One by one their names were called, and they pranced up the stairs like show horses. Gary McLain. Ed Pinckney. Harold Jensen. Dwayne McClain. Harold Pressley. They held their trophies high, like candles in the night, for all the world to see, and they themselves were like fountains of joy, filled and overflowing.

Standing on the sidelines in front of their bench, inextricably linked to the process but manifestly detached from the celebration, the Georgetown players watched the jubilance surround but never embrace them. For Villanova to win, Georgetown had to lose, and that this actually had happened left the Georgetown players stunned. They had not thrown the game away. They had been beaten by a team that rose not just to the occasion, but way above it. Gracefully, respectfully, continuously the Georgetown players applauded the Villanova effort and players. And although it wouldn't be accurate to say he was clapping gleefully, clearly Patrick Ewing was more animated, more enthusiastic with his applause than the others. Maybe the great ones appreciate greatness most of all.

To put the game into reasonable perspective, Villanova made 22 of its 28 shots from the field, 78.6 percent -- the highest such percentage for any game, first round to final, in the 46-year history of the NCAA tournament -- and won by two points.

If Villanova shoots 20 for 28, 71.4 percent -- better than any previous team has shot in the championship game -- it loses.

"I didn't think they could shoot that well," said Georgetown point guard Michael Jackson.

"We didn't play bad; they played a hell of a game," reserve guard Horace Broadnax said. He shook his head in wonder at the numbers. "To shoot 78, 80 percent -- that's almost unreal."

The characteristic mood in the Georgetown locker room was resignation. "There comes a point when you concede you have come across a team of destiny," Frank Rienzo, the Georgetown athletic director, said as he walked from the sidelines after the game. The players must have sensed they were involved in something extraordinary. Not even the combative Jackson, who wears his game face as though it belongs in a shoulder holster, was angry. "Every time we got ahead of them, they'd come right back and get the lead again," Jackson said. "They deserved the win."

Can you imagine what John Thompson must have said to his team at halftime, with Villanova shooting 72.2 percent? Didn't it have to be something like: "You're playing good defense. Just stay after them. They can't keep shooting like this."

They didn't.

They shot better.

They only missed one of 10 shots in the second half. One. Count it. One.

Georgetown, which usually gets 40 rebounds a game, got 17, proving that the best way to keep a team off the defensive boards is not to miss. And some of the Wildcats' shots -- particularly some by Pressley -- were real doozies, the kind they wouldn't make more than 10 percent of the time even if they weren't guarded.

The other day Rollie Massimino said it would take "a perfect game" to win.

He got one.

"We just beat one of the greatest college teams in history," he said, smoking a cigar the size of a pool cue.

To put Georgetown's season into reasonable perspective, the Hoyas won 35 of 38 games, and their three losses were by a total of five points.

"I'm not sad, and I don't think any of my teammates are," reserve center Ralph Dalton said after the game. "We've lost games before. We came out and played hard. We got beat by a good team. We have nothing to be disappointed in, or ashamed of, because we've had a very successful season." He smiled gently. "And in our hearts we still feel we're No. 1."

And Pinckney, the best and one of the brightest on a good, bright squad, refused to disagree. When asked if he thought that Villanova was a better team than Georgetown, he shook his head no. "I think tonight we may have been the better team, but let's put it this way: I wouldn't want to play them 10 times."

But if that was arranged, how many of those 10 would Georgetown win?

Pinckney smiled honestly.

"A lot. A whole lot."

On this level the players and the coaches know the score, even when it's different from the total points. And perhaps that's one of the reasons Georgetown was able to accept defeat in the national championship so gracefully. The Hoyas know that theirs is the better team over the season, if not this one night. They also know what it's like to win the championship, having done so last year, and such memory cushions the fall. It stands to reason that the next best thing to winning the national title is earning the right to play for it.

Then, too, along with how they lost, is whom they lost to. Villanova is a Big East team; that's like keeping it in the family. These are two noteworthy programs run by two superior coaches who respect and like each other. All week long it was obvious from their comments that the Georgetown and Villanova players had genuine affection for one other. It hurts less to lose to a good, honest team that you know well and care for.

Villanova had earned Georgetown's respect over the years. Now it has earned Georgetown's admiration. This was a jolt, but not a fluke. Other than Arkansas, which still lost to Georgetown by 17 points, Villanova was the only team to hold the Hoyas in the 50s all season. Villanova did it twice, losing once by two in overtime, and once by seven. Nobody, including St. John's, played Georgetown tougher than Villanova.

I come back to Ewing and the way he applauded for Villanova. Ewing is the gem of his basketball generation. Yet for a variety of reasons -- some valid and some vile -- he never has been embraced by the general public. A few days ago Pinckney, who likes Ewing quite a lot, lamented the way Ewing has been vilified. "You hate," Pinckney said, "to see those signs, the ones that say 'Ewing Can't Read.' It must have been a terrible four years for him."

There were more of those signs the night of the final. And once again some cur threw a banana onto the court when Ewing was introduced. It wouldn't surprise me if part of the reason Ewing applauded enthusiastically was that he admired the way the game was won, and part was that he was relieved that these four years were over.