By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 24, 2008
RALEIGH, N.C., March 23 -- They took turns chasing Stephen Curry throughout the game, fighting their way through screens and keeping their hands in the air in an attempt to hinder Davidson's sweet-shooting sophomore guard. And for the first 25 minutes of their NCAA tournament Midwest Region second-round game, the Georgetown Hoyas managed to keep Curry in check.
But down the stretch, Curry made one big shot after another, and it didn't matter if a defender was in his face or hitting him on the arm. He led the 10th-seeded Wildcats to a 74-70 victory over second-seeded Georgetown, scoring 25 of his 30 points in the final 15 minutes of the game.
"He's too good to say you're going to stop him," said Coach John Thompson III, whose squad lost to a lower-seeded team for the first time in three NCAA trips. "He has not been stopped all year."
It was a heartbreaking end to a season that began with hopes of a national championship. Georgetown (28-6), which advanced to the Final Four last year, allowed a 17-point lead to slip away in the second half. The Hoyas couldn't overcome a sublime performance by Curry and a subpar one by their star, senior center Roy Hibbert, who played just 16 minutes and scored six points before fouling out, inside an arena that was filled with fans pulling for the Wildcats (28-6).
"That's the nature of our season; we always played with all the odds stacked against us," said senior guard Jonathan Wallace, who scored 12 points in his final game. "We've been able to prevail in most of those cases. This team showed a lot of character. We played hard; we put ourselves in a position to win, but we couldn't pull it out."
Georgetown wanted to give Curry different looks defensively and try to take him out of his offensive rhythm. Three players -- Wallace (6 feet 1, 195 pounds), sophomore Jeremiah Rivers (6-4, 210) and freshman Chris Wright (6-1, 205) -- took turns shadowing Curry (6-3, 180), and the rest of the Hoyas helped out on screens.
That approach worked well in the first half, as Curry shot 2 of 8 from the field. On one possession midway through the half, 6-9 sophomore Vernon Macklin found himself switched out on Curry, and he blocked the shorter player's three-point attempt. The rest of the Wildcats also struggled with their shots; they were 6 of 22 (27.3 percent).
Rivers "did a great job in the first half of chasing me around screens," Curry said. "I was just going to be patient and not force the issue, because I have total confidence in my teammates to make plays."
But after halftime, Rivers noticed a change in Curry.
"I think he knew they were in the hole in the second half, and once he let a few go -- kind of recklessly, I thought -- it was a free-for-all from there for him," Rivers said. "I had my hand in his face a few times, and we were switching, but . . . "
The Hoyas led 48-32 with 15 minutes 23 seconds remaining following a drive by Wright (nine points). Less than a minute later, Davidson guard Jason Richards (20 points) found Curry in transition for a three-pointer on the right side. He was fouled by Rivers and made the free throw.
That play seemed to energize the Wildcats, and was at the beginning of a 16-2 run that brought them back into the game. In that 6 1/2 -minute span, Curry sank a contested three-pointer and set up forward Andrew Lovedale for two easy layups. The Hoyas committed six of their 20 turnovers in that stretch, and took only four shots.
"They'd come down and hit a three, or we're playing defense for 35 seconds and they'd get a rebound or a loose ball and lay it in," Wright said. "That kind of took the breath out of us, and we just fed into it, instead of playing our game. After a while, they started to get more and more confident."
Curry put the Hoyas away with eight straight points down the stretch. He converted a three-point play -- cutting behind Rivers and scoring on a layup and free throw -- to give Davidson its first lead of the second half, 60-58, with 4:40 to play. He then scored on a drive and a three-pointer (his fifth of the game), and the Wildcats led, 65-60.
Those kind of plays led Rivers -- who has matched up against a slew of the country's top guards over the past two seasons (North Carolina's Ty Lawson, Memphis's Derrick Rose, Villanova's Scottie Reynolds, Syracuse's Jonny Flynn) -- to say that Curry is the best player that he's ever guarded. He added, "I don't even know how to say how good he is."
Unfortunately for the Hoyas, Hibbert, unlike Curry, was never able to get on track. A total of 47 fouls were called, and both Hibbert and Davidson senior forward Thomas Sander fouled out.
"I think I should've played a lot smarter than I did today," Hibbert said. "I thought I was posting up strong in the post, but they were calling fouls. . . . I'm just really sorry that I let my team down."
The Hoyas seemed stunned as they sat in their quiet locker room. Rivers held back tears as he talked about Georgetown's seniors: Hibbert, Wallace, Ewing and Tyler Crawford. The immediacy of the moment and the pain of the loss were too great for the seniors to reflect on what they had accomplished over their four seasons: three NCAA tournament appearances, two Big East regular season championships, one Big East tournament title and one Final Four.
"I'll remember how I went out. I went out with a loss," Crawford said. "All the great accomplishments we made, it's made us who we are now. But it doesn't mean anything if you don't win the big one."