DETROIT (AP)—Stephen Curry went off for 70 points—70 points!—in the first two games of the NCAA tournament. Against two of the stingiest defensive teams in the country, no less.
Big deal. That was sooo last weekend.
Instead of kicking back and savoring his accomplishment, Curry is prepping for the toughest test of all. To keep little Davidson’s wonderful ride going, Curry is going to have to figure out a way around the Wisconsin Badgers and their relentless defense. First up Friday? Michael Flowers, who might just be playing the best defense in the country these days.
“They play long. They play physical. They play quick. But I think the most important and significant aspect of their defense is they play like a team,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said Thursday. “If you beat one of them, which doesn’t happen often, you’re then going to have to face someone else because they really react to each other very well.
“Steph has a very big challenge in front of him. Our team has a big challenge in front of them.”
By now, most people have heard how 10th-seeded Davidson, the exclusive liberal arts school with the free laundry, knocked off Gonzaga and Georgetown to reach this weekend’s Midwest Regional semifinals. Not only were the victories the Wildcats’ first over ranked teams in more than 30 years, they put Davidson (28-6) in the round of 16 for the first time since 1969.
The folks back in Davidson, N.C., were so excited, forward Thomas Sander got a standing ovation when he was spotted pumping gas. Point guard Jason Richards got a lift to class from someone on the campus maintenance crew. And the Board of Trustees sprung for bus fare, hotel rooms and tickets for any students who wanted to go to Friday night’s game.
“It’s been one of the greatest weeks of my life,” Curry said. “It’s just been crazy for us.”
But don’t think the Wildcats’ are simply the NCAA tournament’s latest warm-and-fuzzy story. They played a schedule that would make any team cringe, taking on North Carolina, Duke and UCLA. All three were losses, but the Wildcats gave the Tar Heels everything they could handle. Ditto for Duke. They hung 74 points on a Georgetown team that came into the game allowing only 57.6 points on 37 percent shooting.
Curry is the fourth-leading scorer in the nation at 25.7 points a game, and is first with 152 3-pointers. Richards is tops in the country with eight assists a game, and the Wildcats rank fifth in scoring margin (15.1) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4).
“We really don’t want that title of Cinderella,” Richards said. “We’re just a good basketball team making a run in the NCAA tournament.”
And now they’ve run into third-seeded Wisconsin (31-4).
The Badgers don’t have the star power of North Carolina, or the stars of UCLA, Kansas or Memphis. They play in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten, where it’s often hard to tell when football season ended and basketball season began. Their trademark is their textbook defense—they’re allowing only 53.9 points a game, best in the country, and have allowed only seven opponents to score more than 60 points—and their offense is often overlooked because it’s so balanced.
They’re old-school, right down to the jerseys that have only a number on the back.
“People say we’re slow, tempo-down, stuff like that,” said Brian Butch, who leads the Badgers in scoring and rebounding. “That’s the farthest from the truth. What we do is make sure we get a good shot on the offensive end, and we make sure we give the other team a tough shot. So most of the teams aren’t shooting the ball in the first 10 seconds like they would against other teams because we don’t allow them to.
“I don’t think we play slow or we bring it down or we try to make the game slower. I think we just look for a good shot on offense and try to give them a tough shot.”
No one more so than Flowers.
Though just 6-foot-2 and 183 pounds, he wreaks more havoc than anyone on the court. He routinely guards opponents’ best perimeter players, and more often than not sends them home shaking their heads and wondering what happened. When Michigan State played at Wisconsin in February, Flowers allowed Drew Neitzel a single 3-pointer on 1-of-10 shooting. After Michigan freshman Manny Harris scored 26 points against the Badgers during the regular season, Flowers held him to a measly four points on 1-of-12 shooting.
And while Eric Gordon got his points against the Badgers—16 in the first meeting, 23 in the second—every one was hard-earned.
“I really think Mike Flowers is the best defensive player in the country,” Trevon Hughes said. “The only time players score on him is when he’s out of the game.”
Curry, though, is special. The son of former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry, the sophomore does more than just launch jumpers from beyond the arc. He’s consistent, scoring in double figures in all but one game. He’s accurate, too, shooting almost 50 percent from the floor. And he routinely contributes a bunch of assists and rebounds, too.
He’s quick and has great court sense, and he doesn’t get flustered. He missed 10 of his first 12 shots against Georgetown but kept on shooting, rebounding to score 25 of his 30 points in the second half.
And now another defensive-minded team is looking to shut him down.
“It’s a help to have experienced that and play the same kind of system defensively from game to game,” Curry said. “We can maybe apply the things that worked last week on Sunday to Friday’s game. That’s something that’s going to help us.”