published Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Davidson atop SoCon standings with balance

Stephen Curry will never play for Davidson again.

But the legacy the NBA lottery pick left still lingers in the current form of his former team.

His era is over, having advanced to the NBA as the No. 7 overall draft pick of the Golden State Warriors. The ride to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight — and one shot away from the Final Four — that he took college basketball fans on in 2008 inspired a Davidson graduate to write a book about the experience.

“Stephen made us a very special team and a special program,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. “There can be no comparisons for what he did for Davidson College, for the Southern Conference, on the national stage.

“He was a once in a lifetime player for us.”

The Wildcats missed the NCAA tournament with Curry on the squad in 2009 when the College of Charleston topped Davidson in the Southern Confernece tournament in McKenzie Arena. They endured mediocre years of 18-15 and 16-15 during the A.C. (after Curry) transition.

But Davidson is back.

The Wildcats announced their resurgence to the top of the SoCon with a splash on the national scene by toppling then-No. 12 Kansas in Kansas City on Dec. 19.

Davidson lost its next game, 73-65 at UMass, before reeling off seven straight wins. The SoCon heavyweights (14-4, 8-0 SoCon) roll into McKenzie Arena to face the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga tonight at 7.

“I like the developing maturity of the team,” McKillop said. “I like the depth. We have a class with three seniors and four juniors who have been getting a lot of playing time.”

Davidson is winning differently now than when Curry wore No. 30 in red and drew record-setting crowds to SoCon arenas.

Curry was the star. He was the show. He scored 32 against Michigan in his second collegiate game, averaged 25.9 points per game as a sophomore and 28.9 points per game as a junior. He was the emphasis of the game plans for his team and the his opponents.

Loyola coach Jimmy Playtos, in an unpopular move, went so far as to double-team Curry when he just stood in the corner across halfcourt during a game in November 2008. Loyola lost by 30 points.

This Davidson team is much more balanced, relying on a rotation of starters more than one star.

This season, the Wildcats have four players averaging at least 11 points per game and lead the SoCon with an average of 80 points per game.

“When Stephen was here, I had a very strong urge to get him the basketball,” McKillop said. “Our players had the same mission. We don’t have that same sense now because our points are so distributed.

Current junior forward Jake Cohen is no Curry — few are — but Cohen has been named SoCon player of the week three times this season. Teammates Nik Cochran and J.P. Kuhlman have each won it once giving Davidson the honor five times in 10 opportunities.

“Cohen is the best player in the league right now,” Georgia Southern coach Charlton Young said. “He’s gotten better.”

Because of Cohen, Cochran and Kuhlman, the Wildcats are the best team in SoCon. But they were better with the SoCon superstar.

“We don’t have Stephen Curry,” McKillop said. “If it was a team that you compare to, it would be the 2006 team. I think this team is very similar in many ways.”

And that team won the tournament in the B.C. (before Curry) Era.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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