The Daily Puppy

Friday, December 31, 2010

Stanford Ends UConn Women http://ping.fm/xddjW

Stanford Ends UConn Women's Record 90-Game Winning Streak

STANFORD, Calif. -- The streak stops at 90.

Connecticut women's basketball still owns the Division I record for the longest win streak. But the Huskies will have to start a new one now.

Stanford -- the last team to beat Connecticut back in the 2008 Final Four -- took a quick lead on its home floor and, this time, the Cardinal held on to the end.

The ninth-ranked Cardinal pulled off a71-59 win over UConn in front of a sold-out crowd of 7,329 at Maples Pavilion Thursday night.

Connecticut (12-1) lost its first game since April 6, 2008 to a Stanford team that was experienced, motivated and well-prepared for this matchup, the sixth between the two programs since December 2007.

"The streak was for them and what they did. We're about Stanford and what we want to do," said Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer. "We didn't play a perfect game, but I thought we played very well."            

This is a new feeling for Connecticut. Disappointment.

"We've been talking about this for three months, talking about how (the Connecticut players) are missing out on a great opportunity to see what it feels like to try to get something and not get it," said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma. "Yeah, there's a sense of disappointment that we didn't play well, but if you look beyond that, there's been other times during this thing where we didn't play well. It's just that there's never been anybody as good as Stanford played tonight."

Stanford, which had been game-planning this game for months, bottled up Huskies star Maya Moore for most of the game and made good use of its size advantage inside, out-rebounding and out-muscling the Huskies.

The Cardinal (9-2) also got a career night from senior guard Jeanette Pohlen. Pohlen scored a career-high 31 points.

Pohlen, who had struggled in previous games against the Huskies, was the Cardinal's tone-setter, pushing Stanford to its 52nd straight home win. Pohlen added nine rebounds and six assists to her total. She hit five three-pointers and was 10-of-10 from the free-throw line, including some crucial free throws down the stretch to keep UConn at bay.

"She was the All-American tonight," VanDerveer said.

The Cardinal led 34-30 at the half, the fourth halftime lead by Stanford against Connecticut in their last six meetings. But unlike last year when Stanford blew two leads, this one stuck.

"We knew we had each other's backs. We were very focused on what we had to do defensively and a lot of people stepped up and made big plays," Pohlen said.

Stanford weathered a final UConn rally to cut the lead to 63-57 with 2:19 to go and held the Huskies to just one basket over the final 4:46.

Moore struggled to find open shots much of the night. She had just six points at halftime on a pair of 3-pointers and finished with 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting from the floor. She didn't score until nearly 17 minutes into the game.

Moore, the two-time Wade Trophy winner, wore her disappointment on her face after the game. She talked about playing from behind from start to finish. Connecticut had trailed for a total of 113 minutes and 58 seconds in its entire 90-game win streak before Thursday night.

"I thought we showed moments of fight where we came together at times. Then we would do something to hurt ourselves," Moore said. "I would make a defensive mistake and they would get a lay-up and the momentum would shift right back to them. Momentum is so priceless and valuable for the away team and we just gave it away too many times."

"They were determined to make sure that somebody else on our team other than Maya Moore was going to be the one to carry the team," Auriemma said. "They've certainly been hurt by Maya enough the last couple of years and they were determined that that wasn't going to happen tonight."

VanDerveer put multiple players on Moore, principally freshman Chiney Ogwumike.

Stanford was not intimidated by the Huskies' mystique or their winning streak. And the Cardinal don't think this is the biggest thing that ever happened to them. Although, it happened in front of the biggest, loudest home crowds they've ever played in front of.

"This is not a national championship, but it's a very big game for us," VanDerveer said.

Connecticut shot 32.8 percent for the game and were out-rebounded 43-36. Stanford outscored the Huskies 28-14 in the paint. The Huskies were led by guard Kelly Faris with 19 points.

Connecticut was down by as many as 13 points in the first half before cutting the lead to four points. The Huskies had it down to four in the second half as well, cutting the Stanford lead to 48-44 with 10:49 to go. But the Cardinal answered every Connecticut run.

Auriemma said the 90-game win streak is even more remarkable considering how "easy" it was for him team to get beat Thursday night.

"At some point, reality has to set in and today reality set in," Auriemma said. "And I'm OK with it. I'm not distraught about it, don't get me wrong. Winning that many games in a row is just unheard of."


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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kevin Garnett Leaves Celtics Game With Right Leg Injury http://ping.fm/bbGPg

Kevin Garnett Leaves Celtics Game With Right Leg Injury

Kevin Garnett left Wednesday night's game against the Detroit Pistons with a right leg injury. X-rays were taken on the Boston Celtics' star and were negative.

The 16-year veteran will reportedly have an MRI in Boston on Thursday. In addition to the initial prognosis, boston.com reported that a teammate noted the injury was not "as serious as it appeared." The Celtics initially termed it a lower leg injury, and multiple reports indicate that it is believed to be a calf injury, not a knee injury.            

Garnett left the court on his own power, but was assisted into the locker room by a Celtics trainer. The injury occurred with 2:38 left in the first quarter when Garnett went up for a dunk. After successfully completing the play, he hung on the rim a bit longer than usual after injuring the leg. Garnett quickly fouled Tayshaun Prince on the next possession before leaving the game at 2:31.

The injury is to the same leg that's given Garnett problems over the past two seasons. A right knee injury caused him to miss the entire 2009 playoffs and hampered him throughout 2010.

Garnett came into Wednesday's game averaging 15.4 points per game and 9.8 rebounds for the first-place Celtics.
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Nolan Smith Leads Duke Past UNC-G, Mike Krzyzewski Past Dean Smith http://ping.fm/UGJP8

Nolan Smith Leads Duke Past UNC-G, Mike Krzyzewski Past Dean Smith

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- It might've been Duke vs. UNC-G or Mike Krzyzewski versus Dean Smith; either way the Blue Devils and Krzyzewski walked away winners.

Nolan Smith scored 26 points, 22 in the first half, to go with nine assists and Kyle Singler added 27as top-ranked Duke (12-0) made short work of UNC-Greensboro (0-12) 108-62 in the Greensboro Coliseum Wednesday night. It was the 880th win of Krzyzewski's career, moving him into second place on the all-time wins last, one ahead of longtime rival Smith.

Even 13 years after Smith retired, the rivalry between the coaches lived on in the arena, which was full of signs for each Tobacco Road coach.

The rivalry wtih UNC-G, meanwhile, remained as one-sided as always.

Duke jumped out to a 15-2 lead just over four minutes in and Duke was never seriously threatened in its ninth win in nine tries over the Spartans.

The Blue Devils were still without star freshman point guard Kyrie Irving, who remains sidelined indefinitely with a toe injury, but they didn't much need him Wednesday. The senior Smith, who slid over to point after Irving's injury in December, raced the Blue Devils up and down the floor. His 22 points at the break were just 10 fewer than the Spartans, who trailed 53-32 at the break. Smith didn't commit a turnover in the game, against nine assists.

In the second half, Singler took over, scoring 12 points before heading to the bench midway through the period. Five Blue Devils scored in double figures.

But the score was a mere formality on a night to crown Krzyzewski as Tobacco Road's winningest coach and the second winningest coach in Division I.

As Duke walked of fthe floor, a sign posed a challenge for Krzyzewski that may prove no harder to beat the Spartans. "Up next," it read, "Bobby Knight."

How It Was Won: The Blue Devils had a pronounced talent advantage on UNC-G, but Smith's first half ensured Cinderella had no place on this night.

How It Was Lost: UNC-G simply had one too few of everything. When Duke went big with the Plumlees or Ryan Kelly at the four and five, UNC-G struggled to defend Kyle Singler at small forward. When they went with three guards, UNC-G struggled to keep up. But for a team that lost by 46 points, there were no lapses on the compete level.

Stat of the Game: The Spartans finished with 23 field goals and 23 turnovers.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

UFC Heavyweight Champ Cain Velasquez Out 6-8 Months With Shoulder Injury http://ping.fm/hp8Pr

UFC Heavyweight Champ Cain Velasquez Out 6-8 Months With Shoulder Injury

At 6-foot-1 and around 240 pounds, Cain Velasquez is no small man in the ordinary world, but among the UFC's supersized heavyweights, he hardly stands out for his size.

