Patrick Ewing said it best more than two months ago, long before the buildup of Virginia-Georgetown began.

"Everybody keeps making such a big deal out of Ralph and me, that they forget Georgetown and Virginia start eight other players," Ewing said. "And they're all pretty good."

And it's that supporting cast -- not 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson or 7-foot Patrick Ewing -- that likely will determine the outcome of tonight's game between top-ranked Virginia and third-ranked Georgetown at Capital Centre.

What about the other matchups? How will Georgetown forward Bill Martin, starting his first "big" game, perform against Virginia's Craig Robinson, who has played in at least a dozen high-pressure games in his four years.

Is there a Cavalier breathing who can defend against the all-court quickness of Georgetown's Anthony Jones?

Does Georgetown have a player to complement Ewing the way Virginia's 6-8 Jimmy Miller works the baselines and the lanes to complement Sampson?

Will inexperience hurt Georgetown in the back court if the Hoyas have to rely on freshmen David Wingate, Michael Jackson and Horace Broadnax?

And, most of all, what of that confrontation way down close to the floor, beneath the sky hooks and jams, where two 6-foot guards may control this game as much, maybe more, than Ewing and Sampson?

Therein lies what some believe is the key matchup: Othell Wilson of Virginia against Gene Smith.

Wilson initiates virtually everything Virginia does on offense. Smith has earned a reputation for defense by frustrating people who try to start something against the Hoyas.

Wilson, a junior from Woodbridge, is of all-America caliber, the best point guard in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He scores inside, he scores outside. One criticism of his game is even a backhanded compliment: Wilson is so quick going to the basket he often ignores passing to a teammate on the wing to go straight in for a layup.

"Othell has a tremendous amount of poise," said Georgetown Coach John Thompson. "He's almost effortless at times. The game looks easy the way he plays."

Thompson is worried enough about Wilson to contemplate starting Smith, his defensive whiz. "I'm playing with the thought of starting him to cut down on Othell's penetration," Thompson said.

Offense really isn't Gene Smith's game. He's a 40 percent shooter and has averaged only two points over 51 games. But he has been known to disrupt such teams as Boston College, Villanova and Louisville by smothering the opposing point guard. Some nights, without scoring a point, he has been the Hoyas' most valuable player.

In other words, Smith may make Wilson put some effort into his effortless game.

Once the play is away from Wilson and Smith, rebounding is a major factor. Virginia has, besides Sampson, three good rebounders: Robinson, Kenton Edelin and Dan Merrifield. Georgetown has, besides Ewing, three: Martin, Jones and Ralph Dalton.

Virginia's starting lineup has four players who started almost every game last year. Georgetown has four players who are new starters. Georgetown almost certainly will miss junior guard Fred Brown, who Thompson has said will not play because of his injured right knee.

One or more of these players could score 20 points, get 10 rebounds, make five steals or get the ball inside to Sampson or Ewing.

"If they concentrate on me, everybody else is going to score," Sampson said.

"We've got a lot of other guys who can play well in a lot of areas," Ewing said.