Davidson has played or scrimmaged Texas, North Carolina, Duke and UCLA and the Wildcats' coach says all of them have qualities of a Final Four team.
By Diane Pucin, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
December 12, 2007
Including a scrimmage with fourth-ranked Texas, McKillop's Wildcats have played top-ranked North Carolina, sixth-ranked Duke and eighth-ranked UCLA.
So which team is best? Like his players immediately after Saturday's game with UCLA, McKillop, in a follow-up telephone interview, wouldn't be pinned down.
After the UCLA game, the coach said, "I told our film guys, 'You have now been exposed to four teams that are all real contenders for the Final Four. You know now what it takes to play at that level. In that film is some kind of map of how to get to be a Final Four-quality team.' "
Which team would he and his Wildcats want to play again? "All of them," McKillop said, echoing the answer Davidson point guard Jason Richards gave after UCLA rallied from 18 points back to beat the Wildcats, 75-63.
The 32-14 first-half deficit wasn't a fluke. Davidson ran its motion offense well, finding ways to leave Bruins defenders -- often Kevin Love, sometimes Luc Richard Mbah a Moute -- flat-footed as Boris Meno or Andrew Lovedale scored on backdoor plays.
The Bruins also were unwilling to extend themselves to guard Davidson's jump shooters. So Richards (who made three of four), William Archambault (two of two), Bryant Barr (three of five) and Stephen Curry (three of 10) were left to shoot over lollygagging UCLA defenders who were slow to fight through a screen or two.
UCLA's final margin of victory was the largest among the four top teams Davidson (3-5) has played or scrimmaged.
While official stats from a closed scrimmage aren't released, McKillop said it was safe to say Texas never trailed the Wildcats by 18 points nor did it finish 12 points ahead.
Davidson never led Duke by more than two points and trailed by as many as 16 when the Blue Devils won, 79-73. Duke's 16-point lead came with 3 minutes 33 seconds to play, a statistic that suggests the game wasn't as close as the final score.
Statistics also suggest that Duke paid for its lack of size -- 6-foot-8 freshman Kyle Singler often plays center for the Blue Devils, a position he was reluctant to commit to play when UCLA recruited him -- with Davidson blocking seven Duke shots.
Davidson led North Carolina, 50-46, with 9:31 left and was tied with the Tar Heels with 3:45 left in a game in which the Tar Heels never led by more than seven. North Carolina won, 72-68.
McKillop chooses his words carefully when he talks about UCLA, North Carolina, Duke and Texas. "Each team exhibits a pattern of excellence," he said. "They make every pass, every catch, every dribble."
The coach attributed his team's fast start against UCLA to geography as much as anything else.
"Familiarity was the No. 1 reason, because I think UCLA was very unaware of Davidson," McKillop said. "Both teams within North Carolina [the Tar Heels and Duke] know us. I think we caught UCLA a little."
McKillop said that where North Carolina, Duke and UCLA vary the most is in the way they score. "North Carolina has Tyler Hansbrough in the paint and UCLA has Kevin Love," the coach said. "Duke doesn't have that back-to-the-basket presence in the paint.
"Duke will spread you out more and use much more of a three-point game at more positions. North Carolina and UCLA don't use three-point shooting at all positions. They're more balanced."
One common thread: "All three take a lethal approach to the game because they are in an aggressive attack mode with team defense," McKillop said.
"North Carolina does much more strategic doubling you up and trapping you," he added. "Duke uses an aggressive man-to-man coverage to cut the court in half. North Carolina tries to do that by trapping you.
"All three of them extend the court by putting some sort of pressure on the ball. What seems like token pressure is actually pretty aggressive pressure."
McKillop gave credit to UCLA's Russell Westbrook for playing the "toughest" defense against Davidson star Stephen Curry.
Curry had 15 points against UCLA on six-for-19 shooting. He scored 20 against Duke on eight-for-17 shooting and 24 against North Carolina on eight-for-22 shooting.
On Davidson basketball message boards, anonymous fans were more willing to make value judgments.
"Let me say as a College of Charleston fan, UCLA is ridiculously tough," said one. Another said, "UCLA has the athletes, desire and coaching to lock you down defensively and keep you off the boards. Duke and UNC don't."
And then there was this: "I think we just played the team that will win the national championship. This was the best game [Davidson] played all year."