Monday, January 31, 2011
"It just shows that I can do it," Watson said. "I did it twice now. I'm only like 50 behind Phil and 80 behind Tiger, so they better watch out."
Watson, no malice intended, is seen by many as something of a golf goof ball. The 32-year-old self-taught player from the little Florida Panhandle town of Bagdad, likes to post Internet videos featuring trick shots and comedy. One of his favorites is a wedge shot from out of a tiny loving cup, over a swimming pool and into a sand pail.
He also has posted a "Happy Birthday" tribute to Ellen DeGeneres, and, last December at the Shark Shootout, dressed as Santa Claus to sign autographs after finishing play.
"Well, I think I'm funny. But I still have fun with the game, I still have fun with my life," he says. "But for me to just go through the motions or for me to be good at what I do, I needed to take stuff serious.
"So on the golf course, my 30 seconds before I hit and 30 seconds while I'm hitting, I've got to be serious. The rest, who cares. So, you know, it's growing on me. This is my sixth year on Tour, so I'm getting used to all the attention, all the ropes, all the media, all the people. Just getting used to it, so it's becoming more natural now for me."
The odd thing about that is despite Watson's lighter side, most of his public exposure has come with tears.
Last year, after making the Travelers his first PGA Tour victory, Watson broke down, acknowledging his father, Gerry, who was home in Pensacola, Fla., losing a battle to cancer. In September, while Bubba was in Wales playing his first Ryder Cup, he was calling home ever day during Gerry's final weeks.
"More than likely, I am never going to be in the military," Watson said of playing for the U.S.. "So this is a chance to be like my dad."
Finally, the former Green Beret, who served in Vietnam, and later taught his son to play the game, died in October.
Sunday's 16-under finish and victory, Watson's first since his dad's death, again brought emotion.
"It means a lot," Watson said of the victory. "You know, everyone is special. We do not know if we are going to have them or not. So I'm probably going to cry all day, just like I did last time."
The long-hitting left-hander was 13 under on the par-5s for the week, birdieing all four on Sunday. He led the field in greens in regulation -- 59 of 72. He also led the field in driving distance, averaging 308 yards.
And he made clutch putts on the last two holes, a 10-footer to save par at No. 17 and a 12-footer for birdie at 18 that secured the victory over a charging Mickelson.
"Well, what I believe in life as a Christian, I believe that, yes, he's up there he's watching and he's cheering me on," Watson said of his father. "It's my sister's birthday today, so it was nice for our family that I won on my sister's birthday. So, yeah, I thought about him a little bit.
"I thought about him after I made the putt on 18. I looked up to the sky, but at the same time I knew that Phil Mickelson's a great wedge player, so I can't get too emotional yet."
Mickelson, a hometown favorite who has won the event three times, was one shot behind as he went to the par-5 finishing hole, just before Watson sank what would be the winning putt.
Watson's birdie left Mickelson needing to hole a 72-yard wedge shot for eagle to tie.
Mickelson had his caddie, Jim "Bones" Mackay, tend the flag. His shot landed about four feet behind the hole, but stopped well short of spinning back and into the hole. Mickelson closed with a 69.
"Bubba played some terrific golf," Mickelson said. "I really felt like starting out with the wind and the difficult conditions that if I shot something in the 60s, I thought that would be enough. I did what I thought would be enough, and it just wasn't.
"Bubba played too good. Made some great shots after great shots. I saw and made putt after putt. It was a wonderful round for him."
AFC quarterbacks Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Matt Cassel each threw first-half interceptions to help the NFC blow open a 42-0 lead in a performance ugly even by the historically low standards of this game.
Fittingly for this strange contest, center Alex Mack of Cleveland scored the final touchdown on a 67-yard pass play that featured two laterals with 16 seconds left.
Carolina's Jon Beason returned the fifth interception thrown by the AFC, and second by Matt Cassel, 59 yards for the NFC's final touchdown to match the single-team scoring record set in the NFC's 55-52 victory in 2004.
New England coach Bill Belichick, after his Super Bowl favorite Patriots lost to the New York Jets in the divisional playoffs, had to watch his AFC squad muddle through the one-sided first half.
Pro Bowls are, by their nature, laid-back affairs, seemingly played at half speed by players whose biggest concern is to get on the plane home without injury.
The AFC, though, took that attitude to an uncomfortable extreme early on before coming back to outscore the NFC 41-13.
The NFC led 42-0 after Steven Jackson waltzed through the AFC defense for a 21-yard touchdown-and there still was 4 1/2 minutes left in the second quarter.
Rivers, starting in place of injured Tom Brady, was picked off twice in the first quarter, the second by Hall.
Manning, in his 11th Pro Bowl, came on briefly in relief and his second pass was picked off. Then Cassel got his chance and quickly joined in the spirit of things, throwing his second pass of the game directly into the hands of Minnesota cornerback Antoine Winfield.
But just when it appeared it would be the most one-sided game in Pro Bowl history, eclipsing the Joe Theismann-led 45-3 NFC rout of the AFC in 1984, the AFC scored three touchdowns in a row. The last came on the game's seventh turnover, when Devin Hester tried to hand the kickoff return to Hall, but the ball fell to the turf. Montell Owens of Jacksonville scooped it up and ran it in 10 yards for the score to make it 42-21 with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.
With his seven extra points, tying a Pro Bowl record, along with two field goals David Akers moved ahead of Morten Andersen (45) for most Pro Bowl points with 52. The Philadelphia kicker would have had more but his 36-yard field goal try in the fourth quarter bounced off the right upright.
A tropical downpour preceded the game but subsided just before kickoff as the game returned to its traditional home in Hawaii after a one-year detour to Miami .
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick started but played only the first quarter, completing 5 of 10 passes for 59 yards.
Adrian Peterson rushed for 80 yards in 14 carries for the NFC, including a 14-yarder to set a Pro Bowl record with four career rushing touchdowns. Atlanta got good performances from Matt Ryan (9 of 13 for 118 yards and two touchdowns with an interception), Michael Turner (eight carries for 53 yards) and Roddy White (five catches for 69 yards).
So, how long will the St. John's players be allowed to celebrate Sunday's 93-78 victory over No. 3 Duke - a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicated?
