Chaminade University is only 9 years old, a tiny 900-student school that shares campus space here with a high school.

Yet, in the last three years, Chaminade has established an almost unique position for itself. When college basketball people talk about Chaminade, they call the school, "Miracle U."

"We get up to play the big schools because we know anything can happen," said point guard Mark Rodrigues. "Virginia was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, an NAIA school like us beating the No. 1 team in the country. But because of that, whenever we play a great team, we think we can beat them."

Rodrigues was part of the team that beat Virginia two years ago in one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history. To prove that game wasn't a fluke, the Silverswords beat Louisville twice -- last December and last Saturday. In the latter game, Rodrigues hit a 15-footer over two defenders at the buzzer for the win.

But that victory, impressive as it was, came against a team that was without three of its top seven players, including leading scorer Milt Wagner. No one imagined that Chaminade could possibly beat Southern Methodist, the No. 4 team in the country and one many people think may be Georgetown's chief challenger for the national title.

But in the most miraculous finish of them all, Chaminade did it again. Keith Whitney, a 6-foot senior guard who first heard of Chaminade two years ago after the Virginia miracle, hit a 20-foot jumper from the right base line after time expired to beat SMU, 71-70, Tuesday.

The wild finish came after the clock had run to 0:00, but the officials ruled the game wasn't over because the buzzer hadn't sounded and gave the ball to Chaminade under the basket. From there, Rodrigues inbounded to Whitney, who seemingly took at least a second to get the shot off. But it went in and it counted and the Chaminade players ran off the Blaisdell Center Arena floor screaming, "Do You Believe, Do You Believe!"

The main believer, the architect of Miracle U., is Merv Lopes, a full-time junior high school counselor and part-time coach who came to Chaminade eight years ago after twice being fired from high school jobs here.

Lopes, 52, was born here, went to San Jose State, where he played football, then served in the Army for two years before returning here to teach and coach. Lopes is a handsome, dapper man with a salesman's heart and a storyteller's mind.

"The other day, we came over here to practice and the van the school gave us had been used to deliver books," he said after the victory. "There were no seats. So, we all squeezed in, sat on the floor or stood. When we got here, SMU was leaving practice. They were on a bus that was as big as a building. It must have had at least 60 seats.

"But I always say that the difference between 30-0 and 0-30 is almost nothing. We always put people on pedestals, wrongly. The guy on the pedestal is probably great because he makes less mistakes. If you make less mistakes, you can be as good as the guy on the pedestal."

Lopes' players come to him in many ways. Six are from here, including Rodrigues. Whitney was at Seminole Junior College. His coach there, Bill Payne, a friend of Lopes', recommended him. Tony Randolph, the 6-7 forward who outplayed Ralph Sampson in the Virginia game, is from Staunton, Va. His brother was stationed here four years ago. He called Lopes and told him he had a player for him. Lopes took him, sight unseen.

"I have to do things differently from some other guys," Lopes said. "During the summer, I go to the mainland and look at players my friends tell me about. I tell them they can come here and ride in a van with no seats. Usually, they come because no one else wants them."

Whitney and Randolph could play for most Division I teams and Rodrigues probably could. The Silverswords won 33 games and reached the NAIA semifinals two years ago. They have a tendency to let down at times against lesser teams, perhaps because they have tasted the heights in the past.

"We try to prepare for every game the same," Whitney said. "But let's face it, when we play a team like this or like Louisville, we get excited. We know we have nothing to lose. We just play as hard as we can and hope for the best."

Miraculously, the best keeps happening.