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Curry against Mills puts NIT in spotlight

DAVIDSON, N.C. — 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 — 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 — even if neither school expected to be in this event.

A year after their storybook NCAA tournament run ended a missed three-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 three-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 — his 15th game of 30 or more this season — 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 three-point shooting to suburban San Francisco, site of Mills’ athletic heroics during 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.

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