Deep inside the Rose Garden, Davidson basketball coach Bob McKillop walked through an empty hallway, close enough to the arena floor to hear bands playing shortly before New Mexico and Long Beach State would play a West Regional game for the right to face Louisville on Saturday.
The noise had died on Davidson’s season a few minutes earlier, the official cause of death a 69-62 loss to Louisville in which the Cardinals had been just a little too much of everything for the Wildcats to handle on Thursday.
McKillop’s Wildcats had made only 10 turnovers against Louisville’s pressure, a proud number, but Davidson had made just 4 of 19 3-point attempts, the equivalent of a wet fuse on fireworks.
“We didn’t come here to have our journey end here. We came here to continue the journey,” McKillop said as he walked.
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“We didn’t get everything we wanted. It just wasn’t our day today.”
Louisville doesn’t play beautiful basketball. It plays basketball with an attitude. Physical, in your grill, hope you don’t mind bruises basketball.
Facing Louisville’s defense is like brushing your teeth with a blender. Nothing fun about it.
The Wildcats handled it effectively, but they hadn’t faced a team with Louisville’s quickness this season. Maybe Kansas.
Inside the Davidson locker room, it was quiet after the game. The players sat side by side in chairs, half on one side of the room, half on the other.
There were no tears, just disappointment.
“They’re a really good team,” guard Nik Cochran said. “I thought we did a fairly good job of taking care of the ball and not letting the pressure get to us too much. They penetrate to the rim so well, it’s a challenge to stay in front of them. They set so many ball screens for their guards.”
For seniors Will Reigel, A.J. Atkinson and Frank Ben-Eze, there will be no more locker rooms. They didn’t play much this season, but they were part of bringing Davidson basketball back to the NCAA tournament after being absent since 2008.
For the others, Jake Cohen, De’Mon Brooks, JP Kuhlman, Cochran and others, there’s next season, when the Wildcats may attract some preseason Top 25 consideration. They return more than 95 percent of their scoring and rebounding and it will return with the dose of seasoning it received in winning the Southern Conference tournament and going jaw to jaw with Louisville more than 2,000 miles from home.
“It’s a good and bad experience out of this,” Cohen said, cutting the tape from around his ankles. “It’s a chance for us to get better going forward.
“That’s 40 minutes of pressure for sure. It’s a unique style, for sure. Going forward, it’s only going to help. Playing against a team next year that presses us, in the back of our heads, we can go, ‘Hey, remember last year when we played against Louisville? We handled that pressure pretty well.’ ”
In the hallway outside the locker room, McKillop and assistant coach Jim Fox stood talking. The season was over.
Another journey begins.