For a basketball team, the return trip back to earth from either heaven or hades can be equally unpredictable.

Nevertheless, both Georgetown and George Washington, must readjust to reality today after their pixilated overtime fantasy of Wednesday night.

Georgetown (20-4), still intoxicated from its third one-point win in 10 days, could get sobered up in a hurry by tough Holy Cross (19-5) in their 4 p.m. (WRC-TV) encounter at McDonough Gym.

The Colonials, on the other hand, must try to forget Craig Esherick's cruel George Washington's birthday present before they meet their nemises, American University, at Smith Center at 2.

Neither GU, GW nor even AU could get entirely down to business yesterday. Thoughts at all three schools were still on Esherick's 40-footer at the buzzer that saved the Hoyas from defeat.

"That was the best college game, I'd ever seen . . . before Esherick's shot," said AU Coach Jimmy Lynam. "Not necessarily the two best teams, mind you, but the most furious intensity, the most I've ever seen two cross-town teams want to tear into each other.

"For me, that game was epitomized by watching little Mich Riley (of GU) sprint from the bench of the scorer's table just to check into the game. It's not often you see players laying rubber just to get on the court."

Both GU and GW wonder if they can stop looking back, and pay attention to present business.

"We seem to have one after another of these emotional encounters," GU's coach John Thompson said, laughing. "I'm afraid The Cross will just be another other of them. I can't believe we'll beat them by 14 points again the way we did in the (December ) Holiday Festival."

Holy Cross and Georgetown each has three stars that any other team in the East would be pressed to match. Holy Cross' 6-foot-2 Ronnie Perry (22.1-point average 6-8), Chris Potter (17.3) and 6-5 Mike Vicens (15.) match up elegantly against GU's Derrick Jackson (18.7), John (Duren (15.6) and Craig Shelton (13.7).

However, it is Gu's savvy and spirited four-man bench that sets the Hoyas apart GW knows it.

"This is the year we're supposed to win some those games," gloats Thompson. "When you have experienced players who understand situation basketball,' you can be greedy and think, 'The close ones belong to us.'"

After those three mainstays - Jackson, Shelton and Duren - GU is discovering that it is loaded with "situation players," fellow like Riley, Al Dutch, Esherick and Tommy Scates who understand their supporting roles and love them.

"The guys on our bench don't hand their heads, or play for themselves," said the 5-8 Riley. "We all have our jobs and we can anticipate that, 'Hey, it's almost my time . . . they about need me to go in.' . . . I gotts get psyched . . . I can swing this game our way by doing my little things right."

"None of them feel discredited by coming off the bench," is Thompson's way of saying it.

Riley can draw changing fouls "before they know where I came from." Scates, who weighs exactly 100 pounds more than Riley, can swat away shots and shift the balance of backboard power. The 6-7 Dutch, after overcoming some shooting syness, now comes off the board's with his jumpers blazing.

Esherick waits for a zone to bust with his long set shots, or else waits to toss bombs at the horn.

The Hoyas' versatility hectored Holy Cross in that December meeting. Scates bullied the slender Potter underneath, Riley helped break the Cursaders' pet full-court zone press and Dutch tossed in a dozen points.

"The Cross has great players," says Thompson, "but if we beat their zone press, we can spread them out . . . We also have more quickness, and we can change defenses and tempos on them."

If GU seems to be losing a bit of its characteristic modesty, that's exactly the idea. The Hoyas think a little swagger is in order now that tournament time is near.

"Luck has no consistency," said Thompson, "and we've been winning the close ones consistently. That must mean we're not doing it on luck."

GW enters its annual war with AU with an opposite feeling. "We've lost three in a row," says GW Coach Bob Tallent. "There's no doubt we need this one badly."

GW, 15-9, might do well in next week's well-balanced Eastern Eight tournament in Pittsburgh - but only if the Colonials establish some confidence. Erratic is the word for GW.

"When you almost beat a great team, think you've won, and lose." said Tallent of the GU game, "is that a boost or a blow? I don't know."

One thing Tallent knows is that "AU doesn't even resemble the team that started the season. They're vastly improved."

Freshman Boo Bowers has "borderes on remarkable," says AU's Lynam, while guard Stan Lamb "has will be without forward Leon Kearney been our lift of late." However, AU because of a death in the family.

Navy (14-10) will try to end, and highlight, its best season in 18 years by upsetting Army in a 2 p.m. game at West Point. Army (17-7) has won nine straight.

Hank Kuzma, in the last game for Navy, will take his 18.2-point scoring average and 8.2 rebounds a game against Army's ferocious 6-5, 230-pound Gary Winston, who has averages of 23.8 and 10.5.