Friday, March 21, 2008

Our Own Story

By Lauren Biggers
Men's Basketball vs. Gonzaga

In case you haven’t heard by now,
the tenth-seeded Davidson Wildcats beat the seventh-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs in the first round of the 2008 NCAA Championship at the RBC Center in Raleigh on Friday afternoon.

By now, you’ve had the time to digest it, having read/watched/listened to anybody and everybody’s thoughts on the game. It was simultaneously the kind of game you talk about all day and for years to come, and it had all the necessary ingredients of an ESPN instanta-classic, that is, if ESPN could ever figure out how to get in on this bracket stuff in the first place.

It had also-rans turned big-time programs. Legendary TV commentators. Superstars in the front rows. Lead changes and game-winning REBOUNDS. And 40 points from
Stephen (Who's Your Daddy?) Curry. The only thing missing on Friday afternoon was TV Teddy, and well, his dance card must have been full.

For me, this story started around 5 a.m. Thursday morning. (Round trip: 43 hours and 402.7 miles). SID assistant Will Bryan and I left from Davidson around 8:30 a.m., skating into the team’s press conference and practice slot, with full intentions of enjoying our NCAA tournament experience to the fullest. We made a day of practice and press conferences, and I even posed the Davidson-Gonzaga question to North Carolina’s Roy Williams in the afternoon session. By now, you’ve heard that story.

“I’ve heard her tell this story eight times,” Davidson color man Logan Kosmalski said later in the day, as apparently, I told it a lot.

“If I remember correctly, we blew them out by four earlier in the year,” Williams offered, good-naturedly and sarcastically. “I wouldn’t call that a mid-major matchup. Those are two really good teams, and if I were just a fan of college basketball, that’d be a game I wouldn’t want to miss.”

For the crowd, that story started around 12:20 p.m. Friday afternoon.

The Wildcats took the floor to the pep band blaring “Welcome to the Jungle.” The Davidson faithful earned a smile of approval from
MAX Pauhlus Gosselin, the lights came on, and the ball went up.

Despite playing in front of an extremely friendly crowd, the ‘Cats seemed a bit tentative in the first half. The ‘Cats, of course, were down five at the break, with most of the Wildcat contingent feeling fortunate.

But if anyone on that court was as nervous as yours truly, it didn’t show. Fourteen points from the ever-steadying
Jason Richardshad Davidson right in the game at the break, and as everyone in red hoped, SteF caught fire to the tune of 30 points in the second.

For these Wildcats, the story started 365 days ago.

When the horn sounded on the almost-Maryland game, they dedicated themselves and their season to this day, and it all came down to the final 10 minutes.

With 13 to play, Davidson trails 10, and I was forced to think of that dreaded “what if” scenario, predictably, settling on “happy to have been here.”

Trailing 62-57, SteF-in gets a floater to go in the paint. After a Zag miss, Richards grabs the defensive board and tough-as-nails
Thomas Sander finds SteF for a three to knot the score.

62-62 with 9:26 to play.

I abandon my “happy-to-be here” notion, and nearly every bit of professionalism, and will now settle for nothing less than a W. I heard tales of legendary Georgetown play-by-play man standing and jumping on press row, and well, I’m toying with the idea now.

For the next several minutes, a mere point separates the teams. Richard connects with Steph to go up one, and seconds later, despite my urging, “Four fouls Steve, four fouls,”
SteVen Rossitermakes the lead three.

Gonzaga’s Steven Gray hits what feels like his 34th trey of the game to tie it, and I now understand how opposing SoCon teams must feel. Despite my wishing he wouldn’t, MAX takes a three and line drives it into the hole. I exhale. Apologize. Cats by one.

A made free throw by
Andrew LOVEdale gives Davidson a two-point cushion with just under three to play, and for some inexplicable reason the Gonzaga band chooses the “Hey” song for its timeout.

With hardly an empty seat in the house, these scrappy Wildcats have won over the rest of the crowd and promptly hijack the ‘Zags song as well. As suggested often lately by the man in the mirror, Davidson has stolen a lot of hearts this season, and I can barely field the text messages fast enough.

MAX takes another shot I’m not crazy about, but I don’t care, because well, have you watched him play? Time is of the essence now, and this place is starting to believe.

He misses, but there is LOVEdale with the biggest rebound of the game and a fresh 35 for his team. (I write “ANDREW!!!!!!!!!!!” in my notes, which I still think is a pretty accurate description.)

He, in turn, kicks it to Steph, and if this next three isn’t on YouTube, it will be by tomorrow, and the ‘Cats know it now. There is Thomas running on to the court to congratulate Andrew. There is Jason yelling, “Let’s go” at the crowd. There is Gonzaga burning its final timeout with 59 seconds to go, trailing three.

The ‘Zags get off a three, miss, and there is ANDREW!!!!!!!!! again. “I know you have to make Stephen the player of the game,” Billy Packer says, correctly, as LOVEdale wrestles through a pair of defenders. “But you don’t win these games without a Lovedale.”

Give the ball to Steph and send him to the line, I urge the bench in my head. But it is LOVEdale who is fouled, and he who makes the pair of freebies. Three more from Steph ice it, and this one is in the books, 82-76.

Bob McKillop, this story goes back 19 years.

“He eats, sleeps, breathes, lives Davidson basketball,” Steph tells the press room, much to the delight of Richards, who is looking very comfortable at the podium tonight.

Tens of questions later, leaving the press conference to rejoin his team’s locker room celebration, the winning coach smiles, free of all monkeys, and offers, “I’ve never done that before.”

Indeed, this year’s NCAA CD will be full of smiling press conference photos.

For Davidson College, the story goes back much, much farther. We’ve all heard that story.

And today, we got our own.


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