AS PERSONALIZED BY their only senior guard with a steel plate in his hand, the Brigham Young University basketball team is not about to bow out quietly this year. As Scott Moon put it Thursday night after yet another extension on the season, "it makes you really stop and think when you realize every game might be your last one."

Virginia fell to the Cougars in the first-round of the NCAA tournament by a 61-48 margin in a game that featured possibly the best period BYU has mustered all season. They saved their best for the last half. Down 22-19 at intermission, the Cougars produced a 42-26 second period and ran straight into a date Saturday at 12:20 p.m. in the Huntsman Center versus 8th-ranked Arizona.The Cougars will be underdogs against the Wildcats. "But we like being underdogs," says Moon, who adds, "we do have pretty good momentum going."

The Cougars have won four games in a row, and 10 of their last 12. If it weren't for Utah, they would be undefeated since the middle of January.

Prior to this late-season roll, they were in jeopardy of winding up the season on time. Even a week ago, when they went into the WAC postseason tournament at 17-12, they were in danger of locking up the basketballs as soon as it was over.

But they beat Colorado State, Hawaii and, for once, Utah, in the tournament, locking up an NCAA berth in the process - and now they're one of just 32 teams still standing in the NCAAs.

Center Shawn Bradley's seven-and-a-half-foot presence has cast the largest shadow on all of this surviving. His NCAA tournament record 10 blocks against Virginia still has the Cavaliers wondering what was the name of that mountain. But in reality it has been a rotating cast that has kept the Cougars breathing, and it's been the 6-foot-1 Moon who has had the most precocious habit of making big crunch-time decisions of late, in favor of his team.

In the WAC tournament semifinal against Hawaii, it was his follow-up hook shot at the buzzer that bounced seven times around the rim and then fell through for the game-winner.

In the title game against Utah it was his drive that gave BYU a four-point lead late in overtime.

And last night against Virginia, it was Moon who checked into the game with seven minutes remainingand, in the space of the next two minutes, scored five points and made a steal that set up another basket by Nathan Call, keying a 7-2 BYU run that stretched the Cougars' lead to 51-40 and effectively broke open what had been a tight contest.

"Lately I've been there at the end of games," agreed Moon. "But it just depends on the game. There have been games when I've done my stuff at the beginning, and then gone kind of quiet."

Moon has done all of his late-game work while wearing a new set of stitches on the back of his right hand. Underneath the stitches is a metal plate, anchored by six screws. In a practice prior to the second-to-the-last game of the regular season, at Air Force, Moon hurt his hand on Bradley's face. He jammed his fingers into Bradley's nose and mouth.

He missed the Air Force game and they operated the next day. Two weeks later he was only listed as "questionable" as the WAC tournament began. Somehow, however, things have worked out.

"It's not so bad," says Moon of the hand. "It's stiff but it works."

Moon's senior season is especially important to him since he's trying to pack his major college career into how ever long it lasts.

He was unrecruited out of Kaysville's Davis High School - largely because he was a 5-11 center and because until his senior year he'd played in Europe, where his father, an Air Force pilot, was stationed.

He could get away with playing center at 5-11 because of his jumping ability. As a high jumper he has a personal best of 7-21/2. Last year he was the WAC high jump champion.

He played junior varsity basketball for Weber State as a freshman, while competing on the Wildcat track team. After an LDS mission he transferred to Utah Valley Community College in Provo, where he played a season of basketball before walking onto the BYU team prior to the 1989-89 season.

He played sparingly as a junior on a Cougar team that featured guards Andy Toolson and Marty Haws. He came into his last stand this year with fresh legs.

"Every game we've played lately," he said last night, "I've come into it thinking, if we lose, that's it. And then I think, I really don't want it to be it."

That much has been obvious. Moon, and the Cougars, are playing as if there might be no tomorrow. So far, it's kept them alive.