CHAPEL HILL, N.C., FEB. 9 -- A crucial three-game swing through North Carolina increasingly looks like the road to nowhere for Virginia, which today lost decisively to North Carolina, 77-58.

Appearing tired and overmatched physically, the 11th-ranked Cavaliers shot 35.6 percent as their record fell to 17-6, 5-4 in the ACC.

"I didn't really anticipate the fatigue factor being as great as it proved to be," said Virginia Coach Jeff Jones, whose team plays at Wake Forest on Sunday. The Cavaliers lost, 86-74, Thursday in Durham to Duke.

Ninth-ranked North Carolina, playing its third game in four days, moved to 17-4 and solidified its grip on second in the ACC at 6-3 behind Duke.

"I really thought our defense won the game," said North Carolina Coach Dean Smith. The Tar Heels forced 18 turnovers, controlled the rebounding (36-32) and repeatedly muscled the Cavaliers out of their offensive patterns.

"Well, that wasn't much fun," Jones said. "North Carolina came out right at the very beginning and established who the aggressor was going to be. From that point on, I think we were just trying to hold on."

Virginia threatened only briefly in the second half.

The Tar Heels had pushed their lead to 49-29 when forward Bryant Stith picked up his fourth foul at 16:28. Stith, along with seniors John Crotty and Kenny Turner, had accounted for all but one of Virginia's points.

But, with substitutes Cornel Parker and Terry Kirby keying the attack at both ends, the Cavaliers went on a 15-3 run to close to 52-44 with 11:52 left. "I really thought Cornel and Terry picked up the defensive intensity a little bit," said Jones.

Parker finished with 15 points, all in the second half, to lead Virginia. Stith, Crotty and Turner, Virginia's top scorers this season, combined for only four second-half points. "Stith played like he was running in water," Jones said.

Once the Cavaliers pulled close, senior Pete Chilcutt hit a quick jumper for North Carolina and, intermittently relying on zone defense, it went on an 18-5 burst.

"You have to credit Virginia, they didn't quit, and came back," said Smith, who last lost at home to Virginia in 1981; Jones was a junior on that Cavaliers team.

Hubert Davis, a guard from Burke, Va., had 19 to pace North Carolina.

North Carolina made eight of 15 three-point attempts. Virginia hit three of 13.

The Cavaliers took their only lead, 15-14, with 9:29 left in the first half on a penetrating jumper by Crotty. North Carolina endured a 7 1/2-minute stretch without a field goal.

But the Cavaliers went cold, missing 10 of 14 and committing five turnovers. After three-pointers by Davis and Rick Fox, the Tar Heels pounded inside, mounting a 28-11 run for a 42-26 halftime lead.