Saturday, January 06, 2007

Article from Charleston Post & Courier

Wildcats continue winning
New players, same results at Davidson
David Caraviello
Saturday, January 06, 2007

They were 18 minutes into the first game of the next generation of Davidson basketball, and already facing a crisis. One day earlier, coach Bob McKillop had worried about how his young, untested players would adapt to new roles. Down 17 to Eastern Michigan and on the way to 32 turnovers, he was getting an inauspicious answer.

Then something happened. All those lessons learned in practice playing behind Brendan Winters, Ian Johnson, and the rest of a departed senior class that had gone 26-5 over its last two Southern Conference seasons began to kick in. And Davidson started to play like Davidson again.

"For some reason, we just caught our breath," McKillop said, "and it gave us a boost of confidence that carried forward."

It hasn't let up. Despite losing seven seniors from last year's NCAA Tournament team, despite four new starters, despite being projected to finish fourth in the league's South Division, the Wildcats haven't missed a beat. They carry an eight-game winning streak into today's 7 p.m. matchup with the College of Charleston, which has won six straight but hasn't beaten Davidson since 2003.

Only one player, forward Thomas Sander, started regularly last season. Still, the Wildcats (12-3, 3-0 SoCon) won a tournament at Arizona State that included a victory over the host school, put scares into Michigan and Missouri, and recently completed their first perfect December since 1968. Davidson leads the SoCon in almost every statistic, including scoring (81.9), shooting percentage (.758), rebounding (41.8) and assists (18.33).

"I had a pretty good picture of what we had from the recruiting class as well as the players," said McKillop, who's won five straight against Charleston (9-6, 2-1). "But I think surprised is a pretty good word to use for this particular team."

Jason Richards, who sat the last two years behind all-league point guard Kenny Grant, has emerged as the SoCon's assists leader and a reliable scorer who was MVP of the Arizona State tournament. Max Paulhus Gosselin, who averaged 4.4 minutes per game last season, scored 22 in a win at Chattanooga. Against Elon, reserve forward Andrew Lovedale subbed for the injured Boris Meno and put up a double-double.

But the key to it all has been phenomenal freshman Stephen Curry, threatening to become the first Davidson player to average at least 19 points per game since NBA veteran Brandon Williams did it 11 years ago. The 6-1 son of former Charlotte NBA player Dell Curry averages 19.9 ppg, second in the SoCon and second among all freshman in the nation.

Curry turned the ball over 13 times in his debut against Eastern Michigan. He turned it over 13 times the entire month of December. He can do it all - hit the 3, sink the mid-range jumper, penetrate and score in transition. He brings a degree of maturity not usually seen in a freshman, and a degree of sheer athletic talent not usually seen at Davidson.

"They say, 'Don't let McKillop own a bank, because he'll never let his guards shoot.' (Curry) has just been scoring in so many ways, and it goes back to that versatility factor," McKillop said. "We've had great jump shooters. We've had great post-up players. But we've never had a guy who had the in-between game."

Now they do, and this younger, different breed of Wildcats has emerged every bit as dangerous as its predecessors. Part of that is because the new players have adapted quickly. And part of that is because the old players - like Winters, Johnson, and Grant - left certain expectations behind.

"The guys who graduated last year and the year before, they were extraordinary in their work ethic. They set the table,"McKillop said. "They established the bar for work, and for saying not only look how good we can get, but look how much better we can become. That's what the last two senior classes have done."

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