In fact, many heavyweights are either taller or heavier than Velasquez, and most are both. Yet by the end of 2010, it was Velasquez that reigned over the group of monster athletes.

For capturing the UFC heavyweight championship and completing a rapid rise to the top, Velasquez is MMA Fighting's 2010 Fighter of the Year.

The American Kickboxing Academy product fought just twice during the year, but exhibited dominant performances in both matches. In February, he took on the durable Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and needed just 2:20 to knock him out, marking the fastest loss of Nogueira's esteemed career. Then in October, he got his chance to fight Brock Lesnar for the championship.

At the time, Lesnar was fresh off his UFC 116 victory against Shane Carwin in which he overcame a hellacious first-round beating, survived, and submitted Carwin in the second round. The win served to prove that Lesnar was fully recovered from a dangerous bout with diverticulitis that sidelined him for months, and added to his reputation as a potentially unbeatable fighter.

By fight time, Lesnar was nearly a 2-to-1 favorite against Velasquez.

The fight itself was one-sided, but not in the way many expected. In a frantically paced, 4-minute, 12-second round, the two combined for three takedowns, over 100 strike attempts and and spent equal parts standing and on the ground. But it was nearly always Velasquez who seemed to be the one moving towards victory.

Exploited the holes in Lesnar's game, Velasquez hurt the champion with strikes, at one point sending Lesnar stumbling and sliding backwards in hopes of an escape. None would come. Velasquez's onslaught continued until the fight went to the ground, where he pounded on Lesnar. It seemed to be following the same script as Lesnar-Carwin, but Velasquez learned from those mistakes and chose his shots wisely. His punches breaking through Lesnar's defense, it became clear the champ was falling, and a new king would be crowned, and eventually that was the case, as Velasquez earned a stoppage victory.

He's a man that rarely smiles in the cage, but his face lit up, however briefly, upon the realization that he had become the champion.

It was the culmination of a dream for a man whose father had come to the US in hopes of a better life, and the storyline also resonated with fans who prize stories of success. Nearly as importantly, Velasquez helped the UFC continue its inroads to Spanish-speaking fans, heavily promoting his fight in Mexico and to Spanish-language news outlets, and perfectly setting him up for even bigger stardom in the future, as long as he can continue navigating through the land of the giants.

The runners-up:

2) Frankie Edgar
Like Velasquez, Edgar became a champion in 2010, defeating BJ Penn in April. But because there was some controversy about the first decision, he was forced to do it again.

This time, Edgar proved it was no fluke, shutting Penn out by winning all five rounds on the judges' scorecards.

Beating an all-time legend like Penn twice finally proved that Edgar was not too small for the lightweight division as many of his critics claimed.

3) Anthony Pettis
Perhaps no one came so far, so fast as Pettis, who was a virtual unknown to start the year, but through an appearance on the MTV show "The World of Jenks," a perfect 4-0 record, and the year's best action highlight with the "Showtime Kick" during his recent WEC title win over Ben Henderson, launched himself into the MMA spotlight.

Pettis began the year coming off a loss, and ended it as the WEC champion and No. 1 contender to the UFC lightweight title.

4) Nick Diaz
Kickboxer Marius Zaromskis was riding a five-fight win streak when he faced Diaz. So what happened? Diaz TKO'd him in less than a round. Then he went to Japan and tapped out Mach Sakurai in less than a round, and he followed that up by avenging a 2007 defeat to KJ Noons in a unanimous decision win.

5) George Sotiropoulos
One of the more surprising runs of 2010 came from the Aussie Sotiropoulous, who showed he could hang with the very best of the lightweight division, earning strong decisions over Joe Stevenson and Kurt Pellegrino before closing out the year with a second-round submission against Joe Lauzon.

Others:
Dominick Cruz went 3-0, capturing the WEC bantamweight championship and possibly setting himself up for a big-money match against Urijah Faber.

Jim Miller was among the most active fighters in the UFC, going a perfect 4-0 with finishes over Duane "Bang" Ludwig and highly regarded prospect Charles Oliveira. Miller's strong year gave him six straight wins altogether and put him in the lightweight title hunt.

An unfortunate injury knocked Jose Aldo out of a UFC 125 match, but with wins over Urijah Faber and Manny Gamburyan, Aldo continued to make a case for a move up the world's pound-for-pound rankings.

Velasquez may have won Fighter of the Year for 2010, but not far behind was Junior Dos Santos, who went 3-0 with two finishes in moving to No. 1 contender status, where he awaits Velasquez sometime in 2011.

Joe Warren's 2010 was essentially encapsulated into a five-month span, where the Bellator fighter went 4-0 and captured the promotion's featherweight championship after beating the previously undefeated Joe Soto by knockoiut.

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Vikings vs. Eagles: Joe Webb Outduels Michael Vick in Tuesday Night Shocker http://ping.fm/adz8x

Vikings vs. Eagles: Joe Webb Outduels Michael Vick in Tuesday Night Shocker

Whether it was having clinched the NFC East title with the New York Giants' loss Sunday at Green Bay or having their game postponed two nights by the snowstorm that hit Philadelphia, the Eagles looked very out of sorts in losing at home to lowly Minnesota, 24-14.
The defeat means that Philadelphia won't get a first-round bye and will open the playoffs at home on either Jan. 8 or 9. It also means that the NFC North champion Chicago Bears will join the NFC South champion Atlanta Falcons in getting to spend that weekend on their couches. The Vikings started rookie quarterback Joe Webb -- who was drafted in the 2010 sixth round as a receiver -- with Hall of Fame lock Brett Favre and Tavaris Jackson both injured, yet improved to 6-9 overall and 3-2 under interim coach Leslie Frazier.
• The Eagles  opened the scoring with a tremendous catch at the back of the end zone  by Harbor with 7:42 left in the first quarter.  Just what Philadelphia foes need: another great weapon to worry about  beyond Vick, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and Brent Celek.

• Webb is the eighth rookie quarterback to start this season, most since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. The others are Arizona's Max Hall and John Skelton; Carolina's Jimmy Clausen, Cleveland's Colt McCoy, Denver's Tim Tebow, St. Louis' Sam Bradford and Tennessee's Rusty Smith. Webb was drafted in the same spot in 2010 that New England chose Tom Brady (No. 199) in 2000. Brady succeeded Drew Bledsoe, whom Favre beat for his only Super Bowl victory 14 years ago.

• The Vikings drove to the Philadelphia 27 on their second possession, but Peterson lost a yard, right tackle Phil Loadholt was penalized for facemasking Darryl Tapp, Webb underthrew Rice, and Eagles rookie middle linebacker Jamar Chaney made a beautiful deflection of a deep ball for tight end Visanthe Shiancoe to kill the threat. The next time Minnesota penetrated Philadelphia territory, defensive end Trent Cole beat tight end Jeff Dugan for an 8-yard sack on second down. An incomplete pass on third down forced a punt.

• Minnesota came into the game ranked 24th in sacks per play, but defensive ends Jared Allen and Ray Edwards each got to Vick in the first 17:06. The Vikings wound up sacking him six times.

• Former Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard  heard it from the crowd when he dropped a sure interception during the  second quarter. Safety Husain Abullah picked off Vick on the next play  when the quarterback was off-target on a deep throw for Jackson. The  interception was Vick's sixth in the last five games after he didn't  have any in his first seven games.

• Peterson broke free for 23 yards to the Philadelphia 36 in the second quarter, only to have teammate Bernard Berrian kick the ball out of his hands for the Pro Bowl running back's first fumble of the year.

• Vick lost two fumbles, twice as many as he had all year. The second one on Tuesday was caused by defensive tackle Kevin Williams and recovered by Allen at the Minnesota 24 late in the third quarter.

• Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel, who has missed time with a pair of concussions this year, will be fined by the NFL for his helmet-to-helmet in the third quarter on Rice that knocked the latter out of the game with a head injury.
The shocking upset came in Minnesota's third straight rescheduled game since the Metrodome's roof collapsed during a blizzard. Minnesota played host to the Giants in Detroit and took on the Bears outdoors at the University of Minnesota before this one, both blowout losses.
Philadelphia, who slipped to 10-5, closed within a field goal on Pro Bowl starter Michael Vick's 10-yard quarterback draw with 10:17 remaining, but then fell behind by 10 points again when Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson followed Webb's 18-yard strike to Percy Harvin with a 27-yard run and subsequent 1-yard touchdown.
Vick had put Philadelphia ahead with a 3-yard toss to rookie tight end Clay Harbor in the first quarter, but Minnesota tied the game at halftime when defensive back Antoine Winfield,  who had driven the Eagles crazy in the first half with untouched  blitzes, got to Vick for an 11-yard loss and made him fumble. Winfield  swiftly scooped up the ball and raced 45 yards to make it 7-7 with 44  seconds left in the half.
The Vikings took a 10-7 lead on a 30-yard Ryan Longwell field goal that followed an overturned touchdown catch by Sidney Rice  and a foolish 11-yard sack suffered by Webb. However, Webb, the  Alabama-Birmingham product, made up for the mistake later with a nifty  9-yard touchdown run with 6:43 left that capped a drive that was fueled  by Peterson.
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Sidney Crosby Extends Point Streak to 25 Games in Penguins Win http://ping.fm/GpwsL

Sidney Crosby Extends Point Streak to 25 Games in Penguins Win

Sidney Crosby extended his career-best scoring streak to 25 games in the Penguins' 6-3 victory Tuesday night against the Thrashers.

Unlike Sunday's game against the Senators, Crosby got going early on the power play -- scoring his league-leading 31st goal and Pittsburgh's first of the game at the 10:34 mark of the first period. He padded his league lead in goals and points when he found the net at 18:34 in the first, before later assisting on two goals in the third.


Crosby's four-point effort on Tuesday night moves him into a tie for third place -- alongside Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull from the 1991-92 season -- on the NHL's longest point streaks list since the 1989-90 season. Only Mats Sundin's 30-game point streak from 1992-93, and former teammate and Penguins' co-owner Mario Lemieux's 46-game streak from 1989-90 are ahead of the 23-year-old Crosby.
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pro Bowl Teams 2011 http://ping.fm/JMcgS

Pro Bowl Teams 2011

The NFL Pro Bowl teams were announced Tuesday. See below for the full NFC and AFC rosters.

Everyone likes discussing snubs when teams like these are announced, and there are a few notable ones. In the NFC, the most glaring omission is Aaron Rodgers, but the NFC is stacked with quarterbacks. It could be argued that Rodgers has had a better season than Drew Brees, but Brees has enough name power and goodwill to be tough to beat.

The Falcons lead the way with seven Pro Bowlers, with the Patriots close behind at six. The Seahawks came away with no Pro Bowlers.

The 2011 Pro Bowl will be held on Jan. 30 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.

* denotes starter

NFC

Quarterback:
Michael Vick, Eagles*
Matt Ryan, Falcons
Drew Brees, Saints

Fullback:
Ovie Mughelli, Falcons*

Running Back:
Michael Turner, Falcons*
Adrian Peterson, Vikings
Steven Jackson, Rams

Wide Receiver:
Roddy White, Falcons*
Calvin Johnson, Lions*
DeSean Jackson, Eagles
Greg Jennings, Packers

Tight End:
Jason Witten, Cowboys*
Tony Gonzalez, Falcons

Tackle:
Jason Peters, Eagles*
Jordan Gross, Panthers*
Chad Clifton, Packers

Guard:
Jahri Evans, Saints*
Chris Snee, Giants*
Carl Nicks, Saints

Center:
Andre Gurode, Cowboys*
Shaun O'Hara, Giants

Defensive End:
Julius Peppers, Bears*
John Abraham, Falcons*
Justin Tuck, Giants

Defensive Tackle:
Ndamukong Suh, Lions*
Jay Ratliff, Cowboys*
Justin Smith, 49ers

Outside Linebacker:
Clay Matthews, Packers*
DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys*
Lance Briggs, Bears

Inside Linebacker:
Patrick Willis, 49ers*
Brian Urlacher, Bears

Cornerback:
Asante Samuel, Eagles*
Charles Woodson, Packers*
DeAngelo Hall, Redskins

Free Safety:
Nick Collins, Packers*
Antrel Rolle, Giants

Strong Safety:
Adrian Wilson, Cardinals*

K:
David Akers, Eagles*

P:
Mat McBriar, Cowboys*

KR:
Devin Hester, Bears*

ST:
Eric Weems, Falcons*

AFC

Quarterback:
Tom Brady, Patriots*
Philip Rivers, Chargers
Peyton Manning, Colts

Fullback:
Vonta Leach, Texans*

Running Back:
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars*
Arian Foster, Texans
Jamaal Charles, Chiefs

Wide Receiver:
Andre Johnson, Texans*
Reggie Wayne, Colts*
Brandon Lloyd, Broncos
Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs

Tight End:
Antonio Gates, Chargers*
Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars

Tackle:
Jake Long, Dolphins*
Joe Thomas, Browns*
D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Jets

Guard:
Kris Dielman, Chargers*
Logan Mankins, Patriots*
Brian Waters, Chiefs

Center:
Nick Mangold, Jets*
Maurkice Pouncey, Steelers

Defensive End:
Dwight Freeney, Colts*
Robert Mathis, Colts*
Jason Babin, Titans

Defensive Tackle:
Haloti Ngata, Ravens*
Vince Wilfork, Patriots*
Richard Seymour, Raiders

Outside Linebacker:
James Harrison, Steelers*
Cameron Wake, Dolphins*
Terrell Suggs, Ravens

Cornerback:
Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders*
Darrelle Revis, Jets*
Devin McCourty, Patriots

Free Safety:
Ed Reed, Ravens*
Brandon Meriweather, Patriots

Strong Safety:
Troy Polamalu, Steelers*

K:
Billy Cundiff, Ravens*

P:
Shane Lechler, Raiders

KR:Marc Mariani, Titans*

ST:
Montell Owens, Jaguars

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Pittsburgh Defense Stifles UConn, Survives Kemba Walker Surge http://ping.fm/W5axi

Pittsburgh Defense Stifles UConn, Survives Kemba Walker Surge

Kemba Walker scored 31 points, but most of those were too little, too late, as his Connecticut Huskies lost their first game of the season. UConn (10-1, 0-1 Big East) entered the game ranked No. 4 in the nation, but had a tough task in facing No. 6 Pittsburgh on the road. The result was a 78-63 loss. 

Pitt (13-1, 1-0) suffocated the Huskies for much of the game. The Panthers controlled the game nearly from start to finish, building a 16-point lead midway through the second half before Walker's hot streak shrunk the lead into single digits. That lead was eventually pushed back up into the teens on late free throws. The game was never seriously in doubt. 

Pitt's offense was also impressive, as the Panthers got four players in double figures (compared to only one for UConn). Ashton Gibbs led the way with 19 points, while Brad Wanamaker added 14 and Gary McGhee and Nasir Robinson each had 11. Robinson added 10 rebounds, McGhee nine.

It was truly a game of polar opposites -- a great team effort trumping an incredibly talented individual. 

How It Was Won: Defense, defense, defense. Sure, it's easy to look at Kemba Walker's final point line and think the Panthers had no answer for him. But they actually did. He started the game 5-of-16 from the floor before getting hot late in the game to merely make the score a bit closer than it could have been. And the entire UConn team effort from the floor was abysmal. That's what happens when defense pressures the team into contested shots on nearly every trip down the floor. 

How It Was Lost: UConn can't expect to win a game with such a poor shooting display. Plus, the Huskies allowed Pitt's balanced offensive attack to post a fairly good shooting night (52.1 percent, including 5-of-12 from three) on the other end. 

Key Stat: UConn shooting 32.8 percent was pretty bad. Hitting just 5-of-20 from 3-point range was as well. How about Walker being the only Husky to score in double figures? 

What We Didn't Like: Walker struggled through much of the game before getting hot late, but he can't be expected to carry the entire team every game. Someone else has to step up and start making shots to take pressure off him. There aren't many one-man teams that have survived long in the rankings. And right now, that's exactly what UConn is. 


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Saints vs. Falcons: Drew Brees Steals Matt Ryan http://ping.fm/Hioms

Saints vs. Falcons: Drew Brees Steals Matt Ryan's Georgia Dome Thunder

ATLANTA -- The New Orleans Saints were not going to give up their NFC South crown without a fight. The Saints (11-4) came into the Georgia Dome on Monday night, where the Atlanta Falcons have managed to pull out one close win after another, and beat the Falcons 17-14.

