- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2001

MINNEAPOLIS. Shane Battier apparently is protected by an imaginary shield during the game.

You are not allowed to penetrate his imaginary shield. If you happen to nudge Battier in the slightest way, you are whistled for a foul. If you try to avoid his interest in you and he falls to the floor, flopping all around, as if he has been hit on the head with a baseball bat, you are whistled for a foul.

You cannot do anything around Battier. He is perfect. He embodies everything that is pure and wholesome in college basketball. He stands for truth, justice and the American way. That is the conventional view anyway.

The scouting report on Battier comes with the following directives: Please tiptoe in his presence. Also, always remember to freshen your breath before you go to where he is on the floor. He is against bad breath, and the referees are on notice to enforce the bad-breath rule, which includes a $50 fine.

You also are not allowed to shake hands with the Blue Devils before the game. Protocol demands that you curtsy and avert your eyes.

All this makes a game involving Battier and the Duke basketball team a tricky proposition. They get the benefit of the doubt because of their impeccable reputation. They are the Duke Blue Devils. They are very special. They are Billy Packer's team.

The Terps discovered how the double standard works after rushing to a 22-point lead on the Blue Devils in the first half of the national semifinal game Saturday night. It was then the referees started to monitor the goings-on with a higher degree of subjectivity, coincidentally in Duke's favor.

"I can't comment on the officiating," Terps coach Gary Williams said after the game.

Williams, by NCAA law, is obligated to pretend that David Libbey, Mark Reischling and Ted Hillary, the three referees, are not human. No, the three referees did not make one bad call. They performed a miracle.

As for the fifth foul on Lonny Baxter, with 2:48 left and the Terps down by five points, Duke's Carlos Boozer thought the whistle was against him.

"I thought I fouled him," Boozer said. "It just went the other way. That's how the game goes."

That is how the game goes if you are the Blue Devils and you are trailing the Terps by 22 points in the first half. Curious stuff starts happening in your behalf.

Battier falls down. Foul on Tahj Holden. Jason Williams loses the ball. Foul on Terence Morris. The Blue Devils are out of position on defense. Traveling violation on Steve Blake.

The Terps are cleaning the defensive glass late in the first half. Foul. Foul again.

Morris picks up his fourth foul early in the second half after being too close to Battier. Morris leaves the game and winds up being limited to 20 minutes.

"I thought I was playing pretty good defense on Battier," Morris said later.

All the questionable calls start to add up. Understandably, the Terps become uncertain, tentative, while the Blue Devils feel a sense of empowerment. They make plays. They hit shots. The onus shifts to the team that had the 22-point cushion.

And so the headline ends up being this: Dukies maintain cool as Terps blow 22-point lead.

Well, yes and no.

You are not merely playing the basketball team that represents Duke University. You are playing an aura, an image, a brand name of the highest quality, and people being people, referees included, are susceptible to it.

The referees don't mean to be victims of the hype machine. They try to be impartial in their assessments, the same as you, if you are evaluating which products to purchase at the grocery store.

Sometimes you can't help it. You buy the heavily advertised product instead of the generic one. So you don't squeeze the Charmin as you lift it from the shelf. You don't squeeze the Charmin, and you are not permitted to squeeze Battier.

This was not about one or two calls. It was about a series of calls. It was about Battier and Williams, Duke's two best players, being on the floor 73 minutes. It was about Baxter and Morris, two of Maryland's three best players, being limited to 45 minutes. That staggering discrepancy contributed to the 33-point swing.

The Blue Devils did their part, too. They could have blinked after falling behind by 22 points. They could have disintegrated. Instead, they fought back and worked on the deficit, bit by bit.

But their comeback was aided, too, by the three referees, however unintentional the aid was.

In a way, it had the feel of a benefit engagement.

Call it Ref-Aid.

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