DETROIT (AP)—OK, so the entire country now knows every last little detail about Stephen Curry, the sweet-shooting guard who’s got double-digit Davidson one game away from the Final Four.
But Curry didn’t get the Wildcats this far all by himself. There’s also Jason Richards, the sublime point guard who can shoot it as well as he sets it up. There’s Andrew Lovedale, a big guy with a feathery touch. There’s Max Paulhus Gosselin, who actually thrives on setting screens. And on and on.
Lose track of any of them, and Kansas is in for a long day Sunday, followed by an equally uncomfortable offseason.
“There’s a lot of things that concern us,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said, shaking his head as he ran down the list. “They’re a physical team. They do a great job of setting very physical, legal screens. They do a great job defensively of not letting you go where you want to go, riding off cuts, things like that …
He was just getting started.
“They’ve got,” Self said, summing it all up, “a lot of pieces.”
On paper, Kansas (34-3) should win Sunday’s game easily and advance to a matchup with North Carolina in the national semifinals.
The Jayhawks are the power in a power conference, so stocked with talent they’re bringing guys off the bench who would start at most schools. They have four players averaging in double figures and another just short, and two guys who are averaging more than six boards a game. They can play big or small and do it at a grinding halt or a playground pace.
They’re walloping opponents by almost 20 points a game—best in the nation — and their three losses were by a combined 13 points.
“We’re just doing what people expect us to do, and that’s go to the Final Four,” said Brandon Rush, who leads Kansas with 13 points. “We don’t see it as pressure. We see it as people expecting things of us. Big things.”
But Davidson (29-6) didn’t just stumble into its first regional final since 1969. The Wildcats have the nation’s longest winning streak at 25 and counting, and they beat three very good teams to get here including Georgetown, a Final Four team last year, and Wisconsin, the Big Ten champs with the best defense in the country.
The Badgers were holding opponents to a nation-best 53.9 points a game and hadn’t allowed a single 3-pointer in the second round against Kansas State. Davidson dropped 73 on them, including 12 3s.
Granted, Curry has had a lot to do with the Wildcats’ run. The son of former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry is averaging 34.3 points in the tournament, best since Bo Kimble of Loyola Marymount averaged 35.8 over four games in 1990. And his 103 points are second only to Glenn Robinson of Purdue (108) for a three-game span since seeding began in 1979.
He’s gotten so big—he’s not nicknamed “Prime Time” because he likes Deion Sanders—even LeBron James has joined his fan club.
“That’s the thing, they have other good players,” Russell Robinson said. “Even if we stop Curry, that’s not going to secure the game for us. We have to guard everyone.”
That’s what makes Davidson such a fun story. Well, that and the fact the school has free laundry and the Board of Trustees are picking up the tab for students who wanted to come to the game.
Ask the Wildcats about their success, and they repeatedly refer to their system. It’s based on patience and balance, finding the open man and working for good shots. They’re infuriatingly persistent, passing the ball back and forth, back and forth, and back and forth again if that’s what it takes to get the shot they want. That kind of grinding eventually wears on opponents, and the Wildcats know it.
They put a premium on teamwork and selflessness, cooperation and chemistry. It’s a simple premise, but implementing it is another thing entirely.
“I’m in a quest for the perfect game, the perfect performance, the perfect season. The Brazilian soccer team, they call it `The Beautiful Game.’ That’s what our system is all about, the quest for that,” said coach Bob McKillop, who can get downright philosophical about it, mixing in everything from politics to religion to diversity.
“These guys aren’t all rocket scientists that play for us. They have to really work to achieve academically,” he added. “So I think it takes a combination of a willingness to be coached and a consistent message from the coach. And we’ve stuck to that very simple game plan for quite a few years now.”
When it works, it’s a sight to behold.
Richards—and it is Richards, not Richardson—might have had a stat line more impressive than Curry’s on Friday night. Not only did he score 11 points— nine from 3-point range—he had 13 assists without a single turnover. That’s the kind of ballhandling usually seen from another Jason.
Lovedale, a 6-foot-8 forward who was sweeping up a court the first time McKillop saw him, made all five of his shots. Bryant Barr made only two shots all night, but the second allowed Davidson to go into halftime tied with the Badgers. And Gosselin and Thomas Sander set so many screens, they’re going to be taking a lovely collection of bumps and bruises home as souvenirs.
“Did you guys see Steph smile after he made that backdoor cut?” Sander said when asked why the Wildcats buy into the collective good. “It’s just fun to watch Jason and Steph score. When they do that, we win.”
Added Gosselin, “Giving the other guys opportunities to score the basketball is just an amazing feeling. I always emphasize that my whole life, that what I like most is winning. So we win games. Whatever I have to do, I’ll do.”
One more win will put the Wildcats in very select company. Only two double-digit seeds have reached the Final Four, and George Mason’s run in 2006 captivated the entire country. Davidson’s run has conjured all kinds of comparisons to the Patriots—not to mention Cinderella and every other underdog there is.
That’s all well and good, but the Wildcats will pass on the warm-and-fuzzies. They know who they are, even if everybody else is still learning.
“We feel like we belong here and we feel like we showed that in the past three games,” Sander said. “You know, we’re just Davidson. That’s what we consider ourselves. We think we can go out there and compete. That’s what we try to do.”