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March Madness cinderella stories: Davidson’s marquee moment

In retrospect, the Wildcats had the three ingredients needed to win a National Championship.

Davidson v Wisconsin Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The year is 2008. The month is March. The setting is Detroit, MI. for the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Budding superstar Stephen Curry converted a wildly difficult reverse layup while getting fouled, adding to 10th-seeded Davidson’s growing lead over third-seeded Wisconsin. In the blink of an eye, the Wildcats built a commanding 19-point lead over the favored Badgers and were on a collision course with the Elite Eight.

NBA superstar LeBron James was in attendance for the spectacle, and all he could do was shake his head in awe of Curry’s dominant performance. “The King” most likely didn’t realize it at the time, but he wasn’t just watching a feel-good, flash-in-the-pan story unfold that night. That baby-faced assassin wearing number 30 in red would go on to become his career’s ultimate nemesis.

At this point, Davidson basketball is synonymous with Stephen Curry. But it would be ignorant to solely chalk up Davidson’s magical run to the brilliance of Curry. We all know a run to the Elite Eight is dependent on far more than a team’s best player, and relegating the narrative of the 2008 Wildcats to “the team carried by Curry” would be a grave disservice.

There’s a prevailing theory that the formula to construct a National Championship-winning team is composed of three variables: at least one NBA-caliber player, a supporting cast of experienced veterans, and an elite head coach. And make no mistakes about it, the 2008 Wildcats checked all three boxes.

The architect of Davidson basketball is Hall of Fame coach Bob McKillop. McKillop went from coaching high school ball in Long Island to building a college basketball powerhouse in suburban Charlotte, NC. His reign at Davidson is now going on over three decades, and he’s gotten the Wildcats into the Big Dance nine times. McKillop has coached the Wildcats in three different conferences, and they’re currently a strong A-10’s program. However, in 2008, the Wildcats were still members of the Southern Conference.

Even before 2008, Davidson was establishing itself as the SoCon’s supreme program. But the 2008 Wildcats made a mockery of the conference, finishing a flawless 20-0 in conference play. Curry led the Wildcats in scoring in every conference game except for five, but he was surrounded by a strong roster of selfless players that embraced defined roles.

Curry’s most notable sidekick was point guard Jason Richards, who averaged over 12 points and eight assists per game as a senior in 2008. Richards was Davidson’s John Stockton, a passing savant tasked with operating the offense. In the NCAA Tournament, Curry and Richards proved to be one of college basketball’s premier backcourt pairings.

Davidson’s front court in 2008 was shared by a trio made up of Thomas Sander, Boris Meno, and Andrew Lovedale. The trio shared similar stats, with each averaging around seven points and five rebounds per game. Sander and Lovedale joined Curry and Richards in the starting lineup, the fifth starter was lengthy wing Max Paulhus Gosselin.

After the Wildcats ran through conference play, their merits warranted a 10th seed in the Big Dance. The Wildcats were paired with fellow mid-major power house Gonzaga in the opening round of the tournament. In a thrilling matchup, Curry scored 40 points en route to an 82-76 win over the Bulldogs.

The Round of 32 is generally seen as this group’s breakthrough. Davidson erased an 11 point halftime deficit to stun second-seeded Georgetown 74-70. Curry once again led the Wildcats in scoring with 30 points, while Richards added 20 points and five dimes.

Davidson’s most effortless NCAA Tournament victory came in the Sweet 16 against the Wisconsin Badgers. Curry dropped 33 points, Richards added 13 assists and the Wildcats were propelled by a dominant second half to cruise to a 73-56 victory over the third-seeded Badgers.

Ultimately, the clock struck midnight in the Elite Eight. The Wildcats played a thrilling, grueling matchup with the Kansas Jayhawks. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Wildcats were led by Curry with 25 points.

Down by two points with approximately 10 seconds remaining, Davidson had one final possession and an opportunity to prolong their fairytale run. Curry was unable to get an open look, and passed the ball to Richards who left what would have been the game-winning three short. The Jayhawks survived 59-57, and went onto the Final Four where they would cut down the nets.

Richards is now the director of student-athlete development at Pittsburgh. Meno had a lengthy professional career abroad, spending time in France and the Czech Republic. Lovedale also played abroad, primarily in France. He’s since become the founder of a non-profit called “Access to Success,” which was created to break the cycle of poverty in his home country Nigeria.

Well, as for Curry, we know how that one turned out.