March 29, 2008
By Gregg Doyel
CBSSports.com National Columnist
DETROIT -- The way I see it, Kansas has 20 minutes of game clock to put Davidson away. That's one half. The first half. But that's it.
If Kansas can't do it? If Davidson is still in range entering the second half?
Watch out, Kansas. Watch out, because the weight of the world -- the pressure, the crowd, the ridicule, all of it brought to bear by a baby-faced assassin named Stephen Curry -- will come crushing down. Forget winning. By the midpoint of the second half, if Davidson is still in this game, Kansas will have a hard time breathing.
The Jayhawks have to know that. They have to know that, beyond their fan base, the world is united against them. It's nothing personal against Kansas. The No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region could be UCLA, North Carolina or Memphis, and it would be the same:
People want Davidson to win.
That will include most of the 60,000 fans expected at Ford Field for the region final Sunday. The Jayhawks will have their rooting section, but the configuration of this monstrous football facility works against them. Kansas had thousands of fans at Ford Field on Friday, too, and you couldn't hear them. In the final minutes of the Jayhawks' 72-57 domination of Villanova, when Kansas fans broke into their Rock-Chalk-Jayhawk chant, it sounded like a whisper coming over a cell phone. Kansas coach Bill Self called the atmosphere "pretty indifferent."
It won't be indifferent Sunday, not with upwards of 45,000 people screaming for Davidson, regardless of how far from the court they are. It won't sound like a whisper. It will sound like an avalanche off in the distance, and it will be toppling onto Kansas.
There's only one way out for Kansas, and that way is through ruthless domination. The Jayhawks have it in them, believe me. Davidson is stout and Curry is spectacular, but Kansas is too much. Too much size, too much explosion, too much depth. Gonzaga was quicker than Davidson. Georgetown and Wisconsin were bigger than Davidson. Kansas will be both -- quicker and bigger than Davidson -- and Kansas also can match the Wildcats' skill and unselfishness. Kansas has the horses to trample Davidson.
But it better happen fast, because Davidson owns the second half. Gonzaga led Davidson by 11 midway through the second half, but the 'Zags let Davidson hang around, and you know the rest of the story. Curry scored 30 of his 40 points after halftime, and Davidson was pulling away at the final horn.
Then, Georgetown. The Hoyas led by 17 in the second half, but they let Davidson hang around -- and you know the rest of that story, too. Curry scored 25 of his 30 points after halftime, and Davidson notched another upset.
Wisconsin never made Davidson uncomfortable, getting involved in a back-and-forth game until Curry took control with 16 points in 6½ minutes of the second half. He finished with 33, and Davidson blew the Badgers away.
Now, Kansas. The Jayhawks have seen what happens to teams -- to very good teams -- when Davidson hangs around.
"It does kind of worry me a little bit," said Kansas junior Brandon Rush. "They're really hot ... and Stephen Curry is probably the best player in the tournament right now."
So cool him early, Kansas. Because once Davidson starts to believe, and once Curry gets going ...
"That's what we'd like to do: Come out, set the tone, get them rattled," said Kansas sophomore Sherron Collins. "We're going to try to get a big lead on them and not let up."
Like Friday night, he could have said. Kansas clearly let up against Villanova after taking a 26-10 lead, getting outscored 47-46 the rest of the way. Villanova didn't have the skill or the will -- or Curry -- to make Kansas pay for its indifference. But if Kansas lets up Sunday, Davidson won't go down as easily. Davidson might not go down at all.
"We need to come out and put it on them as good as we can," said Kansas senior Jeremy Case. "If we get up, we need to put our foot on their throat and sap their will. Coach has been preaching it all year -- we haven't always finished games well -- and one day that could bite us in the butt."
Or grab them around the neck. Choke is an ugly word in sports, especially the college game, but the longer Davidson hangs around, the more likely Kansas is to, um, gargle. It's human nature, and it could start at the top.
Self knows he will be considered lacking if he doesn't get to the Final Four -- he admitted to thinking about it "all the time -- I mean, I think about it every day" -- and he says this team is the best he has ever had, thanks mainly to the experience factor.
But that senior thing can work the other way, too. This is the last chance at a Final Four for Russell Robinson, Darnell Jackson, Case and Sasha Kaun, and it could be the last chance for some of Kansas' NBA-level underclassmen: Rush, Collins, Darrell Arthur and/or Mario Chalmers.
The Jayhawks want this Final Four so bad they can taste it. It's right there. All they have to do is beat Davidson. Three months ago, when Davidson was 4-6, that would have sounded like a joke.
Today, with Davidson riding a 25-game winning streak and one of the hottest players in NCAA tournament history, it doesn't sound like a joke. Not with Kansas 40 minutes from getting to the Final Four.
Or from becoming a punch line.