It's been a while since basketball was fun for Virginia.

Eight of the Cavaliers' last nine games have been decided in the last minute, all by five points or less (the exception was an 84-66 romp over Wake Forest). The last four games, including all three in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, were decided by two points or less.

Is Virginia, ranked No. 3 in the nation, too tight to perform well in the NCAA tournament, which begins Thursday night?

"I don't think we're tight," Virginia Coach Terry Holland said this afternoon. "I saw where one writer called us 'stumbling Virginia' but I don't see anything that indicates we're stumbling. I can't see that many negatives falling out from our team because of what's happened at the end of the season. Scores like that are normal at the end of a conference season.

"I think we've shown that we can play and win close ball games, sometimes even without one of our best players," Holland said, referring to all-ACC guard Othell Wilson, who missed the last 2 1/2 games with a deeply bruised right thigh.

Holland said today that Wilson, Virginia's top ball handler and defensive catalyst, has regained flexibility in his leg and will probably practice on Thursday. Unless the bleeding resumes or he reinjures the thigh, Wilson should be able to play Sunday against the winner of the first-round game Friday between Tennessee and Southwestern Louisiana.

Sunday's game will mark the first time Virginia has played a non-ACC opponent since Feb. 6, when the Cavaliers pummeled Virginia Tech, 80-66. Several of the Cavaliers believe that playing a team outside the conference could be a great relief.

"I feel very good about seeing some non-ACC teams," said forward Craig Robinson. "I think toward the end of the conference season we had that bottled-up feeling. It may have been hard to get up for games, knowing teams would stall against us. The ACC teams knew our style and personnel so well, and we knew theirs. It was like, 'Oh, boy, not them again.'

"But now, I think--at least, I hope--we'll escape the slowdown outside of the conference. These newer teams will be unfamiliar with us. They may have scouting reports and film, but that's not the same as being down on the floor and actually feeling how we play."

Freshman forward Jimmy Miller agreed.

"I'm looking forward to some new teams," Miller said. "Maybe we'll get a chance to run up and down the floor some. At the end of the season, the competition of playing ACC schools day in and day out was emotionally and physically wearing on us. I think playing someone out of the conference will help."

Holland also spent several minutes defending his strategy in Sunday's ACC tournament final. Top-ranked North Carolina defeated Virginia for the title but slowed the game down in the final 7 1/2 minutes.

"I don't think we should have done anything different," Holland said. "We played them aggressively (on defense) from six minutes on down. I think holding the ball out as far from the basket as they did indicates they really weren't looking to score."

The Cavaliers definitely seem relaxed now that the ACC season is over. Holland talked and joked about a number of subjects with a few reporters for more than an hour today.

"I think there was more pressure and tension last year because we had six seniors of 11 on the team," Holland said.