Truly, it was something to behold: Virginia 68, Georgetown 63. Ralph Sampson versus Patrick Ewing was keen warfare, after all. Nearly as keen as the fury and the fantasy of the game itself.

Only the snow said it was December.

The snow, and John Thompson.

"From a selfish perspective," Thompson, the Georgetown coach, said yesterday, "I think this was a game where we had everything to gain and Virginia had everything to lose. We learned a lot. We'll be better off down the road from this."

"Not a pretty ballgame," Terry Holland, the Virginia coach, said late Saturday night, "but as exciting and intense a game as I have ever seen."

Virginia's reflections on this game were brief. The Cavaliers flew to Tokyo yesterday where they will play Utah and Houston in the Suntory Ball Classic.

What was the departing perspective of the 6-0 Cavaliers?

"I hate raw fish," said Ricky Stokes, the reserve guard.

Upon breaking Saturday night's game at Capital Centre into tiny fragments, interesting concepts develop. Most stratospherically, there were Sampson and Ewing, the modern-day Merrimac versus the modern-day Monitor.

Sampson, Virginia's 7-foot-4 senior, scored 23 points and had 16 rebounds. Ewing, Georgetown's 7-foot sophomore, scored 16 points and had eight rebounds. "A good player," Ewing said of Sampson. "There aren't enough words to describe him," Sampson said of Ewing.

Both big men were surrounded by enemy tugboats throughout the game. "We dropped people on Ralph," Thompson said. "They dropped people on Patrick."

Since consensus spoke the words "Advantage, Sampson," Thompson stood up for his own, saying of Ewing, "I came into the game thinking Patrick was a great player and I didn't see anything that would make me want to trade him now."

And: "Patrick was able to hold his own against Ralph. When Patrick got the ball one on one against him, Ralph really was not a hindrance."

One play circulated throughout Sampson's mind, if not his bones, afterward. With 5:37 left, Ewing turned toward the basket, right over Sampson, for a slam dunk. Vicious and true, Ewing's dunk cut Virginia's lead to 57-53.

The key here is not only that Sampson did not block the shot. What's significant is that he simply got out of the way.

"That was a great dunk," Sampson said. "The last time somebody did that to me was (Duke's) Gene Banks in my freshman year."

Further breakdown shows Georgetown shooting 28 percent in the first half, as Virginia built a 33-23 lead. The Hoyas started slow and frigid. "Some of it you can attribute to our tightness," Thompson said.

"Virginia didn't do anything with its defense that caused us problems, really. Offensively, we just haven't been fluid yet. That's because we spend most of our time developing so many different defenses this time of year," Thompson added.

Thompson watched game films early yesterday morning. For him, this is standard stuff. "During the season, I don't sleep," Thompson has said.

What Thompson saw in the first half, however, was not standard stuff at all. What he saw was downright frightening: for once, his Hoyas were getting outrun.

"Virginia had 10 transition baskets to our two in the first half," Thompson said, "and we're a transition team."

Virginia can make opponents do strange things at strange speeds. At the end of the first half, though, Virginia moved at some strange speeds of its own. Right when a Virginia blowout seemed imminent, oddly enough, the Cavaliers slowed the pace at the end of the half.

Someone asked Holland if he simply took advantage of a game without a shot clock. Holland said it was not strategy at all. It was team fatigue. "We didn't even have enough strength left to attack," he said.

When the game breakdown shifts to the second half, it also shifts to Gene Smith, the Hoyas' junior reserve guard. Smith is the team captain. On the court, he leads by theft.

In a 10-2 stretch that pulled Georgetown from 41-27 to within 43-37 with 13:41 left, Smith caused three Virginia turnovers. He took two charges, made one steal. Vintage Gene Smith.

"He establishes a defensive tempo," Thompson said. "And that's what you saw him do last night."

The Hoyas' freshman guards -- David Wingate (12 points), Michael Jackson (eight) and Horace Broadnax (two) -- had trouble in the first half. This changed, though, in the second half when, instead of looking their age, they started coming of age.

"Skittish at times," Thompson said of the three freshmen guards. "But they regrouped and started to play hard. They definitely do have the courage."

This was the Hoyas' first defeat since the 63-62 loss to North Carolina in last year's NCAA championship game. Perhaps that's why Gene Smith said of the Virginia game, "It had the intensity of New Orleans."

"If Virginia is the No. 1 team," Thompson concluded, unearthing a December perspective to make every Hoya happy, "then we're pretty good, too."