Thursday, February 01, 2007

Women Ballers Embody Spirit of "David"son

It all started with 10 minutes left in the first half against Appalachian State. The Wildcats were winning 26-8 and looked to be on their way to another easy victory over a lesser SoCon opponent. The women’s basketball team had only struggled twice in the last two months, and they were cruising along with no signs of stopping. All of a sudden, something happened. Shots began to rim out; the defense lacked intensity; the team was pressing and didn’t quite know how to play anymore. Although the Wildcats would hang on to win the Appalachian game (despite letting the Mountaineers pull it to a six-point game), they went up to Greensboro with the same scared mentality.

The Wildcats were blown out of the water by a Spartan team that had lost to Davidson earlier in the year. Coach Watts said that she was embarrassed by the performance because she thought that the team lacked intensity and desire. Tonight, Davidson returned to Belk Arena against a mid-level College of Charleston team. Coach Watts promised a renewed effort. She promised a Wildcat team that would play with pride.

By halftime tonight, Davidson was losing 40-25, and the team lacked pride. Over a week ago, this team was eyeing a possible NCAA at-large bid. By 8 p.m. on Wednesday, they were staring down the barrel of a fourth-place standing in a weak Southern Conference. Coach Watts had seen enough.

The Wildcats came out of the locker room with a renewed fire. They had the energy and intensity of a team that had their backs against the wall, and they played the role quite well. After all, these women have been playing the role of “David” against “Goliath” for many years now. It just so happens that this year they have the full assortment of talent to take down the giants.

The Wildcats stymied every offensive attempt that the Cougars put together, as they held them to a mere three points in the first twelve minutes of the second half. The Davidson offense began clicking as the Wildcats worked the paint for easy layups and hit Honna Housley for two huge three-pointers.

As the Wildcats cut into the lead, their spirit returned to their faces. Every Cougar pass was seen as an opportunity for a steal, every missed shot an opportunity for a big rebound. When the final buzzer sounded, Davidson had a 74-62 victory. They had scored 47 points in the second half, led by Tia Washington who had 19 on the game.

Perhaps the most defining image of the contest and of this season came when Danielle Hemerka returned to the lineup with under two minutes to play. She had been sidelined with a bloody nose and returned with a big protective facemask. With the Wildcats clinging to a six-point lead, a missed Jessica Mitchell free throw gave the Cougars a chance to cut into the lead. Three Cougar players went up for the rebound, but couldn’t secure it immediately. Hemerka jumped into the fray and pulled out the offensive board, forcing the Cougars to foul again and putting the game out of reach. With her 17 total points and team-leading six rebounds, Hemerka embodied the never-say-die attitude of a Wildcat team that is still learning to play in its new role: that of Goliath.

Even if they can’t beat everyone by thirty points, or trail to an evenly matched team down the road, look for these Wildcats to be resilient. Tonight they convinced themselves that they can win, and they even converted a few believers. The rest of the way isn’t paved with easy pit-stops, but I think that these Wildcats like it that way.

**photo by Richard Shayegan**

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