Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Props from Chapel Hill

Shooting star of Davidson
By: Sam Rosenthal, At-Large Columnist

North Carolina opened its 2007-2008 men's basketball season with a nonconference game against the Davidson Wildcats on Nov. 14.

That night the Southern Conference juggernaut, located near Charlotte and boasting a student body of about 1,700, gave the nation's top-ranked squad a tremendous scare.

The back-and-forth game stayed close throughout, and Davidson led for much of the second half before UNC eked out a 72-68 win.

After the game, one obnoxiously loud bar patron at Four Corners said to his buddies, "I told you North Carolina isn't that good - they almost lost to Davidson."

Biting my tongue hurts, so my words deliberately reached said bozo's ears: "Or maybe it just means that Davidson is that good."

Clearly, he missed Davidson's performance in the 2007 NCAA Tournament when freshman shooting guard Stephen Curry scored 30 points in a valiant loss to a solid Maryland Terrapins team.

Read on and eat crow, Bozo.

Last Friday, 10-seed Davidson upset seventh-seeded Gonzaga, 82-76. Stephen Curry, son of former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry, dropped 40 points on the Bulldogs - 30 in the second half - and carried Davidson to its first NCAA Tournament victory in 39 years.

Sunday my dad took me to Raleigh for the second round of March Madness. We bought the tickets to watch the Tar Heels play the second game. We saved the stubs because we saw the Wildcats in the first one.

Davidson, an underdog playing in its home state, faced two-seed Georgetown, a powerhouse playing in front of Tar Heel fans who vividly remembered losing to the Hoyas in last year's Elite Eight.

"Pops," I said, "this is a road game for Georgetown."

But in the first half the underdog - Georgetown's small cheering section - made itself heard as the Hoyas held Curry to five points and entered halftime with a 38-27 lead.

Early in the second half Davidson trailed by as many as 17 points, and Georgetown's defenders shadowed Curry's every move.

The sophomore Wildcat's teammates stood around and waited for their savior to turn water into wine.

"Son," Papa Rose said, "Georgetown's defense looks too good."

Davidson's goose was cooked. Its curtains, closed. Its daisies, pushed up.

Then Curry walked on water - or at least the basketball equivalent.

Down the stretch, he found a lot more open space - and mesh netting. It seemed as though the rim told him, "Okay, Stephen, my lid is off now. Fire away."

He scored 25 second-half points, reminding me of LeBron James versus the Detroit Pistons in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals.

As Curry ignited a la King James, so did the other Wildcats, who realized that - Eureka! - they can score, too. As a team, they turned a 17-point deficit into a five-point lead with 2:56 to play.

The fans also fed off Curry. One of my tournament brackets had Georgetown picked to make the Final Four, but my vocal chords wore themselves out for Davidson.

"It's hard not to get caught up rooting for them," Pops said.

The more you watched, the more you wanted - no, needed - Davidson to pull off the upset.

The seconds ticked by like snail steps, but the Wildcats never faltered. After they won, 74-70, their bench cleared, and they stormed center-court.

In the middle of the throng, a 20-year-old kid with a 15-year-old's face pranced around like a 10-year-old on a playground, and the RBC Center joined him for recess.

In person I've never seen a comparable individual performance. Basketball fans across the nation, especially in North Carolina, will remember it for years.

You know what, though? Maybe Bozo was right to slant UNC for almost losing to Davidson. Maybe Davidson and Stephen Curry aren't really all that good.

After all รข€¦ they almost lost to Georgetown.

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