For a few of us, The Scene in Capital Centre tonight will be nearly as fascinating as The Collision. "Imagine," colleague Jill Grisco said, "20,000 preps under one roof."

Perrier and Pat.

Does Ralph eat quiche?

A decade ago, neither Virginia nor Georgetown would have traded so much as a finger sandwich for a ticket to watch its basketball team play the other. Tonight, the BMW might fetch two at courtside.

A few events in athletic life are mandatory: this is one of them. The jock junkie must see the first Ralph Sampson-Patrick Ewing matchup, they being the two players most likely to tilt the balance of basketball for perhaps the next half-generation.

Sampson ought to win the battle, and his team the war.

By something in the very low 60s to something in the very high 50s, the Cavaliers will reinforce their hold on No. 1 in the polls. A Georgetown victory certainly is possible. And if it takes place, there might be a UCLA of the East in the Washington area after all.

Acknowledging the media madness -- nearly everyone with a microphone or note pad into ram-speed overkill -- Virginia Coach Terry Holland suggested: "It'll have to be a triple-overtime thriller to live up to the billing."


First-time fans should know going in what those wearing blue (Georgetown) and orange (Virginia) blazers already do: Sampson and Ewing are not ball-hogging, shot-a-second gunners. They like to dominate, not intrude. Each is as unselfish as the last heralded center, Bill Walton. Don't be surprised if neither gets 20 points.

Be furious if the coaches, Holland and John Thompson, don't let them go at each other within a team concept. Guys, don't do anything too tricky. Don't, say, have Bill Martin check Sampson. Or deny Ewing the ball all 40 minutes. Give us what even you want.

Don't think too much. Treat it for what it is, a game where playing is as important as winning, a time to evaluate. See who can do what under pressure. Save strategy for the possible rematch, the NCAAs in March.

Each team offers what the other needs. Virginia will face no more intense defensive pressure. Othell Wilson might think he has suddenly become Siamese, so close will Gene Smith be. The Hoyas attack in full-court waves. That might work against Georgetown, however. If Virginia breaks that press quickly enough, Sampson will have a fine one-on-one chance at Ewing.

Georgetown must get a gauge on how its three prominent freshmen react to close to final-four pressure, as well as how heavy an offensive load Anthony Jones and Martin can carry against a final-four team.

Virginia is at least a year more experienced at nearly every position, two at center. Sampson is remarkably polished for a man so tall, and stronger than he seems; Ewing's progress has been in leaps.

Two years ago, he was not necessarily the best center of his class. There were two others, Stuart Gray and Greg Dreiling, who very often outplayed Ewing head-to-head in high-school all-star games. At times, Ewing had trouble simply catching the ball in a crowd.

He was the toast of the NCAA finals last season.

Sampson is unique, and unfulfilled. Probably, he returned to Virginia as much to win an NCAA championship as he did to live on The Lawn. His supporting cast might not be as exceptional as Kareen Abdul-Jabbar's or Walton's -- or even Tom Burleson's.

It's good enough for Virginia to win every game, coast in most.

Every Cavalier plays to Sampson. In Wilson, Sampson has a swift, clever guard who can get him the ball where he wants it; in transfer Rick Carlisle, he has a long-range marksman who keep defenses relatively honest; in Ricky Stokes, he has a fine, if smallish, target for his outlet passes; in Craig Robinson, he has help on the boards.

"Carlisle did an excellent job for them," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said after Virginia's 104-91 victory Wednesday. "The things we were giving up, he was smart enough to see. His experience showed--going into openings, taking his shot and playing under control."

Virginia's best lineup usually has three guard types, with Tim Mullen starting and Stokes hopping (down?) off the bench, and one heavyweight on the court with Sampson. With Kenton Edelin, Holland is more likely to give Sampson rest than Thompson is Ewing.

In other years, the Cavaliers often have tried to win the hard way, by all but ignoring Sampson for long stretches. Although Duke made that much easier with a man-to-man defense, Sampson got the ball at all the right times and in all the right places last game.

With it, Sampson has more moves than some players a foot shorter. With his back to the basket, he has an Elvin Hayes-like turnaround jumper near the left base line and a feathery hook moving to his left across the free-throw lane. If 7-foot-2 Kareem's is a sky hook, maybe 7-4 Ralph's should be called a heaven hook.

Ewing is much less advanced offensively, so far. Maybe he's been saving some special maneuver for this unique moment, a Patrick Pulverizer that will cause jaws all over America to drop in awe. Nobody expects either one to embarrass the other. Whoever wins, it won't be by a knockout.

The postgame scenario in the stands isn't hard to guess: the Cavaliers belt out "Good Old Song" and throw a haughty fist into the air. They then turn toward the nearest glassy-eyed Hoyas and airily chirp: "Ciao."