DAVIDSON, N.C. (AP) -An overly ambitious schedule left Davidson with a 4-6 record heading into January. All the preseason talk about the Wildcats becoming the latest mid-major darling had been silenced.
Bob McKillop never panicked. The soft-spoken veteran coach saw improvement in close losses to North Carolina, Duke and UCLA. He remained optimistic even after more damaging losses to Western Michigan, Charlotte and North Carolina State.
Today it appears the painful lessons have paid off.
Behind high-scoring sophomore Stephen Curry, senior assist machine Jason Richards and an improving frontcourt, the Wildcats haven't lost in two months.
Closing in on a second perfect Southern Conference regular season in four years, Davidson's 16-game winning streak is second-longest in the nation to unbeaten and top-ranked Memphis (26-0).
Davidson (20-6, 18-0) is back on the list of dangerous small schools the big boys don't want to face come NCAA tournament time.
``The six losses were not something we had to run and hide from,'' McKillop said Thursday. ``Nor were they losses that we didn't profit from.''
Curry has been the key to Davidson's turnaround.
The son of former NBA 3-point specialist Dell Curry was too small to get scholarship offers from major schools, but the baby-faced Curry has grown four inches since he signed with Davidson. Now 6-foot-3, doctors have told Curry he may have two more inches left in his late growth spurt.
Displaying a keen knowledge of the game groomed from hanging out with his dad at NBA practices while growing up, Curry is averaging 25.8 points, fifth-best in the country. He's scored 30 points or more seven times, including games of 41 and 30 against UNC Greensboro in a span of six days.
``His release is quick and fantastic, but I think the way he reads screens is phenomenal,'' UNC Greensboro coach Mike Dement said after Davidson's 75-66 win Tuesday. ``He's a step ahead of everybody. Seemingly if you just give him that inch, he'll knock it down.''
Curry has hit 111 3-pointers, and his 1,401 points is more than any sophomore in the nation.
``He rains 3s like bolts of lightning,'' McKillop said.
Most of the time it's Richards getting him the ball. The 6-2 senior, Curry's golfing buddy, is averaging a nation-best 8.1.
``To be able to turn decision-making over to one of the players on the court is a very comforting feeling for a coach,'' McKillop said.
The front line, a weakness early, is now making an impact. Junior Andrew Lovedale moved into the starting lineup and has thrived. Junior Max Paulhus-Gosselin is a gritty defender who had seven steals against UNC Greensboro on Tuesday. Thomas Sander and Boris Meno are experienced seniors, and sophomore Will Archambault scored 28 points against Furman last week.
``Anybody on the floor can put up numbers,'' Curry said. ``You can focus on me if you want, but we've got guys that will score and take the pressure off.''
All of that has led to a dominating run in the lower-tier Southern Conference. The Wildcats have won 28 straight league games, second only to the 44 straight won by Jerry West-led West Virginia in the 1950s.
However, the league has never received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Not holding a marquee out-of-conference win, the Wildcats will probably have to win the league tournament to secure a third straight NCAA berth.
``I can't even get distracted by that,'' McKillop said. ``It plays too many games with your mind and it's something I have no control over.''
Perhaps Davidson would be in better shape if it didn't play so many good teams early.
While other mid-major schools are touting wins over mediocre teams from major conferences to boost their NCAA hopes, Davidson only has close defeats to elite teams.
The Wildcats lost by four to then-No. 1 North Carolina, by six to then-No. 7 Duke and led then-No. 7 UCLA by 18 in the first half before losing 75-63.
``I think taking great shots from teams like that have to make you better,'' McKillop said. ``Maybe if we didn't get better from those experiences we wouldn't have pushed as hard as we've pushed the entire season.''
But Davidson will probably face more pressure than any team in the nation at the league tournament in two weeks. In the 2004-05 season, Davidson went unbeaten in league play, lost in the conference tournament, and ended up in the NIT.
``I very much want our players to smell the roses of where they are right now and what they've accomplished rather than looking at it as some scary monster,'' McKillop said. ``Too often we think about what might happen rather than what is happening.
``I dare say I don't think there will be any teams that win 18 conference games this year in the country.''

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