NIT: Curry, Mills square off tonight
By Mike Cranston
DAVIDSON ó It’s one of those games packed with intrigue that makes March so much fun: The nation’s top scorer facing one of the country’s most dynamic players in a matchup of future NBA point guards.
Only Stephen Curry and Davidson vs. Patty Mills and Saint Mary’s isn’t a late-round NCAA tournament game. They play tonight in the second round of the NIT, giving the nation’s older but second-fiddle tournament a big lift.
“Davidson and Steven Curry,” Mills said. “That’s exciting.”
Good luck getting a ticket if you’re near Saint Mary’s Moraga, Calif., campus for the insomniac special for the East Coast ó an 11:40 p.m. EDT tip-off.
The game at the 3,500-seat McKeon Pavilion was the fastest sellout in school history. Fans will flock to see Curry and his deadeye, lightning-quick stroke play against the speedy, athletic Mills ó even if neither school expected to be in this event.
A year after their storybook NCAA tournament run ended a missed 3-pointer away from the Final Four, Curry and Davidson (27-7) lost in the Southern Conference semifinals and didn’t get an at-large NCAA bid.
The Gaels (27-6) were shocked when they were left out of the 65-team field, as four of their losses came with Mills sidelined with a broken right hand.
Mills returned, but struggled in the West Coast Conference tournament, going 2-for-16 from the field in a loss to Gonzaga in the title game.
Yet the Australia Olympian showed he was back at full strength Tuesday by scoring 27 points with a variety of 3-pointers, nifty drives and pull-up jumpers in a first-round NIT win over Washington State that improved the Gaels’ home record to 14-1.
Curry, meanwhile, poured in 32 points ó his 15th game of 30 or more this season ó in Davidson’s victory at South Carolina in the first round.
“That win on Tuesday really rejuvenated our sprits a little bit,” said Curry, whose 2,609 career points is tied for 28th in NCAA history. “It was a tough after Selection Sunday and that just reinforced the fact that we have an opportunity to make a story.”
A good one, too. The 6-foot-3 Curry takes his nation-best scoring average of 28.7 points and his 39 percent 3-point shooting to suburban San Francisco, site of Mills’ athletic heroics over the past two seasons. The 6-foot Mills is averaging 18.2 points and has improved his shooting from long-range to 35 percent.
“There are a lot of parallels between Mills and Steph because of their ability to not only manufacture points for themselves but their ability to manufacture points for their team, and their ability to make their team better,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said.
Don’t expect Curry to guard Mills, however. Since he moved to point guard this season, Curry has generally not guarded the opposing playmaker. That duty will likely fall to senior Max Paulhus Gosselin, a gritty defender who is six inches taller than Mills but not nearly as quick.
“Just to pressure him and make him work for 94 feet down the court,” Curry said of the defensive game plan.
Saint Mary’s will try to slow Curry, who with 410 3-pointers is two away from moving into the top five in NCAA history.
“We’ll have to figure out a way to guard them, but I can’t be giving out my secrets,” coach Randy Bennett said.
Curry and Mills’ paths crossed once before, when Curry played for the United States and Mills for Australia in the 2007 under-19 world championships. But the countries never played in the competition. Curry said he’s spoken to Mills a few times since then.
The winner will play at San Diego State in the quarterfinals Wednesday, while the loser will wonder if their star guard has played his last college game. Curry, a junior, and Mills, a sophomore, have said they’ll wait until their seasons end before deciding whether to declare for the NBA draft.
“He’s a great player,” Curry said of Mills before the Wildcats boarded a cross-country flight Sunday. “He’s gotten a lot of attention this year for the things he’s done and where he’s got his team.
“It’s beyond just me and him out there playing. I’m just excited to go out there and play and take on a new, different opponent.”
But as much as Curry tried to deflect attention from his matchup from Mills, his teammates knew better. Waiting for Curry to finish an interview before beginning practice, one player yelled playfully, “Let’s go Hollywood.”
Curry blushed, finished his answer and ran to join his team.
“The Steph-Patty Mills matchup, everyone is talking about it,” Davidson forward Steve Rossiter said. “I just got to make sure I don’t get caught watching during the game.”