Previewing Davidson

DETROIT — Kansas is one win shy of its 13th Final Four in school history. Davidson has never been to the Final Four.

This is KU’s 37th NCAA tournament, while Davidson has been in the Big Dance just seven times.

When it comes to tradition, KU certainly has the edge against Davidson in this Elite Eight matchup on Sunday at Ford Field (4:05 CST). And when it comes to overall talent (Davidson has one future NBA player on its roster; KU has seven to eight possible pros), No. 1 seed KU (34-3) also has the upper hand over the 10th seed Wildcats (29-6).

Some observers may see this game as David vs. Goliath, the unsung and unheralded Cinderella Wildcats from Charlotte, N.C., trying to do the impossible and knock off mighty Kansas.

But Davidson heads into this game as the hottest team in the country. After starting the season 4-6, the Wildcats have won a nation-leading 25 straight games and are coming off some huge wins in the tournament. Davidson upset No. 7 seed Gonzaga, No. 2 seed Georgetown, and No.  3 seed Wisconsin to reach the Elite Eight.

Davidson dominated the second half against Wisconsin on Friday night at Ford Field, breaking a 36-all tie at halftime to win, 73-56. Sophomore guard sensation Stephen Curry scored 22 of his game-high 33 points in the second half.

Curry is one of the premier players in America and a second-team All-American by the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated. He ranks fourth nationally in scoring at 25.9 points per game and first in three-point field goals with 158, which ties the NCAA record for threes in a season.

As he’s done all year, Davidson has carried the team on his back during the tournament, scoring 40 points (30 in second half) against Gonzaga, 30 points versus Georgetown (25 in second half), and the 33 against Wisconsin.

“He’s probably going to be the toughest guard I’ll have to face for a while,” said KU junior Brandon Rush.

“This is definitely the biggest defensive challenge I’ve faced in my career thus far because it’s the biggest game I’ve played in my career,” said senior guard Russell Robinson. “I’m up for the challenge. My teammates are up for the challenge. It's going to take a team effort. ... (Curry) is very patient. He’s not going to force anything which makes it a lot harder to defend. He’s going to have the whole country behind him and everyone rooting for him.”

While Robinson will likely start the game guarding Curry, KU coach Bill Self said Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins, and Rush will probably all take turns on him.

Self said the key to guarding Curry is to not let him get separation. Curry is a master of getting open in Davidson’s offense, which uses countless screens to give him the ball.

“He does a great job if you watch him, he’ll go hard, then he’ll stop, you stop, and then he he goes again and that’s two yards of separation,” Self said. “You cannot stop and relax to the point where your feet stop (moving). If you do that, he’s creating separation, which either gives him a shot or forces help.”

Self has coached against such superstars as former Texas standout Kevin Durant and K-State phenom Michael Beasley. But he said Curry poses some different problems.

“You can make a case that Curry is harder to guard than Beasley, because (with) Beasley, someone has to pass him the ball,” Self said. “The thing about Curry is he can dribble (and score). I think Beasley is as good a talent as I’ve ever coached against, but his guy doesn’t need anyone to pass it to him for him to score two.”

Davidson’s backcourt mate is a dandy as well in 6-2 senior guard Jason Richards, who leads the nation in assists (8.1 apg). Richards, who averages 12.9 points per game, dished out 13 assists versus Wisconsin with no turnovers.

“He runs the team,” Robinson said. “He gets a lot of assists. So you take him out, then half the job on Curry is done.”

While Curry and Richards are the only Davidson players averaging in double figures, the Wildcats have some other weapons. Senior forward Thomas Sander (7.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and junior forward Andrew Lovedale (6.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg) start up front, while junior Max Paulhus Gosselin (3.6 ppg., 3.6 rpg) is the third starting guard who fills his role as the blue collar player who sets tough screens and posts an impressive 2.0 plus assist-to-turnover ratio.

The Wildcats also get production off the bench from senior forward Boris Meno (7.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg), sophomore guard/forward Will Archambault (5.1 ppg), sophomore guard Bryant Barr (5.1 ppg), and sophomore forward Stephen Rossiter (3.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg).

Davidson ranks fifth in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio and scoring margin, 12th in three-pointers made, 17th in assists per game, and 23rd in points per game (78.5).

KU will be playing it fourth small team in the Big Dance; Davidson’s tallest starter is just 6-8 (Lovedale and Sander). The Wildcats may be small, but they are tough and play fundamental, sound basketball.

“They are going to hit you on every play,” Robinson said.

“They are very physical,” Self added. “They do a great job setting very physical, legal screens. They’re a very good screening team. They do a great job defensively of not letting you go where you want to go, riding you off cuts, things like that. They are very weak-side conscious on passes to the post, quick traps on rotation.

“Then they score in transition. We do not have a dominant player like they have (Curry), but the teams play similar. It’s get up and down the floor. It’s a game of pressure on both ends. They run much more motion than we do. The teams are very similar in that they do a great job of finding the open man and making the extra pass.”

Most of the nation will be pulling for the Cinderella Wildcats to upset the favorite Jayhawks. But that’s just fine with KU. The ‘Hawks are focused and a more experienced team which lost to UCLA last year in the Elite Eight. They know what to expect and are feeling relaxed and loose.

“I think we came out pretty nervous (against UCLA) and made a lot of mistakes, a lot of turnovers,” said sophomore forward Darrell Arthur. “I think this year we are more confident. We are more mature with a veteran team and we know what we have to do to win.”

Davidson vs. Kansas. David vs. Goliath.

You can throw out the history books in this one, the Jayhawks know they’ll have to play the best game of their lives in the biggest game of their careers.

“It would be a dream come true,” Chalmers about winning and making the Final Four. “We are right on the edge and we are just trying to get over the edge.’

Robinson will be dreaming about the game Saturday night while watching the regional finals (North Carolina vs. Louisville and UCLA vs. Xavier).

“When I see those teams cut down the net on television tonight, it’s going to be hard to not think about myself in that same situation,” Robinson said. “The main thing is you have to go out and give it your all, and when we’ve done that this year we’ve been successful.”

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