Davidson’s Magical Run Comes to a Halt

Chas Kurtz

Davidson in the Elite Eight? Four one-seeds in the Final Four? The first two weekends of the NCAA Tournament have been nothing short of spectacular, as the madness created the perfect recipe of a Cinderella going deep and the top teams holding serve. Davidson, led by Stephen Curry, saw its surprise tournament run come up short of the Final Four, but the Wilcats’ loss ensured an even bigger surprise. For the first time in tournament history (seeding began in 1979), all four one-seeds will be playing in basketball’s showcase event.

Before we get to the stacked Final Four in San Antonio, the star of the tournament, Stephen Curry,deserves recognition.Not since Bryce Drew at Valparaiso in 1998 has a single player carried a mid-major on his back like this. Where would Davidson be without him? I’ll venture to say the Patriot League runners-up, your very own Colgate Raiders,would beat the Wildcats.But Curry’s performances haven’t come out of thin air. He torched Maryland for thirty in the first round last year, nearly propelling the Wildcats to the upset as a freshman.

Merely a sophomore this season, Curry put up gaudy numbers, averaging 26 points per game during the regular season and leading Davidson to 22 consecutive wins entering the tournament. Curry and Davidson were not unknown entities when the madness began.

That said, Curry’s performances against Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin were nothing short of remarkable. He seemingly made every shot he took and averaged 34.3 points per game in those games, including 40 against the Zags.

As amazing as Curry was in the first three rounds of the tournament, his questionable shot selection and inability to connect from deep (just four of 16 from three) in the Regional Final against Kansas cost the Wildcats a George Mason-esque trip to the Final Four.Yes, he scored 25 points. But the size and athleticism of the Kansas defenders made him disappear in the second half. He scored five points in the first two minutes of the second half and hit a three with under a minute to go. During the other 17 minutes of the half, he scored a total of two points while hoisting absurd shots from deep. For the first time in the tournament, he wasn’t automatic.

Shockingly, the most dependable scorer for Davidson in the second half was not Curry. Bryant Barr, the so-called “White Lobster” (he is White and from Maine) scored eleven points in the half, including a trio of huge threes, to keep Davidson within striking distance. But as the clock ran down, one expected Curry to regain his magic.When he connected from deep with 54 seconds remaining to cut the Kansas lead to two, his first trey ineighteen minutes,one sensed he wasn’t finished.

After the Jayhawks butchered their ensuing possession, Curry took the ball up the floor with the final seconds dwindling away. But why wasn’t Jason Richards, the nation’s leader is assists, handling the ball?Why wasn’t Curry planning to come off of a screen to hit the game-winner? Inexplicably, Curry walked slowly up the floor, couldn’t create separation, and passed the rock to Richards, who heaved a twenty-five footer that thudded off the backboard as time expired.

When you have Curry, the most dangerous shooter in the sport, how does he not take the shot? And if for some reason he doesn’t take it, then it has to be the White Lobster, a pure shooter who did his best Curry impersonation in the pressure-packed second half.But alas, Davidson failed to run its offense in those closing seconds, panicked and had the wrong man take a terrible shot.It was a sad conclusion to a remarkable run.

Davidson’s loss, however, enabled history to be made in San Antonio this weekend, as all four one-seeds will vie for the National Championship. The Jayhawks may have survived a buzzer-beater to advance, but they were not the only top seed to be taken to the limit.

UCLA, led by freshman Kevin Love, survived a scare from nine-seed Texas A&M in the second round, as the Aggies coughed up an eight-point lead with under nine minutes remaining. Down two with twelve seconds left, the Aggies, much like Davidson, butchered their final possession and lost the heartbreaker. After that scare, the Bruins cruised past Western Kentucky and Xavier en route to their third consecutive Final Four.

UCLA has a showdown with Memphis and their star freshman, Derrick Rose, in San Antonio. The Tigers also escaped a second round buzzer-beating attempt, this one by Mississippi State, on the road to the Final Four. That game was dominated by Memphis, but their dismal free throw shooting nearly cost them. Ranked as the third-worst free-throw shooting team in Division I, Memphis’ free throw shooting was under 60% entering the tournament and could prove costly in a close contest with UCLA or in the championship game.

The only team yet to suffer a serious scare is North Carolina. The Tar Heels rolled through the first two rounds, putting up an astounding 221 points. Their Sweet 16 contest against Washington State was the ultimate contrast in styles, as the Cougars tried to slow down the UNC attack, but the Tar Heels still cruised to an easy 21-point victory. In their first real test since the ACC Championship game against Clemson, Carolina played a very talented and tough Louisville team in the Elite Eight. Paced by 28 points and 13 boards by Tyler Hansbrough, the National Player of the Year, the Tar Heels won 83-73 to advance to the Final Four.

There is no undeserving or surprise team in the 2008 Final Four; all of the teams were among the nation’s elite throughout the season. It’s going to be an unbelievable weekend in San Antonio as the first game begins at 6:07 Saturday night. Enjoy. And for the record, Kansas over UCLA in the Championship Game, 81-78.