"I just witnessed one of the great performances in basketball," North Carolina Coach Dean Smith declared after his injury-depleted squad embarrassed Virginia, 71-54, at Carmichael Auditorium yesterday.

"In terms of offense, defense, passing and leadership," said Smith, "I've never seen a better game than the one Phil Ford just played."

Carolina's 6-foot-2 guard and head cheerleader scored 30 points, won the team's defensive award, ran the four corners for seven straight minutes and held together a unit that was missing three key front liners, including Mike O'Koren - the Tar Heels' leading rebounder and the nation's second-best shooter (67 percent).

Virginia, currently playing the worst ball in the Atlantic Coast Conference with four straight league defeats, should have had a field day up front, matching 6-foot-9 forward Marc lavaroni against 6-6 Dudley Bradley, and 6-9 center Steve Castellan with Carolina's Jeff Wolf, who was a reserve before Rich Yonakor was lost for the season because of knee surgery.

Iavaroni was more for three from the floor and Castellan was so ineffective he played only eight minutes and never took a shot.

Carolina's defense forced Virginia outside, where Jeff Lamp fired 19 shots and scored 22 points. Mike Owens, of Kensington, added 12 points, but the rest of the Cavaliers were virtally nonexistent offensively.

Ford held Bobby Stokes scoreless from the floor. Stokes lost the ball six times.

After the game, Ford stood wrapped in a baby-blue towel, giving the credit to his teammates, as is his custom.

"We knew we had to band together," said Ford. "We worked as hard as we could. Everyone gave 105 per cent. I just kept looking at the clock and seeing our lead go up and up and up. And I was loving it."

Virginia, ranked 16th by the UPI and 17th by AP, led just once, at 2-0, but set the tone of the game early by not hitting a field goal until seven minutes had passed. Bradley, starting forward Al Wood and freshman frontliner Pete Budko each picked up three quick fouls, and Carolina looked to be in danger.

"Everyone over 6-4 was either in foul trouble or hurt," said Smith.

And so the Tar Heels, ranked eighth by UPI and 11th by AP, went to the four-corner delay game with an 18-15 lead and 7:11 left until intermission.

Virginia gave only passive chase, and Ford's 20-footer at the buzzer made it 20-15.

It seemed obvious that Virginia had passed up its chance to make a run at Carolina, but Coach Terry Holland bristled at the question.

"The rules require us to match up and that's what we did," said Holland. "I don't think we played a terrible basketball game."

Holland made reference to the final foul count - 30 for UVA, 20 for UNC.

"If you can play as aggressively as they did without committing fouls, you're going to beat a lot of people," said Holland. "I guess we'll have to go to coaching clinics to learn how not to foul."

The win left Carolina in first place with an 8-2 ACC record.