Top-ranked North Carolina emerged undefeated but bruised today, surviving 16th-ranked Notre Dame by this final score before 21,444 at Dean Smith Center: Tar Hips 73, Fighting Elbows 61.
Notre Dame's bid for an upset, a savage effort that lasted just under 30 minutes, gave the Tar Heels one of their most tiring games all season. But North Carolina held the Fighting Irish scoreless for a 7 1/2-minute span in the final 11 minutes, assuring its 21st straight victory and tying the school record for best start.
North Carolina has won most of its games with height and breadth that has simply overwhelmed opponents, but today it ran into a team that matched it physically. The Tar Heels, after they got over their initial contusions and the shock of leading by just 39-37 at halftime, let go with something better than their fists: the trap defense.
North Carolina held the Irish scoreless for 7:30 while scoring eight points to wrest control. Notre Dame could score just eight points over the final 11:22. The Fighting Irish (12-3) missed 15 of their last 17 shots, including 10 in a row.
Notre Dame's inside game matched the Tar Heels' most of the day and the Irish actually outrebounded them, 24-23. Most of the points for both teams came from the guards: Kenny Smith had a game-high 20 for North Carolina, and David Rivers had 17 for Notre Dame.
The only other players in double figures were Irish forward Ken Barlow with 18, and Tar Heels forward Joe Wolf with 16. North Carolina center Brad Daughtery was held to seven points, just two in the second half, by Notre Dame's 6-foot-9, 245-pound Tim Kempton. Forward/center Warren Martin was limited to six.
That is not the kind of game North Carolina is used to. Daugherty, 6-10, averages 20.3 points, and the Tar Heels have been averaging 92.8.
"The Super Bowl doesn't start until 5 o'clock," said Daugherty. "It was a rough game and it got out of hand sometimes. It was ridiculous. The place to show how tough you are is on the street, not here."
Coach Dean Smith said: "The next time we play we're going to wear tearaway jerseys so when we're held, we can break free."
Notre Dame did not sympathize. The Irish were hungry for an upset, and actually had several opportunities. They led twice by three points in the first half, and tied the game three times in the second before succumbing with their scoreless run.
"I like the way we played," Coach Digger Phelps said. "We weren't inimidated. We've got nothing to be ashamed of. Carolina is as awesome as ever."
The last time the Tar Heels went 21-0 was in 1983-1984; they lost the 22nd game to Arkansas and finished 28-3.
North Carolina now has come through what were perhaps the toughest consecutive weekend schedules in the country. The Tar Heels defeated No. 2 Duke, 95-92, last Saturday at home, then jumped on a plane and barely got by Marquette, 66-64, on Sunday. Saturday's 85-77 victory over fourth-ranked Georgia Tech was perhaps their biggest hurdle to this point and put them in undisputed control of the Atlantic Coast Conference; to follow it with a victory over Notre Dame clearly was a significant accomplishment.
North Carolina's scheduling was primarily due to the demands of television. It is not something the Tar Heels want to repeat.
North Carolina managed to hold on to a consistent four-point lead early in the second half, but the Tar Heels were unable to stretch it out until midway through the period. Notre Dame tied it three times, at 39, 47 and 53, the latter two times on jumper by Rivers.
Rivers' basket to tie it at 53 came with 11:22 remaining. The Irish, however, were unable to work the ball in consistently against North Carolina's trapping defense. They were in deeper trouble when Rivers picked up his fourth foul with 9:02 remaining, with an intentional foul on Kenny Smith's fast-break attempt.
Smith had made a jumper previously, and his free throws made it 57-53. The Tar Heels proceeded to run off four more points to complete an 8-0 run. Tim Kempton fouled Smith on another fast-break attempt with 6:40 remaining, and Smith made both shots. Then Martin worked inside to make it 61-53 with 5:52 left.
Notre Dame had gone scoreless since the 11:22 mark. Rivers finally broke the 7 1/2-minute dry spell with two free throws. That cut the North Carolina lead to 61-55, but by that time, there was just 3:52 left, and the pace of the game did not indicate quick comebacks would be easy.
It wasn't. Wolf's free throws made it 67-57 with 39 seconds left. North Carolina finished with some flair, Martin rejecting Rivers' jumper from the top of the key and Smith turning it into a fast-break jam to make it 69-57 with 26 seconds remaining.
"I think they could have been beaten," said Kempton, who finished with six points. "We had our opportunities. But when you go scoreless like that you're not going to do it.