Digger Phelps is treating tonight's game between his Notre Dame team and the Maryland Terrapins as something akin to an NCAA tournament game.

"If you're in a regional," Phelps said yesterday from South Bend, "you might have a Kentucky and Maryland back-to-back. With one day in between, we've created a regional atmosphere in the middle of the season."

When the Terrapins go into the Athletic and Convocation Center for the 7:30 p.m. game, they might do themselves some good by treating the contest as if it were a NCAA tournament game. Maryland has lost two in a row and has a 10-6 overall mark, 3-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Even with the recent losses, the Terrapins are averaging 12,157 for home games this season, an increase of almost 4,000 per game over last season, and will clear about $150,000 more than budget projections, according to Athletic Director Lew Perkins.

Besides needing to reverse their losing ways, the Terrapins might need this victory come March when the NCAA tournament selection committee meets to decide who parties and who doesn't. Aside from a victory at Duke, the Terrapins haven't beaten a good team on the road. A victory in South Bend will be difficult, but it would be a big help if the Terrapins are on the edge come selection time.

Maryland Coach Bob Wade, of course, isn't thinking about that. Or so he says.

"We aren't looking at it like that," Wade said. "All we're thinking about is beating Notre Dame at Notre Dame. It is a very tough place to go in and win."

Similarly, the Irish (12-5, 8-1 at home) would do well to become more comfortable in that tournament atmosphere now, because if they follow this present scenario in the tournament, there will be no second game. Against Maryland or anybody else. For the Irish were 78-69 losers to ninth-ranked Kentucky Sunday in Lexington.

"Once we get into a state where we don't have as many mental breakdowns, we'll be a pretty good team," said Phelps. "Against Kentucky, we had mental breakdowns."

Kentucky's nine-point margin of victory might be a bit misleading given that guard Ed Davender, who had 23 points, made six free throws in the final 11 seconds.

Like in a regional, Notre Dame has just over 48 hours between games, while Maryland last played Wednesday, losing to North Carolina State, 83-81.

"It still comes down to how we execute," Phelps said. "The loss had less to do with what Kentucky did than what we didn't do."

Discussion of Notre Dame certainly begins and occasionally ends with 6-1 senior point guard David Rivers.

Rivers -- with the quickness and speed necessary to penetrate and the range to hit three-pointers -- leads the team in scoring with a 23.5 points-per-game average.

Rivers has played both guard spots this season, but recently has gone back to point guard. In the second half against Kentucky, Phelps used three guards -- Rivers, Joe Frederick (6 feet 4) and Jamere Jackson (6-2). Frederick, who averages 5.0 points per game, had a career-high 14 against Kentucky.

Elsewhere, UDC hosts unbeaten North Carolina Central, top-ranked in NCAA Division II, at 7:30 in the Physical Education Center; Howard completes a trip to Florida with a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game against Florida A&M, while American visits La Salle.