CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — His team was overwhelmed, and that left San Diego State Coach Jim Brandenburg overcast.
"They just annihilated us," said Brandenburg, his chagrin magnified by North Carolina's season-opening, 99-63 victory Saturday over the Aztecs in front of 21,572 at the Smith Center.
The Tar Heels, christening Dean Smith's 30th year as their coach, grabbed a 55-32 halftime lead because of their defense and eased home.
"They're a very aggressive and highly intelligent basketball team," Brandenburg said. "We played them two years ago (and pushed the Tar Heels into the final minute before losing 103-92), and I thought they were good then. They're bigger and stronger now."
The Aztecs stayed close for seven minutes. Then UNC's depth and inside power took over.
The Tar Heels led 21-19 and were fighting their nerves, Smith said, so the coach went to his bench in a planned substitution and inserted five fresh players.
"They (the Aztecs) looked poised," Smith said. "I thought they would be nervous, because they're such a young team. But we were the ones who were nervous."
Into the UNC lineup came forward Clifford Rozier, forward Pat Sullivan and guard Brian Reese, all of whom are true freshmen; center Kevin Salvadori, a redshirt freshman; and Kenny Harris, a sophomore guard who played little last season. But SDSU could not take advantage of the young UNC lineup and let it ignite the surge that turned around the game.
The subs scored eight consecutive points, and, despite Brandenburg's second timeout of the half, the Tar Heels' momentum wasn't dented. They scored 10 more points for a 39-19 lead with seven minutes left before Brandenburg used another timeout.
"We hung in early against them, and we were prepared," Brandenburg said, "but as the game went on, all the changing defenses and substitutions took a toll. We lost our poise. We panicked, and they got a lot of cheap baskets."
Marty Dow, SDSU's 7-foot-1 senior center, said that he had no idea what happed to his team midway through the first half.
"I don't think we really broke down," Dow said. "North Carolina just increased its defensive pressure, and we didn't adjust."
The Tar Heels' defense was smothering during the run. The Aztecs went 6:05 between points, and in their 12 possessions, they missed five shots, five free throws and threw the ball away five times.
The Aztecs had 14 turnovers in the half. They finished with 26, in addition to shooting only 40% from the field.
"I really didn't think it was that bad," Dow said. "I think we made a couple of decisions that weren't strong and they took advantage of them. We lost our composure for a minute."
The Tar Heels hit 20 of its first 26 shots for a 46-23 lead with 4:27 left in the half.
The Tar Heels finished the half shooting 66%. They cooled down considerably in the second half and finished at 54% for the game, but the Aztecs still could not mount a second-half challenge.
"We're just not far enough along to compete with a team like North Carolina," Brandenburg said. "Maybe we can next month."
Dow was weakened by the flu, which he said that he has been fighting for almost a week. Guards Chris McKinney and Arthur Massey were also slowed by the flu, complicating SDSU's problems.
Dow was able to manage only eight points, although he did grab eight rebounds. But he had little help on the boards, despite SDSU having seven players who are 6-7 or taller. The Tar Heels had a 50-36 advantage in rebounding.
"They've got enough strength inside that they made us look pretty ordinary around the basket," Brandenburg said.
Massey led SDSU with 18 points but made only six of 18 shots from the field. The only other Aztec to reach double figures was forward Keith Balzer, who scored 12 in his SDSU debut.
UNC had four players in double figures, however, led by George Lynch, a 6-7 sophomore forward. He scored 18 points, and his play was indicative of how the game went for UNC. Most of his shots came from the lane or just off the baselines.
"From what I saw, George was all over the floor," Smith said. "We shot awfully well in the first half. My gosh. They were all easy shots."
SDSU returns home for a game Tuesday night against the University of San Diego.
"There's no doubt in my mind that this was a great experience for us to play a team of this caliber," Dow said of North Carolina. "It was a great challenge for us to see we we are in our preparation and how far we've got to go."
And how far is that?
"I'm not really sure," Dow said.