Atlanta (12-3) is in the playoffs, but the Falcons will have to wait until next week's game with the Carolina Panthers to win and claim the division title. New Orleans (11-4) secured a wild card berth with the victory and they did it with a defense that stymied the Falcons attack in the second half.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees took his team 90 yards in 13 plays for the go-ahead touchdown, a 6-yard pass to tight end Jimmy Graham with 3:24 to play.

It was just the second home loss for Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan in three seasons.

Early, there was a nasty culture to the game, which was expected given the comments from Atlanta receiver Roddy White during the week. He called the Saints the "Aints" and it caused a storm.

The only time it got really serious was when Ryan took a helmet-first hit after a slide to the ground following a run in the first half. But in the second half it was just hard hitting. The posturing stopped; the football commenced.

Some thoughts on the game:

• There were some costly turnovers in the fourth quarter. Brees threw an interception that was returned 26 yards for a touchdown by Chauncey Davis, that gave the Falcons a 14-10 lead. Brees threw another interception on the next New Orleans possession, but after that he did not screw up again. He led the winning drive and watched his defense preserve it.

• Falcons running back Michael Turner fumbled at the New Orleans' 1-yard line in the third quarter, which was costly. It was not a good night for Turner, who managed just 48 yards on 17 carries.

• The Falcons came out to pound the football with the run game and the Saints met Turner with numbers on first down. New Orleans, which gave up 153 yards rushing to Baltimore's Ray Rice last week, was not going to be gashed.

• Atlanta refused to throw the ball on first down. Perhaps, Mike Mularkey, the offensive coordinator, was going to be stubborn about it to 1) wear down the linebacker-thin Saints for the fourth quarter and 2) set up the play-action in the second half.
• The Falcons kept finding themselves in bad plays on third down and converted just 1 of 6 third downs in the first half (17 percent), 3 of 12 for the game (25 percent).

• The Atlanta defense met the challenge against the Saints offense. The Falcons kept getting pressure on Brees with some looks of pressure up the middle while safety William Moore was the one flying in from the outside.

• The Saints were 3 of 10 on third down in the middle of the third quarter because of the pressure on Brees. New Orleans led 10-7. They kept making Brees move off his spot in the pocket, but the Saints would improve to 8 for 17 by game's end.

• The Falcons players in coverage would not be fooled by Brees looking them off and coming back to the receiver. The New Orleans quarterback is clever with his looks away and defensive backs will bite and lose coverage. The Falcons played that well.

• The Falcons had rotten field position for most of the game. On their first 10 possessions, the average starting position was the 20-yard line. That is tough sledding for any offense.

• What makes Brees a seasoned pro? In the third quarter Moore rushed to the line to blitz. Brees stopped his cadence. He reached out and hit Reggie Bush on the arm in the backfield. Moore was forced to retreat, but Brees knew the blitz was on. Here came Moore. Bush just got a slight chip on Moore, which allowed Brees to complete a 14-yard pass for a first down.

• The Saints came into the game leading the NFL in third down conversions (49 percent), but they failed on their first three. The Falcons did not just win third down in those series, but the Falcons defense won against the short field. New Orleans punted from its 45 and 47 after getting favorable field position. The Saints finally converted with a short field following a 26-yard punt by Michael Koenen.

• Is that you Garrett Hartley? The New Orleans field goal kicker, who missed a 29-yard field on Sept. 26 that would have beaten the Falcons in overtime, kicked a 52-yard field goal following the poor Koenen kick. Hartley, who lost his job briefly during the season, had made eight straight with that kick. Coach Sean Payton insisted his young kicker was not in danger of losing his job, but the team just wanted him to take a step back and get his mechanics right. Looks like it worked.

• You know this is a big game if the Falcons' fans show up early. They showed up early. The upper deck end zone seats, which are usually the last to fill, were occupied by the time the national anthem was being sung. Falcons coach Mike Smith made a plea for the fans to arrive early for the Thursday night game with Baltimore, but the upper deck had pockets of red. The fans arrived late. They got here early Monday, which shows the priority for this rivalry.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Mike Singletary Won http://ping.fm/6hcOR

Mike Singletary Won't Be Last NFL Coach Sent Packing

If you caught a sound bite of Mike Singletary Sunday night, you heard him talking in the past tense, like a coach who had already been fired.
When you woke up this morning, you found out he was gone -- let go as soon as the 49ers' plane from St. Louis landed in San Francisco, making him the fourth NFL coach fired during the season.
After "Black Monday'' (alternate name "Bloody Monday" -- the day after the regular season ends) next week, the coaching-vacancy figure could hit double digits. The NFL isn't European "football,'' where coach/manager changes happen three times a season for some teams. But in this country, impatience also runs high among owners.
So with the playoff picture finally becoming clear -- right down to the "play-in'' game next Sunday night for the NFC West title, featuring 7-8 St. Louis at 6-9 Seattle -- the future of some coaches on the bubble is becoming clearer.
In addition to the changes already made in Dallas, Minnesota, Denver and San Francisco, there is one that was sure from the start of the season: John Fox is leaving Carolina. Fox's contract has expired, and he conceivably could be in demand elsewhere, although coming off a two-win season won't help him (more on that later.)
A couple of things to keep in mind when you consider "celebrity'' coaches, notably Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher: No coach who has won a Super Bowl has ever won a second with a new team (and Mike Shanahan doesn't look like he's about to win anything soon.) Example: Bill Parcells kept going a level lower at each stop -- two Super Bowl wins with the Giants; a Super Bowl loss with the Patriots; an AFC championship game with the Jets; and a one-and-done in the playoffs with the Cowboys.
Beyond that, four of this year's best coaches -- Andy Reid, Mike Smith, Mike Tomlin and Raheem Morris -- were total unknowns when they were hired. Only Smith and Tomlin were coordinators. And remember that owners currently pleading "poverty'' during talks with the union can get those kinds of coaches cheaper than they can get Gruden, Cowher, Fox or college "celebrities'' like Jim Harbaugh or even Nick Saban. (Saban's name has come up, but he's unlikely to go back to the NFL -- he's a control freak who can't get total control or control the media the way he can in college.)
In any case, here are the likely vacancies:
In addition to the changes already made in Dallas, Minnesota, Denver and San Francisco, there is one that was sure from the start of the season: John Fox is leaving Carolina. Fox's contract has expired, and he conceivably could be in demand elsewhere, although coming off a two-win season won't help him (more on that later.)
A couple of things to keep in mind when you consider "celebrity'' coaches, notably Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher: No coach who has won a Super Bowl has ever won a second with a new team (and Mike Shanahan doesn't look like he's about to win anything soon.) Example: Bill Parcells kept going a level lower at each stop -- two Super Bowl wins with the Giants; a Super Bowl loss with the Patriots; an AFC championship game with the Jets; and a one-and-done in the playoffs with the Cowboys.
Beyond that, four of this year's best coaches -- Andy Reid, Mike Smith, Mike Tomlin and Raheem Morris -- were total unknowns when they were hired. Only Smith and Tomlin were coordinators. And remember that owners currently pleading "poverty'' during talks with the union can get those kinds of coaches cheaper than they can get Gruden, Cowher, Fox or college "celebrities'' like Jim Harbaugh or even Nick Saban. (Saban's name has come up, but he's unlikely to go back to the NFL -- he's a control freak who can't get total control or control the media the way he can in college.)
In any case, here are the likely vacancies:
Carolina: Fox is out and ... well, the Panthers might love Harbaugh if he could bring Andrew Luck with him. But Harbaugh told Peter King of SI/NBC that he thinks Luck will stay at Stanford, more bad news for the Panthers -- there are people who think Luck really might be the next John Elway, including Elway himself. If Harbaugh leaves Stanford, it's more likely to be for Michigan than for the NFL. Russ Grimm, who's been close to a few other jobs, might be a good fit.
Miami: Tony Sparano. You can't go 1-7 at home with losses to Buffalo and Detroit in your final two games in front of your fans. That's especially true in Miami, which doesn't sell out automatically and has become increasingly celebrity conscious (yes, South Beach, LeBron and all that). Parcells is no longer there to protect his guy and Steve Ross might be an owner to go big-time -- Cowher's "people'' have been leaking Miami as a possible site for their guy.)
Cleveland: Eric Mangini. If Mangini had won, Mike Holmgren could probably get by the lack of chemistry -- both personally and professionally. Holmgren, after all, was tolerant enough not to fire him when he took over. But at 5-10? Gruden, who apprenticed in Green Bay under Holmgren, might fit. So would Holmgren himself, who hasn't ruled out a return to coaching. On the other hand, Seattle only became a Super Bowl team when Holmgren dropped his GM duties and concentrated on coaching, something he's unlikely to do here.
Cincinnati: Marvin Lewis. His contract is up and he's unlikely to re-sign -- he's been asked by Mike Brown to do everything from act as general manager and chief scout to dean of discipline. The problem is Brown, who won't hire a GM, scouts or anyone to do a lot of the little chores with which Lewis is stuck. Better for Lewis to take a year or two off, then finding another job. If he's someone's defensive coordinator, that's probably all right with him after the burden he's had, including that run of disciplinary troubles that Brown has brought in. And look what happened Sunday when T.O. and Ochocinco didn't play.
Tennessee: Jeff Fisher. Maybe 18 seasons is enough, especially with an owner who wants his quarterback in there. That situation alone is reason to leave, and Fisher is hardly unemployable. He'd also do well in television, the "holding tank'' for coaches. His critics say he's never won anything. How about 154 games?
Houston: Gary Kubiak was supposed to be the next Mike Shanahan (which may not be all good.) Yes, he's had injuries this year, but so has everyone else (Green Bay, for example.) Bob McNair is one of the NFL's smartest owners and a patient one. But he has to realize Kubiak hasn't worked out. Again, a place in which Cowher has expressed an interest. Does McNair want to pay $6 million a year? He has talent in Houston, although Matt Schaub may be one of those quarterbacks who's just good enough to lose.
And the "interims.''
Dallas: Jason Garrett is a tough call for Jerry Jones, who spent Saturday evening on the NFL Network fudging about whether to keep his interim coach, who once was the coach-in-waiting. He might as well keep him. Jerry will never relinquish his GM duties, which are at the heart of the problem. It's a multi-billion dollar family business, but the Cowboys probably won't improve until Jones takes a step back. Still, there's talent at the skill positions, and Garrett has done about as well as he could have in his situation -- he shouldn't get demerits for losing in Arizona with his third-string QB against the Cardinals' third-stringer, who had three games' more experience.
Minnesota: Just keep Leslie Frazier, who has to find a QB. The Brad Childress/Darrell Bevell/Zygi Wilf pursuit of Brett Favre almost got them to a Super Bowl in 2009 and failed abjectly in 2010. That's not the only problem on a team with too much age. But Frazier has been thought of as an up-and-comer for a while, and the Vikings are better off with him. The bigger chore is finding a place to play for a team whose last three games have been postponed or moved.
Denver: Josh McDaniels tore the team apart but might have left them with a quarterback to build around -- Tim Tebow, whose intangibles could make up for any flaws in his delivery. Eric Studesville has never been on anyone's "hot'' list, so he's out after his interim title expires. Harbaugh is one of the names that's come up. Good luck with that.
San Francisco: Singletary's problem was one common to Hall of Fame players -- he thought every 49er should play with his drive and fire. Another team that has Harbaugh on its wish list -- remember that Bill Walsh came from Stanford. Twice. No way. This is a problem in the front office. Maybe it would be different if they'd stayed in the Bay Area and drafted Aaron Rodgers over Alex Smith in 2005. But they didn't, and "what ifs'' are available on every one of the 32 teams.
New York Giants: Tom Coughlin is probably safe. Should he be? He's been at the Meadowlands for seven seasons, won a Super Bowl and made the playoffs four times with an outside shot at a fifth. But that fifth looked like reality with eight minutes left in the 14th game this season. With one of the most explosive front fours in the NFL, the Giants have allowed 73 points in their last 68 minutes, perhaps because Perry Fewell, who turned around the defense, has been overaggressive against Michael Vick and Aaron Rodgers -- both are mobile enough to escape and leave the secondary exposed. In any case, owner John Mara believes in stability and in his late father's choice. That was Coughlin.

