NCAA Tournament: Davidson 73, Wisconsin 56
By Nancy Armour
DETROIT ó On the red trim at the bottom of his shoes, Stephen Curry has written in black marker, “I can do all things.”
Yes, yes he can.
And because of him, Davidson is marching on.
Curry scored more than 30 points for a third straight game, and the 10th-seeded Wildcats pulled off another stunner Friday night, rolling over third-seeded Wisconsin 73-56 to advance to the finals of the Midwest Regional.
Little Davidson has gotten so big, even LeBron James is on the bandwagon, snagging a seat a few rows behind the Wildcats bench.
“It just shows what we’re doing here at Davidson,” Curry said. “We got guys that are in the spotlight and they’re coming to our game and watching us play. It’s pretty cool to give him something to be happy about and cheer about and just entertain him.”
Curry, the son of former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry, outscored the Badgers all by himself in the second half, 22-20. He finished with 33 points on 11-of-22 shooting, including six 3-pointers.
Add in his 30-point effort against Maryland in last year’s NCAA tournament, and Curry joins Clyde Lovellette of Kansas, Jerry Chambers of Utah and Glenn Robinson of Purdue as the only players to go over 30 in their first four career NCAA tournament games.
“In the NBA, I never experienced this as a player. I don’t think even in all my playoff games in my career that I’ve felt like this,” said Dell Curry, who was getting congratulatory high-fives at the end of the game. “To see your son succeed and have fun on a national stage is great.”
Davidson (29-6) extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 25. The Wildcats will try to make it 26 Sunday, when they play the winner of the Villanova-Kansas game for a trip to the Final Four.
This marked the second time in three tournaments that a double-digit seed got this far. In 2006, 11th-seeded George Mason reached the Final Four. It’s the furthest Davidson has gotten since 1969, when Lefty Driesell’s squad got to the East Regionals before losing to North Carolina.
“Words can’t describe it, but at the same time, we believe in ourselves and what we can do,” Andrew Lovedale said. “We are happy, but not totally content.”
When the final buzzer sounded, the Davidson fans bounced up and down and a few chanted, “Rock, chalk, Jayhawk!” in reference to top-seeded Kansas. This is exactly what Davidson’s happy band of travelers was hoping when it boarded all those buses. The Board of Trustees paid the way ó bus fare, tickets and a hotel room ó for students who wanted to make the 11-hour ride from North Carolina, and a few hundred took them up on the offer.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, calmly shook hands as if they expected to be here all along. And why not, when they have someone as sensational as Curry.
“Does it surprise anyone now what he does?” asked Max Paulhus Gosselin, not bothering to wait for an answer. “Once Steph gets open and has a look, he can’t be stopped.”
The nation got an idea of what Curry can do last weekend, when he scored 30 against Gonzaga and erupted for 40 ó 30 in the second half alone ó against Georgetown.
But big, brawny Wisconsin (31-5) was supposed to be different. Badgers defensive specialist Michael Flowers has made many a perimeter player ineffective, and Wisconsin was holding opponents to 53.9 points, best in the nation. Their 3-point defense was even stingier; in the second round last weekend, Kansas State didn’t manage a single bucket from long range.
Instead of being intimidated by the big stage ó not to mention the monstrous Ford Field venue ó Curry and Davidson played with such ease and attitude they may as well have been in their cozy little gym back home. The Wildcats shot 49 percent from the floor, and were 12-of-24 from 3-point range. Jason Richards had 11 points and 13 assists, and Lovedale added 12 points.
“Michael did a pretty good job of chasing Curry and trying to force some things,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “He made some tough shots. But so did some of the other guys. I thought they got a lot of contributions when they needed them. And that’s how you get to keep playing in the NCAA tournament.”
Flowers led the Badgers with 12 and three others finished in double figures, but the Badgers never found their rhythm offensively. nd the defense that was so fearsome all year never materialized. Wisconsin prides itself on making opponents work the shot clock down in search of a decent ó heck, any ó shot. But time and again, Wisconsin would score only to have Davidson race down the court and make a basket of its own a mere seconds later.
“I felt like we were always in it,” said Brian Butch said. “I felt like we needed to make some plays and we didn’t make any plays.”
Curry, on the other hand, did.
Marcus Landry’s jumper pulled the Badgers within 48-45 with 13:48 to play. That’s when Curry took over.
He made a 3, and Jason Richards stole the ball on the other end. Racing upcourt, Richards found Curry camped in the corner all by himself and dished off. Joe Krabbenhoft ó a member of the Big Ten’s all-defensive team ó sprinted toward Curry and jumped, hoping to block the shot.
But Curry calmly waited until Krabbenhoft flew by him and then, with that silky smooth shot that’s becoming a signature of this year’s tournament, made another 3 to put Davidson up 54-45 with 13:03 to play.
As his teammates cheered, Curry thumped his chest and pointed skyward. The basket gave him 23 points ó twice as many as anybody else on the court ó and was his fifth 3-pointer of the night.
“It’s hard for a defense to sustain themselves for a whole 40 minutes. Eventually, you’ll find yourself open,” Curry said. “It’s just being patient and sticking to the system that we have at Davidson.”
He wasn’t done yet, either.
Davidson had run the shot clock almost all the way down, looking for something. Curry finally took an off-balance shot from NBA 3-point range, falling as he released the ball. No matter. It was good, just like almost everything else he did Friday night.
And a minute later, he scored on a sweet inside reverse, drawing a foul and the admiration of everybody in the arena, including James. The Cleveland Cavaliers star had praised Curry earlier this week and, on the eve of a game against the Detroit Pistons, decided to get a better look.
Curry didn’t disappoint him. Or anybody else.
“He continues to amaze me,” Lovedale said.