- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2008

RALEIGH, N.C.

The smothering defense of the Georgetown basketball team meets the shooting technician known as Stephen Curry in the second round of the NCAA tournament at RBC Center today.

That intriguing subplot promises to captivate the adherents of both programs, one accustomed to being in the national spotlight and the other coming off its first win in the NCAA tournament since 1969, when coach Lefty Driesell led Davidson to a regional final.

Curry is the wisp of a shooting guard who was ignored by all the programs in the major conferences, despite the good genes of his father, Dell, who spent 16 seasons in the NBA.

Curry’s 40-point gem against Gonzaga — a sort of national coming-out party for the sophomore — stimulated the anxiety of Hoyas coach John Thompson III.

“What strikes me about him is what strikes everybody,” Thompson III said after the Hoyas defeated Maryland-Baltimore County in the first round of the NCAA tournament. “He can shoot the cover off the ball, and he has teammates who are not threatened by that. They set screens for him and get him the ball.”

Wildcats coach Bob McKillop has built the team’s offense around Curry, an atypical approach in the egalitarian-minded culture of college basketball.

Bob McKillop has put him on a stage to be successful, and I don’t think any other school could have done that,” Curry’s father said.

It is an approach that has lifted the 1,700-student liberal arts institution out of obscurity.

McKillop said his was an easy decision after he first evaluated Curry’s individual workouts in his freshman season.

“I said in our alumni gatherings that this is someone special,” McKillop said. “He has an uncanny ability to get the ball released. He has a great ability to get open, and he has teammates who are willing to get him open. You do not see that in the stat sheet. You do not see how many screens have been set. He is one of a kind when it comes to using screens and getting off shots.”

That point undoubtedly was stressed by Thompson III and his assistants on their day between games.

Beat Curry to the spots on the floor off the screens, limit his open looks and a trip to the Sweet 16 will be yours. Allow him too much space — he does not need much — and you are liable to end up with an abbreviated appearance in the NCAA tournament.

The Wildcats, playing 160 miles from their campus and the underdog, will be the crowd favorite.

The crowd and Curry are the principal challenges before the Hoyas, who have limited opponents to a .366 shooting percentage, the best in the nation.

Gonzaga tried a variety of defensive tactics against Curry — a man-to-man, a 3-2 zone and a diamond-and-one — and none worked.

Gonzaga guard Steven Gray was entrusted with defending Curry much of the game and found it frustrating.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been run off that many screens in trying to defend someone,” he said. “And he knows how to use them. He’s very knowledgeable in that way.”

The Hoyas have the proper mix of size and athleticism to stymie the efficiency of Curry, who shoots 49.1 percent from the field, 45.0 percent from the 3-point line and 88.7 percent from the free throw line.

And his 25.5 scoring average is not merely the product of playing in the Southern Conference. He scored 24 points in a four-point loss to North Carolina, 20 points in a six-point loss to Duke and 29 points in a one-point loss to N.C. State this season. UCLA held him to 6-for-19 shooting and 15 points in its 75-63 victory in December.

“He’s one of the more special players in the tournament,” Thompson III said.

Special enough to send a team home if it fails to stay in his face.