Monday, January 08, 2007

Wildcats Tame Cougars, Again

Throughout the fall months, basketball prognosticators around the country made a big deal about the arrival of Bobby Cremins at the College of Charleston. With an experienced team of talented athletes returning, no one in their right minds voted against the Cougars as the pre-season conference champs.

However, at the beginning of January, the Cougars have now lost to both Appalachian State and now Davidson, a team that was expected to finish fourth in its division. In a highly anticipated matchup that drew 4,254 fans on a night when no students were on campus, the Davidson Wildcats ran past Cremins' Cougars for an 81-73 victory. The win was Davidson's ninth straight and their 4-0 conference mark has them nestled in first place in the South Division, directly ahead of the 2-2 Cougars.

Although the College of Charleston went on two big runs of 16-4 and 17-4, the Wildcats never let the Cougars take the lead. In almost mirror fashion of past College of Charleston/Davidson matchups, the Wildcats built a lead of as many as 16 points in the second half, only to have CofC cut it to 1 with little over four minutes remaining.

But, as they have done in past matchups, the Wildcats regrouped with strong defense and pulled out the victory thanks to a key three-pointer by Stephen Curry and a two-point follow by Thomas Sander. Sander led all scorers with 25 points, while Curry chipped in 19 points of his own. Pre-season Player of the Year Dontaye Draper scored 20 points for the Cougars including 4 three-pointers.

The Wildcats continued to be driven by the seasoned vet Jason Richards. Richards directed traffic in the half-court and repeatedly pushed the offense into the paint in transition opportunities. His ability to draw fouls and distract the defense gave him the opportunity to put up 18 points along with 8 assists. By the end of the game, College of Charleston had committed 21 fouls and Josh Jackson and Phillip McCandies both fouled out.

Although they combined for only 14 total minutes, the contributions of Bryant Barr and Steve Rossiter helped Davidson maintain a lead in the first half, as Boris Meno and Andrew Lovedale sat on the bench with two fouls apiece. Though they are not the most heralded freshmen on the team, both players have been very important in providing key rebounds and defensive stops when players like Meno and Curry are on the bench.

Although they don't always finish the flashy plays, the Davidson frontcourt has continued to emerge as one of the premier units in the Southern Conference. At times the heralded strength of Charleston big men Jermaine Johnson and Josh Jackson were not enough to stop the interior shots of Thomas Sander or to break through the seals and apply help-side pressure to dribble penetration. When Boris and Andrew continue to improve with their hands and catching ability, this frontcourt could emerge as one of the best in recent years.

The final key to this victory came in the coaching strategy of the second half, despite being able to force turnovers and create baskets off the dribble, the College of Charleston was halted in its offensive tracks when Davidson switched into a zone late in the game. With Boris Meno at the top of the key, the Cougars were unable to find space through screening and their passers were not comfortable enough to try to split the zone because of the ranginess of Meno, Curry, and Gosselin. It seemed as if Cremins had not drawn up an offensive set against the zone and Davidson forced several bad possessions at key points in the game.

The excitement of Davidson Basketball continues to build as more people in the Charlotte community are turning their eyes to a program that is setting the standards for success, and are doing it with good coaching, strong play, and exciting enthusiasm. Let's just hope that parking and tickets don't start becoming too much of a problem.

The Wildcats will carry their nine-game winning streak and 4-0 conference mark into the Bi-Lo center on Wednesday to take on the Furman Paladins. Last year, Furman played the giant-killer as they frustrated the Wildcats in a 70-66 decision that ended Davidson's nation-leading conference winning streak.

**photo by Tim Cowie**

1 comment:

WB said...

Nice article. Well done.