North Carolina game comes with spotlight
DAVIDSON --The Davidson Wildcats say they are ready for this.
They will face No. 1-ranked North Carolina tonight at Bobcats Arena in front of a nationally televised audience.
They are heavy underdogs to a basketball team that beat them by 24 points two years ago.
But this Davidson team might be its best in more than 20 years.
The Wildcats have been featured on the cover of USA Today sports, and have every starter returning from last season's 29-5 team that lost to Maryland in the NCAA tournament.
"There's a real buzz around campus about this team," said coach Bob McKillop. "The success we have had has created these expectations. That should be a boost to our confidence."
A win would do wonders for Davidson. It would likely give the Wildcats their first national ranking since 1970, and it would help them join teams, including George Mason, Valparaiso and Gardner-Webb, as college basketball's giant killers.
"You ever see those NCAA tournament videos on CBS?" Valparaiso athletics director Mark LaBarbera said. "Every time it's on, you see (former Valparaiso player) Bryce Drew's (game-winning) shot. It's a way to really brand your athletic department and get the word out. (Davidson's) game with North Carolina isn't in the NCAA tournament, but (a win) can still have a big impact."
Can the Wildcats handle the spotlight? One newspaper reporter covered Davidson's 120-56 win against Emory on Friday night, but more than 50 media members are expected for tonight's game.
Davidson is also facing a North Carolina team stacked with some of the country's most talented players, including preseason All-America and national player of the year candidate Tyler Hansbrough.
Davidson's roster is mostly comprised of players bigger schools didn't pursue or foreign players who are international men of mystery to outsiders.
Yet, this season's team is more athletic than past teams, which struggled when big-name programs turned up defensive pressure, and guards Stephen Curry and Jason Richards can create their own shots off the dribble.
Curry might be ready to join the pantheon of sudden stars from mid-major teams. He set the national record for 3-pointers as a freshman, and he's considered an All-America candidate as a sophomore.
"We can't put pressure on ourselves," Curry said. "We are looking forward to the game, but we can't change anything. I don't have to try to take over the game, because we have other guys who can step in."
Tonight's opportunity will start in front of a lot of familiar faces. The arena will have thousands of Davidson fans, including more than 1,200 students, which is more than 60 percent of the campus population.
"If we can get off to a good start, that will give us confidence," forward Thomas Sander said. "We know what kind of opportunity we have."
DAVIDSON vs. NORTH CAROLINA
7 p.m. today at Bobcats Arena. TV: ESPN