UDC Coach Wil Jones came up with an idea yesterday to eliminate an attack of nerves among his players before opening defense of their Division II national championship tonight.

Jones kept the basketballs in the closet for most of the afternoon, opting instead to play two hours of volleyball.

"We've been off two weeks and the kids needed something to bring their spirit back," Jones said. "So we--yes I played too--went out and played hard volleyball. Slammin' and cussin', it was great for them. It took their minds right off the game. Mine, too."

The top-ranked Firebirds (25-2) will have fast breaks and dunks on their minds when they play Randolph-Macon (20-8) in a South Atlantic Region first round playoff game, the first of a doubleheader at the Van Ness Physical Activites Center, tonight at 6 o'clock.

Hampton (22-6) takes on CIAA rival St. Augustine (21-5) in the other first round game, at 8. The winners play for the region crown Saturday at 8.

Should UDC win, it has a good chance of being host for the quarterfinals next week. The quarterfinals are scheduled to be played at the site of the New England Region winner. If top-seeded Sacred Heart wins, the games might have to be moved because Sacred Heart has a very small gymnasium.

American University (19-9) lost only one game on its home court at Fort Myer this season--to Bucknell. And Coach Ed Tapscott is using that loss to motivate his team for its ECC semifinal match against Bucknell (17-10) tonight at Lafayette in Easton, Pa., at 7.

La Salle (15-13) plays Rider (20-8) in the other semifinal at 9. The winners will play for the championship Saturday at Lafayette at 9. That winner moves into the qualifying round of the NCAA playoffs, meeting Ivy League champion Princeton at the Palestra Tuesday night.

"Bucknell beat us at the Fort (66-62) and it's much easier to get the guys up for a team that has beaten you," said Tapscott. "We owe them one.

"Pressure will be the key," Tapscott said. "(Mark) Nickens has started to show signs of coming back to life and we've gotten good play from reserves Steve Nesmith and Andre Adams the last few games."

AU has recovered from a midseason swoon, winning six straight games and 10 of its last 12. The East Division top-seeded Eagles beat Lehigh, 77-59, Wednesday night in a first round game.

UDC beat both St. Augustine and Hampton during the regular season but can't afford to look past Randolph-Macon, a good defensive team.