Commentary

Curry, Richards pay dividends in Davidson's Sweet 16 run

Originally Published: March 23, 2008
By Heather Dinich | ESPN.com

RALEIGH, N.C. -- It started out as an empty gallon jar in Davidson's locker room. Penny by penny, and practice by practice, it began to fill up.

[+] EnlargeStephen Curry
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonStephen Curry warmed up in a hurry in the second half, scoring 25 of his 30 points.
Throughout the season, coach Bob McKillop rewarded his players after practice with 1 cent apiece -- only if the player improved that day -- and each stuck it in the jar.

"I wish you could see the jar; the jar's about full right now," wingman Max Paulhus Gosselin beamed. "The mentality is to get better every practice, and I feel like by now all these little pennies have added up. We wanted to play our best basketball in March. Maybe by now it will be to play our best basketball in April."

On Sunday, the little things amounted to a huge win for the small college in North Carolina. Free throws. Screens. Defense. And a 6-foot-3, 180-pound guard named Stephen Curry, who scored 25 of his 30 points in the second half.

After an amazing second-half resurgence led by yet another incredible Curry comeback (he scored 30 in the second half against Gonzaga on Friday), 10th-seeded Davidson beat No. 2 seed Georgetown 74-70.

This Davidson vs. Goliath story will continue, right into the Sweet 16.

No, the Wildcats are not "this year's George Mason." They're an improved version of last year's Davidson, which unveiled Curry to the basketball world but lost to Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Wildcats tame Hoyas

Just how did Davidson dig itself into a 17-point second-half deficit against Georgetown? And just how did Davidson dig itself out of a 17-point second-half deficit? ESPN.com's Heather Dinich breaks it down. Instant Analysis

Lesson learned.

"I think we've been put on the national scene by our performance against Gonzaga, and this just further clarifies and amplifies and said it wasn't a fluke," McKillop said. "The 22-game winning streak we had coming into the tournament wasn't a fluke. The 20-0 in conference play wasn't a fluke. There is something really valid about this team, and I think we've demonstrated that validity by the way we've played."

There was no need for McKillop to use Jim Larranaga-like tricks to convince this Southern Conference team it could knock off Georgetown, a contender in last year's Final Four and one of the top defensive teams in the country and the best in the Big East. No need to coddle the Wildcats with encouragement about being able to handle 7-2 center Roy Hibbert.

They already knew. Even when they trailed by as many as 17 points with 9:27 remaining, there was never any doubt.

Steph is a torch on one end; Jason Richards is the torch on the other end. You light that torch and as the fire burns, it also keeps that torch burning. Your two catalysts, their torch is constantly being replenished by the fire they established.

--Davidson coach Bob McKillop

"Never," point guard Jason Richards said. "That thought never crossed our mind."

McKillop said it never does.

"This is a very, very, special group in that they're accustomed to winning, and when you're accustomed to winning, it's a fire that rages," McKillop said. "Steph is a torch on one end; Jason Richards is the torch on the other end. You light that torch and as the fire burns, it also keeps that torch burning. Your two catalysts, their torch is constantly being replenished by the fire they established."

There's no question Curry and Richards are the faces of the program -- Curry already has scored 70 points in the tournament, and Richards leads the nation in assists -- but their teammates work doggedly to put them in positions to succeed. In the first half, Curry was held to just five points -- in large part because of the job Jeremiah Rivers did on him defensively.

"… I was just going to be patient and not force the issue," Curry said, "because I have total confidence in my teammates to make plays, and so that showed in the first half."

It's his teammates' willingness to set screens for Curry, and Richards' ability to find him when he's open, that made the difference in the second half.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Lovedale and Roy Hibbert
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonGeorgetown big man Roy Hibbert was kept in check, recording just 6 points and 1 rebound.

"That's something that's so great about our guys -- they don't care who gets the pub," Richards said. "It's about winning games."

Which is why the Cats have won 24 straight, the longest streak in the nation.

They're not just winning for each other, though. Alumni, students, former players from the school with an enrollment of just 1,700 made their presence known Sunday in RBC Center.

"I'm playing basketball, I look in the stands, look at the reds, I don't see students, I see friends, people I actually know on campus," forward Andrew Lovedale said. "It's just great for our program, just to get us out there and say yes, we can compete with the big guys."

They most certainly did.

When the Wildcats got into the locker room, they just laughed. They did it. And they had tons of fun doing it.

Now, it's back to practice. And make no mistake -- this team is still trying to get better, make that jar overflow.

"I think for this weekend we should get a dollar each," Paulhus Gosselin said as he laughed. "It's about worth that."

And so much more.

Heather Dinich is a college football and basketball writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at espn.hd@hotmail.com.

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