"Coach Lav said we had two hours to celebrate and then we have to get ready for Rutgers," senior forward Justin Burrell said, referring to first-year coach Steve Lavin and the Red Storm's next opponent on Wednesday.
Two hours? It will take longer than that just to go over the highlight plays of a game that St. John's had won by halftime. Those last 20 minutes were just a formality.
"I felt like we were ready. The guys wanted to play this game," Duke guard Nolan Smith said. "We wanted to be here but they came out from the jump ball and kicked our butts."
It wasn't that St. John's (12-8) beat the Blue Devils (19-2), it was the way it happened.
St. John's was finishing a stretch of eight straight games against ranked teams. This win gave them three wins in that span. It was enough to have Lavin waving his arms to the crowd at a media timeout in the second half.
"You're caught up in the moment of the game and I wanted St. John's fans to come to the party in terms of supporting the players on the court," Lavin said. "We had this arduous stretch of games and having lost five of six, at that moment it was just wanting to jumper cable the crowd and bring energy for our players because they deserved a pat on the back and some appreciation for the yeoman's effort and the cohesive brand of basketball they had been playing against the defending national champion."
The Red Storm, who had lost three straight and five of six, took control early and had a 46-25 lead at halftime. Duke, which came into the game shooting 40 percent from 3-point range, missed its first 10 shots from behind the arc and made one of 13 in the half.
The Blue Devils' overall shooting wasn't a whole lot better as they shot 29.6 percent (8 of 27) in the half - they entered the game shooting 48.1 percent from the field - and they were careless with the ball as well, committing 11 turnovers, one off their season average for a game.
St. John's had a lot to do with how poorly Duke played, using a three-quarter court trap to force the Blue Devils into low percentage passes that almost all seemed to either be stolen by St. John's or just thrown away.
"It's not an Xs and Os thing today," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I felt we were not ready to compete, we had blank expressions on our faces and guys weren't talking and that's my responsibility. Our program didn't do well today and that is all our responsibilities."
There was plenty of praise to go around for the Red Storm, who gave the Big East a 6-1 record against teams ranked in the top 10 this season. They were 16 of 28 from the field (57.1 percent) in the first half, well above the 45.2 percent the Red Storm were shooting coming into the game.
Dwight Hardy had 26 points for St. John's, while Justin Brownlee had 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists and Paris Horne added 15 points and six assists. St. John's shot 58.2 percent for the game (32 of 55) and was 26 of 33 from the free throw line.
"I thought our team from the outset executed with precision on offense and brought great intensity to the defensive end of the floor," Lavin said, "and we were able to maintain a high level of basketball for 40 minutes and that was the difference."
Duke's loss continued the weekend of misery for members of the Top 25. On Saturday, four teams in the top 10 and 11 ranked teams overall lost.
Smith led Duke with 32 points and Kyle Singler added 20. Duke finished 5 of 26 from 3-point range - they missed 21 of the first 22 attempts - and had 17 turnovers.
"To sum it up they got whatever they wanted and we just weren't able to bounce back and match them," Singler said.
The sellout crowd of 19,353 at Madison Square Garden - about 60 percent of whom were cheering for St. John's - seemed to be waiting for a run by the Blue Devils, who had won four straight since its loss at Florida State, that would make their nightmare half go away.
St. John's came out and scored the first two baskets of the second half - one on a dunk by D.J. Kennedy 10 seconds in, the other on a layup by Hardy off a nice pass from Dwayne Polee II - to take its biggest lead of the game, 50-25 1:04 into the second half.
St. John's had doubled Duke and the Red Storm managed to score enough the rest of the way to keep the Blue Devils at bay. The closest Duke would get would be 11 points after they hit four straights 3-pointers to pull to 87-76.
"I was really excited," said Burrell who had eight points and five rebounds. "I'm one of those guys who really enjoys college basketball and I was excited to be a part of this."
The Red Storm started their run against ranked teams with a 61-58 victory over then-No. 13 Georgetown. After losses to Notre Dame and Syracuse, they beat then-No. 9 Notre Dame 72-54 in a rematch. Losses to Louisville, Cincinnati and Georgetown preceded the win over Duke. All three wins were at Madison Square Garden.
"This was an interesting stretch as a coach," Lavin said. "I don't think it had ever happened. The mathematical probabilities have got to be one in a zillion. "We've had to temper things with them and be mindful of that frustration. The concern was that our players realize this conference is really tough and you can lose five of six and not be playing bad basketball."
Duke had been as comfortable at the Garden as St. John's. The Blue Devils had won their last five and 12 of 13 there and were 25-14 all-time.
The game got chippy for a while in the second half and double technicals were called twice before things settled down.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
C.J. Fair's layup tied the game at 64, but Crowder's layup put Marquette ahead by two. Kris Joseph's jumper tied it for the last time for Syracuse which never led in the game. Jimmy Butler hit a 3-pointer with 1:51 to go and then Darius Johnson-Odom made another 3 as Marquette withstood the charge.
Joseph led the Orange with 18 points, but it wasn't enough as Syracuse (18-4, 5-4 Big East) who have lost four in a row for the first time since Jan. 16-29, 2006.
Butler finished with 19 for Marquette (14-8, 5-4).
Butler and Dwight Buycks each made one of two free throws and Johnson-Odom made two in the final minute to seal the victory.
A porous defense figured prominently in the Orange's previous three losses. Then-No. 5 Pittsburgh shredded the Syracuse zone for a 74-66 victory Jan. 17. Villanova, ranked eighth at the time, hit 11 3-pointers in an 83-72 victory last Saturday at the Carrier Dome. On Tuesday, Seton Hall made 10 of 17 3s in a 90-68 rout, the worst home loss since an 85-61 defeat on Feb. 7, 1998.
The Orange had won five straight over Marquette since it joined the conference in 2005 and held a 7-2 all-time record coming into the game. The Golden Eagles had beaten every Big East opponent except for Syracuse, but Crowder and Butler changed that.
Darius Johnson-Odom added 17 points for Marquette which had open Big East play with victories over West Virginia and Rutgers. Then, the Golden Eagles lost four of six to nationally ranked teams, including consecutive defeats to then 16th-ranked Notre Dame last Saturday and fifth-ranked Connecticut on Tuesday. The Golden Eagles, 2-7 overall against ranked teams this season, had frittered away second-half leads in each of their last three losses because of defensive breakdowns.
