Stephen Curry-Patty Mills: Bout for the Ages

Will BryanCorrespondent IMarch 24, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - DECEMBER 13:  Patrick Mills #13 of the Saint Mary's Gaels drives with the ball against the San Diego State Aztecs in the John R. Wooden Classic at Honda Center on December 13, 2008 in Anaheim, California. The Gaels defeated the Aztecs 67-64.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

With the chalky remains of the NCAA Tournament's opening weekend settling on scores of intact brackets and long flights home for mid-major schools, 3,500 lucky fans packed into McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, CA to see St. Mary's host Davidson in the second round of the NIT.

It was a match made in ESPN-hype heaven.

The nation's leading scorer in Stephen Curry faced off against perhaps the country's best pure point guards in Patty Mills. It was on.

Curry opened the salvo with a long-range three from six feet outside the three-point line.

Mills countered with a reverse right-handed scoop layup in transition.

Curry stopped and popped in the lane off a screen.

Mills shaked and baked into the lane for a dish and dunk.

The drama grew as the Worldwide Leader repeatedly put up side-by-side stats to show the standout guards' point totals grow into the teens, and then into the 20's.

By the middle of the second half, however, it was obvious that Mills and his Gaels were controlling the game and it was all that Curry could do to keep his Wildcats close.

Curry might have outscored Mills 26-23, but it was Mills' 9-1 assist to turnover numbers that ultimately led to St. Mary's 80-68 victory.

Ultimately, however, the game that many, including ESPN's Hubert Davis, thought should have been played on the NCAA stage ended in a sense of bitterness on both sides.

For Davidson, a season with so many highs and lows came to a screeching end after two missed free throws and consecutive unforced turnovers in the final minute. That minute served as the microcosm of the Wildcats' season: inattention both to details and things you can control can prove costly.

A more cynical perspective would look at Davidson's season as a complete waste of the talent of Stephen Curry as he would lead the country in scoring and yet not be able to lead his team to a Southern Conference title.

A more realistic perspective sees this season as the necessary year-long complement to the magic of 2008. With success comes consequences, and with difficult consequences come difficult learning experiences.

Davidson certainly learned a lot this season.

On the other side of the floor, St. Mary's advanced to meet San Diego State in the quarterfinals of the NIT.

But while the Gaels grow ever closer to a trip to New York City and the NIT finals, their stellar play grows more and more frustrating.

St. Mary's knows that they were left out of the dance because the selection committee deemed Mills still too hurt to perform.

Well, 23 points, 10 assists, and just one turnover against Davidson certainly proved otherwise.

St. Mary's is faced with the difficult burden of continuing to win and prove that they belonged in the other tournament, while at the same time knowing that an NIT championship and the title of No. 66 is all that is left.

Writers and TV announcers can only go so far in making them feel better about their short end of the stick. They now have the burden of doing the heavy lifting.

But the games go on and St. Mary's advances. And that special 3,500 people? In the end, they really didn't care which tournament logo was on the floor. They knew they witnessed some special basketball.