The big stop
Jayhawks put end to Curry's, Davidson's magical run
Posted: Sunday March 30, 2008 10:49PM; Updated: Monday March 31, 2008 12:49AM
DETROIT -- As Stephen Curry dribbled the ball down court with less than 16 seconds left, a chance for a historic NCAA tournament upset and improbable Final Four berth resting squarely on his shoulders, 57,563 Ford Field spectators watched wide-eyed in anticipation.
All, that is, except for Kansas Athletic Director Lew Perkins, who sat at a press table with his head tilted downward and his hands obscuring his eyes, so nervous he could only bring himself to squint at the action in front of him. Were the One Shining Moment to top all One Shining Moments to occur at the expense of his school, "I wasn't going to be too happy," he said.
Had this been the movie Hoosiers, or perhaps a daydream in the head of a 10-year-old shooting on his driveway, there's no question how Sunday's Kansas-Davidson Elite Eight game would have ended: With Curry doing what he does best, bouncing off a screen, draining a three-pointer from the right wing just as the red light flickered behind the backboard, and the Final Four-bound Wildcats racing around the floor in jubilation.
Top-seeded Kansas, however, did not come to Detroit to play a bit part in someone else's happy ending. The 35-3 Jayhawks aimed to seal their rightful place alongside North Carolina, Memphis and UCLA in the most loaded Final Four in tournament history -- and in doing so, put an end to four years of unrealized expectations.
"We wanted to spoil the whole party," proclaimed Jayhawks wingman Brandon Rush.
That's exactly what they did here Sunday, which is why Kansas' 59-57 victory over the 10th-seeded upstarts ended the way it did: With Jayhawks guards Rush and Sherron Collins denying the previously torrid Curry an open look and forcing him to defer at the last second to teammate Jason Richards, whose 25-foot attempt from the top of the key bounced off the backboard as time expired.
"We had one stop to make, the difference between going home and going to the Final Four," said Rush. "We got it."
The Jayhawks got more than a stop -- they got a trophy, a piece of the net and the Final Four berth that had so painfully eluded both they and their fifth-year coach, Bill Self. They earned themselves a semifinal matchup with North Carolina that their fans have been salivating over since the day former coach Roy Williams left for Chapel Hill in 2003.
They also became the final, crucial piece of a historic Final Four: All four No. 1 seeds will converge in San Antonio next week for the first time in modern NCAA tournament history.
"When Texas [lost to Memphis earlier Sunday], I'm like, 'Good gosh, we've got to make history today, said Self, whose players doused him with water in the winning locker room.
In another locker room across the hall, several Davidson players sat in tears after coming within two points of making their own brand of history. After upending Big East champion Georgetown and Big Ten champion Wisconsin the previous two rounds, the Wildcats needed one more win, this time against the Big 12's co-champion, to become the first 10th seed to reach the Final Four; they came close enough to feel rightfully crushed when the game ended.
Despite a considerable disadvantage inside and despite their previously prolific star Curry hitting just two of his last 11 shots, Davidson never fell further behind than six points and led three times in the second half.
On numerous occasions -- usually right after Kansas big men Sasha Kaun (13 points, six rebounds) or Darnell Jackson (nine points on 4-of-6 shooting) bulldozed their way to a thunderous dunk -- it appeared the Jayhawks were about to put their pesky adversary away for good, most notably with just 59 seconds remaining. Rush had just hit a pair of free throws to put the Jayhawks up six and Curry, who would make just 4-of-16 three-pointers on the night, had just missed yet another attempt.