Scopp Jardine's reverse layup off a Marquette turnover capped a 25-14 run, erased Marquette's 11-point halftime lead and tied the game at 56 with 8:18 to go.
Syracuse started the second half with an 8-1 run while holding Marquette scoreless for almost four minutes to pull to 43-39 with 16:38 left. The Orange cut off Marquette's driving lanes which had been wide open in the first half and forced the Golden Eagles to shoot from the outside. Marquette missed three shots in the span and turned the ball over once as Syracuse finally made it a close game.
Crowder and Johnson-Odom each had 12 points to pace Marquette's attack that went over and through Syracuse's zone defense. The Orange contested Marquette's drives through the paint, but couldn't stop the scoring. The Golden Eagles made 13 of 15 free throws to Syracuse's 1 of 2.
Marquette led by 11 points three times in the first, the last on Jimmy Butler's close-in jumper that gave Marquette a 42-31 lead at the half.
The third-seeded Djokovic dominated the fifth-seeded Murray in every aspect of the final match. Djokovic won his first Australian Open title in 2008. The 23-year-old Murray finishes runner-up for the second consecutive year in Melbourne Park.
The aggressive Djokovic had better statistics throughout the board. Djokovic won 70 percent of his first-serve points, 60 percent of his second-serve points and was only broken three times. Murray, who was hesitant throughout the match, was broken seven times and committed 47 unforced errors. Additionally, the Brit only won 39 percent of his net approaches in the match.
The contest was only tight for the very beginning of the first set, when both players held serve for the opening nine games. Djokovic opened the match up by claiming the first break of serve in the tenth game. The Serb's serve was dominating, winning 16 of 17 first-serve points in the first set.
A focused Djokovic capitalized on the momentum from his first-set win and took the first five games to begin the second set. Djokovic suddenly rattled off seven straight games to go up 5-0 in the second. Even after breaking Djokovic for the first time in the match during the seventh game of the set, Murray was unable to garner any type of momentum. A focused Djokovic broke back in the next game to take a commanding two-set lead.
Djokovic continued his excellence into the third set where a frustrated Murray continued to be severely outplayed.
It has been quite the run for the 23-year-old Serbian. After finishing runner-up at the 2010 U.S. Open, Djokovic led the Serbian team to their first Davis Cup victory to end the 2010 season. The third-ranked Djokovic only lost one set throughout the tournament, sending yet another message to the tennis world.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Sullinger finished with 21 points and Aaron Craft had 13 points for Ohio State.
Leading by only two at the half, Ohio State (22-0, 9-0 Big Ten) pulled out to a 13-point lead in the second half. But Northwestern, playing without leading scorer John Shurna, who has a concussion, came back behind senior guard Michael Thompson, who led the Wildcats with 16 points - 13 in the second half.
Thompson's 3-pointer with 3:51 left capped a 21-7 run as the Wildcats took a 55-54 lead and the crowd at Welsh-Ryan Arena erupted.
Seconds later, Ohio State's Jon Diebler - No. 5 all-time in the Big Ten in 3-pointers made - hit one for his first basket of the game to put the Buckeyes right back in front 57-55.
Thompson then sailed through the lane and the 5-foot-10 guard floated the ball into the basket for a tie with 1:31 left.
After an Ohio State turnover and then a foul, Northwestern retained possession and tried to set up a go-ahead shot. But Ohio State's David Lighty stole a pass with 17 seconds to go.
The Buckeyes got the ball to their freshman star Sullinger and he was fouled with 3.5 seconds left. His first attempt hit the front of the rim as Northwestern's student section waived, screamed and tried to distract him from under the basket. He then swished the second for a 58-57 Buckeyes' lead.
Following three timeouts, Drew Crawford's long attempt from just over the midcourt line hit the backboard and Ohio State had pulled out the tough victory.
Northwestern (13-8, 3-7) is now 0-16 all-time playing top-ranked teams.
Thompson's 3-pointer with 7:53 left cut the lead to nine, and Ohio State's Dallas Lauderdale was called for an intentional foul on the play near the basket. Davide Curletti made 1 of 2 free throws and the Wildcats retained possession with JerShon Cobb hitting a 3-pointer. The seven-point possession made it 51-46 with just a little more than seven minutes remaining and got Northwestern back in the game.
Northwestern won the boards, despite the absence of the 6-8 Shurna, 31-20 and had 14 on the offensive end. Ohio State shot 57 percent for the game and Sullinger was 7 for 12 from the field.
The Buckeyes have now matched the second longest winning streak in school history.
In 2006-07 Ohio State also won 22 straight, counting tournament games, before losing in the NCAA championship game. The 1961-62 team was victorious in its first 22 games. The longest Buckeyes win streak was 32, spanning two seasons from 1959-60 (last five) to 1960-61 (first 27).
It was the two points he didn't score in that run, however, that were the most spectacular -- and Freeman was responsible for them, too. Trapped by two Villanova defenders on the sideline, with his back to the basket, near midcourt with 24 seconds left and the Wildcats trailing by just 65-64, Freeman somehow saw freshman teammate Nate Lubick alone on the right baseline. He sailed a pass to Lubick, who slammed it through to give Georgetown a 67-64 lead.
Freeman then drained the two free throws that sealed it with 14.1 seconds left -- although the Hoyas (16-5, 5-3) did have to sweat out two more game-tying three-point attempts by Villanova before they could celebrate their fourth straight Big East win.
Villanova (17-4, 5-3) followed its shocking loss at Providence Wednesday with this defeat, its first at home in league play.
Sophomore Maalik Wayns came off the bench for the first time all season -- Dominic Cheek started in his place -- and ended up scoring 13 of his 15 points in the second half. Corey Stokes also heated up at halftime, scoring 11 of his 13 points. The pair combined for Villanova's last 15 points of the game. Three different times in the last 2:08, Wayns brought Villanova to within a point.
The Takeaway: At the same time this game was taking place, Louisville was knocking off Connecticut in double overtime at Storrs, moving the Cardinals ahead of Villanova and UConn in the Big East standings. Never mind going undefeated in conference play: only one-loss Pittsburgh and two-loss Louisville has fewer than three losses, and the schedule is only half over.
