Davidson played valiantly, but in the end it was the Kansas defense that was too much for the Wildcats as Jason Richards long three pointer hit off the side of the backboard at the buzzer and the Jayhawks moved onto the Final Four with a 59-57 win. This now means for the first time ever in NCAA Tournament history, all four #1 regional seeds are in the Final Four.
It was a back and forth surprisingly defensive tussle with several lead changes and no team having a bigger lead than six points. The first half saw Davidson establish Stephen Curry with 15 points on 5 of 12 shooting from the field on several assists from Jason Richards, who had 9 for the game. Davidson shot out to a 9-6 lead, and the Wildcats would be either mostly ahead or tied for the better part of eight minutes until Darnell Jackson put the Wildcats up 25-23. Mario Chalmers helped give the Jayhawks a 30-28 halftime lead by scoring 11 of his 13 points in the first half.
In the second half, Curry came right out and scored the first five points to put Davidson up 33-30. Kansas would then go on 13-4 run as Brandon Rush caught on fire, scoring six of the thirteen points to give Kansas its biggest lead 43-37 with 12 minutes left. But as Davidson always does, they came back, this time from an unlikely hero. Seldom used reserve Bryant Barr came off the bench and nailed three three pointers and Stephen Curry added a jumper as Davidson went on a 14-4 run and went up 51-47 8:48 left.
But as the Jayhawks stared at another possible NCAA Tournament failure, their four guard defensive rotation was finally starting to wear Curry down. After hitting his first two shots of the second half, Curry would shoot two for his last eleven including the aforementioned jumper that put the Wildcats up four. Curry would mention after the game that he was definitely fatigued from the Jayhawk guard rotation. Over the nearly next eight minutes, Curry would go scoreless and the Wildcats would only score two points on a Barr jumper. Meanwhile, Rush and the inside play of Kaun and Darrell Arthur took over. The Jayhawks went on a 12-2 run to go up six, 59-53 before Thomas Sander hit the first of two free throws (more on that in a little bit). Then after Sander missed the second free throw, Davidson got the rebound and Curry finally hit his first shot in eight minutes, a big three pointer to cut it to two.
The Jayhawks got the ball and after both teams called timeout, the Jayhawks, pulled a Hofstra and ran the clock down and got off a terrible missed shot. Davidson got the ball and called timeout with 16 seconds left.
Then the play that will have lots of people talking for a while was setup. Davidson coach Bob McKillop had Curry dribble the ball up the court instead of his point guard Richards. Curry tried desperately to break free from a double team, but with no shot available, passed it back to Richards who took a long range desperate three that bounded off the backboard.
I am not going to fault McKillop necessarily because the usual train of thought is that you want to have the ball in the hands of your best player during the last play. However, It was a curious play in that Davidson is so proficient in having Richards run the offense and Curry work off a screen. I would have thought that if Curry was double teamed, that would leave someone else open for Richards to pass the ball to. To me that should have been the play.
Another problem in the game for the Wildcats was their unusually bad free throw shooting. The Wildcats who led the Southern Conference in free throw shooting at 72 percent shot a miserable 5 of 12 from the line. In fact, take away Curry's 3 for 3 shooting from the line, the Wildcats were 2 of 9. That was another big difference in the game (mind you Kansas wasn't much better going 8 of 14 from the line).
Finally, the size difference between Kansas and Davidson was a big factor at the end. On the boards, Kansas held a 38-30 rebounding edge, blocked five shots and altered many others. Still, the Wildcats kept in there by forcing 14 Jayhawk turnovers.
Kansas now faces North Carolina in one semfinal after Tyler Hansborough's dominating 28 point 13 rebound performance held off a game Louisville team 83-73. Meanwhile UCLA, after Kevin Love and company dominated Xavier 76-57, will face Memphis, who did their own version of domination, crushing Texas on basically a home Longhorns Court in Houston, 85-67. In their wins, UCLA and North Carolina each shot 53 percent in the field, while Memphis shot 50 percent from the field and shot 30 of 33 from the line (somewhere Fred Sanford after watching that, is holding his heart saying "I'm coming Elizabeth")
So you have a 37 win team (Memphis), a 36 win team (North Carolina) and two 35 win teams (UCLA and Kansas) playing in the Final Four. Can't remember anything like that. Mind you, it would have been nice to have a midmajor such as Davidson crash the party, but hey, they gave us a great game.
Alas, now its all about the chalk...