Addendum: Cowher has made it known he'd like the Giants. Fox, who was defensive coordinator when Jim Fassel was head coach, is more likely.

Washington: This is a real long shot, although Dan Snyder reportedly is upset about the way Mike and Kyle Shanahan (at this point, they're hard to separate) handled Donovan McNabb. So is everyone else -- 14 different reasons for his benching in 24 hours (OK, four) is ridiculous. Mike Shanahan has two Super Bowl rings, courtesy of John Elway, but is stubborn and bad with defense. Blame Snyder and his "name'' collection, to which both McNabb and Shanahan belong. No, he won't change coaches.

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Titans vs. Chiefs: Kansas City Clinches AFC West Title

The Kansas City Chiefs clinched the AFC West title Sunday.
A 34-14 win over the Tennessee Titans -- improving the Chiefs to 10-5 -- along with San Diego's 34-20 loss at Cincinnati gave the Chiefs the division title.
With the loss, the Titans fell to 6-9 and were eliminated from playoff contention.
Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel threw for 314 yards and three touchdowns. Two of his touchdown tosses went to running back Jamaal Charles to help the Chiefs remain unbeaten in seven games at New Arrrowhead this season. Dwayne Bowe also had a big day, with six catches for 153 yards and a TD -- which took him over 1,000 yards receiving for the season.
The victory marked a six-game improvement in the Chiefs' win column from a year ago, when they finished 4-12, and it gave Kansas City its biggest one-year turnaround in team history.            
Meanwhile, quarterback Kerry Collins had a tough day for the Titans, completing just 14 of 37 for 237 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, including one that was returned for a Chiefs' score.
• Apparently feeling that the game was in hand with a 17-point lead -- and perhaps thinking about his appendectomy just 18-days before -- the Chiefs pulled Cassel at the start of the fourth quarter. But backup Brodie Croyle's first series ended in an interception, giving the Titans, down by just 17 points, a chance to get back in the game. A strong defensive effort by the Chiefs, punctuated by a third-down sack of Collins, led to a Tennessee punt. Cassel was back in the game for the next series..
• The Chiefs extended their lead in the third quarter with Ryan Succop's second field goal. Javier Arenas' 29-yard punt return helped set up the score. Tennessee responded on its next possession when Collins threw 22 yards to Jared Cook for a touchdown. It was Cook's first career touchdown.
• Rookie safety Eric Berry safety put an exclamation point on the Chiefs' explosive first half, intercepting Collins' pass intended for Cook and rumbling for a 54-yard touchdown. The defensive score with 22 seconds left in the second quarter put Kansas City up 31-7 at halftime. Berry, the Chiefs' first-round pick, has been part of a dynamic rookie class that has helped the Chiefs rise to the top of their division. It was the fourth interception of the season for Berry, who came in with 111 tackles, the most ever by a rookie safety for the Chiefs.

• The Chiefs totaled 327 yards in offense in the first half, which is their third-highest total ever.

• The Titans trailed 24-0 before finally getting on the board on Collins' 53-yard pass to Kenny Britt with 4:15 left in the second quarter. On the play, Collins surpassed 40,000 yards passing for his career. The 16-year veteran joined Brett Favre and Peyton Manning as the only active quarterbacks with 40,000 yards passing in their career. Collins is the 12th quarterback in NFL history to reach the milestone.

• Cassel connected for his third touchdown pass of the day when he hit Dwayne Bowe in stride over the middle, and Bowe sped past secondary defenders to convert the reception into a 75-yard touchdown. The play put Bowe over the top for 1,000 yards receiving this season, the second 1,000-yard season of his career.

• Charles has emerged as one of the game's most dynamic runners and he's pretty darn good as a receiver as well. Charles had his first multi-touchdown game as a receiver, catching Cassel's first of two touchdown passes of the day. He turned a screen pass into a 14-yard score and made an over-the-shoulder catch on a 5-yard toss from Cassel, as the Chiefs took an early 14-0 lead.

• Chiefs coach Todd Haley was walking around with a noticeable limp. Turns out, according to FOX Sports' Jay Glazer, that Haley tore his quadriceps muscle clean off the bone a couple weeks ago while helping out in practice by playing the part of a defensive back.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ravens vs. Browns: Baltimore Playoff-Bound After 20-10 Win in Cleveland http://ping.fm/pHlUU

Ravens vs. Browns: Baltimore Playoff-Bound After 20-10 Win in Cleveland

The battle of the old Browns (the Baltimore Ravens) and the new Browns took place on Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Ravens could taste postseason while the Browns looked to play the role of the spoiler. However, Baltimore won the game in a convincing 20-10 victory, clinching its third consecutive playoff berth.