How It Was Won: Freeman made nothing but big plays down the stretch: a putback of his own missed drive with 1:41 left, a deep jumper from the left corner to barely beat the shot clock with 40 seconds left, the pass to Lubick, and the free throws.
How It Was Lost: Villanova's press was hellacious in the final minutes, and can barely be faulted even for the Freeman jumper or the pass to Lubick -- but its long scoring droughts before that got it into a hole it never could get out of. They let a 44-42 deficit balloon to 10, 55-45, during a four-minute span and were down by nine with five minutes left before pressing full-court to close the gap. They shot 40.7 percent for the game, and only a late flurry overcame a poor three-point shooting performance.
What It Means: It seemed inconceivable that Georgetown could win without Chris Wright scoring at all -- but between first-half foul trouble and simply his attention to running the offense instead of looking for his shot, Wright logged a 0 in the point column. He finished with six assists, none bigger than the one to Freeman for his clutch jumper in the final minute. Essentially, concerns about the Big Three guards are relevant only when they have poor numbers in a loss.
Up Next: Georgetown hosts Louisville Monday night, its third game in six days after an eight-day layoff. Villanova hosts Marquette on Wednesday.
Peyton Siva's late game heroics again saved the Cards, who -- again -- rallied late for a 79-78 win over Connecticut in Storrs.
Wednesday, a Siva layup with less than five seconds remaining gave the Cards a win over West Virginia. Against UConn Saturday, Siva twice beat his man to get to the rim for driving lay ups to first push the game into overtime, and, later, double OT.
No. 23 Louisville (17-4, 6-2) fell behind by as many as nine points in the second half, and were down seven with four minutes remaining. A Kyle Kuric three tied the game late in regulation, leading to Siva's late bucket.
No. 5 Connecticut (17-3, 5-3) grabbed a four point lead in overtime, but a late Mike Marra three pulled Louisville back within one. Shabazz Napier only hit one of two free throws, and Siva blew past the freshman on the other end for an uncontested dunk to send the game to a second extra period.
Two quick threes by the Cards put the Huskies in an early hole in the second OT, but UConn fought back. With Louisville up one, Chris Smith missed back to back free throws. Kemba Walker's deep three rimmed out, securing the win for Louisville.
Jeremy Lamb led all scorers with 21 points -- 14 of which came in the first half -- and Walker added 20. Siva led Louisville with 19 points and seven assists. Terrence Jennings had 16 points and 10 boards, while Knowles added 15 points.
How it Was Won: Patience. In this slew of comeback victories for the Cards, they have shown remarkable resilience an patience when fighting back. They never force the issue and they wait for the chances to come. And when they need a three, they have a knack for hitting it almost every time.
How it Was Lost: With a comfortable second half lead, Conne cticut fell into the trap that has befallen two Big East teams before them. Instead of attacking and trying to score at the rim, UConn -- like Marquette and West Virginia before them -- settled for long jump shots. Louisville, again, took full advantage of their complacency and stole one on the road.
Emerging Compliments for Kemba: In the last couple of games, a promising trend has emerged for the Huskies. Two freshmen, Lamb and Napier, have stepped up their roles in terms of scoring. The Huskies need it now, as Walker is mired in a mini-slump that has spanned three games now.
Where to From Here: With Villanova's loss Saturday, Louisville assumes second place in the Big East by themselves. They go to Georgetown Monday before a home game with DePaul before another road test against Notre Dame. UConn gets a spiraling Syracuse team, losers in its last three, at home Wednesday night.
Li, who was playing in her first Grand Slam final, was up a set and had broken Clijsters twice to start the second set. However, Clijsters' experience in major titles paid off for the Belgian as she tweaked her game to rally in the second half of her eighth-career major championship.
After losing the first eight points of the contest, Li battled back to take the early lead and looked settled. But Li, who was representing China in Asia's first-ever Grand Slam singles final, faltered during vital spots in the second set.
When Li was up 3-2 in the second set, the 28-year-old Chinese native became unglued and lost control of the match. Clijsters quickly won the next four games to secure the set as the unnerved Li unraveled quickly. Clijsters broke Li's serve four times in the second set. Additionally, Li became visibly disturbed by crowd noise and photographers around this time.
The Belgian built on her momentum and opened up the decisive set with a hold at love. Clijsters took advantage of a shaken Li and went up 5-2 in the third set. After Li held in the eighth game, Clijsters won four consecutive points on serve to close the match out in the ninth. Li pushed a forehand wide on Clijsters' first championship point.
An emotional Clijsters, who started to tear up following the win, left the court with her first non-U.S. Open major title of her career.
Both players struggled with their service games throughout the match. Clijsters finished with seven breaks, while Li broke Clijsters six times. The most telling statistic of the match, however, was Li's 40 unforced errors – many coming after being up 6-3, 3-2 and serving as Clijsters' impetus.
Clijsters, who alluded throughout the week that 2011 may be her final full year on tour, might be leaving Melbourne Park on Saturday a winner for the final time in her career at the tournament.
Friday, January 28, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Zack Novak scored 19 points and Stu Douglass made a big 3-pointer with 20 seconds left, lifting Michigan to a 61-57 victory over No. 25 Michigan State on Thursday night.
The Wolverines (12-9, 2-6 Big Ten) had lost six straight games this season and 11 in a row at Michigan State.
The Spartans (12-8, 4-4) have lost three straight, slumping to the bottom of The Associated Press poll after being ranked No. 2 in the preseason.
Michigan State's Kalin Lucas scored 27 points, Durrell Summers had 13 points and a season-high 10 rebounds and Draymond Green, who fouled out, added nine points.
Darius Morris had 17 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 10 for the Wolverines, who made 10 of 21 3-pointers and grabbed as many rebounds as the bigger Spartans.
Novak matched a career high with six 3-pointers, making his fourth midway through the first half.
Michigan was outrebounded by Minnesota by 25 in its previous game.
Douglass' 3 from the right wing - his only one in four attempts - gave Michigan a 60-55 lead.
The Wolverines weren't stronger or more experienced than Michigan State, but they seemed to want to win more than their slumping rivals did just two days after a second player was kicked off their team in five months.
Michigan State junior guard Korie Lucious was dismissed for the rest of the season on Tuesday and guard Chris Allen wasn't welcomed back for his senior season, both catching the wrath of coach Tom Izzo for unspecified reasons.
