Davidson's Richards Is Feeding the Big Dog
Sunday, March 30, 2008
DETROIT, March 29 -- It was an innocent mistake: As Kansas junior Brandon Rush talked about the importance of keeping Davidson's guards out of the lane in the NCAA Midwest Region final during a news conference Saturday, he referred to the two players as "Curry and Richardson."
Curry, of course, is sophomore Stephen Curry, the shooting star who is averaging 34.3 points on 50.8 percent shooting in the NCAA tournament. And Richardson, well, there is no Richardson on the Wildcats' roster. Rush was actually talking about senior Jason Richards, who only led the nation in assists this season.
"I don't think my name is that hard. [There's an] NBA guy, Jason Richardson, that's why they confuse me," Richards said with a smile. "It's not that big a deal to me. It's just my name, but . . . "
Chances are the top-seeded Jayhawks are more familiar with Richards's game than his name. The 6-foot-2 point guard has been just as important as Curry in the 10th-seeded Wildcats' run to their first region final since 1969. Richards is averaging 15.3 points and nine assists in the tournament, and had 13 assists and no turnovers in Davidson's region semifinal win over Wisconsin on Friday.
Curry and Richards are inextricably linked; the success of one is tied to the other. As senior forward Thomas Sander says, "It's the perfect relationship between a shooter and a great assist man." Sixty-seven percent of Richards's assists in the tournament (18 of 27) came on baskets by Curry. Fifty-five percent of Curry's field goals in the tournament (18 of 33) came on assists by Richards.
Which is why Richards often describes himself as "just that other guy that gets [Curry] the ball." Said Richards: "My role is to kind of get the guys in their spots, set guys up, run the offense. Mostly it's to get the ball to Steph. He makes a lot of shots, so it's easy."
Richards went to see Curry play when Curry was a high school senior at Charlotte Christian. Richards, who spent his first two seasons at Davidson as a backup to Kenny Grant, knew he would be the starting point guard during Curry's freshman season, and he wanted to get a feel for the shooter's game. The two players quickly jelled once Curry arrived at Davidson, and Sunday's game at Ford Field will be the 70th they have played alongside one another.
They are good friends outside of basketball, which helps them on the court, Richards said. They like to play golf together (Richards is the better player) and can often be seen hanging out together in the library or the student union, according to Sander. Coach Bob McKillop often says that the two go together like "hand in glove," which naturally led Richards and Curry to come up with a little hand gesture to illustrate that (a routine that even Richards described as "corny").
Richards's strength is certainly the way he sets up his teammates and the way that he takes care of the ball. But he has also shown he can score. When Curry was held to a season-low 12 points against Winthrop in February, Richards responded with five three-pointers and 21 points. Last week, when Curry was quiet in the first half of games against Gonzaga and Georgetown, Richards picked up the slack and scored 14 points in the first 20 minutes against the Bulldogs and 12 against the Hoyas.
"He can lead the offense with assists and getting people open opportunities and shots, but he can also take you off the dribble and shoot it," Curry said. "You don't know what to expect, if he's gonna give it up or find an open lane and get to the basket."
Said Sander: "Jason sees things before anybody else does. The play goes through his mind before it even happens, and it's just incredible how he puts the ball in the right places."
McKillop often describes Richards as the Wildcats' quarterback, in part because of the way he leads the team and is a steadying influence when things go wrong.
"You know, you take Tom Brady out of the game for the Patriots and you're in trouble," McKillop said. "You take any quarterback out, you're going to be in trouble, but he's as valuable to us as Brady is to the Patriots."
Richards isn't nearly as famous as Brady, but he's slowly gaining national recognition.
"They're starting to say his name right, which is nice," Sander said. "People call him the most underrated point guard in America -- I guess that's his title right now -- and he deserves the attention. He's brought us this far. I mean, 13 assists and zero turnovers against an incredible Wisconsin defense? I don't think you can be underrated after that."