Sunday, February 05, 2006

WCU thumps Davidson

When the Wildcats went into halftime trailing by six with a 19-game home winning streak on the line and 0-7 when trailing or tied at the half, they knew that something had to give. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the Western Carolina Catamounts. After falling behind 7-0 only 24 seconds into the game, the Davidson Wildcats never seemed to be able to climb back in it, the closest margin being 3 points at 9-6 just four minutes into the game. The Catamounts stymied every Wildcat run with a forced turnover or a big shot of their own en route to 77-70 victory at Belk Arena.
Coming off a big win against Furman, Western Carolina got out of the blocks fast and employed a 1-3-1 zone defense to keep Davidson on its heels. Many times in the first half, it seemed like Davidson didn’t know where to take the ball and the result was many a contested three-point shot and miss. Jason Morton ’06 did his best to keep the Wildcats in the game as he hit four threes in the first half to keep the Wildcats within six at the intermission. But Western Carolina forced the issue to begin the second half, getting open looks in the paint and rotating their defensive looks between the man-to-man and zone.
Perhaps the greatest indicator of Wildcat success this season has been Ian Johnson ’06, who has only averaged 5.6 ppg in the Wildcats’ three conference losses, while he has averaged 15.6 ppg on the season. Johnson was not able to find himself open in the paint often because of the Catamount zone. “I felt like we didn’t work hard enough to get the ball inside,” said head coach Bob McKillop. “They tried to take away the inside and we didn’t work hard enough to take it back.” Western Carolina, on the other hand, had no trouble finding their inside shots as they doubled the Wildcats’ interior scoring totals, 32-16.
Despite being outplayed in many aspects of the game, the Wildcats continued to claw their way back, and found themselves only down by four with forty seconds to play after Jason Morton racked up three of his game-high 22 points. But the Catamounts broke the Davidson trap on the inbounds and sprinted down-court where Ian Johnson was forced to intentionally foul in order to stop the clock. Western Carolina hit both free throws and got the ball back for another potential trip to the line. There were no last second heroics for the Wildcats on this night.
In several Wildcat losses this season, they have not seemed to respond well when trailing their opponents. Only once in November against Massachusetts have the Wildcats rallied to win from behind. “I feel like we get impatient when we get down,” said McKillop. “Our offense seems to lose its focus and we begin to attempt bad-looking shots and take ourselves out of the game.” Perhaps in this game, however, it was the Wildcat defense that let them down in the end. Every time that Davidson made a run, Western Carolina was able to find a way to score and maintain their lead. Davidson allowed Western Carolina to shoot 50.0% from the field and only had three steals. Conversely, the Wildcats were held to 38.3% from the field and they committed 11 turnovers, resulting in 13 Catamount points.
Throughout the entire game, it seemed that Western Carolina was a step ahead of the Wildcats as they would switch up their defense from zone to man to zone again as soon Davidson would find weaknesses. “We took a terrific shot from this team,” said coach McKillop. “They were very ready to play us.” Southern Conference teams have learned the importance of trying to get up early on Davidson, and the Wildcats will have to either neutralize the opening onslaughts or be patient enough to come from behind. Despite having a record that puts them in the midst of the race for the number 1 seed, Davidson still has a big target on their back and every club wants to beat them.
After every loss, fans and supporters always try to look for a form of silver lining. Many Davidson fans have speculated that it’s good for this team to not have the pressure of conference and home winning streaks continually piling up. They postulate that Davidson will do better in the conference tournament if the team doesn’t have to worry about winning streaks. Coach McKillop seems to be the first one to refute this claim: “I don’t believe that breaking a streak is something to see as a positive. There’s no pressure relief whatsoever.”
Heading into Wednesday’s matchup with UNC-Greensboro, Davidson will have revenge on its mind after the Spartans ended the Wildcats’ tournament hopes last season with a tough game in the conference semifinals. Davidson will hope to gain ground on Elon who maintains a one-game lead over the ’Cats for first place in the conference standings.

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