The Wolverines won at the Breslin Center for the first time since Jan. 25, 1997, and for just the fourth time in 22 games against Michigan State.
Michigan, which led by as many as 10 points in the first half, went ahead by 14 shortly after halftime.
The Wolverines held off many Michigan State bursts and led 55-42 after Novak made his sixth 3-pointer with 7:17 left.
Freshman Keith Appling, who was 4 the last time Michigan won in East Lansing, made a 3-pointer to pull the Spartans within five with 4:41 to go.
Lucas scored five straight points to cut the deficit to two with just under 2 minutes left, but the Spartans couldn't make the shots or get the stops needed to get closer or go ahead.
In the opening minutes, it looked like Michigan State might have its way with Michigan as it did the previous 11 games in East Lansing - winning those games by an average of 19-plus points.
The Summers-led Spartans got off to a good start, scoring the first six points, but the Wolverines quickly proved they weren't going to be the same pushover they've been at the Breslin Center for more than a decade.
Michigan went on an 8-1 run to take the lead and Novak made his fourth 3-pointer midway through the first half to make it 20-16. The Wolverines built a 10-point lead late in the first half, then gave up a couple shots and led 33-27 at halftime.
Together, they set off the wildest celebration in Bloomington in years.
The victory ended a 19-game losing streak against ranked opponents for Indiana (11-10, 2-6 Big Ten).
Mike Davis scored 14 points to lead Illinois (14-7, 4-4), which has lost four of five and failed to win its third straight in Bloomington.
And it was every bit as tough as it looked.
Hulls, who started the game with a wrap on his right knee, finished it with a bandage on his right temple and tape around his right forearm. And Pritchard, who drew four fouls in the first 9 minutes of the second half, came up with the game's biggest play when he got his fingertips on a missed shot and redirected it for what proved to be the winning basket.
Fans rushed the court, jumping up and down at midcourt in a celebration reminiscent of a night the Hoosiers upset then-No. 1 Michigan State in January 2001.
Neither team led by more than six points, and when the Illini closed on a 7-2 run to take a 32-30 halftime lead, it looked like the game might slip away from Indiana.
Then things got downright ugly.
Neither team scored for almost 5 1/2 minutes in the second half, and when Hulls finally drove in for a layup to make it 36-34 with 12:46 to go, Indiana had its second basket in a span of more than 10 minutes.
But they couldn't regain the lead for another 5 minutes. That's when Hulls knocked down a 3-pointer to give Indiana a 41-39 lead with 7:36 left. Hulls' 3 gave the Hoosiers a 46-42 lead with 5:01 to go, but the Illini scored seven straight points to rebuild a 49-46 lead with 2:43 left.
Christian Watford then hit two free throws, and Pritchard tipped the game back in Indiana's favor. Hulls followed that with two free throws, and Illinois missed two 3s in the final 5 seconds.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Johnson, the Tennessee Titans' three-time Pro Bowl running back, set a goal this past season of rushing for 2,500 yards, and although he fell well short of the goal, he told The Tennessean Wednesday that nothing has changed.
His goal for 2011? You guessed it.
"I have the same goal: 2,500,'' Johnson, who rushed for 1,364 yards in 2010, said. "I want to win more, but I still have the same goals. I want to go for 2,500. ... It is very realistic. I had a good season last year.
"I know a lot of people said I didn't have a good year, but I did. When you put the stats up there, I had a good year. Some people say I had a bad year, but I set my standards so high people expect that.''
Johnson finished fourth in the NFL in rushing, and was named to the Pro Bowl as an alternate. He was named to the AFC roster as a replacement for Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Scoring 40 points against Utah or Colorado State is one thing. Dropping 43 against the 4th-ranked and previously undefeated San Diego State Aztecs in a 71-58 decision is quite another.
Brigham Young (20-1, 6-0 Mountain West) got one of the biggest regular season wins in school history when the No. 9 Cougars, 5-point favorites entering the game, rode the back of Fredette and made believers of many who may have been skeptical prior to Wednesday night's showdown in front of more than 22,000 -- including a reported 24 NBA scouts -- at BYU's Marriott Center.
Fredette knocked down 14 of his 24 shots and needed almost every one of them as much of BYU's offense struggled against the Aztecs. Only sophomore center Brandon Davies (14 points) had more than six for the Cougars. SDSU (20-1, 5-1) was paced by sophomore sensation Kawhi Leonard, fighting flu-like symptoms before the game, with a 22-point, 15-rebound effort.
How It Was Won: The easy explanation would be to look at Fredette's 43-point scoring outburst. The real story, though, is the defense BYU played against a very efficient Aztec squad. SDSU shot a paltry 35.5 percent overall and just 25 percent from 3-point range as BYU's defense more than compensated for its non-Jimmer offensive struggles.
How It Was Lost: SDSU can look no further for an excuse for falling from the ranks of the unbeaten than the nearly nine minutes without a field goal in the second half. After playing BYU to an effective draw for about 25 minutes, the Aztecs went cold, and the Cougars pushed their lead to double digits.
Key Stat: That Jimmer guy and his buddy Davies combined to make 20 of 32 shots. The rest of the BYU team made only 5 of 24. BYU's bench scored just four points. Still, Fredette's best home game ever was plenty.
Where to From Here: San Diego State will undoubtedly fall a little bit in the polls. The Aztecs host Wyoming Saturday, and Leonard should be over whatever bug he picked up prior to the game. The rematch in San Diego comes February 26.
BYU will celebrate but has a tough matchup waiting Saturday when the Cougars travel to New Mexico to face the Lobos. Coach Dave Rose's high-tempo offense will need a lot more help if they expect to continue this amazing run.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
The Friars had gone 51 weeks and 17 games without a Big East victory before beating No. 19 Louisville 72-67 on Saturday but now have won two straight conference games. On Wednesday, they never trailed as the Wildcats couldn't mount a serious comeback.
Providence (13-8, 2-6 Big East) led 34-25 at halftime and stretched the margin to as much as 18 points on a 3-pointer by Bryce Cotton that made the score 74-56 with 2:50 left.
Villanova (17-3, 5-2) was led by Maalik Wayns with 18 points and Antonio Pena with 17.
