If an award was presented for intimidation, Wake Forest would vote Ralph Sampson the winner, hands down.

The 7-foot-4 Sampson, who spent most of the game as a spectator because of foul trouble, returned just in time to frighten sixth-ranked Wake Forest enough to rescue top-ranked Virginia, 83-73, in Atlantic Coast Conference play tonight at University Hall.

Despite playing only 28 minutes, Sampson had 19 points and 16 rebounds against a saggin Wake Forest zone. Lee Raker, left open for easy jump shots, led the Cavaliers with 25 points and Jeff Lamp scored 16, 14 in the first half.

Ranked first in the AP poll and second in UPI's Virginia (7-0 in the ACC and 17-0 overall) appeared to have wrapped up its 22nd straight victory, longest in Division I, midway in the second half when it stretched a 10-point half-time advantage into a 59-41 lead with 13:41 to play.

But, as Virginia forward Craig Robinson said minutes after the game, "We knew Wake wasn't dead. We knew they were still out there." The Demon Deacons (4-2 and 15-2), who shot a woeful 37 percent in the first half, played wth a lot more confidence in the second half, especially with Sampson sidelined.

Led by quick point guard Frank (Hollywood) Johnson, the Deacons ran and ran until they were four points down with 2:10 left to play.

Johnson virtyally unstoppable after intermission, hitting his running one-handed 16-footer from all parts of the frontcourt despite good Cavalier defense. The 6-2 senior scored in 20 of his game-high 28 points in the final 20 minutes, two of the baskets coming in an 8-0 blitz that brought Wake from 13 points down within five, 74-69, with 2:55 to play.

"They did a good job of coming back at us when we relaxed a bit," said Virginia Coach Terry Holland. "(At the end) we didn't play as aggressively as we should have."

Right after Johnson's 18-footer quieted the loud University Hall crowd, Sampson took over. His free throw followed by a Mike Helms corner jump cut the home team's lead to 75-71. Then, Sampson made two free throws for a 77-71 lead with 1:47 remaining before making the play or plays of the game.

Johnson passed inside to 6-9 Anthony Teachery, who turned in Sampson's face and tried a 12-footer. Sampson, who had drawn his fourth foul a minute earlier, slapped the shot right back to him. This time, Teachery tried a fancy two-step before throwing up another shot. Again, Sampson blocked it.

Wake's Glenn Mayers recovered the loose ball and started for the basket. Sampson lunged at Mayers, the guard panicking and tossing up a shot that had absolutely no chance of going in.

Sampson, who had 40 points and 16 rebounds on national television in an 89-73 win over Ohio State Sunday, sank another free throw for a 78-71 lead. On Wake's next trip upcourt, Sampson batted down two more Deacon Hail Marys before grabbing the rebound.

Whatever slim chances remained for the Deacons disappeared as Raker dropped in five free throws in the final 39 seconds.

"We're weren't intimidated, we took the ball to him as well as we could," said Wake Forest Coach Carl Tracy. "Our defense just let us down in the second half. We got a bit impatient on the break. We took the quick shot and if you don't make them, you're in trouble."

The Deacons didn't get much offense from either Guy Morgan or Jim Johnstone. Morgan didn't score and had only three rebounds and Johnstone had only five points. The Deacons made only 30 or 74 shots from the floor and had one rebound than their hosts.