Tf this was Ralph Sampson's final college home game, he made it one the fans at University Hall could cherish for many cold winters to come.
Sampson was in control of Wake Forest and its fine center Jim Johnstone, getting 22 points and 20 rebounds. With that kind of production, Virgina had no problems winning its 15th straight, 84-66, and clinching at least a tie for the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title.
The Cavaliers have one game remaining, Saturday at Maryland. The only team that could share the ACC title with Virginia (12-1) is North Carolina (11-2).
What made this victory, Virginia's 27th in 28 games, even sweeter was the play of forward Craig Robinson, who was so imposing inside that Wake didn't know who to guard first, Sampson or this suddenly inspired junior who had 20 points and nine rebounds.
If Robinson could continue at that level, Virginia would be mighty difficult to handle in the NCAA playoffs, even if its guards stay in a shooting slump.
This was the first game in more than two weeks in which a team decided to forget about a slowdown and try to match the Cavaliers' quickness. That opened up the court for the eager Sampson, who did everything from being the point man on fast breaks to tossing the ball down at the basket from six feet away.
Johnstone, who has always played well against Sampson and had an especially fine game in a loss earlier this season, was in foul trouble most of the night and settled for 10 points. Even Sampson expressed surprise afterward that Wake tried covering him one-on-one without sagging a guard inside to help.
"You can do a lot more things when they play that kind of defense against you," Sampson said with a slight smile.
This is Sampson's third year at Virginia and the National Basketball Association again is expected to court him this spring. Even though Sampson already has a room reserved on Virginia's prestigious Lawn, he was noncommittal tonight about his future.
"Haven't even thought about it," he said. "That's something I'll worry about later, not now."
Virginia hadn't scored more than 60 points in any of its last four games, mainly because opponents have been holding the ball on the Cavaliers, who, in turn, have had to make every shot count. The added pressure to preserve their No. 1 ranking has contributed to their poor marksmanship.
Tonight, a sharp second half enabled them to make 48 percent of their shots. But the best shooting was done by Sampson early in the second half after Wake had cut a 10-point lead to 33-29.
A Virginia surge started when guard Ricky Stokes disrupted a Wake fast break with a midcourt steal. Sampson, who had been tripped, was alone down court, and he converted Stokes' pass into a massive dunk.
That started things. Two free throws by Jim Miller, a three-point play by Sampson off a rebound basket, a fast break layup by Stokes, an eight-footer by Sampson and, finally, a dunk by Sampson off a rebound of a foul shot Miller missed forced Wake to call time. The Deacons at that point were trailing, 46-35, with 12:18 left, but the game was irreversibly going Virginia's way.
"We simply weren't able to be aggressive on offense once they got ahead and we weren't able to control the tempo the way we needed to for a win," Wake Coach Carl Tacy said.
Nor was his team able to control Sampson, the most important factor in the Deacons' loss.
"It was fun the way the game was played tonight," Sampson admitted.