The Wildcats were coming off an 83-72 upset at No. 3 Syracuse on Saturday night and had beaten the Friars in their last eight meetings since a loss on Feb. 11, 2004. But Villanova's top two scorers, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes, only had seven points each and the team shot a season-low 32.5 percent from the field. Its three losses have come in its worst shooting games.
The Friars weren't much better, hitting only 37.3 percent of their shots. But they made 8 of 26 shots from 3-point range, while the Wildcats missed their first seven and finished at 4 of 22.
Against Syracuse on Saturday, Villanova had hit 50 percent of its shots while Wayns and Fisher made 6 of 7 shots from behind the arc in the first half. On Wednesday, Wayns was 2 for 4 on 3-pointers, but Fisher missed all four of his attempts and Stokes went 1 for 9.
Providence charged into a 6-0 lead on 3-pointers by Gerard Coleman and Vincent Council, who each scored 16 points. It was 8-4 before Villanova tied it 8-all when Pena converted offensive rebounds.
But when Duke Mondy sank a 3-pointer just 5:52 into the game, Providence had the lead for good, 11-8. An eight-point run capped by Council's basket made it 24-14 with 6:16 left in the half.
Providence opened the second half with five straight points for a 39-25 lead. Villanova cut that to seven on Pena's jumper with 10:07 to play that made it 50-43. But two free throws by Cotton and a layup by Kadeem Batts built the lead up to 54-43. Stokes, who had missed his first 11 shots, finally connected when he made a 3-pointer with 8:54 remaining that made it 54-46. But that was much too little, much too late as the Wildcats continued to miss shots and failed to make key stops.
Until Saturday, the Friars had not won a Big East game since beating then-No. 19 Connecticut on Jan. 27 last year, also their last victory over a team ranked in The Associated Press Top 25.
Nadal hurt his hamstring in the first few minutes, and then limped on, tried on, fought on. No way was he going to Cutler this thing. He couldn't push off on his serve, couldn't get anything into his shots, couldn't even run, really.
He had no chance. But he fought on anyway. In the end, David Ferrer beat Nadal 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 in the Australian Open quarterfinals Wednesday.
The Rafa Slam is gone.
"I tried my best,'' Nadal said. "I couldn't do more.''
Because of the injury, right?
"You know, for me it is difficult to come here and speak about (it),'' Nadal said. "In Doha, I wasn't healthy; today, I have another problem. Seems like I always have problems (excuses) when I lose, and I don't want to have this image, no?''
Nadal declined to talk further about the injury, declined even to say what it was. He requested, out of respect for Ferrer, that no one ask him about it.
Then someone asked.
"You are listening to me?'' he said.
Meanwhile, Ferrer said that when Nadal isn't injured, he wins in straight sets. So it's "not like a victory, really.''
It was 100 percent a victory for Ferrer. He was better than Nadal. That was Nadal's point. That's what tennis is, one person standing there alone, testing his mind, heart and body. Physical condition is not an excuse, but instead part of the match.
It feels as if something was cheated, that tennis' chance at history -- just the fourth time someone would have won four majors in a row -- had simply never happened. But that isn't right. It did happen.
Look at it as a lesson of what sport is supposed to be about. The important thing is that Nadal kept going and didn't pull a Cutler. In the U.S., the sports world has been talking about Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who tapped out on his team Sunday in the third quarter of the NFC Championship Game against the rival Green Bay Packers. It was The Big Game against The Big Rival for the Bears, and Cutler, who had strained his knee ligament, just sat down.
The argument has been about whether he was really hurt. But that's beside the point. Assume Cutler was hurt, and hurt bad.
Still, someone should have had to wrestle him down to keep him out of that game.
Instead, he separated himself from the moment. Nadal wouldn't give up on his. Which is the tough-guy sport again? Football or tennis?
Do you think about retiring from the match?
"I hate retirements,'' he said.
You did it last year, when your knees flared up.
"I hate that moment. I didn't want to repeat that.''
While the big, tough NFL player was sitting down with a boo-boo, Venus Williams hurt her leg, screamed, had it wrapped up, and put herself back in. She won that match, and two days later, with everyone around her telling her not to risk permanent injury, she went back out again.
"You have to kind of get past the fear of it getting worse ...'' she said.
She played just seven points before her body completely gave in. Later she said she had done the right thing that it was important to her to know she had given 100 percent.
Nadal's first-round opponent, Marcos Daniel, was so hurt that he couldn't even straighten his leg. He was a journeyman playing maybe the greatest player of all time on a stage where he could easily embarrass himself.
But he fought on, anyway, until he just couldn't stand anymore. He didn't win even one game, but there was no embarrassment.
If you haven't torn a hamstring before, I can tell you this: Last time I did it, my leg turned blue and I could barely walk for nearly two weeks.
But while Nadal fought through pain, the relationship between Nadal and pain has become too frequent. We learned this once and for all:
Nadal's body is not reliable.
His style of play is too violent on his body. He storms the court, throws everything into every shot. Already, he missed months in 2009 with tendinitis in his knees. That's a wear-and-tear injury. He tore an abdominal muscle in the 2009 US Open, and now this, re-injured his knees in Australia last year.
And when the never-ending tennis argument picks up again -- Federer or Nadal? -- Federer's longevity and durability might deserve a little more weight than it has been getting. It is not just a mark of attendance.
I asked Vera Zvonareva, ranked No. 2, about what goes into the decision to quit from injury during a match. When do you decide to stop?
"I always play through injuries,'' she said. "It was not a good choice some of the time. For example, the surgery that I got last year, before coming here to Australia, I could have avoided it I would not have pushed myself that hard.
"Each person has different limits, and they have to know themselves really well to make that decision. ... There are people around you, your team, and they can give you advice. But it is really you have to make the choice. You try to make it smart.''
Do you risk being dumb if it's the big moment?
"For sure, there are some times there is a match like that,'' she said. "If you're in a final of a major or something, you make a choice to play through injury. Yes, there are moments like this.''
Nadal tried everything he could after getting hurt in the second game, including coming to the net to shorten points. Ferrer runs everything down, keeps the ball in play. It was the worst type of opponent for Nadal, who didn't have the power or leverage in his legs to hit winners. Ferrer hit 44 winners to Nadal's 14.