In their last meeting, Browns running back Peyton Hillis scorched the Ravens while Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw three touchdowns to Anquan Boldin.

However, they were all held in check on Sunday. Boldin mustered two catches for 15 yards with no touchdowns, while Flacco finished 12-of-19 passing for 102 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The Ravens controlled matters with their running game and Baltimore safety Ed Reed grabbed two interceptions as Baltimore forced four turnovers in the contest.

The win gave Baltimore its longest streak of making the postseason in franchise history.

Some thoughts on the game:

• The matchup between Hillis and the Ravens' defense was in full effect as they collided on the first two opening plays of the game. However, in the second series, Hillis took a hard hit shot in the ribs by Baltimore safety Ed Reed. The hit forced Hillis out of the game for a few plays and eventually returned. Hillis finished the game with 35 yards on 12 carries.

• The Browns went into one of their wildcat formations to put some points on the board first. In the first quarter with 2:12 left, the Browns went in motion with quarterback Seneca Wallace in shotgun formation to setup a misdirection play. Wallace handed the ball off to Hillis, who then pitched the ball out to wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi. The former Georgia Bulldog then threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie near the corner of the endzone. It was an impressive play.

• The Ravens then struck back quickly with 13-unanswered points. After going on a 16-play drive spanning 80 yards to get three points, the Ravens recovered a loose ball on the Browns' next possession after cornerback Chris Carr caused Massaquoi to fumble near the sideline. The ball mysteriously stayed in play, allowing linebacker Jameel McClain to scoop it up and gain nine yards. Three plays later, Flacco connected with wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh for a 15-yard touchdown on a post route. Baltimore added another three points before Browns' kicker Phil Dawson (the only Brown left from the Cleveland's expansion team in 1999) capped the half with a 30-yard field goal, which made it a 13-10.

• In the first quarter, Flacco became the sixth player in NFL history to have thrown for 10,000 yards in three seasons. Flacco accomplished that feat on a second-and-7 play as he hooked-up with wide receiver Derrick Mason for 10 yards, converting a first down.

• After Cleveland attempted an onside kick that backfired on the opening kickoff of the half. The ball went out of bounds before it went the full ten yards needed for the Browns to recover the ball. Three plays later, the Ravens went on a play-action play, faking an end-the-round, when Flacco threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Mason.

• While Baltimore ended one long streak, they continued another streak by going 24 straight games without allowing a touchdown in the third quarter.

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Source: Rangers to Sign Brandon Webb, Pending Physical http://ping.fm/XOpju

Source: Rangers to Sign Brandon Webb, Pending Physical

Having missed out on re-signing Cliff Lee, the Rangers have come to a tentative agreement to sign another former Cy Young Award winner, Brandon Webb, according to a major-league source.

Reached by text message, agent Jonathan Maurer declined comment. Texas general manager Jon Daniels did not respond to a request for comment.

The deal, assumed to be for one year, is pending a physical. Webb has not pitched in the majors since Opening Day of 2009 due to a shoulder injury that required surgery.

Webb, who had spent his entire career with the Diamondbacks, was 56-25 with a 3.13 ERA over 2006-08, winning the 2006 NL Cy Young and finishing second the next two seasons. Webb, who turns 32 in May, features a heavy sinker, and his career rate of 0.63 homers allowed per nine innings is tops among active starters with more than 850 career innings.

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LeBron James Nets Triple-Double as Heat Thump Lakers on Christmas http://ping.fm/i4sVb

LeBron James Nets Triple-Double as Heat Thump Lakers on Christmas

LOS ANGELES -- The marquee matchup of the NBA's Christmas Day schedule turned into a one-sided showcase for Miami, as a LeBron James triple-double fueled a 96-80 Heat victory over the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday.
First Quarter: Heat 20, Lakers 14
The NBA's showcase Christmas Day game starts off as a showcase for defense. It was a struggle for both teams to score, but much moreso for the Lakers, who converted just six of their 25 field-goal attempts. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol combined to go 0-11 from the floor, with Gasol missing a few easy ones right at the rim.
L.A. opened with a 7-2 run, and had the crowd excited and on its feet early with an alley-oop from Bryant to Lamar Odom on the opening possession. But after Ron Artest picked up his second foul less than three minutes in -- both while guarding LeBron James -- the Lakers were outscored 18-7 the rest of the way, with James scoring eight first-quarter points.
Chris Bosh was the man for the Heat, dominating with nine points and six rebounds in the period, including this ferocious slam down the lane on a feed from Dwyane Wade.
The one bright spot for L.A. was Andrew Bynum, who checked in with just under three minutes to go in the period, and scored on both of his touches -- post-up opportunities that began with his back to the basket.

Second Quarter: Heat 47, Lakers 38

Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol combined for 14 more points than they did in their scoreless first quarter here in the second, but thanks to the continued stellar play of Chris Bosh -- and just some better overall shooting -- the Heat were able to extend its halftime lead to nine.

It could have been much worse for the Lakers. Miami opened the period with a 13-6 run that pushed its lead to 13 before L.A. began to show some life by holding the Heat to a single field goal over a span of almost five minutes. That allowed Bryant to have a shot to cut the lead to six with about three minutes to play, but he was stripped by Wade as he made his move into the lane.

The refs didn't see a foul, Bryant clapped his hands in disagreement, and he was whistled for a technical foul. Miami made the free throw, and went back up by 12 on a corner three-pointer from James. Thankfully for the Lakers, Artest quickly answered with a three of his own on the next possession, which prevented the game from becoming completely one-sided at the break.

WIth 10.7 seconds remaining in the half -- and after Bosh pushed his first-half scoring total to 18 with a driving layup and a 20-foot jumper on consecutive possessions -- James and Artest got tangled up under the basket, and LeBron didn't take too kindly to the contact. Artest had knocked his headband off, and James gave a little shove to gain some separation, all of which was enough to draw double technical fouls from the officials.

Third Quarter: Heat 75, Lakers 64
A three-pointer from Kobe Bryant a couple of minutes into the third cut Miami's lead to just six at 51-45. But the Heat quickly recovered, and pushed it back out to 12 at 60-48 after a particularly physical defensive effort from Artest on James, which resulted in a temporary steal for Artest -- before the ball got away from him, and he went flying out of bounds into the Miami bench in an unsuccessful attempt to save it.

The Miami lead reached as many as 16, thanks to Wade and James combining for 18 points in the period.

Andrew Bynum was effective for the Lakers near the end of the first quarter, and finally got his first action since then when he checked back in with 2:46 to play in this one. But the team didn't look for him the way they did during his first brief stint, and he missed his only shot attempt.

Fourth Quarter: Heat 96, Lakers 80

L.A. pulled within eight points about a minute and a half into the fourth, on a three-pointer from Shannon Brown. But that's as close as they were able to get the rest of the way, and in fact, the Heat pushed their lead to as many as 21 points before their statement of a performance was through.

About the only bit of excitement on the Lakers end came when Kobe Bryant was called for an offensive foul with 4:46 to play and his team down 19, on a play where he crashed into the stationary James Jones in the lane. As Bryant got up, LeBron was vocal in his congratulations for his teammate's defensive effort, and Bryant didn't seem to appreciate it. He had words for James, and the two exchanged words back and forth five or six times as the two headed back down the court.

That was about all the fight the Lakers were able to show this afternoon. Miami's big three delivered in a big way -- Bosh finished with 24 points and 13 boards, Wade with 18, five rebounds and six assists, and James with a triple-double line of 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

If there's any consolation the Lakers can take away from this one, it's in the fact that they got blown out by LeBron's team on Christmas Day at home last season, and still managed to win a championship.

Then again, they didn't have to face his Cavaliers in the Finals

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Magic top Boston to snap Celtics http://ping.fm/LCEEu

Magic top Boston to snap Celtics' streak

ORLANDO, Fla.   Brandon Bass scored 21 points and the Orlando Magic ended the Boston Celtics' 14-game winning streak with an 86-78 victory Saturday.

Hedo Turkoglu added 16 points while Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick each made a jumper in the final minutes to help Orlando rally from 12 points down in the second half for back-to-back wins against the NBA's best. The Magic also ended San Antonio's 10-game winning streak earlier this week to win for the first time since orchestrating a pair of blockbuster trades.

Kevin Garnett had 22 points, Paul Pierce scored 18 points but injuries finally caught up with the Celtics against the team they ousted in last season's Eastern Conference finals. Boston had not lost since Nov. 21 at Toronto.

