Monday, March 24, 2008

Davidson's run to round of 16 grows sweeter over time

OK, I have to brag about where I went to school. People either know Davidson, or think it's a community college. But, I'm proud of where I went (please note any Davidson students on the annual giving call list: I just mailed my check today). And now, I'm even prouder because they made it to the Sweet 16 this year. Made one of my decisions to go to Davidson (Division I in sports) even better. I had them beating Gonzaga (even thought even I had doubts because Gonzaga's a pretty good team). And then had them beating Georgetown (again, doubts because Georgetown has a pretty good team). Now I'm rooting for Wisconsin. [Note: I wasn't soooo loyal that I chose Davidson to win it all -- but now I'm crossing my fingers]

Here's an article from USA Today:
By Mike Lopresti, Gannett News Service

RALEIGH, N.C. — They do not act like a No. 10 seed.
They do not talk like a team from a school that until Friday, had not won an NCAA men's tournament game since the first year of the Nixon administration.

They do not play like a mid-major — refusing to obey the law that says if you fall behind a big brute such as Georgetown by 17 points in the second half, you're as dead as rotary dial.

It was about then Sunday — with Georgetown still ahead 14 — when coach Bob McKillop looked into the faces of his Davidson Wildcats during a timeout and posed a question.

"Are you having fun?"

Oh, they would.

Not long after that, Stephen Curry — the main man of March so far — would bury a long three-pointer while being fouled, and complete a 4-point play. It was as if someone had blown a bugle.
In the end, Georgetown's only hope was that Davidson would do what countless other underdogs have done before when it came time to close the deal — stop playing to win, start playing not to lose.

Fat chance.

"When we see light at the end of the tunnel, we have a killer instinct," Curry said afterward, slumped in the hallway on a table, an exhausted assassin after scoring 30 points — 25 after halftime. This a mere 48 hours after torching Gonzaga for 40.

Welcome to the new world, when a team from the Southern Conference takes on one of the behemoths of the Big East, and talks "killer instinct."

"There is a gap," guard Jason Richards said of the distance between the major powers and Davidson's world. "But that gap can be closed."

So Davidson wins 74-70 to go to the Sweet 16, and it is possible all 1,700 students from the campus outside Charlotte will never forget this day. Though they're still probably happier that the school provides free laundry service.

"I'm a dreamer," McKillop said, "And I've been a dreamer all my life."

A lot of upstarts with fine records have dared to imagine such thoughts, but Davidson has more than dreams and gall.

The Wildcats have a toughness forged by playing through fire. The insane non-conference schedule McKillop handed his Wildcats — North Carolina, Duke, UCLA, North Carolina State — now pays off. Each one was a loss. Each one was a tutorial. They haven't lost since four days before Christmas.

"We played not to lose against Duke and North Carolina. When we got ahead 18 on UCLA (before losing by 12), we freaked out and started playing not to lose," said forward Thomas Sander. "We learned our lesson."

So in the final, frantic minutes Sunday, Curry was not afraid to take and make a three-pointer. Richards did not think twice before slashing through the Georgetown defense for a layup.

Nobody played safe and sat on a fragile lead.

"Coach has been waiting 19 years for this moment," Curry said.

McKillop has stayed at Davidson through 19 mostly successful seasons, ignoring the lure of bright lights elsewhere. He stresses a three-word mantra of caring, commitment and trust — "I stole that from Lou Holtz" — and does things like tell his team before the game Sunday about his tryout with the 1972 Philadelphia 76ers.

He was too tentative, just satisfied at getting the chance. "That team was 9-72, so I was cut from the worst team in NBA history."

The moral: Don't be happy just to be here Sunday.

But none of this works without Curry.

He scored only five points in the first half, against the most determined defense Georgetown could offer. Jonathan Wallace would guard him, and then Chris Wright, and then Jeremiah Rivers. Curry was handed from Hoya to Hoya as if he were a bowl of jellybeans.

"Most guys would start forcing the issue and rushing," Curry said. "I have absolute confidence in my teammates, so I let the game come to me."

His teammates marvel. Richards was asked his favorite Curry moment from Sunday.

"The 4-point play from the logo ... the spin three-pointer with two guys in his face ... the scoop shot ..."

He might have gone on forever.

Curry said it never crossed his mind that he would not ignite in time. "I try to have that feeling every time I shoot the ball. You don't want to shoot not to miss."

And you never want to play not to lose. This was no fluke. Here is a player and team with instant national credibility.

Somewhere, the members of the 2006 team from George Mason understand what might be happening.

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