DETROIT – When LeBron James, the best player of his generation, gives you a standing ovation, you know what you are doing is pretty special.
In all fairness, what Davidson sophomore Stephen Curry is doing to teams in the NCAA tournament is not pretty special, it’s darn near incredible.
The Badgers had no answer for Curry, who registered his third 30-point performance by scoring a game-high 33 points, ending Wisconsin’s NCAA tournament run with a demoralizing 73-56 setback in front of 57,028 in Detroit’s Ford Field.
The Davidson win increases the nation’s best winning streak to 22 games and ends Wisconsin’s 12-game win streak and 31-win season in the process.
If Wisconsin fans thought the Badgers Sweet 16 game would be a simple formality and Wisconsin’s nation-best scoring defense would act as a stark wake up call for the upstart Cinderella Wildcats, the first 20 minutes served as a bitter reminder of how maddening March can become.
Holding opponents to under 27 percent from three-point range over the last 10 games, Wisconsin, after only giving up six three-pointers in the last three games combined, could not stop the hot hands of Davidson’s guards, giving up eight three-pointers in the first 20 minutes, three of which came off the hands of sophomore Stephen Curry.
But the Badgers were willing to fight fire with fire, making seven of its 17 first half three-pointers, with senior Michael Flowers nailing three of his attempts, that helped prevent the game from getting out of control at the outset.
It’s a good thing, too, as the Wildcats shot 53.8 percent (14-for-26) from the floor in the first half.
While the first half showed promise, the second half was a huge disaster.
After committing just two team fouls in the first 20 minutes, the Badgers, uncharacteristic of how they have operated throughout the season, registered seven quick team fouls in the first four and a half minutes of the second half, allowing Davidson to jump out on a 10-2 run and a 46-38 lead.
The momentum seemed to turn back toward the Wisconsin side with two-straight free throws from Jason Bohannon, a three-pointer from Joe Krabbenhoft and Davidson being whistled for four personal fouls on UW’s end of the court.
But whatever the Badgers had grabbed hold of when cutting the lead to five, Curry snatched right back. Hitting a three from the elbow to extend the lead to 51-45, Curry got the ball back on a 2-on-1 break, paused to let Landry fly by and calmly nailed another three-pointer, getting his fifth of the game, to extend the lead to nine.
After senior Jason Richards nailed a three to give Curry a breather, Curry, with the shot clock winding down, hit three-pointer number six, helping the Wildcat lead swelled to 15, the largest of the game.
If Curry hadn’t broken the hearts of the Badgers with his outside shooting, he did it with his pump fake, up and under layup that drew a foul by Landry in the process.
Oh yeah, LeBron hooted and hollered over that one, too.
While everything was going right for Davidson, nothing went right for Wisconsin, as the Wildcats took the Badgers own game and shoved it right down their throats.
In the second half, the Badgers scored just 20 points, shot a dismal 24 percent (5-for-21), were out rebounded by six and scored only three points during a eight and a half minute stretch.
Wisconsin was led by Flowers, who scored 12 points, Bohannon and Butch added 11 and Krabbenhoft had 10, as the Badgers improbable season comes to a disheartening conclusion.