Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Scott Fowler's column in the Observer

Curry is difference-maker for champion Wildcats

NORTH CHARLESTON --It was a normal night for Stephen Curry on Monday in the Southern Conference championship game.

Curry scored 23 points. He did about four things that made you gasp. He wasn't perfect -- he missed 10 shots and got outmuscled a few times. But he was, as usual, the best player on the court in Davidson's 65-49 win against Elon.

"Really not a good shooting game for me," Curry said after being named the unanimous MVP of the tournament. "So I tried to play good defense and get a few rebounds."

Wouldn't you like to score 23 and call it a bad shooting game? But Curry's standards are so high he spoke the truth. Without him, who knows where these Wildcats would be?

With their sensational sophomore, though, they have earned their way into the NCAA tournament again. Ranked No. 23 in the latest Associated Press poll, the Wildcats sport America's longest winning streak (22 games) and haven't lost in 2008.

Five days from now, they really deserve a decent seed on Selection Sunday. I'd guess somewhere around a No. 8 or No. 9, and if it's lower than a No. 10 the Wildcats will have been robbed. Coach Bob McKillop wants something higher, though.

"I have no control over this, but I think we should be seeded as a top-25 club," McKillop said, which would translate to a No. 6. "We went 20-0 in the Southern Conference. We won our tournament. We played Duke, North Carolina and UCLA when those teams were all completely healthy, and all those games were very close."

You can tell McKillop believes that, given the right bracket, the Wildcats can do something special. Much seems possible with Curry, a player Davidson fans will still talk about in 2048.

Davidson has other weapons, but the first time Curry goes 3-for-15 in the NCAA tournament will be the last time Davidson plays this season. The team will need his 25.2 points every game even more from now on, because its usual problems -- lack of height and athleticism -- always become more evident in the NCAA tournament.

But Davidson is good. It's the best squad McKillop has had -- underrated defensively and boasting fine senior leadership. Elon coach Ernie Nestor said afterward he thought Davidson had a good chance to make it to the Sweet 16 this season.

"They're a difficult team to guard," Nestor said, "and they have a great player they can go to in the clutch."

Curry's parents -- Dell and Sonya Curry -- watched the game in their usual way. Dell never stood up, hid behind a blue ball cap and dark jacket, held his chin up with his right hand and looked like he might fall asleep at any time. Sonya wore a red Davidson jersey, stood and shook a pompom anytime Davidson did something noteworthy.

Elon was the tournament's feel-good story, a No. 7 seed that entered the tournament with an 11-18 record and got hot. Elon was inspired. Elon hung close.

But Elon had no Curry. That was ultimately the difference.

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