Tuesday, March 11, 2008

From the Observer

Davidson going back to NCAAs
Wildcats hold off Elon to grab tournament title, automatic bid



NORTH CHARLESTON --Davidson's 65-49 win against Elon in the Southern Conference tournament championship Monday showed the power of faith within a team.

The Wildcats struggled to put away Elon for their 22nd straight win, and with four minutes left, Davidson had only a 51-46 lead.

That's when coach Bob McKillop called timeout and gave a message to point guard Jason Richards.

"He said, `You have to take control of the game,' " Richards said. "When he tells you something like that, it gives you confidence."

Stephen Curry, the tournament MVP for the second straight year, had struggled with his shot. Richards had made just one of his eight shots. But the Davidson coach said he knew Richards could do other things to help the Wildcats win. The point guard leads the nation in assists, and two of his biggest sparked the closing 14-3 run that gave Davidson its third straight NCAA tournament berth.

Richards found Andrew Lovedale cutting for a layup, before driving again on Davidson's next possession. Richards found Bryant Barr open on the right baseline, and the Davidson sophomore sank the pivotal 3-pointer that gave the Wildcats a 58-46 lead with two minutes left.

Richards gave Barr a sly smile after the shot, and the two exchanged high-fives. "We knew we could finish it after that," Richards said. "You can't help but have fun out there."

Most of Monday night wasn't that way for the Wildcats because Elon (14-19) hung around with gritty defense and clutch shots. Davidson had been a 17-point favorite, and even Cathy McKillop, the coach's wife, said she wasn't nervous before the game.

Davidson (26-6) never trailed in the tournament, but the Wildcats had to grind out this win. McKillop credited the team's experience and a little faith among teammates. "These guys trust each other out there," he said. "The way that we are really a family makes all this that much more special."

That family has a lot of basketball lineage. Curry is one of several Davidson players whose fathers played college basketball. Dell Curry said he didn't need to talk to Stephen before Monday's game, but he sent him a pointed text message. "Stay aggressive, attack the basket."

Curry (23 points) didn't heed that advice for most of the night. Ten of his first 15 shots were 3-point attempts, and when those shots started to miss, Davidson started to stagnate. The Wildcats didn't score for almost six minutes midway through second half, and that helped Elon close the gap. At least until the Wildcats renewed their faith.

"Coach told us to have fun out there," forward Thomas Sander said. "Sometimes, you can freak out. But we took a deep breath, and then Jason helped get us going."

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