The seniors got the limo. Patrick Ewing, Ralph Dalton and Billy Martin slipped out of the arena today and into a machine worthy of their good work.

For this game. For these four years.

There is no more difficult feat in sport than actually achieving the stratospheric goals others set for you before you even begin to perform.

How many young actors are expected to win an Oscar before they say their first lines? What prodigy in physics is considered a bum if he doesn't win the Nobel Prize?

So many athletes get set up -- to fail.

When Georgetown's class of '85 took its first official dribble, the competition was as much dreams as teams. Most basketball fantasies are as substantial as smoke, and also end in watery-eyed anger when inhaled by innocents.

Yes, LewCLA was as peerless as anticipated, as was the Walton Gang that followed. But Wilt Chamberlain never won an NCAA title. Nor did Ralph Sampson, Larry Bird or lots of other millionaires in sneakers.

With one NCAA championship "in the sack," as Lou Carnesecca recently put it to John Thompson, Ewing, Martin and Dalton are making their third trip to the Final Four.

By winning that thrilling little war against Georgia Tech for the Eastern Regional title today, the senior Hoyas are 120-22. Dalton and Martin half-carried Ewing for a change. Sometimes, life is fair.

The seniors surely cherished this victory of spirit more than skill in private moments as the limo sailed toward wherever this evening. Younger heroes, Reggie Williams, David Wingate and the others, scrunched into two vans and tagged along behind.

Thompson recruited what amounted to a team four years ago: for whatever reasons, Vadi Smith and Anthony Jones are gone. The three who remain have, so far, won eight more games than the Sampson teams of Virginia.

Also, their three best years come reasonably close to UCLA with the former Lew Alcindor and later with Bill Walton, who were ineligible as freshmen.

The numbers from today's game suggest Martin and Dalton were not extraordinary; Ewing spent five minutes less than half the game on the bench in foul trouble.

But Martin anticipated a lob and caused a turnover that Horace Broadnax turned into two foul shots at a critical time; Dalton once refused to buy a John Salley head fake, blocked his shot and controlled the rebound.

"Billy's been knocked for being too small, out of position (at power forward)," former teammate Gene Smith said. "He's the consummate role player, and that's a compliment because I was one myself. Ralph has overcome more (because of injury) than almost anyone I know. He may not be pretty, but he has the softest hands in the game."

Those soft hands clinched it for the Hoyas. With 14 seconds left, he and the game were on the line. The first free throw clanked some, but gave Georgetown a three-point lead; the second was a swisher.

Backpedaling to half court, Dalton held that follow-through pose; in an instant, or so it seemed, he was in the arms of a dozen happy Hoyas.

Thompson threw both fists up and his towel into the Georgetown rooting section; then, a bear on a cloud, he whirled and shot his arms up again.

Ewing was on the floor, kicking his legs. Soon he snipped the net first. Then came Dalton and Martin. At the other end of the court, a fan tossed a cap with "Hoyas" in blue script to Thompson.

The coach put it on, then doffed it and quickly planted it on Dalton's head. In exchange, Dalton placed the other net on Thompson's shoulders.

Before the game, Smith had insisted: "Ralph Dalton's a great tournament player. Like Eddie Spriggs (on the team that lost to North Carolina in the '82 NCAA final). You don't lose ground when he's in there."

Georgetown has taken everybody's best shot this season and survived. It beat the Atlantic Coast Conference champ despite a poiseless period late in the first half and Ewing in a foul knot on the bench much of the second.

"Once when Patrick was a freshman, I think it was in Alaska," Smith said, "Coach Thompson asked us after a loss what was going on."

Probably, Thompson "asked" in the manner of Lombardi. Or Patton. It was fierce enough to scare everyone into silence.

"A few minutes or so passed," Smith said. "He (Thompson) wasn't going to say anything until one of us did. This was a team mostly of juniors. Finally Patrick stood up and said:

" 'I don't know what the problem is, but I hope we correct it. I want to win.' That's Patrick; he'll do anything to win."

So will the others.

With every possession precious midway through the second half, Dalton once kept the ball alive on a miss by Wingate and eventually tossed it in.

A man who wears a brace simply to walk properly forced himself up and down among large crashing bodies and won the test of will.

Martin has more flash than the others, and the next time downcourt the ball popped tantalizingly loose and found itself in his hands.

The move he might later have replayed in the limo was the leap along the left base line and massive two-handed dunk. Never mind that the charge for that show was two Tech foul shots.

"I've thought it's harder to get to the Final Four than to win the national championship," Thompson said. What he meant was that another enormous burden has been lifted.

Georgetown was supposed to make the Final Four; it has. Ho hum.