RALEIGH—After winning their way into the NCAA Tournament last year with a 29-4 record and a Southern Conference championship, the Davidson Wildcats came into this season with a plan: play the big guys early, and play them often. It was a gamble for the well-regarded mid-major team to gain some recognition and build a resume for Selection Sunday. By the end of December, though, it looked like their risky wager may have left Davidson broke: none of the power programs they faced (no. 1 North Carolina, then-no. 7 Duke, then-no. 7 UCLA and then-unranked but preseason no. 22 N.C. State) escaped without Wildcat claw-marks all over them, but the hard-fought games all went against Davidson by justhismuch.
“Confidence is very fragile, it’s like glass, when it drops, it can break into a lot of pieces,” Davidson Head Coach Bob McKillop said today. “I think sometimes we were not glass this year, we were more plastic and so that was the experience, and we didn’t break into pieces. The experience factor played a big role in our ability to respond and not get knocked to the mat.”
Their December 21st loss against N.C. State, though, turned out to be their last of the year, and the 10-seed Wildcats (no. 23 Coaches/no. 23 AP) will bring 23 consecutive victories—the nation’s longest winning streak—to the floor tomorrow night against the 2-seed Georgetown Hoyas (no. 8 Coaches/no. 8 AP). The Wildcats secured an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament with their undefeated romp through the Southern Conference regular season and tournament, and won in the Big Dance for the first time since 1969 yesterday against the Gonzaga Bulldogs, 82-76.
Senior guard Jason Richards (15 pts, 9 assists) kept the Wildcats in it early with 14 first-half points—including a stretch of 10 of his team’s points in a row over 3 minutes near the end of the half, with two 3-pointers down the stretch. By the end of the game, though, it had become the Stephen (say it: STEFF-in) Curry show in Raleigh, as the sophomore guard finished with 40 points, 30 of them in the second half, to make himself the newest household name among college basketball fans.
“Today he did it against man-to-man, three different guys, he did it against the diamond-and-one, he did it against the three-two zone, he did it against constant switching, and he did it against players who were hitting on his topside, sitting on his bottom side, and was magnificent in his performance,” McKillop said after the game.
“You got any suggestions?” Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III responded when asked about how to defend Curry. “Because no one has guarded him yet … But they have a great team. I mean, you look at Jason Richards and he sets the table for everyone … If you have three, four, five guys focusing on Curry, everyone they put on the court can make a shot. … They are a veteran team. They are a poised team.”
Curry promises to draw plenty of defensive attention from Georgetown tomorrow, as the Hoyas are likely to throw a wide variety of players at him in an effort to slow him down.
“We won’t have to fight over him, ‘cause everybody’s gonna be guarding him,” senior guard Jonathan Wallace said about Curry. It was a sentiment echoed throughout the Hoyas’ locker room.
“Everybody’s putting their best defenders on him, and he’s scorched them,” said sophomore guard Jeremiah Rivers. “Hopefully that won’t happen tomorrow.”
If any defense can put a lid on Curry, it’s Georgetown’s, which leads the nation in scoring defense. And the Hoyas figure to have the edge down low, as 7-foot-2 senior center Roy Hibbert patrols the paint against a team that doesn’t get any bigger than 6-foot-8. It’s not a rare experience for Hibbert, who also held a severe height advantaged in the Hoyas’ 66-47 first-round win against 15-seed UMBC yesterday.
“I think we’ve seen everything everybody’s thrown at us before, but we’re just gonna go out there and play our ball,” Hibbert said today. “They [Davidson] are a scrappy team, going for steals. We gotta watch our passes, and make sure we take care of the ball.”
On top of their aggressive man-to-man D and Curry’s pure stroke, the underdog Wildcats will have another thing going for them in the local North Carolina crowd. The Davidson faithful were out in force yesterday against Gonzaga, turning the RBC Center into a second home just 120 miles east of their own campus. The Tarheel-blue-clad UNC fans that took up most of the stands gave the Wildcats an added boost, giving up a generous helping of in-state love, and figure to be highly partisan against Georgetown tomorrow after the stunning come-from-behind overtime victory against the Tar Heels that propelled the Hoyas into the Final Four last year.
“I guess that’s double trouble for us,” sophomore forward DaJuan Summers said of the UNC-Davidson alliance likely to materialize tomorrow. “We just gotta be ready, we gotta stick together, knowing that it’s us against the world if you want to say it that way.”
The Hoyas have met Davidson twice before, the last time during the 2004-05 season, when the current seniors were freshmen. Playing just his third game in a Georgetown uniform, Wallace led his team in scoring with 20 points on 7 for 9 shooting, and Hibbert pulled down 3 rebounds in 11 minutes of action during the 76-51 win. Current Davidson starters Richards and Sander, and current senior forward Boris Meno, combined for 15 minutes, 1 point and 1 rebound, all coming off the bench. It was the first road win for the young team and for new Head Coach John Thompson III, and, by bringing the Hoyas’ record to 2-1, marked the first time Georgetown was over .500 under Thompson.
“Prior to this week, prior to yesterday, I’ve said many, many times that that was one of the biggest wins, and still is; that’s one of the biggest wins of my career at Georgetown,” Thompson said today. “For us to go down there on the road and win that game down there was huge for this program.”
A win tomorrow would mark another huge accomplishment for Georgetown: a third straight trip to the Sweet 16 after many college basketball fans had left it for dead before Thompson took over just four years ago. Tip-off in Raleigh is set for 2:50 p.m.