Saturday, February 23, 2008
Richards steps up as Curry struggles in Davidson win
By Kyle Whelliston Special to ESPN.com
ROCK HILL, S.C. -- It was much more about Davidson's red uniforms than Hollywood's red carpet, and the only academies involved were those of higher learning. The Charlotte-area curtain-lifter on BracketBusters weekend at the Winthrop Coliseum did feature a small bit of Oscar-style class, however, as a number of the visiting Davidson fans dressed up for the occasion in suits and ties.
But in the Wildcats' 60-47 road win on Friday night, the award-winning leading man wasn't the nominee most viewers expected.
Stephen Curry is Davidson's sophomore star, the team's offensive focus and a big reason why the Wildcats are the class of the Southern Conference. He's tied for third nationally in scoring at 25.8 ppg and was recently named to the Wooden and Naismith Award shortlists. But the highly acclaimed guard struggled for most of the night, scoring a season-low 12 points on 4-for-14 shooting and missing most of the first half after picking up two quick fouls.
Instead, it was a night that belonged to the best supporting player in mid-majordom, Jason Richards. The Wildcats' rock-solid senior point guard led all scorers with 21 points and chipped in five assists as Davidson overcame Winthrop 60-47.
Richards has experienced the full rollercoaster ride of the Davidson program in the past four seasons. He was a freshman on the 2004-05 team that finished 16-0 in the SoCon but missed out on an at-large bid with a semifinal loss. He was a key role-player on the team gave Ohio State all it could handle in the 2006 NCAA first round. The clean-cut Illinois native provided upperclassman leadership for last season's young squad, which surprised with a school-record 29 wins but lost to Maryland in the NCAA first round again.
As a senior this season, Richards has developed into the nation's assist leader (8.1 apg) and one of the premier dribblers in college basketball. On this evening, with the team's scoring leader sidelined with foul trouble, Richards also took matters into his own hands, as he converted four of his seven shots (all 3s) in the first half to help Davidson build a lead it would never relinquish.
Other guys had to step up and score, and my jump shot was feeling good. But you can't take the spotlight away from him, he's so good. Such a great kid, great player.
"When Jason saw Steph go to the bench, he knew that was 25 points sitting there," said Davidson head coach Bob McKillop. "Boy, was he ever was a quarterback and a coach out there on the floor tonight. Then he gave us the icing on the cake by making those 3s like he did."
"I did kinda felt like [Curry] in the first half," said Richards with a broad smile. "Other guys had to step up and score, and my jump shot was feeling good. But you can't take the spotlight away from him, he's so good. Such a great kid, great player. "
The Davidson star was quick to defer to his friend and teammate.
"Jason is our leader," said Curry. "Everything starts with him. When he comes out and hits shots, he gives us the confidence that we can do things too."
When Curry and Richards were reunited on the court during the second half, they resumed the seemingly extra-sensory on-court relationship that's grown over the past two seasons. Richards steadfastly fed Curry the ball, despite five straight missed shots, until the sophomore found his way out of his slump. Curry finally broke through at the 8:34 mark with a highlight-reel, one-handed, off-balance jumper that helped stave off a late Winthrop run.
"We always know where each other is on the floor, and that's something that's evolved over time," said Richards. "I just love playing with this kid. It's a lot of fun."
And as the final seconds ticked away with the 13-point win safe, Richards dribbled out the clock and pumped his fist as the sharply dressed Davidson fans cheered the team's 17th straight victory. When the buzzer sounded, the senior point guard walked over to the sophomore shooting star and gave him a playful slap on the back of the head.
But it remains in doubt whether Davidson's buddy picture will make it to March's big theater. Even with Friday's victory, the Wildcats are 21-6 overall and 18-0 in the SoCon. But their nonconference record is only 3-6 due to an ambitious, ACC-heavy schedule that included close losses to Duke, North Carolina and NC State. Davidson likely needs to win the league's autobid in the conference tourney next month to return to the NCAA Tournament and truly bust the brackets.
"A win like this is really big for us to keep our momentum going down the stretch," said Curry. "We've got two conference games left, we want to finish out strong and go into the conference tournament on a high. We're just keeping our confidence going, and we feel like we can play with anybody."
Kyle Whelliston is the national mid-major reporter for Basketball Times and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.