CHARLOTTE -- This was a night tailor-made to showcase Stephen Curry.
Davidson got its crack at No. 1 North Carolina in the city where Stephen's father, Dell Curry, used to light it up from beyond the arc.
But with nearly 10 minutes gone in the first half, Curry was without a field goal. And really, a few of the shots weren't even close. A start like that should have been disaster for the Wildcats -- and last year, it probably would have been. But by the time Curry's first jumper curled around the rim twice and went down, Davidson led 15-10.
For a team that could've been billed as "Stephen and the 'Cats," it was an eye-opener to see Davidson hang around despite such a slow start.
"We have guys like Jason Richards and Boris Meno who get buckets for us, too, so they can't key in on one guy," Curry said after Davidson's 72-68 loss to the No. 1 Tar Heels. "I'm in a great situation where I don't have to do anything outside of my ability to help the team."
And sure, Curry still scored a game-high 24 points -- including a few slick drives to the basket that should dispel the notion that this super sophomore is just a shooter. He even left quite the impression on North Carolina coach Roy Williams despite a rough night from beyond the arc.
"He's a load to try to guard, he's got a quick release and he can shoot the dickens out of it," Williams said. "You hope that you can make somebody 2-for-12, but he scares you to death."
But if you're looking for reasons to like Davidson when it's time to fill out a bracket in March, watch the first 10 minutes of the game again. Watch Thomas Sander and Andrew Lovedale neutralize Tyler Hansbrough in the post with physical toughness, no small feat. Or check out Meno's block early in the second half, sending Deon Thompson away from a sure dunk.
This was my first chance to see Davidson in person. The knowledge I developed last season came from TV games and folklore. Curry was pulling (and hitting) just about anything within 25 feet of the basket during his freshman season, I was told. This was a team that was supposed to beat you from 3-point range, finishing last season with an average of 9.6 treys per game, which was seventh-best in the nation.
Knowing that, shouldn't a 4-for-22 3-point effort result in a blowout of such a supposedly one-dimensional school from a non-BCS conference? Davidson delivered inside when the outside shots weren't falling, outscoring the Tar Heels 36-30 in the paint. They hang around by keeping their turnovers low (12) and their free throw percentage high (12-for-15).
Defensively, there is work to be done despite obvious improvement from last season. Too often, Davidson lost shooters in the corners against the Tar Heels. Also, Davidson coach Bob McKillop made the dubious choice to go to a 1-3-1 zone late in the first half, allowing North Carolina to hit a quick pair of 3-pointers on their way to a seven-point halftime advantage. Don't give him too hard of a time; he's already ripping himself up over the decision.
Despite a loss, Davidson should be able to take at least this one positive from the game. Last season, 364 days prior to the North Carolina-Davidson clash, the Tar Heels faced another mid-major power -- Winthrop. Winthrop put a scare into UNC, which was ranked No. 2 in the nation at the time, but ultimately fell.
Last season Winthrop, like Davidson has done this season, put together a tough non-conference schedule against a host of top teams (North Carolina, Maryland, Wisconsin and Texas A&M). They didn't pick up any wins early in the season, but the ultimate payoff was a first-round win as a No. 11 seed over sixth-seeded Notre Dame.
See the resemblance?
"They're similar," Williams said. "They're intelligent, they have veterans and they will have success in March."
With games remaining against Duke (Dec. 1 at Charlotte Bobcats Arena), UCLA (Dec. 8 in Anaheim) and N.C. State (Dec. 21 in Raleigh), the year of Davidson trying to take down Goliath is just beginning.