The Celtics again seemed to frustrate Orlando for most of the game.

They had Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard in foul trouble for the first three quarters. He didn't even score his first field goal until a minute into the fourth quarter, a hook shot over Glen Davis to trim Boston's lead to four.

A few plays later, Howard was wrestling with Shaquille O'Neal for position when he drew a sixth foul on O'Neal by easily falling to the ground. The Magic would tie the score at 77 on Bass' short jumper with 1:56 remaining and runaway from there.

Nelson followed with a 3-pointer, leaving his hand in the air and chest-bumping teammate Jason Richardson in a frantic celebration near the bench. After Garnett made one of two free throws, Redick rolled in a jumper from about 20 feet.

Ray Allen and Nate Robinson each had airballs in the final seconds, and Nelson made four free throws to seal another huge victory for a Magic team that was falling apart only days early. Two trades so far have made all the difference.

The Magic brought Gilbert Arenas from Washington and Richardson, Turkoglu and Earl Clark from Phoenix. They gave up Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat, plus a 2011 first-round draft pick and cash, in the deals.

The moves were good enough to beat a battered Boston that finally ran out of ways to keep winning.
Point guard Rajon Rondo agains was out with a sprained ankle and had missed seven of the 14 wins during the streak. Backup Delonte West has missed the last 13. Shaquille O'Neal sat out four, Jermaine O'Neal played for the first time in 14 games against Orlando and Kendrick Perkins - last season's starting center - hasn't even played this season.

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Tanguay lifts Flames to 3-2 SO win over Stars http://ping.fm/txCVe

Tanguay lifts Flames to 3-2 SO win over Stars

DALLAS -Alex Tanguay converted in the second round of the shootout after scoring late in regulation, Miikka Kiprusoff stopped all three Dallas shooters, and the Calgary Flames snapped a three-game losing streak with a 3-2 victory over the Stars on Thursday night.

Tanguay beat Kari Lehtonen for the only goal in the tiebreaker. Kiprusoff stopped Loui Eriksson and Brad Richards in the first two rounds, and Dallas' Mike Ribeiro failed to get off a clean shot in the third round.

Brenden Morrow had given the Stars a 2-1 lead at 2:41 of the third period, knocking the rebound of his own shot past Kiprusoff. But with Kiprusoff on the bench for a sixth attacker, Tanguay tied it with 1:21 left in regulation on a wrist shot from the high slot that beat Lehtonen to the stick side.

Ribeiro scored a power-play goal and Lehtonen stopped 31 shots for the Stars, 10-0-3 in their last 13 at home. Kiprusoff made 14 saves and Anton Babchuk scored on the power play for the Flames.

Calgary struck first when Babchuk's shot from beyond the left circle got past a screened Lehtonen at 11:03 of the first period, a second before the Flames' power play was to expire.

Ribeiro's one-timer from the right circle drew Dallas even at with 2:47 left in the opening period, 16 seconds into the Stars' first power play of the night.

Calgary held a 16-6 shots advantage after two periods of a tight-checking contest.

Adam Pardy had a chance to put the Flames in front with a little over 6 minutes left in the second period, but his shot clanged off the post.

Dallas' Jamie Benn and Calgary captain Jarome Iginla squared off at 7:19 of the first period, a fight that lasted over a minute. Benn landed several early shots to Iginla's face before wearing down.

NOTES: Calgary is without D Steve Staios (shoulder), C Daymond Langkow (neck) and LW Raitis Ivanans (concussion). Dallas is injury-free and has lost only 26 player-games to injuries this season. ... The Stars have scored on the power play in seven straight games.

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Tulsa Lives Up to Hurricane Nickname, Blows Out Hawaii 62-35 in Hawaii Bowl http://ping.fm/KLSNL

Tulsa Lives Up to Hurricane Nickname, Blows Out Hawaii 62-35 in Hawaii Bowl

If you didn't know better, you'd wonder if Tulsa played Hawaii in basketball or football Friday night in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl at Aloha Stadium. It was that wild of a scoring affair.

With Tulsa and Hawaii being two of the highest-scoring teams in college football this season, many expected it to be a shootout, and neither team disappointed, as the two combined for nearly 100 points, with the visiting Golden Hurricane rolling to a 62-35 blowout over the host Warriors, who were ranked No. 24 coming into the game.

You read that right: 62-35, in a game that lasted roughly four hours. At least the 85 degree temperatures for those in attendance were some consolation.

Both teams compiled over 500 yards in total offense. Hawaii totaled 542 yards, including 471 via the air, while Tulsa racked up 531 total yards, with 343 of those coming via passes. The Hurricanes also added 188 rushing yards, compared to just 71 for Hawaii. Greg Salas pulled in 13 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns for Hawaii in the losing cause, while Tulsa was led in receiving by Damaris Johnson (photo above), who caught four passes for 101 yards and 1 TD.

Johnson, who was named the bowl game's Most Valuable Player, wound up with 326 all-purpose yards, setting an NCAA record of over 7,700 total yards in his tenure at Tulsa.            

While Hawaii, which came into the game with the nation's No. 1 passing offense, was favored and boasted what many believed to be a stronger offense and defense than Tulsa, the Warriors coughed up six turnovers, including five interceptions, four coming off Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz, who completed 24 of 47 passes for 403 yards and three touchdowns. Tulsa QB G.J. Kinne completed 17 of 31 passes for 343 yards, three touchdowns and was interception-free.

Tulsa, which has now won three straight bowl games, finishes the season 10-3, while Hawaii ends the campaign 10-4.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Ronaldo hat trick as Real Madrid routs Levante 8-0 http://ping.fm/SYt8i

Ronaldo hat trick as Real Madrid routs Levante 8-0

MADRID -Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema had three goals each to lead Real Madrid to an 8-0 rout of Levante on Wednesday night in the first leg of the fifth round of Spain's Copa del Rey.

Ronaldo scored in the 45th, 72nd and 74th minutes, raising his season total to 25 goals in 24 matches in all competitions for Madrid this season.

Benzema connected in the sixth, 32nd and 70th minutes, and Mesut Oezil and Pedro Leon also scored. The second leg of the total-goals series is at Levante on Jan. 5.

Also, Simao Sabrosa's 33rd-minute penalty kick gave Atletico Madrid a 1-0 win over Espanyol as both teams finished a man short.

Atletico president Enrique Cerezo recently said Simao will soon be transferred to Turkey's Besiktas, and the Portuguese winger received a standing ovation from the crowd at Vicente Calderon stadium when he was substituted late.

Koffi Romaric scored twice in Sevilla's 5-3 win over Malaga, Jose Ulloa had a hat trick to give Almeria a 4-3 win over Mallorca, and Getafe beat second-division Real Betis 2-1.

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Panthers vs. Steelers: Bloodied Ben Roethlisberger Leads Rout of Carolina http://ping.fm/iFExD

Panthers vs. Steelers: Bloodied Ben Roethlisberger Leads Rout of Carolina

If there are questions about the Steelers' readiness for a run at the Super Bowl, they have been about the offense. Can it be explosive enough to keep up with Tom Brady and New England? Can it be efficient enough to score with opportunities against the Ravens, or win a muscle game with the Kansas City Chiefs?

The Pittsburgh offense looked sharp at times and wobbly at others Thursday night, in a 27-3 win over the Carolina Panthers (2-13). Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was shaking off tacklers all night and completing passes on the move to put the Steelers (11-4) in position for a first-round bye in the playoffs and a home postseason game.

If Cleveland beats the Ravens on Sunday, Pittsburgh wins the division. If the Steelers win their final game against the Browns, they still win the AFC North and lock up the conference's No. 2 playoff seed.

Roethlisberger completed 22 of 32 passes for 320 yards. He also fumbled twice.
• Roethlisberger came up a little woozy after taking a hit in the second quarter. His nose, which he recently had surgically repaired after he broke it against Baltimore, was bleeding and he briefly retreated to the Steelers' locker room.

• Pittsburgh tight end Heath Miller returned after missing two games with a concussion. That was a clear benefit to the Pittsburgh passing game against Carolina. Miller had five catches for 73 yards.

