Virginia Coach Terry Holland didn't want to use injured star Ralph Sampson against Duke tonight unless it was absolutely necessary.
After Sampson prodded him, Holland sent his 7-foot-4 all-America, who had a broken finger, into the game midway through the second half with the Cavaliers trailing by six points. Sampson provided the emotional lift the Cavaliers needed to overtake Duke, 92-83, in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both schools at University Hall.
Sampson had eight points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots, and did a lot of intimidating in his 13 minutes as the fifth-ranked Cavaliers improved to 6-0.
Despite Sampson's domination, the Virginia hero tonight was freshman Jim Miller, who scored 18 of his team-high 26 points in the second half. He scored 13 of 19 Virginia points when the Cavaliers were turning the six-point deficit into an 84-75 lead.
Duke (1-3) built its lead with an aggressive defense and an offense that let Vince Taylor and Chip Engelland go one-on-one whenever they could. Taylor, at 6-4, posted up the smaller Virginia guards and scored 31 points while Engellander hit away from outside for 18 points.
Duke shot 60 percent, but took only 50 shots and was outrebounded, 35-21 (22-10 in the second half). Its three most effective inside players, Allen Williams, Mike Tissaw and Todd Anderson fouled out.
When Sampson entered the game with 13:17 to play, the Cavaliers were down, 59-53. He missed his first shot and his first three foul shots as he adjusted to playing with his broken ring finger on his right (shooting) hand. He sat down a minute, then returned and played the rest of the game.
The Cavaliers trailed, 69-61, with 8:33 remaining after Taylor scored on a breakaway off Engellander's long pass.
That's when Sampson and Miller went to work.
Sampson's two foul shots and Miller's three-point play got the Cavaliers within 71-70 with 6:34 to play.
Jay Bryan of Duke missed two foul shots and Virginia took the lead, 72-71, when Othell Wilson scored with an offensive rebound.
Miller stole the ensuing inbounds pass and his three-point play gave Virginia the lead. He went on to score 10 of his team's next 12 points and Sampson controlled the boards and threw Duke out of its offense as the Cavaliers coasted to the victory.
Miller made seven of 10 shots from the field and 12 of 12 from the foul line.
"I was just there," he said. "I happened to be in the right places at the right time. They gave Ralph so much attention that I was open."
Before the game, Holland said he hoped he wouldn't have to use Sampson, who broke his finger against George Mason Nov. 29 and hasn't been able to practice without pain since. "But he wanted to play so badly that we went ahead and let him," Holland said. "I decided to use him three seconds before I put him in."
Sampson had the finger taped against his middle finger and used his right hand only to cradle the ball or to shoot.
"My hand felt good, so I told Coach I wanted to play," Sampson said. "We needed some kind of spark."
Holland had hoped to rest Sampson tonight because the Cavaliers don't play again until Dec. 19. The hand should be healed by then.