With freshman forward Tim Mullen scoring a career-high 21 points, third-ranked Virginia weathered an off night by center Ralph Sampson and repeated Wake Forest rallies to defeat Wake Forest, 69-66, in an Atlantic Coast Conference game tonight.

Time and time again the Cavaliers (19-1, 5-1 in the ACC) pulled out to what appeared commanding leads, only to see Wake Forest (13-4, 4-2) rally as the 7-foot-4 Sampson was held to 10 points and nine rebounds.

After leading by 11 points late in the first half, Virginia was outscored, 11-2, over a four-minute stretch and needed a three-point play by guard Othell Wilson to take a 33-28 half-time lead.

In the second half, Virginia led by eight points three times in the first six minutes, then went cold as Wake pulled to within 46-44 with 11:24 left.

The Deacons stayed close for the next five minutes behind the inside play of center Jim Johnstone, who finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, and the outside shooting of John Toms, a 6-6 forward.

Then, with the score at 56-54 in Virginia's favor, the Cavaliers scored six straight to lead by eight with 1:50 left. The Virginia lead was still 65-58 with 1:03 to go when Wake began fouling.

But Virginia missed five of seven foul shots, and Wake again came back. Guard Mike Helms made two free throws, Toms scored twice on jumpers and guard Danny Young made a jumper from the top of the key with seven seconds to go to cut the Virginia lead to 68-66.

Two seconds later, Wilson made the front end of a one-and-one opportunity to clinch the victory.

"I thought our kids played fairly courageously," said Virginia Coach Terry Holland. "Because it is our first road win in the conference, I would have to say it is our biggest win so far this season."

Mullen, 6-5, scored with equal facility on jumpers from the wings and quick inside moves as Wake had no one able to contain him. "When they play a big lineup, and you hit a few jump shots, that really hurts them," Mullen said. "I don't think their big forwards really like to play outside and I'm really more of a guard than a forward in our offense."

Mullen made eight of 11 shots and five of six free throw attempts. He also forced a turnover with 17 seconds left, causing Helms to travel with Wake down by four.

Sampson was held seven points below his season's average, as Johnstone, 6-11, muscled him away from the basket for much of the game.

A key juncture in the game came with 7:20 to go and Sampson struggling, when Kenton Edelin, a walk-on from Hayfield High School in Fairfax County, scored six consecutive points and had a rebound to start a fast break.

Despite playing with a tall lineup much of the night, Wake had little success inside. Johnstone was Wake's only big man to score more than four points.