Steph and the Wildcats

Curry & The Wildcats star on the big stage 

Entering the 2008 NCAA Tournament, 10th-seeded Davidson was a sexy pick to pull two upsets and advance to the second weekend, the rare double-digit seed in the Sweet Sixteen. 

It wasn’t a stretch to forecast the Wildcats’ potential march through March. 

After posting a perfect 20-0 mark in the Southern Conference, Davidson entered the NCAA Tournament on a nation-leading 22-game winning streak and boasted a bona fide star in a wiry sophomore guard named Stephen Curry. They were a hot team with a hot-handed shooter – an underdog poised to do damage. 

Despite the Wildcats’ winning ways and the presence of Curry, however, skepticism lingered. 

Though Davidson had close encounters with top 10 teams North Carolina, Duke, and UCLA in the non-conference slate, they dropped their only other game to a Power 5 opponent, losing a pre-Christmas contest to a 15-16 NC State squad that finished last in the ACC. 

Davidson was also fighting history. 

While #10 seeds had captured about one-third of their opening round games against #7 seeds since the Tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, only six #10 seeds had ever won the next game and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. 

And then there was this: When Davidson last won an NCAA Tournament game, Richard Nixon inhabited the White House, the Beatles were still together, and the average cost of U.S. home was $15,550. The year? 1969. 

Given a shot to advance in the 2007 NCAA Tournament after a similarly stellar 29-win campaign and 17-1 SoCon mark, Davidson fell 82-70 to Maryland in the first round and scored but a single basket in the game’s final 5:51. That day, Davidson appeared every bit the promising mid-major team who ultimately lacked the firepower to compete with college basketball’s heavyweights. 

After that 2007 Tournament loss to Maryland, Davidson coach Bob McKillop pledged improvement, telling reporters: “I think our guys clearly understand there are some shortcomings we can work on, and I know they will.” 

A year later in the Big Dance, here’s what Davidson did: In the first round against #7 Gonzaga, the model of mid-major success in the 21st century, Curry scored 30 of his 40 points in the second half to stage a furious Davidson comeback and secure an 82-76 win for the Wildcats. 

In the second round, Davidson matched up against second-seeded Georgetown, the Big East regular season champs looking to make a second consecutive Final Four appearance. Down 17 in the second half, Davidson rallied behind a 25-point second-half outburst from Curry to secure a 74-70 stunner. 

“I’m numb right now,” McKillop confessed after beating the mighty Hoyas, who had allowed more than 70 points only three times all season. 

In Detroit for a Sweet Sixteen matchup with #3 Wisconsin, a 31-4 squad and winners of the Big Ten’s regular season and tournament titles, Curry wowed once again with 33 points as Davidson cruised to a 73-56 victory. 

“I have confidence every time I shoot the ball,” said Curry, who chose Davidson over scholarship offers from the likes of VCU, William & Mary, High Point, Winthrop, and Wofford. 

In the Elite Eight, Davidson matched up against top-seeded Kansas, a team boasting 10 top 100 recruits and seven future NBA players. Davidson, however, didn’t budge. 

“Pressure is a privilege,” reminded Wildcats point guard Jason Richards, the nation’s leader in assists per game. 

Bigger and stronger, Kansas, a nine-point favorite, worked to impose its will on Davidson in the Sunday afternoon matchup. The Jayhawks held a two-point lead at the break but could never get more than five points away from the Wildcats. 

With 16 seconds to go, Davidson inbounded the ball down two. Curry dribbled up and searched for an opening. Double-teamed as the clock ticked down, he passed to Richards who launched a long three for the win. When the ball clanged off the backboard, Kansas celebrated. Goliath survived David. Barely. 

March Madness can be cruel, euphoria followed by despair, jubilation quickly replaced by angst. Davidson felt those extremes in 2008. 

“The Wildcats can make the Sweet Sixteen if Steph Curry hits his shots,” one media pundit prophesized before the 2008 Tournament opened. 

Authoring one of the most memorable March runs of all time, Curry and the Wildcats ended up doing a lot more than that.