Looking out for No. 1
DETROIT — And then there were ones.
Four No. 1s, that is.
Kansas wore down Stephen Curry and plucky upstart Davidson with its size and strength, holding on for a 59-57 victory Sunday that put all four No. 1 seeds into the Final Four for the first time since the NCAA began seeding teams in 1979.
"We wanted to make history," Mario Chalmers said, "and we did."
After Kansas' Sherron Collins missed with 21 seconds left, the 10th-seeded Wildcats got one last chance. Curry was double-teamed, could not get off a shot and was forced to pass to Jason Richards, whose 25-footer from the top of the key thudded off the backboard.
Richards dropped to his back at midcourt while the Jayhawks celebrated with a measure of relief.
"There was definitely some hoping and praying going on there late," Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Kansas (35-3) moved on to play North Carolina — and former coach Roy Williams — on Saturday, and UCLA and Memphis will round out the party at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Three No. 1s have advanced three times, most recently in 1999.
"I was wanting Texas to win," Self said, referring to Sunday's other game. "I like Rick (Barnes), and he's in our league, but there's another reason. When Memphis won, I knew we were going to have to make history."
And indeed Kansas did.
The win also rids Self of that dreaded "best coach never to make a Final Four" label. Self had fallen short with three different schools, including last year's edition of the Jayhawks. But this year's bunch had too much talent, depth and experience to be denied.
"Davidson is a good team. A lot better than they were seeded," Collins said. "Curry was tough. He does a lot of moves and was tough to get to, but we got there."
Curry, who became only the fourth player to hit the 30-point mark in his first four NCAA tournament games, finished with 25 on 9-of-25 shooting and was picked Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional. His roommate, Bryant Barr, was the only other Davidson player in double figures, scoring all 11 of his points in the second half.
The loss snapped Davidson's 25-game winning streak, longest in the nation.
"Fatigue was definitely a factor," Curry said. "That four-guard rotation they had really took a toll."
Sasha Kaun came up with big baskets down the stretch whenever the Jayhawks needed them, and he and Chalmers scored 13 for Kansas, which ended the feel-good story of the tournament. Tiny Davidson, trying to become only the third double-digit to make the Final Four, simply ran out of gas in the stretch.
Not that the Wildcats didn't put up a valiant fight. Curry looked exhausted much of the second half — with good reason, after leading the Wildcats to upsets of Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin. But he showed the same moxie he's had all tournament, drilling an NBA-range 3-pointer with 54 seconds left that cut Kansas' lead to 59-57.
But after making improbable shots all tournament, Davidson could not get the one it needed most.
"They had a lot of bodies and a lot of athletic guys who could chase me," Curry said. "They did make me work hard, and I had good looks at the end, but they weren't falling like they did all tournament. We can't hang our heads. We had opportunities. We just didn't execute."
Though they fell short of the Final Four, the Wildcats (29-3) hung with the toughest teams in the nation — Georgetown and Wisconsin had two of the stingiest defenses in the country — and gave little Davidson something to be known for besides providing free laundry to its students. The Wildcats left the floor to applause from a fan club that's gotten a lot bigger over the last two weeks.
"We made history for our school," Curry said. "Not a lot of people expected a lot from us, so I'm proud of what we have accomplished, but it hurts a lot to have been this close to the Final Four."
This is Kansas' Jayhawks' 13th trip to the Final Four, but its first since 2003 — Williams' final season. He took the Jayhawks to the championship game — they lost to Syracuse — then bolted for his alma mater.
"Everyone knows he used to coach for KU," Collins said. "There will be a lot of emotion and a lot of heat for that game."
Emotions for Self, too. He had taken teams from three different schools to the regional finals only to fall short four times, including last year's loss to UCLA, and he acknowledged Saturday that the hole in his resume weighed on him daily.
No longer. He smiled and gave a thumbs-up to the Kansas fans who shouted his name, and the players beamed as they lined up to cut down the nets at Ford Field.
Curry, the son of former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry, had made the tournament his own little party, hanging 30 points on Georgetown and 33 against Wisconsin and delighting fans with his silky-smooth shot. The rest of the Wildcats weren't bad, either, and they had folks all over rooting for yet another underdog-made-good story.
And for awhile, it looked as if it just might happen.
Kansas came in walloping opponents by almost 20 points a game, best in the nation, and the Jayhawks' "toughest" test in the tournament thus far had been a 15-point win over Villanova on Friday night. Kansas also had a distinct advantage in size and stature — on and off the court.
Yet Davidson's pesky defense had them looking downright tight for most of the afternoon. They had 14 turnovers — nine in the first half alone — and at one point had more turnovers (3) than field goals (1). They even had a shot-clock violation coming out of a timeout.
They had foul trouble, too, with Kaun playing only eight minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls. Brandon Rush, the team's leading scorer, practically disappeared after a couple of baskets, enduring a 19-minute stretch without a field goal that spanned halftime.
When Curry scored on a long jumper after three 3-pointers by Barr, it gave Davidson a 51-47 lead with 8:54 to play.
"We expected to win," Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. "We didn't come here content or satisfied. We expected to win. This has been a 12-month mission. It came down to one final play. That's the beauty of this game that we play."