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Battier comes up big as Duke shreds UNC

Senior forward named ACC tournament MVP after a double double in a 79-53 victory.

By BRIAN LANDMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 2001


ATLANTA -- Duke senior forward Shane Battier confessed Sunday that he never has played his best basketball during the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

Uh, that's no longer the case.

Battier scored 20 points, added 13 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals to lead the Blue Devils, who had to play most of the second half without injured guard Jason Williams, to a 79-53 win against archrival North Carolina before a crowd of 40,083 at the Georgia Dome.

He fittingly earned the tournament's MVP award.

"It was a very special day for me. Very special," said Battier, who had averaged 11.9 points and 4.5 rebounds in his 11 previous ACC tournament games. "I don't think I could have ended it any better way than to beat Carolina in the ACC championship and receive the MVP. I was surprised. I usually don't play well in the ACC tournament."

"Where did that come from?" Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski chimed in. "He plays well. We just won three in a row."

The second-seeded and No. 3-ranked Blue Devils (29-4) became the third three-peat tournament champion and first since UNC from 1967-69.

But Duke owes this one to its defense.

Leading top-seeded and No. 6 UNC (25-6) 29-20 with eight minutes left in the opening half, the Blue Devils turned to a midcourt trap -- with defensive wizard Battier at the point.

"When Shane start trapping, we just didn't handle it very well," UNC coach Matt Doherty lamented. "We kicked it around and they ended up getting some easy shots."

Williams intercepted a poor pass from a double-teamed Ronald Curry and took it in for a breakaway dunk. That keyed a 13-0 run that propelled the Blue Devils into a commanding and shocking 42-21 lead.

"That just broke the game open," said Krzyzewski, who recorded his 600th career win. "It gave us energy and it picked up our defense even more."

Still leading 62-38 with 13:00 left, the Blue Devils collectively cringed as Williams, one of the nation's premier players, went crashing to the floor clutching a troublesome left ankle.

He was helped off and said later that he was "fine" and will be ready for the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. He even managed to gingerly maneuver the ladder steps to cut his share of twine after the game.

But at the time, with star center Carlos Boozer in street clothes for the fourth straight game recovering from a broken foot (he likely won't be able to return until the Sweet 16), Krzyzewski was concerned about a UNC rally.

It never came.

In fact, the 26-point loss was the most lopsided Duke win over the Tar Heels since a 104-69 rout in 1964. It was also the most lopsided tournament final since 1968, when the Heels beat North Carolina State 87-50.

"When this tournament started, I don't know how many people really gave us a fighting chance to win this," Battier said. "People were talking about how hot Maryland was and how big Carolina has been playing and even upstarts like Wake and Virginia.

"To come here a man down with Carlos out and sometimes with a 6-4 center (Reggie Love) in there, no one gave us a chance. It was a very gratifying win for our guys."

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