Like his coach, Tyler Kalinoski doesn’t like to look too far ahead on Davidson’s schedule.
But Kalinoski has been looking forward to the Wildcats’ game versus Richmond, and for good reason.
Saturday’s game against the Spiders is Davidson’s first conference game as a member of the Atlantic 10. After a decade of dominance in the Southern Conference, the Wildcats take their first steps in a league that had six teams advance to the NCAA tournament last season.
“Coming from the SoCon into a big conference like the A-10, we’re excited to show how good we are, and how good we can be,” Kalinoski said.
“People have said they don’t think we’re going to do very well in the A-10. We’re just ready to come out and show what we can do, show that we can play in this conference and be at the top.”
Davidson’s 9-2 start is the team’s best in Bob McKillop’s 26 seasons as the Wildcats’ coach. It’s also their best start since Terry Holland opened his first season 10-1 in 1969-1970.
McKillop said he’s seen a gradual improvement in the team’s play since the start of the season, especially between Davidson’s two losses – 90-72 to then-No. 6 North Carolina on Nov. 22, and 83-72 to No. 3 Virginia on Tuesday.
“After the Carolina game, I thought we were hesitant, but we weren’t hesitant at all against Virginia,” McKillop said. “Our shortcoming in the Virginia game was that the pace wore us down. We became frozen, and didn’t attack space. That’s a big part of what we do offensively and defensively.
“Against Carolina, our inexperience really showed its ugly head. In the Virginia game, we showed progress and growth, but we’ve still got a long ways to go.”
Against the Cavaliers, not only did the Wildcats take and hold the lead against one of the nation’s top teams, but they fought back after falling behind early in the second half to make a game of it until the final five minutes.
“It was easily a winnable game,” Kalinoski said. “We were so close against one of the top five teams in the country, but to see how many things we did wrong …
“It’s great to see how good we can be, but we’ve got to take that next step and do it over 40 minutes, and not letting up. It’s definitely going to motivate us going forward.”
Even with Davidson’s record over the past decade – eight 20-win seasons and five NCAA tournament appearances, including advancing to the Elite Eight in 2008 – the Wildcats are still having to earn a little respect from A-10 teams.
Davidson was picked to finish 12th (out of 14) in the conference’s preseason coaches poll – something Kalinoski said McKillop has used at times to motivate players.
“A couple of times throughout the year, he’s mentioned it real briefly, like ‘yeah, we’re picked No. 12 in the A-10,’ just to remind us what people think about us,” Kalinoski said.
“But the guys in the locker room, we believe we can compete in this conference. Because we believe that, the sky’s the limit for us.”