With slightly more than 12 minutes still on the clock last night, Len Bias rose off the left base line in Cole Field House and launched one of those gravity-defying jumpers that cause opponents to gulp and pro scouts to salivate.

Rainbowlike, the ball arched over the taller Joe Wolf and, when it slipped cleanly through the net, Bias turned to the crowd and showed off his palms-down follow-through motion.

It's the perfect way to finish off a shot.

It's the perfect way to finish off the No. 1 team in college basketball.

On any other night against almost anybody else, that would have been so. The Bias bomb provided a nine-point lead that Maryland would have extended, or at least held, against maybe 99 out of 100 other teams.

Against North Carolina, Maryland usually crumbles instead of builds at that point. Carolina gets down that much and figures it's in not much more danger than a layup drill.

Guess what?

Maryland lost -- going away.

If the Tar Heels did not quite yawn on the way to the dressing room after the 71-67 victory, neither did they go giddily.

They had been there maybe a jillion times before. Only the names change. Instead of Perkins, the stout shot blocker is named Warren Martin. Instead of Phil Ford, the clutch point guard down the stretch is Kenny Smith.

And who is that star ascending in the ACC firmament? Let's see. We've seen so many: Wood and Worthy, Black and Jordan and, for some of us old-timers, Larry Miller back in the late '60s. The latest is a floppy-haired freshman named Jeff Lebo.

Carolina always seems to have a DH against the Terrapins, a designated hero, someone who not only dares to take the shot when a miss could be disastrous, but to sink it.

Alert fans would look at Lebo and then glance toward the front row near one of the baskets. There they saw Jerry West, now the general manager of the Lakers.

With their eyes, they saw Lebo; in their minds, they saw West.

Lebo was a mere nine for 10 from the floor, the deadeye when center Brad Daugherty had -- for him -- an off night. Oh, he made half his 14 shots. But the way he's been going of late, 50 per cent could get his scholarship snatched.

Once again, it was the possible (Maryland) versus the predictable (Carolina).

The possible: Maryland unfetters its Killer Bs, Bias and Jeff Baxter, the sort of inside-outside combination every team needs to contend for the national championship.

Bias was a known, the major reason so many NBA scouts were close to courtside; Baxter was the seldom-seen guard having the game of his life.

Baxter was making important baskets from afar and layups in traffic. Also, he played fine defense and was caught for just two turnovers in 37 minutes against Carolina's changeup defenses.

The big-time move of the night by Bias came fairly early in the second half, when he burst by Martin toward the free-throw line.

Martin tried to recover. When he did, Bias met him with his left elbow. As he jumped, Bias fended Martin off, the way Kareem Abdul-Jabbar often does for his sky hooks. With his left arm, Bias kept free; with his right hand, Bias drove home a 12-footer. So lovely was the move, the officials decided not to spoil it by calling a foul.

This was Maryland at its best. Generally unerring on offense; tough and bright on defense. Mostly cracking the Carolina press at one end of the floor and pressing rather well itself on the other end.

Now for the predictable.

Just when the Terrapins feel destiny is donning red and white for a change, joyous smiles start to go stiff. A Carolina gremlin, unseen but surely there, hops on the hoop and swats away every important shot.

Or a Tar Heel with the most common name, Smith, pulls something extraordinary. A slight of hand followed by a slightly sensational dunk.

Smith is the heir to Ford and the wondrous Carolina guards, but underappreciated because the rules -- blessedly -- no longer allow much magic in the four-corners offense. So Smith switched to subtle.

In the final 25 seconds, he managed to slap the ball from Maryland's Terry Long -- or so the officials ruled. As Long was about to burst back up with a rebound off a Bias miss, Smith knocked the ball loose.

"He hit me on the arm," Long insisted. "Obviously, the ref didn't see it. I was fouled when I came down with the rebound and fouled when I went back up.

"Sure, he'll say he got the ball."

Almost.

"I saw 90 percent of the ball," Smith said. "It was risky. He just put the ball down where shorty Smith could flick it . I think I might have caught him by surprise."

More like shock, Kenny.

Later, Smith dared another relative giant, Derrick Lewis. Full bore with about 10 seconds left, Smith dashed to the basket. Like a more slender Jordan, Smith leaped and stuffed before Lewis could intercept him.

"I was going to bring the ball back out and try to run more precious seconds off ," Smith said, "but they were tentative. I saw the opening and I went that way.

"I could have been content to run the clock, but it was there. Once you see it, you have to go hard. Lewis is a great shot blocker. I said to myself: 'If I go, I'm gonna dunk it.' "

With that wicked reverse-windmill thrust, it was over. Different slammer; same result.