"Ain't nothin' to it." The remark slipped through a crack in the door leading to Maryland's dressing room. Just guessing, but it sounded like the deep baritone of a mellowed-out Len Bias.

"Ain't nothin' to it."

Truth is, there wasn't.

Maryland beating North Carolina is getting easier and easier. Last night was a whole lot worse than a couple of weeks ago. And if the teams met tonight, in Dean Smith's back yard, the Terrapins would win again.

Just now, Maryland is a better basketball team than Carolina. Yup, the guys with their noses pressed against the top-20 window are more poised, tougher and sharper shooters than the gang rated fourth.

Anyone un-Biased would tell you that.

The best coach ever to don a whistle and sweatshirt would verify it. John Wooden was at courtside during what accurately could be called a 10-point blowout.

Two nonpareil guards, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, also were on hand. They came expecting to be impressed by Kenny Smith, Steve Hale and Jeff Lebo; they left with a new guard dancing in their minds:

Keith Gatlin.

His was the Maryland star that glittered brightest this dreamy night. His were the passes that broke the fearsome Carolina press; his were the drives that made Kenny Smith seem bolted to the floor at times.

This is a stat Gatlin will savor for years: his eight assists were exactly what Smith, Lebo and Hale mustered together. He also scored 18 points and, with two, had twice as many rebounds as three Carolina giants, Joe Wolf, Dave Popson and Warren Martin.

"I'm in love with horses," Gatlin said, "and I love to be a dark horse. I heard Billy Packer say just before the game that there was no way we could beat Carolina, 'cause they were the better team.

"We all heard it.

"I read they were 12 1/2-point favorites, after we beat 'em. Hey, we match up well."

Once Gatlin and some others climbed off Bias' back late in the regular season, Maryland has become quite good. Before we get to Gatlin's deft strokes in this pretty portrait, some perspective needs mentioning.

North Carolina still wears those sky-blue uniforms, but it isn't Carolina. Or the Carolina of lore, the Carolina that raced to 21-0 and No. 1 in the polls. This Carolina is tall, but plays tiny.

When Wolf limped off with an ankle injury, after just six minutes of action, the Tar Heels were history on the boards. Though far smaller, the Terrapins got nearly every Carolina shot that clanged off the rim. And some of the few Jeff Baxter and some others missed.

You have heard Dean Smith talk about "a Maryland offensive onslaught," but not lately. Probably not since Brad Davis, John Lucas and Mo Howard zoomed by his traps a decade ago.

Smith mentioned "offensive onslaught" twice in his postgame remarks last night. The reference was to a Maryland blitz that turned a six-point halftime deficit into a six-point lead in less than nine minutes.

He also was forced to acknowledge another rarity: "We didn't seem to be sure what we were supposed to do . . . I take the blame for that."

Still, Carolina mostly was shot down by a Gatlin gun. This one wounded the Tar Heels with a lob to Speedy Jones here, some fancy dribbling there and two splendid moves around Kenny Smith for frosting.

Think back to the final scene in that earlier upset, the one that had Terrapins fans waving a sign that bragged: "Maryland Unbeaten in Dean Dome." Remember Gatlin bouncing the ball off Smith's back, catching it and laying it in?

Smith surely did.

He acts icy-cool, but must have been burning for revenge. Instead, Gatlin embarrassed him some more.

With Carolina down, 51-55, Gatlin raced by Smith on the left base line for another layup. A few minutes later, Gatlin tossed in a soft jumper from the foul line.

Then came one of the niftiest plays of the game: Gatlin dished a pass to Terry Long in traffic a few feet from the basket; quicker than you can repeat it, Long had a touch pass headed back to Gatlin.

Four feet from the hoop -- and gloriously open -- Gatlin sank the basket that increased the lead to 16 points.

Carolina collectively should have been as revenge-minded as Smith was individually. Some Marylanders sensed it fairly early, when Brad Daugherty got the ball and prepared for a slam.

A meek voice near the court wimpered: "Oh, my word."

Carolina causes that sort of reaction, and Daugherty's dunk midway through the first half seemed to signal the start of something sensational. It proved a false start. At halftime, Terrapins followers were ready for their usual dose of ACC medicine from Carolina. Then a wondrous omen came to pass.

With the ball to start the second half, with a chance to stretch that six-point lead, North Carolina committed a silly turnover. And Maryland was off to the races.

Bias was brutish, but not in the usual ways. A liability in the first half, with seven turnovers and seven points, he rebounded better than he shot for the game.

He had 13 rebounds, or more than twice as many as Daugherty. Unlike the first half, he also passed decently. And gloated best of all.

"What's happening? What's happening?" he yelled, bounding down the steps leading to the dressing room and his jubilant teammates. What had happened doesn't very often. Which made it all the sweeter.

Said former Maryland athletic director Jim Kehoe: "I feel like I've died and gone to heaven. Twice."