DETROIT – Now it can be said without hesitation. There is no room for debate. Stephen Curry is one of the greatest individual performers in the history of the NCAA tournament.
Davidson’s diminutive shooting guard posted a 33-point, four-assist, three-rebound effort that catapulted 10th-seeded Davidson past No. 3 seed Wisconsin 73-56 in the Midwest Regional semifinals Friday at Ford Field.
Curry now has 103 points over three games in this tournament, a 34.3 average. Some of the greatest scorers in tournament history – Jerry West (30.6 points per tourney game for his career), Oscar Robertson (32.4) and Bill Bradley (33.7) – are being one-upped by Dell Curry’s skinny kid.
“It’s crazy,” teammate Thomas Sander said of Curry’s numbers. “He is on the national level now, but he has been playing like this all season long. For the whole nation to see how good he is, is a credit to him.”
Credit must also go to the Wildcats who feed him the ball and find themselves a victory away from the Final Four.
Heading that group is Jason Richards. The senior point guard had 11 points and 13 assists as the team posted a staggering 13-0 assists-to-turnover ratio.
A flawless 13.
“To have that in a Sweet 16 game is unparalleled,” coach Bob McKillop said.
Finding a player with a quicker release and stronger resolve than Curry might also be difficult. This is a youngster who grew up in ACC country yet was shunned by recruiters because of his slight frame.
Certainly coaches who passed on him feel small now. Certainly McKillop looks pretty darned smart.
“We got Steph Curry,” McKillop said. “That’s pretty good stuff.”
Curry, as he had done in wins over Gonzaga and Georgetown, turned Friday’s game Davidson’s way in the second half. That he did it against Wisconsin’s Michael Flowers, one of the top defenders in the country, made his play that much more impressive. He struck for 22 points in the final 20 minutes, giving him 77 points in the second halves of three tournament games.
“It’s hard for a defense to sustain themselves for a whole 40 minutes,” Curry said. “Eventually, you’ll find yourself open.”
Tied with Wisconsin 36-36 entering the second half, Curry, Richards and an unselfish supporting cast played stellar defense, set screens, rebounded, dove for loose balls and put the game out of reach of the bigger Badgers.
Not since Larry Bird with Indiana State in 1979 has one player hoisted such a small school onto his back and inspired such drama.
Consecutive three-pointers by Curry built a three-point Davidson lead to 54-45 with 13:02 remaining. Richards hit a three of his own to make it 57-45 at 12:13. Another three by Curry and it was 60-45 Davidson with 10:20 left. Wisconsin’s will was evaporating.
When Curry drove to the hoop and converted a reverse layup into a three-point play to make it 63-46 Wildcats with 9:07 remaining, NBA superstar LeBron James rose to his feet in the stands.
Even a King recognizes royalty when he sees it.
“It’s just really cool to have a guy like LeBron James, one of the best players in the NBA, coming out and supporting Davidson,” the gracious Curry said.
Curry’s uncanny ability to knock down shots, open, contested or of the circus variety, must place his name among the best ever to compete in the NCAAs.
Now, all that stands in the way of a Final Four berth for Curry and his overachieving Wildcats teammates is, fittingly, the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks on Sunday.
Should the tiny liberal-arts school from North Carolina pull off the upset, its legacy as one of the great stories in NCAA history will be solidified.
Stephen Curry’s as one of the greatest players is already secure.