Lefty Driesell said he wasn't taking the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament too seriously, else he would have worn his lucky white cardigan for the Duke game Friday. He chose the red number instead, which happened to match the color of Terrapin faces the final 35 minutes.

Had he wrapped himself in white and Maryland played so poorly, Driesell explained, he might have stomped it onto the disabled list before the major mission of his life: the NCAA tournament that begins next week.

I'll follow the Lefthander's lead.

If my white cardigan were handy, I'd get as incensed as some Maryland fans surely were after the 13-point loss, they having spent considerable time and money to see Driesell get outcoached and his team hammered by a gang of overachieving gym rats.

Were I in white, and white-hot, I would say Driesell's attire makes him seem a silly contrast to his coaching peers. In a conference of three-piece suits, the Hander looks like the fourth man on a bowling team.

Also, he could use a belt. Every time he hops off the bench to remind officials they are not without flaw, much energy is spent hitching up his trousers.

But the Hander needs a center more desperately than a belt.

If that white cardigan were not on a nail back home, I'd scold Driesell something fierce for slogging through the last ever-so-many years without a 32-carat center. How an alleged big man's coach can go so long without a wondrous big man has been an annoying mystery.

Also, I would rip Driesell for turning carpenter fairly early against Duke. How else can anyone figure Keith Gatlin's staying on the bench so long? Driesell surely grabbed a hammer and some nails and anchored him there.

But this is only the ACC tournament, and Driesell already has won it once. The NCAAs are all that count, so I thought my squishy-soft red sweater would do this weekend.

To get in a warm and glowing mood, hear the Duke coach, Mike Krzyzewski, during his postgame press conference as he volunteers:

"Lefty has done a great job this season . . . no foolin' around."

Yes, he has.

Maryland is 23-11, so far, and 10 points away from being 27-7. This while playing the toughest schedule in the country, according to the NCAA.

A computer digested the proper numbers and sputtered back that the Terrapins' opponents won 66.49 percent of their games. Duke has been a top 10 team most of the season.

Before Friday, the Terrapins also usually played at least reasonably well even in defeat, losing to Kansas and Nevada-Las Vegas by two points each and Georgia Tech and North Carolina by one.

Who among us has not had one sour day the last few months?

Maryland began with a startling burst Friday, the kind that sent ripples of awe through much of the crowd. It got 17-8 ugly for Duke early on.

So effectively was Adrian Branch popping from the perimeter that recurring thoughts of Maryland playing with a shrimp center vanished.

With a Branch, who needs a tree?

During three trips up and down the Omni court, Len Bias showed his extraordinary skills to the fullest. The binge began with him soaring over an undersized Duke forward to stuff Gatlin's miss.

At the other end, Bias had the presence under pressure to bang a loose ball out of bounds off Blue Devil Mark Alarie and return possession to the Terrapins.

Then he swished one of those 17-footers that makes him seem like a piece of spectacular sculpture rising off the court, flicking perfect form at the apex.

Even better, Maryland's 6-foot-7 center, Derrick Lewis, was grabbing control of the game. Fluid on the floor with the ball, unerring with it when he shot, Lewis was dominant.

And Duke was in carryover shooting funk from the North Carolina game last Saturday, when it was 70 percent inaccurate from the field.

All was sweetness for Maryland, everybody hustling and sharp and Duke helping by beating itself. Driesell could have worn bikini shorts and Terrapins fans would not have been offended.

Even Maryland's errors could easily be forgiven. Branch and Gatlin twice botched backdoor-layup chances, but the idea was fine.

All of a sudden, quicker in fact than you could remove a red cardigan and throw on a white one, the Terrapins became timid and the Devils turned torrid.

By halftime, Duke was six points ahead. No one was quite sure why, especially when the smallest guy on the court, Tommy Amaker, with five, was the game's leading rebounder.

It was nearly impossible to fathom Gatlin on the bench so much. He had been effective from outside and distributed the ball well.

When it was delicately mentioned to Driesell that Gatlin had spent nearly half the game inactive, he replied with a question:

"Did you see him play defense?"

Oh.

Saw Duke play lots of it, though. Saw Johnny Dawkins, Amaker and some overplaying forwards befuddle the Terrapins enough to be close to thrilling.

Maryland fans had the best of it in the beginning, getting choice seating behind one basket, which allowed much hand waving and balloon scratching during Duke free throws.

The Dukies laughed last.

In the final minutes, when The Omni was emptying for the afternoon, they could be heard from rafter-level, pleading: "We need tickets."

When both teams play equally, Krzyzewski probably will outthink Driesell enough for Duke to win comfortably. When his players are inspired, as they were Friday, few teams are better.

In the softest shade of red, you could still see that.