"The tennis career, you have higher moments and lower moments,'' Nadal said. "I had almost all the time very, very happy moments and very nice moments in my career. That's part of the sport.
"Accept. Keep working. Try my best in the next tournament. That's what I can do.''
But the Rafa Slam is gone for good.
"I think he can win the next four,'' Ferrer said.
You know he'll fight for it.
The nation's top-ranked team left little doubt Tuesday night in its superiority, beating Purdue 87-64 in a game it led by as many as 30. The Buckeyes never trailed and led by double digits for 34 minutes.
Sure, it was at home, but the Buckeyes thoroughly dominated the 12th-ranked team in the nation -- a team coming off a resounding victory over Michigan State. Ohio State (21-0, 8-0 Big Ten) is clearly the best team in the country right now.
It was the very definition of a total team effort. Ohio State got six players in double figures in points, with no one having more than 19. It had five with at least four rebounds, with no one having more than eight, and five guys with at least a pair of assists -- and none with more than six. The Buckeyes hit 11 of 19 from 3-point range, with five players hitting at least one. And on and on. Just look at the box score.
William Buford led the Buckeyes with 19 points. The junior nailed five of his six threes. Burly freshman Jared Sullinger had 17 points and seven boards.
JaJuan Johnson led the Boilermakers (17-4, 6-2) with 22 points and seven rebounds. E'Twaun Moore contributed 16 points, but wasn't near his best.
How It Was Lost: Purdue seemed to implement the "let's let anyone but Jared Sullinger beat us" defense early. That proved to be a mistake, because Ohio State is no one-trick pony. The Buckeyes have lots of weapons, and it showed. You cannot just leave Buford, Jon Diebler, David Lighty and Deshaun Thomas alone for jumpers.
How It Was Won: Pick your poison. Ohio State dominated every single facet of the game from the start. Offensively, defensively, on the boards, in transition, etc. It was just pure domination.
What We Didn't Like: E'Twaun Moore had a good first half against Michigan State, but he has since resumed his shooting woes. The senior made only 1 of 7 from the floor in the first half and ended 4 of 13 on the game. He did get to the line eight times -- making seven -- to help his total points, but he has to shoot better for the Boilers to be an elite team. JaJuan Johnson can only do so much on offense.
More Than One: It's easy to only concentrate on Sullinger. No one could blame the general public for that. But Ohio State has two other stellar freshman and it showed Tuesday night. Once Purdue realized it couldn't continue to give up wide-open threes, Aaron Craft began to penetrate the Boilers' defense and came through with a big game. The freshman point guard ended with 11 points, six rebounds and five assists. And by the way, he was being guarded by Kelsey Barlow, who is no Chris Kramer but still regularly shuts down his man (just ask Talor Battle or Kalin Lucas). Not to be completely outdone, Deshaun Thomas announced his presence with authority as well, pouring in 13 points and six rebounds.
With a trio of freshman, a trio of seniors and one star junior, the Buckeyes survive with the best group of seven players -- not just one -- in all of college basketball. Think about how we haven't even mentioned Diebler's 13-point, 8-rebound, 6-assist effort yet. Or Lighty's lock-down defense and 10 points. Or Dallas Lauderdale's post presence on defense.
That's what makes a No. 1 team. And not just a placeholder No. 1. Ohio State is the best team in the country. Period.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Pittsburgh jumps from fifth to second and Duke moves up one place to third. Both received one first-place vote Monday.
San Diego State moves from sixth to fourth and Connecticut jumps three spots to fifth.
Kansas, which lost for the first time on Saturday, fell from second to sixth followed by Texas, which beat the Jayhawks, Villanova, and BYU and Syracuse, which tied for ninth.
The Big East, which matched its own record with nine ranked teams last week, is down to seven with West Virginia and Cincinnati falling out. Saint Mary's also dropped out.
The straight-set thrashing came somewhat as a surprise, with Wawrinka riding a nine-game winning streak and already having won a season-opening event at the Chennai Open. The 19th-seeded Wawrinka had not dropped a set throughout the tournament in Melbourne Park, including back-to-back victories over Gael Monfils and Andy Roddick.
But the second-seeded Federer, who had been challenged and taken the distance by Wawrinka at the Stockholm Open last October, dominated his gold-medal doubles partner from the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games from the outset. He finished Wawrinka off in less than two hours.
Powered by an impressive serve, Federer played an all-around solid game. The Swiss did not have his serve broken once throughout the match, winning 72 percent on his first serve and 76 percent on his second serve. Federer's return game was spectacular as well, breaking Wawrinka five times. Federer frustrated the fellow Swiss so much Wawrinka smashed his racket into the ground causing it to fold over in half.
Including last year's victory at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, and this year's victory at the Qatar Open, Federer carries a 15-match win streak heading into the semifinals.
The 16-time Grand Slam champion will either face third-seeded Novak Djokovic or sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych in a semifinal match. Djokovic knocked Federer out of last year's U.S. Open, while Berdych defeated him at Wimbledon. Top-ranked Rafael Nadal is still alive in the tournament as well.
PITTSBURGH- Ben Hansbrough and Notre Dame made Pittsburgh feel the burn Monday night.
Hansbrough scored 19 points, Carleton Scott had 16 and the 15th-ranked Fighting Irish beat No. 2 Pittsburgh 56-51, snapping the Panthers' 20-game home winning streak.
Employing a methodical, plodding game plan they call "burn," the Irish won their third consecutive game in the series against Pittsburgh and picked up their first victory at the Petersen Events Center. The Panthers won 51 of their previous 52 home games.
"This was the first time we committed to an all-out 'burn,' and we beat Pitt doing it two times last year," said Hansbrough, who went 8 for 14 from the field. "This is probably the best win I've had ... maybe ever."
Scott went 5 for 6 from 3-point range as Notre Dame (17-4, 6-3 Big East) earned its first road win of the season. Reserve Scott Martin made three 3s and finished with 10 points.
"We knew if we didn't concentrate at the end of the clock, we would lose here by 15 like everybody else does," Irish coach Mike Brey said. "They're really good. They're hard to guard. They're really hard to keep off the boards. This was the absolute road challenge for us."
Gilbert Brown had 13 points for the Panthers (19-2, 7-1), who shot 40 percent (18 of 45) from the field in their first conference loss of the season.
