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Three red-shirted players, members of the college basketball team that is said to be the best in the land, sprinted across the hardwood floor of the Frank Ervin Center.

Skillfully, they passed a basketball between them, never bouncing it, never committing imaginary traveling violations, never misdirecting or mishandling a pass.Again and again, each sprint down the floor ended in a power slam, in-your-face kind of stuff, including that one by William Davis off a perfect alley-oop pass from Skeeter Henry.

A ripple of applause ran through the small gathering.

Strange that that would happen here. Deep in the heart of Texas. These were Oklahoma Sooners running and jamming and hamming. This - podnah - is Texas, and there is no love lost between the two.

It is a dislike born apparently out of territorial squabbles in football and nobody around here sees any reason to exclude basketball.

``I expect we'll have people from Austin cheering for us,' Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs guessed, rolling his eyes as he said it.

Pay attention, now. Because if both teams win this afternoon, Carolina will be next on the list for Oklahoma after this first-round warmup against Towson State.

Towson State is a major underdog against the Sooners. It's No. 1 going against No. 64.

``There's never been a shutout that I'm aware of,' said Towson's coach, Terry Truax, an ex-ACCer who played his college ball at Maryland, ``so I'm reasonably optimistic about tomorrow.'

Truax understands how unlikely it is that his Tigers will be able to run for long against the Sooners.

A team to hate? The point is, if you're looking for a team to hate, may I recommend Oklahoma? Dean Smith said that his Tar Heels will not come into their game this afternoon against Southwest Missouri State in any way cocky.

Understandable. Oklahoma has cornered the market on cocky.

``I saw on a news interview that they're going to try to blow us out,' Henry, Oklahoma's point guard, cooed. ``That's great. This is going to be a lot of fun.'

Apparently the Sooners are so confident that they have not yet bothered to look up Towson State on the map of the NCAA. Henry, who knows how to find Davis and Jackie Jones and the rest in a crowd, was asked if he knew were Towson State's campus is located.

``Well,' he answered, drawing out his answer. ``Not really.'

``I don't even know what state they're from,' Davis quickly answered.

``Where do you think they're from?' asked one enterprising reporter who apparently knew the answer, but a moderator cut off the press conference before either Davis or Henry could answer.

``That's all right,' Truax said later, ``some of my players don't know where Oklahoma is, either. So I don't take offense at that.'

What is likely to bother Truax, if form holds and his team gets blown out of Erwin Center, is the depth of the Sooner team, yet another bragging point. ``Our white team is probably the toughest team we've played,' Henry said, referring to Oklahoma's second team.

``They can't blow out the red team, but they could blow out just about any other team in the country.'

Henry's coach, Billy Tubbs, added to the extravagance. ``Skeeter's just crowing when he was talking about the white team,' Tubbs said. ``Skeeter's 1-2 against the White team in the last week. They've blown him out twice.'

Already, Tubbs had tried to back away from the geography question concerning Towson State. ``We know where Towson State is,' he said, without providing the answer, ``and before we get through with our meetings this afternoon and tomorrow, they'll know everything about them.

``Look, I've been on the other side before, when I was at Lamar and you had to explain where the hell you're from. I know how it is.'

No. No one asked where Lamar is located.

Now Tubbs is from Oklahoma and everybody knows it. His is a team that takes great pride in its ability to bury an opponent, that mimicks old western gunslingers when the jams start falling.

No apologies And they apologize for none of that rude behavior.

``We play hard and we give no quarter and we ask for none,' Tubbs said. ``We've also found out that if you win a lot, there's an element out there that won't wish you well.

``But we're not a run-and-gun team. I don't like the term, run-and-gun. We're an up-tempo team.

``And the reason we're that way is that I want to be entertained during a game. It's the worst feeling in the world when you can't score.'

Oklahoma knows scoring.

Which would make the Oklahoma-Carolina matchup, if it is to be, a story of contrasts. Dean Smith and Billy Tubbs. Smith, the man who exhorts the homefolks in Chapel Hill to treat other teams respectfully as guests, and Tubbs, the man who never met a humiliating blowout he didn't like.

The model program against the outlaw program.

``We don't run an outlaw program,' Tubbs amended the label. ``We run a class program. We make some mistakes here and there, but we're not an outlaw program, or mavericks or anything like that.'

And the six-gun thing. ``We just do that for our fans. We don't try to rub it in,' Henry said.

``Our fans love it, and we just try to please them,' Tubbs said, with a straight face. ``You'll see. They'll be cheering for us in here tomorrow because these Texans love us.'

And if you believe that, you'll believe Towson is a state.

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