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Frantic finish has one what-if

By Bret Strelow
Salisbury Post
We’ll always wonder. The unknown, not the dream-dashing outcome, lingers as the foul aftertaste from Davidson’s loss to Kansas on Sunday afternoon.
What would have happened had Stephen Curry taken the final shot?
It’s the question without an answer.
That combination left me with an empty feeling after I had watched Curry lead the Wildcats to three unexpected NCAA tournament wins and carry them to the cusp of a fourth.
Would a Kansas defender have blocked a forced 3-point attempt from Curry with Davidson trailing 59-57 in the final seconds of the Elite Eight matchup? Would the shot have swished through the net, propelling the 10th-seeded Wildcats to a shocking Final Four berth?
We’ll always wonder.
Die-hard Davidson supporters, casual basketball fans and others with the inability to ignore the team’s compelling run ó Curry captivated all three audiences ó deserved an answer, even an unsatisfactory one.
Just for the peace of mind.
Had Curry missed with a last-second heave, contested or not, the result of his shot would have been an acceptable footnote at the end of an amazing Cinderella story. Instead, he fired the ball to point guard Jason Richards, who didn’t draw iron with a rushed attempt from 25 feet.
I don’t fault Curry for passing; I just wish he hadn’t.
Now there’s a what-if component in play, not just regret-free pleasure from witnessing the Wildcats put up a commendable fight before coming up short against a heavy favorite.
“The challenge of not having the opportunity to celebrate the greatness of what this team has accomplished this year in the current disappointment of our loss today teaches us some great lessons,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said afterward. “And our guys are very good learners.”
The brilliance of a four-game stretch in which Curry scored 128 points was his willingness to look for an open teammate even when everyone else wanted him to shoot. He stuck with that plan to the very end, and Davidson always wound up with a cleaner look because of it.
But wouldn’t it have been fitting if Curry had thrown up the game-winning prayer, just to see if the ball would have sailed over the outstretched arms of two Kansas defenders, frozen time as it floated toward the rim and fallen through the net?
He had made the impossible look routine for two weeks. Would he have done it again?
We’ll always wonder.
A YouTube or DVR clip isn’t necessary to replay that final possession.
The memory will always begin with Curry dribbling up the floor against 6-foot-6 Brandon Rush, preparing to produce one more signature moment in a tournament full of them.
The Jayhawks had only one true post player on the court, and he was guarding Stephen Rossiter in the paint. The one mistake McKillop owned up to was his decision to have Thomas Sander, who was being shadowed by athletic guard Mario Chalmers, set a high screen instead of Rossiter.
Rush tripped and fell as Sander set the screen for Curry on the left wing, but Chalmers switched over and provided effective help defense.
What would have happened had Curry shot then, with seven seconds remaining and Rush struggling to get back on his feet?
“I was off-balance when he fell down,” Curry revealed.
What would have happened had Sander noticed Rush’s plight and moved an instant sooner to set a screen on Chalmers as Curry cut back toward the top of the key?
What would have happened had Curry, rising on the right wing with the tips of his toes still touching the ground and 3.3 seconds showing on the clock, unleashed a shot over Rush and Sherron Collins as Richards broke free.
“I saw Jay open at the top of the key, so I swung it to him,” Curry said. “I wish it’d went in, but it didn’t.”
Would it have went in with Curry pulling the trigger against his better judgment, sending Davidson to a Final Four meeting with a North Carolina team it nearly beat in November, possibly preceding a title-game matchup with a UCLA squad it held an 18-point lead against in December.
We’ll always wonder, but we’ll never know.
n
Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or bstrelow@salisburypost.com.

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