North Carolina sent a calliing card to the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference tonight. It read: "Look out, folks, 'cause here we come."

With a superb display of pressure defense, transition offense and rebounding, the Tar Heels embarrassed Virginia, 68-51, in a game that was not as close as the score indicated.

Carolina led by as many as 23 points in the second half, holding Virginia to two points during one stretch of 11 1/2 minutes. During that period, the Tar Heels turned a 40-34 basketball game into a 56-36 execution.

"I certainly didn't expect anything like that," UNC Coach Dean Smith said. "At times, our defense was fabulous. We just played a great game."

Traditionally, the Tar Heels have been a February team. This is one reason why they have finished first or second in the ACC for 13 straight years. Tonight's win raises their conference record to 8-4, their overall mark to 19-5. Virginia, codisappointment of the year with Duke, is 7-6, 8-8. The Tar Heels now trail Maryland by one game with two to play.

No aspect of this surprising game was more shocking than the statistics of the two centers -- Ralph Sampson for Virginia and Jeff Wolf for North Carolina. Each had 12 points. Sampson had 11 rebounds, Wolf six. But in the second half, Wolf outscored Sampson, 8-2, including two jarring dunks in the face of the 7-foot-4 freshman.

Sampson started quickly, hitting two long jumpers, and when UVA jumped to a 16-10 lead, it looked like a dogfight. But by halftime Carolina was in front, 32-28. Then, three minutes into the second half, they took over and blew the Cavaliers out of Carmichael Auditorium.

"We weren't working for our shots," said Jeff Lamp, who made only five of 10 shots and 12 points. "We were coming down and putting up the first shot available. They were fantastic, though."

"They took us out of our offense," Coach Terry Holland said. "I didn't think anyone could do that to us at this time of the year. I thought we had learned to handle situations like that pretty darn well. No one else had been able to do that to us. They did it to us."

What Carolina did to Virginia tonight will probably give Holland nightmares for a while.Just the mental picture of Wolf swishing four 18-footers, then charging past Sampson then the freshman came out to chase, should be enough to make him shudder.

The Cavaliers' 41 percent shooting -- $99[Word illegible] Raker made the three of seven. Mike Owens two of six, Garland Jefferson three of seven at the forward spots -- also will have Holland tossing and turning.