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Published: Tuesday, 3/25/2008

Glory days back for Davidson


DAVIDSON, N.C. - The mayor of this small quintessential southern town was a teenager during what's referred to as "The Lefty Years" of the 1960s.

John Woods wasn't sure if he'd ever again see the level of excitement coach Lefty Driesell brought to his town, when Davidson went to two NCAA regional finals and was considered one of the top basketball programs in the country.

But there was Woods in the stands in nearby Raleigh on Sunday, watching sensational sophomore Stephen Curry lead the Wildcats to an improbable comeback win over mighty Georgetown, earning a spot in the NCAA tournament's round of 16.

Now riding the nation's

longest-winning streak at 24 games, and with perhaps the nation's best shooter in Curry, Davidson (28-6) is royalty again.

"This coming week is going to compare really nicely to the truly electric feeling that was here in the Lefty years, when he recruited really great players and took the team to national prominence," Woods said. "I bet I had seven phone calls right after the game, people who just wanted to share the moment with somebody."

Davidson pride was apparent almost everywhere yesterday in this well-to-do town of about 9,000 people 20 miles north of Charlotte. Folks drove around with Davidson flags on their cars. Storefronts on the old-fashioned Main Street had congratulatory messages. The ice cream shop had a "Sweet 16" sundae special for $3.16.

That was after Davidson made a triumphant return to campus Sunday night, hours after Curry scored 25 of his 30 points in the second half and the 10th-seeded Wildcats overcame a 17-point deficit to stun second-seeded Georgetown 74-70.

The team bus was greeted by a police escort at the edge of town. The little liberal arts school of 1,700 students, which plays in the unheralded Southern Conference, had made the town proud again.

"People were beeping their horns as they passed," coach Bob McKillop said. "People were coming onto their front porch and waving Davidson flags that were once never part of the decor of their house."

Forward Thomas Sander awoke early yesterday and raced to the town's only gas station to buy the newspapers, all of which prominently featured Davidson's upset win.

"There was a TV news crew there," Sander said. "Then I walked inside, and everybody said, 'Congratulations!' Then I walk outside, and the people pumping gas were giving you a round of applause. It's pretty cool, a really cool experience."

When Sander and his teammates arrived for practice yesterday afternoon, someone placed a stuffed animal - intended to replicate the Georgetown Hoyas mascot - in the mouth of the Wildcat statue across the street from the basketball arena.

"It's been nuts," said the soft-spoken Curry, who has scored 70 points in two NCAA tournament games. "We've been on a high lately, all the media coverage we've been getting. It's kind of cool, but now we're back at practice."

Davidson's players were trying to get back on schedule yesterday. They went through a light workout to begin preparations for Friday's game in Detroit against No. 2 seed Wisconsin in the Midwest Regional semifinal.

To show just how unexpected this run is, McKillop had long ago scheduled himself to conduct a clinic in Germany.

McKillop now has other plans, chiefly to get Davidson ready to play against the defensive-minded Badgers.

It doesn't mean McKillop is going to rob his players - or this town - of a chance to celebrate.

"We're a small school, and we're finally in the national spotlight," junior guard Jason Richards said.

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