Davidson hopes to make another NCAA tournament run
DAVIDSON, N.C. (AP) — The Davidson Wildcats are back in the NCAA tournament.
Now the question those filling out brackets want to know is are they capable of making another Cinderella run like they did in 2008?
The Wildcats may not have a marquee shooter like Stephen Curry or any players with NCAA tournament experience on the current roster, but they certainly don't lack for confidence.
The 13th seeded Wildcats say they won't be intimidated and they have what it takes to make some noise in the tournament beginning Thursday when they face Big East Conference tournament champion Louisville, the No. 4 seed in the West region, in Portland, Ore.
The Cardinals are strong, but they've also struggled to get out of the first round.
They were a fourth seed last year too, but were upended by 13th-seeded Morehead State, causing some around the country to rip up their brackets almost before the tournament had begun. The year before that the Cardinals lost as the ninth seed to California.
"I think that's a good matchup for us," said junior guard JP Kuhlman. "I definitely think this team can (win). We have to play with confidence and play to win."
Davidson junior forward Clint Mann says the Wildcats "absolutely" have what it takes to repeat what the Curry and company did four years ago, reaching the regional finals after upset wins over Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin before falling two points shy of the Final Four after losing to eventual national champion Kansas.
"You have to believe that," Mann said. "You have to trust your teammates and know what we're capable of."
Davidson defeated the Jayhawks earlier this year on the road, so they've shown they can not only compete with, but also beat one of the best in the country.
"Like any team we've had some hiccups along the way," said Mann, who provided the go-ahead dunk in double overtime that lifted the Wildcats to the Southern Conference tournament championship over Western Carolina, securing their 11th trip to the NCAA tournament.
"But the Kansas game is a great reminder of what we've done and what we can do. We know that it's not like we won on some freak last shot or some buzzer-beater. We outplayed them and we won the ball game. It definitely adds confidence."
Like every coach, Davidson's Bob McKillop has his concerns.
This team is completely different than the one he led to the brink of the Final Four and he's a little concerned about his team's lack of postseason experience.
The Wildcats haven't been to the NCAA tournament since that 2008 season.
"We have versatility this year, but that team in 2008 not only had the great performer in Stephen Curry, but it also had the experience of the previous two years being to the NCAA tournament," McKillop said. "To me that's a significant advantage to have — tournament experience. We as a coaching staff have had that, but our players haven't had that. Just to walk on the floor, the press conferences and then game day and the attention that creates, that will be a new experience for them."
Still, he likes his team.
And he was reminded of why on Tuesday as the Wildcats practiced on their home court one last time before leaving for Portland.
"The temptation to have that last practice to quickly get through practice and get on a plane and get there," McKillop said immediately after practice. "There's an excitement about that. This team did not do that. There was a total focus of this team to use the gift of practice — and they used it wisely. That has been the signature of this team all year long. They capitalized on a gift of being able to play and practice and I think that's why they have improved so much."
McKillop has other concerns too, mainly Louisville's pressure defense.
"Their pressure is relentless," McKillop said. "They're quick. They play so hard with their pressure and convert baskets to easy scores. That's a significant challenge for us. We cannot simulate the pressure we're going to see on Thursday."
But the Wildcats don't plan to back down it.
In fact, they plan to attack it.
"They pressure the ball real well and they have some quick guards," Kuhlman said. "So we'll have to take care of the ball and be the attacker the whole game."
Added Mann: "That's the kind of team you like to play and coach always says attack the attacker. That's the style of basketball we have to play. We can compete and win against anybody in the country. To get an opportunity like this, it's great."