Virginia basketball Coach Terry Holland has never been known for making reporters' lives easy with funny lines. This week, though, was an exception.

Talking about his top-ranked team's game with 11th-ranked Notre dame today in the Rosemont (Ill.) Horizon (WRC-TV-4, 2 p.m.), Holland commented that he was a little worried his team might be looking past the Irish to its game with Wake Forest Wednesday.

Very funny, Terry.

Holland and his Cavaliers (23-0) know very well the main obstacle standing between them and completing the regular season unbeaten is Notre Dame (19-4). Not that Wake Forest or Maryland, the two games remaining after today, are pushovers.

But this is Notre Dame on national TV. This is Digger Phelps.

In the 10 years since he arrived at Notre Dame, Phelps has always had a knack for coming up with the big game in the big situations in the regular season.

During his second season, the Irish ended Marquette's 81-game winning streak at home. During his third season, they ended UCLA's 88-game winning streak by coming from 11 points down in the final three minutes to win. w

In 1977, they ended San Francisco's 28-game unbeaten streak the last week of the season. Last year they stopped De Paul in double overtime when the top-ranked Blue Demons were 26-0.

Put Phelps on center stage against a top-ranked team, especially one that is unbeaten, and strange things happen. Every Cavalier from 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson to 5-10 Ricky Stokes knows that.

"We have played well in games like these over the years," Phelps said. "Our kids like to play in these kinds of situations. We're exposed to the spotlight quite a bit anyway so we enjoy it."

The key for Notre Dame, as with anyone who hopes to beat Virginia, will be stopping -- or at least controlling -- Sampson. Phelps will use Tim Andree, Joe Kleine and perhaps Orlando Woolridge in that effort. He will also change defenses frequently and will sag on Sampson all day.

The Irish will pound on the Cavaliers. With three Big Ten referees working the game, it will be physical, which will be to Notre Dame's advantage. Still, Virginia has handled pounding -- and speed, height and quickness -- all year. It has had all the answers and it has had six days to prepare for this game.

The Cavaliers will be ready. And they won't be looking ahead.