• The Steelers played without five-time Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu, who has an Achilles tendon injury. It was the second straight game Polamalu has missed. It would probably help if he could miss the season finale against the Browns, too, for another week of rest. The Steelers can clinch a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs if Cleveland beats Baltimore on Sunday. Polamalu leads Pittsburgh with six interceptions and is considered a strong candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He was injured returning an interception for a touchdown Dec. 12 against Cincinnati. Ryan Mundy started in his place Thursday.

• The Steelers came into the game with the best run defense in the NFL, yielding just 63.4 yards per game. The Panthers came into the game 12th in rushing offense averaging 116 yards per game. Carolina was producing 167 yards rushing per game in the last month. But the Panthers rushed for just 74 yards on the night.

• Pittsburgh entered game leading the NFL in scoring defense (15.7), while the Panthers stood last in the NFL in scoring offense (13.1). The final score makes sense then.

Jimmy Clausen, the Panthers' rookie quarterback, got his first NFL win last week against the Cardinals. Thursday night, it was back to the bludgeoning for the Notre Dame kid. Clausen was sacked four times. He finished 10 of 23 passing for 72 yards.

• The one thing Clausen did often was throw in the direction of wide receiver Steve Smith. There has been some friction between the two -- and some of it has to do with Smith going long stretches without a chance at catching the ball. Clausen threw it that way plenty of times Thursday night, but the connection was not there. Smith finished with three catches for just 17 yards.

• John Fox, the Carolina Panthers coach, has not had a good season challenging plays on the field. He was 2 of 13 coming into the game throwing the red flag. Some of that is explained by the desperate situations his team has been in this season. The Panthers are 2-13 and Fox probably threw the challenge flag in some games with the idea, "What do I have to lose?" Well, Fox stopped a touchdown on the Steelers' first possession and went to 3 of 14. Pittsburgh Emmanuel Sanders did not control a ball at the goal line, but the play was first ruled a touchdown. It was overturned by Fox's appeal.

• The successful challenge by Fox continued the red-zone problems for the Steelers. Pittsburgh got a field goal out of the possession, but that is obviously not the goal. The Steelers rank 27th in the NFL getting touchdowns -- just 44.4 percent of the time -- inside the opponent's 20. They also failed to score a touchdown on another possession inside the Carolina 10 in the third quarter.

• Roethlisberger had talked about not trying to throw too many passes into the end zone. So what did he do? Threw the ball into the end zone time and again looking for touchdowns. This is an issue. If the Steelers meet up with New England in the AFC final, the Patriots are better finishers.

Charles Johnson, the Panthers third-year defensive end, got a sack in the second quarter and another in the fourth quarter. It was his sixth straight game with a sack. The dump of Roethlisberger gave Johnson 11 sacks for the season. His play this year helped make up for the loss of Julius Peppers, who took off for Chicago in the offseason. Too bad the Panthers could not find a remedy for the losses of all the other veterans management let loose.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Terrelle Pryor Among Five Ohio State Players Suspended, but Not for Bowl http://ping.fm/LDB0r

Terrelle Pryor Among Five Ohio State Players Suspended, but Not for Bowl

Terrelle Pryor and four of his Ohio State teammates have been suspended for the first five games of the 2011 football season after an investigation that started with reports that players were trading autographs for tattoos. But all five players will be allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas on January 4.

That likely means Pryor, the Buckeyes' starting quarterback, will leave Ohio State and enter the 2011 NFL draft. It's highly unlikely that Pryor would return to school to play half a season, and so the Sugar Bowl will presumably be his final game with the Buckeyes.

The NCAA announced the suspensions on Thursday morning. In addition to Pryor, the suspended players are running back Dan Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, offensive lineman Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas will all be suspended for the first five games of 2011. All will additionally have to make charitable donations in the same amount of the "improper benefits" they received, with amounts ranging from $1,000 to $2,500.

A sixth player, Jordan Whiting, has been suspended for the first game of next year and must pay $150 to a charity for the value of services that were discounted because he's an Ohio State football player.             

"These are significant penalties based on findings and information  provided by the university," said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of  academic and membership affairs, in a statement released by Ohio State.

The NCAA indicated in its announcement that it did not suspend the  players for the bowl game because it does not believe the players knew  they were committing an infraction and because Ohio State did not gain a  competitive advantage from the infractions. Although the investigation  started with players receiving free tattoos, players were also found to  have sold items including pants, jerseys and Big Ten championship rings. 

Ohio State AD Gene Smith said the school is committed to following NCAA rules going forward.

"We were not as explicit with our student-athlete education as we  should have been in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 academic years regarding the  sale of apparel, awards and gifts issued by the athletics department,"  Smith said. "We began to significantly improve our education in November  of 2009 to address these issues. After going through this experience,  we will further enhance our education for all our student-athletes as we  move forward."

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Boise State Pounds Utah in MAACO Bowl Las Vegas http://ping.fm/J8auh

Boise State Pounds Utah in MAACO Bowl Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS -- There was no fancy BCS trophy and no national championship on the line.

A single loss -- the only one in the last 27 games -- made sure of that for Boise State.

But Wednesday night's dominating 26-3 win in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas over Pac-12-bound Utah sure felt good to the No. 10 Broncos.

"It is what it is," BSU junior quarterback Kellen Moore said after winning game MVP honors with 319 yards and two touchdowns on 28-of-38 passing. "We still had a great season and, I feel, had a great team."

There are few that will dispute that.

The 12-1 Broncos missed out on another BCS bowl game by just a few inches but leave the Western Athletic Conference for the Mountain West as arguably the top non-automatic qualifying team in the country.

And despite a lousy first quarter and numerous missed opportunities against the Utes, Boise State outclassed its 19th-ranked opponent in virtually every way. Piling up 523 yards of offense and limiting Utah to just 200, the Broncos turned an early close game into a game that might not have been as close as the 23-point final margin indicated.

"With the defense playing that well, I knew, I knew, that we'd hit a stride and get it going," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said.

That stride came, for the most part, in one play.            

Trailing Utah 3-0 in the second quarter, Boise State saw senior safety Winston Venable jump into the offensive huddle and fire his team up with a spirited pep talk.

One play later, the Broncos were in the end zone -- Doug Martin busted through the line and sprinted past a handful of Utah defenders for a bowl record 84-yard touchdown run.

"One-play drives are huge momentum changers."
-- Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore on Doug Martin's run
"One-play drives are huge momentum changers," Moore said.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham couldn't have agreed more.

"I was contemplating a fake punt on the play before that," Whittingham said. "In hindsight, I wish we had dialed that up."

Too late for wishful thinking, obviously, as Boise State turned on the jets after that and, aside from a slew of turnovers and missed opportunities, crushed the Utes from that point forward.

"Fortunately for us, football is a long game," Moore said. "The defense really kept us in it."

Utah had only eight first downs in the game and managed only 93 rushing yards as the Utes, too, shot themselves in the foot plenty of times with dropped passes, fumbles and drive-killing penalties.

Boise State will not be joining Utah in the Mountain West Conference next year. Instead, the Broncos are giving the Utes a big kick in the tail as they exit the conference.

With the Utes headed to the Pac 12 next year, Boise State made sure they left the Mountain West with their first post-season loss in a decade.

"Our players and our program have been very proud of that," Whittingham said, trying to wrap his head around how Utah's run in the MWC came to a close.

Moore and Martin made sure the Utes didn't leave the conference with much of a warm, fuzzy feeling.

For about 21 minutes, though, Boise State (12-1) looked like the team that might end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

Boise State gave Utah every opportunity in the world to build an early lead. A pair of fumbles, an interception and a botched fake punt from the Broncos were turned into only three Ute points.

And against any football team, let alone a Top 10 squad like Boise State, wasting opportunities to put a team down early is a recipe for disaster.

But even after holding the Broncos scoreless in the first quarter for the first time all season and giving Boise State it's first regulation deficit since the season-opener against Virginia Tech, Utah (10-3) couldn't do much on offense.

Senior quarterback Terrance Cain, starting in place of injured sophomore Jordan Wynn, struggled throwing the ball accurately and even when his throws were on target his receivers dropped them.

Utah went nowhere following the fourth turnover (counting the fake punt) and after punting the ball away watched Boise State's Martin answer with his run through the line and down the Utah sideline for a touchdown.

The Broncos, with Moore returning next season, figure to again challenge for a BCS bowl appearance in 2011. And though they missed out on that by the narrowest of margins this year, pounding Utah into the soggy turf at Sam Boyd Stadium wasn't a poor substitute, if they had to pick one.

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