was Watching for You: My favorite duo of Sean McDonough and Bill Raftery were on the call, with Pat O’Brien providing a nice halftime piece on how John F. Kennedy visited UNC-Chapel Hill back in 1961, Smith’s first year as head coach at North Carolina. McDonough was brilliant as usual, pulling no punches in the second half when foul calls were heavily going against Colorado, leading to a Patton technical that signaled the end of any upset, and detailing how Rupp’s ego and personal character left a lot to be desired. The interplay between McDonough and Raftery was clever as well, with McDonough taking a light-hearted jab at Raftery returning to coaching to try and break Smith’s record @ 1:14:00.
Where They Were Watching: This game took place at Wake Forest’s Lawrence E. Joel Coliseum. In my North Carolina-Fairfield game review, I detailed how much I enjoy this arena, from its parquet floor to the large Demon Deacon logo at half court.
If You Don’t Want to Watch (Game Summary): Did you know that Colorado actually led this game by one point at halftime, 31-30? Or that UNC’s Vince Carter scored the team’s first basket before pulling his groin shortly thereafter, causing him to miss the rest of the game? Or that Billups was outplayed by North Carolina freshman point guard Ed Cota, who had a then-career high 16 points?
For the second straight game, Carolina came out sloppy in the first half, with the Buffaloes proving to be a worthy opponent behind Billups and even more so his high school teammate, senior forward Fred Edmonds. Dominating on the offensive boards throughout the first half, Carolina was finally able to build a six to eight point lead after the 10 minute mark. However, Colorado hung in and finished the half on an 8-0 run to take a one-point lead at the break.
In the first half, only one free throw was attempted. However, this would change big time in the second half, as the refs got tight with their whistles against Colorado. McDonough noted right away that it seemed like the referees made a conscious decision to call the game more stringently and not let it be as physical, with Colorado called for 10 of the first 14 foul calls in the second half. Consequently, Carolina got in the bonus early in the second half, and Colorado made things worse by trying to play too much hero ball (especially Billups) and missing its first seven free throws. Pretty soon the Tar Heels would get rolling, staging a 17-4 run in four minutes behind Cota, who started for the injured Carter in the second half and ran a brilliant show. Eventually, Patton would have enough of the foul discrepancy and get a technical @105:15. Carolina would can the technical free throws, Antawn Jamison would get a big tip dunk, and Cota would hit Okaluja for an acrobatic layup plus the foul. With 8:15 to go in the game, UNC was up 66-45, and this game was basically over, a Tar Heel avalanche after a very competitive first half.
What You Should Watch in 2017: I suggest watching the entire first half and then up to @1:08:15, when Carolina pulls away. You should stick around for the whole game to see the celebration afterwards. However, if you are looking for a truncated watch, begin @29:42 when Jamison gets Carolina’s last basket of the half and then Edmonds sparks the Colorado 8-0 rally, leaving UNC fans nervous with a one-point deficit at the break. From here, watch the second half up until the aforementioned @1:08:15. It will quickly become clear that the officials were calling a much tighter game, disturbing any rhythm and causing the Buffaloes to panic a bit on offense.
Player You Should Watch in 2017: Cota was phenomenal in both the first and second round of this tournament. It could be argued that he was the best Carolina player in the opening weekend of the 1997 NCAA Tournament. Against Billups, Cota went off, hitting big threes @50:39 and @56:03, lobbing to Jamison for a big dunk and eight-point lead @54:42, setting up Zwikker with a beautiful pass for an and-one @58:13, hitting a beautiful runner @1:04:30, and feeding Okulaja for a crafty finish @1:08:15. On this night, Cota was a stud, better than Billups not only on the court but in the box score (16 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists to 11 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists).
● Okulaja helped Carolina tread some ugly offensive waters in the first half with his all-around hustle.
● After a big second half in the first round, Zwikker had another bad first half in the Colorado game, but did not step up in the last 20 minutes like he did against Fairfield.
● Williams had 15 points but was not quite clicking yet offensively. He would get it going big time in the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight.
● Colorado’s Fred Edmonds was a player I was not familiar with; however, I came away quite impressed with the senior forward’s grittiness, mid-range game and efficiency from the field. Edmonds led the Buffaloes with 18 points on 8-for-14 shooting and tied for the team lead with 6 rebounds.
● As the first half showed, Colorado was a solid team beyond just Billups. In my opinion Colorado was the more resilient team in the first half. It’s a shame how the foul calls affected the Buffaloes. For example, forward Martice Moore fouled out in the second half, getting whistled for 5 fouls by the 8-minute mark of the game. Amazingly, Moore had no fouls called against him in the first half. Another Colorado starter, forward Ronnie DeGray, was disqualified by fouls in the second half.
● While Billups had a below-average game for his abilities, it was easy to see why he would become the No. 3 pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. Billups seemed like he could get anywhere and find a shot any time he wanted. On this night, his shot selection and decision making were poor, and the three ball was off the mark.
● As McDonough noted, Patton was justified to receive a technical and be frustrated with the officiating. Thank goodness for the referees that Patton did not use his fourth-degree black belt skills. That’s right! Patton was a 4th degree black belt. And before he got into coaching, he worked for five years as a television camera operator. That’s quite an interesting back story .
● Leaving the best for last, Smith was classy and understated after the game, crediting his players for the accomplishment rather than basking in the glory. It’s no wonder why all of his former players loved him so much until his death on February 7, 2015. Smith was an amazing coach and an even more amazing man!
Related Watches: In remembrance of the late great Dean Smith, here are his two national title games, the 1982 triumph against Georgetown and the 1993 victory against Michigan (also known as the Chris Webber timeout game), and a celebration of his life following his death.