CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Even though Georgia Tech had to play No. 1-ranked North Carolina here Saturday, Coach Bobby Cremins was optimistic. Considering that his team is ranked No. 4, the Yellow Jackets didn't figure to be outclassed. Even if they were, they have overcome the odds before.
It was only a year ago that Georgia Tech beat North Carolina three times, including once at Carmichael Auditorium, affectionately known here as "Blue Heaven."
But there was no way Cremins was going to beat the house this time, particularly not a house that has Dean Smith's name on it.
The Tar Heels have gone from the heavenly Carmichael to the sublime Dean Smith Student Activities Center, the "Dean Dome" for short. But all that means is that visiting teams have to play in front of 21,444 hostile fans instead of 10,000.
Playing for only the second time in the new arena, North Carolina's cast of thousands had little difficulty beating Georgia Tech, 85-77, and remaining unbeaten through the season's first 20 games.
After having their school-record 15-game winning streak broken, the Yellow Jackets are 16-2 and already talking about the Atlantic Coast Conference rematch Feb. 4 in Atlanta's Omni.
The Tar Heels, on the other hand, say they are not looking beyond today's game at the Dean Dome against Notre Dame, a telecast that will be served to the nation by NBC as a Super Bowl appetizer.
Notre Dame may fare better against North Carolina because the Irish have as much muscle and almost as much depth as the Tar Heels. Georgia Tech has everything but muscle and depth.
After Saturday's victory, North Carolina guard Steve Hale complimented the Yellow Jackets as "one of the best teams in the country from the first man through the seventh."
The problem for the Yellow Jackets Saturday was that the Tar Heels are the best team in the country from the first man through infinity. They have 10 players who contribute regularly.
Georgia Tech has one effective inside player, 7-0 center John Salley. Plagued by the flu, which caused him to miss two workouts last week, and handcuffed by the knowledge that he had to play conservatively to stay out of foul trouble, Salley was overwhelmed by the Tar Heels' center, Brad Daugherty.
About a dozen NBA scouts, including the Lakers' general manager, Jerry West, were here to see Daugherty, a 6-11 3/4 senior. He impressed them with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
Attempting to help Salley with Daugherty, Georgia Tech's other front-line players left 6-10 forward Joe Wolf unattended. Since Wolf averages only 8.1 points a game, that doesn't seem like such a bad tactic. But what big shooting eyes Wolf had Saturday. He made 10 of 11 shots from the field and scored a career-high 22 points to go along with 8 rebounds.
North Carolina's starting front line had 54 points and 24 rebounds, as compared to 35 points and 17 rebounds for Georgia Tech's starting front line. Of those 17 rebounds, freshman Tom Hammonds had 10. That's only one less than the rest of the Yellow Jacket starters had combined.
Asked about the play of the big men, Georgia Tech reserve guard Craig Neal said, "They killed us."
North Carolina's big men?
"No," Neal said. "Our big men."
When he looked at the box score and saw 22 points by Wolf's name, Salley shook his head glumly and said, "We must have been asleep."
No, that was last week, when they were supposed to be working on beating North Carolina's half-court trap, known to the Tar Heels as the \o7 scramble defense\f7 .
In the first 10 minutes of this game, the lead changed hands seven times. With 9:22 remaining in the first half, the score was tied at 16. But in the next four minutes, the Tar Heels outscored the Yellow Jackets, 16-4, for a 32-20 lead. Georgia Tech never again came closer than seven.
"You can't let a team like Carolina make a run like that and expect to come back and win," said Georgia Tech point guard Mark Price, who prevented the Yellow Jackets from being embarrassed by making 10 of 13 shots from the field, most of them from 15 feet and beyond, and scoring 22 points.
Four of Price's seven turnovers came during that stretch as he had difficulty finding teammates who wanted the ball against North Carolina's trap. It was the Yellow Jackets who were scrambling.
"It seems like when they were trapping, we were running the other way," Price said. "I'd look around and there was nobody to pass to."
Hale, who did an outstanding job defensively in limiting Georgia Tech's other guard, Bruce Dalrymple, to 10 points, said the Tar Heels did not expect to snare the Yellow Jackets in the trap so easily.
"We usually like to try it a couple of times to see how they deal with it," he said. "If it works, we stay with it. When it was working today, the crowd really got into the game, and that rattled them."
Accepting blame, Cremins said: "I'm really not happy with the way I prepared us for the trapping defense. I assumed too much. We practiced on it, but not enough. I thought we'd be able to handle it.
"The one good thing is that we didn't give up. But I need to go to work. North Carolina outplayed us in every phase of the game."
The only one who wasn't impressed was Smith, who, as usual, found dark clouds in silver linings. He said it's too early to be impressed. "We still have to play Duke and Georgia Tech on the road," he said. He said he was disappointed that his team didn't put away Georgia Tech when it had a chance in the second half. "The turning point was when we missed those two layups that would have put us up by 18," he said. The turning point?
He even turned up his nose at the Tar Heels' advantage in offensive rebounding, which enabled them to take 16 more shots from the field than the Yellow Jackets.
"You know the way you get offensive rebounds," he said. "You miss shots. I'd like to see us make the first shot and not depend on offensive rebounding."
Some people are never satisfied. But Smith can say anything he wants. It's his building.