Virginia squandered most of an 18-point second-half lead before scoring its final eight points from the free throw line to turn back determined North Carolina, 88-82, in an Atlantic Coast Conference game this evening before a screaming capacity crowd of 9,000 at University Hall.

By all that is logical, Virginia, now 3-0 in the ACC and 11-1 overall, should have won handily. The Cavaliers shot an amazing 65 percent and stopped the Tar Heel inside game with a combination of a tight zone and man-to-man defense.

In addition, the Tar Heels' top two performers, Al Wood and Mike O'Koren, fouled out late in the second half. Wood had made eight of 13 shots, scoring 18 points; O'Koren had 13 points.

"I know they might still be suffering from a little jet lag, but I know Dean Smith (UNC coach) won't make any excuses," said forward Mike Owens, one of five Cavaliers to hit double figures. "But I think they got a little tired near the end. For the first time in four years, I felt they would have to worry about us for a change.

"They're not a team to give up. Even when we were ahead with seven seconds left, I wasn't comfortable.

The Tar Heels, trying to regroup following an embarrassing 93-76 loss at Clemson Wednesday night, looked hapless in the first half and early in the second as the Cavaliers sank everything they tried in storming to a 70-52 lead with 13:04 left to play.

Despite the deafening noise in University Hall, Wood and O'Koren helped the visitors come roaring back.

O'Koren, unable to do anything inside against Virginia's 7-foot-4 center Ralph Sampson, went outside and hit three jumpers, plus two free throws. Reserve Pete Budko got free for a layup, then hit a short jumper after taking a nice pass from Jimmy Black and, suddenly, the Tar Heels were back 78-73 with 4:20 to play.

Virginia then committed one of its 19 turnovers, many caused by the Carolina press, and Dave Colescott, whose long bombs had kept UNC from fading completely in the first half, hit one of two free throws to bring the Tar Heels to 78-74 with 4:02 to play.

"You have to give our defense credit, it made the plays for us to come back," said Smith, whose team has now lost two straight ACC games and is 5-3 overall. "When we got to four, we rushed a bit. Then a key play came when O'Koren just missed intercepting a pass. A basket then would have pulled us to within two."

O'Koren did miss picked off the inbounds pass and Cavaler point guard Jeff Jones sank a long jumper.

After Colescott's 22-footer again put the Tar Heels but four back, Wood was forced to foul Jeff Lamp, who had gotten free under the Cavs' basket. It was Wood's fifth foul.

Lamp, who played a magnificent game with 25 points, two assists and five rebounds, sank both shots from the line to push UVA ahead, 82-76.

James Worthy's follow-up bucket narrowed the gap to four again, but that was as close as Carolina would get.

"I guess they just like to see my hair turn gray," said pleased Virginia Coach Terry Holland. "Some of the plays we made were darn good plays, but we didn't complete them.If we had, it would have been a different story. As it as, we had to go to the line to make clutch free throws."

Jones made two to give Virginia an 86-78 lead with 1:34 remaining. Colescott answered with another jumper from way out. O'Koren picked up his fourth and fifth fouls within nine seconds of one another and Carolina was through.

"We just gave up that lead too quick," said O'Koren. "We tried to come back in a hurry and that takes a lot out of you."