Pittsburgh's Brad Wanamaker, who finished with 12 points, said he knew what to expect from the winding shot clock on Notre Dame's opening possession.
"From the jump, I knew they were going to do it," Wanamaker said. "For them, it's worked the past three games."
Notre Dame trailed 28-23 at halftime but Hansbrough made a jumper with 9:22 left to tie it at 39, kicking off a 9-2 spurt for the Fighting Irish. Scott, returning from a four-game absence due to a balky hamstring, capped the run with a four-point play, making a 3 as he was fouled by Ashton Gibbs.
Wanamaker converted a layup to trim Notre Dame's lead to 54-51 with 1:26 remaining but Hansbrough scored with 17 seconds to go to help the Irish hang on.
Pitt missed four of its final five field-goal tries, including three 3-point attempts and a layup.
We didn't make the plays down at the end that we needed to make in a game like this," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said.
Hansbrough also had seven assists and Scott added nine rebounds for Notre Dame, which shot 49 percent (19 for 39).
"He's a big part of our team," Brey said of the 6-foot-8 Scott's return.
Pittsburgh outrebounded the Irish 29-23 but went 9 for 16 from the free-throw line and finished with only nine assists. The loss came on the same day the Panthers reached as high as No. 2 in The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since March 9, 2009.
Gibbs, who entered averaging a team-best 15.9 points per game, made 4 of 13 shots to finish with nine points.
Notre Dame now has nine days before its next game, Feb. 3 at DePaul. It's the longest layoff of the season for the Irish.
Monday, January 24, 2011
10. No. 16 Minnesota (14-4, 3-3) at No. 12 Purdue (17-3, 6-1), Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS
Two weeks ago, Minnesota beat Purdue behind 26 points from Blake Hoffarber and some stingy defense. A late Al Nolen three was the difference, but the Gophers will be without Nolen for the rematch due to foot surgery. Purdue is in the middle of a four-game stretch against ranked teams, including a duel with top-ranked Ohio State in Columbus.
9. No. 21 Georgetown (14-5, 3-4) at No. 8 Villanova (17-2, 5-1), Saturday, noon, ESPN
Georgetown has struggled in conference play, but a few bunnies have them creeping back towards .500. If the Hoyas convert Wednesday against St. John's in a certainly winnable game, they will be back to even and riding a three-game winning streak when they roll into Philly. Villanova, on the other hand, bounced back nicely after falling to UConn with an impressive win over Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.
8. Kansas State (13-7, 1-4) at No. 6 Kansas (18-1, 3-1), Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN
After losing consecutive games to Oklahoma State and Colorado, Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen decreed that, given the option, he would not play in the NIT. His team responded by dropping two of its next three. The losses were respectable -- both coming away from home against ranked teams -- but if the Wildcats expect to make the big dance, they'll need some help given their recent performances. It may not come in Lawrence, but they will need a few impressive wins for their resume.
7. No. 3 Duke (18-1, 5-1) at St. John's (11-7, 4-4), Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS
After an impressive start for Steve Lavin at St. John's, the Red Storm have slipped quite a bit for most of the Big East conference season. Still, they have not had an easy road by any stretch, and an upset over Duke in the Garden would certainly reignite the Johnnie faithful. Duke has looked good, even if somewhat vulnerable, after being upset by Florida State. The Blue Devils faced a couple of early deficits, but nothing that would suggest any danger.
6. Georgia (14-4, 3-2) at No. 14 Kentucky (15-4, 3-2), Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN
Kentucky's conference road woes began in Athens, where the Bulldogs upset the young Wildcats earlier in the month. The 'Cats exorcised some of those demons Saturday, winning over South Carolina in Columbia. Both teams are very much in the hunt for the SEC East title, and a sweep of UK would greatly increase Georgia's chances. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Kentucky has yet to lose a home game under John Calipari.
5. No. 23 Louisville (15-4, 4-2) at No. 5 Connecticut (16-2, 4-2), Saturday, noon
Louisville had it all going. After being drubbed by Kentucky at home, the Cards had ripped off four of five, including some pretty impressive shooting performances. That all ended Saturday, when Louisville fell to the lowly Providence Friars. Preston Knowles only scored two points in that game, and Rick Pitino's team failed to make a three in the second half. UConn star Kemba Walker also had a tough game Saturday, but unlike Knowles and Louisville, his teammates were able to pick up the slack. It should be noted that, also unlike Knowles, Walker had 16 points.
4. No. 15 Notre Dame (16-4, 5-3) at No. 2 Pittsburgh (19-1, 7-0), Monday, 7 p.m., ESPN
Of all the strength present in the Big East, Pittsburgh has taken an early season lead. If anyone is going to go on the road and beat the Panthers, it's ... probably not Notre Dame. The Irish have been awful away from home, but they've yet to lose in South Bend. They'll need to be lights-out to even have a chance in this one, especially since they're facing the nation's best rebounding team. No misses!
3. No. 11 Missouri (17-3, 3-2) at No. 7 Texas (16-3, 4-0), Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPNU
An impressive team thus far in the season, Texas vaulted itself to top-tier status with its victory over previously unbeaten Kansas in Lawrence -- where the Jayhawks hadn't lost in their past 69 games. Missouri, also trending upward, will have a full week to prepare for the Longhorns.
2. No. 12 Purdue (17-3, 6-1) at No. 1 Ohio State (20-0, 7-0), Tuesday, 9 p.m., ESPN
On Saturday, the Buckeyes seemed bound for a loss when they traveled to Champaign to face Illinois. Jared Sullinger, however, went nuts and Ohio State stayed undefeated. The task will be taller for Purdue, which must travel to Columbus, but the Boilermakers have proven to be a bit more potent than expected after Robbie Hummel went down. Still, E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson will have to be very big in order for Purdue to pull the upset.
1. No. 4 San Diego State (20-0, 5-0) at No. 9 BYU (19-1, 5-0), Wednesday, 10 p.m., CBS College
In perhaps one of the most anticipated games of the regular season, Jimmer Fredette and the Cougars will welcome unbeaten San Diego State. If Fredette hasn't caught your eye (which seems impossible), this will be his biggest stage. If BYU doesn't upend the Aztecs and Purdue beats Ohio State -- a very unlikely scenario -- it would be likely that San Diego State would be the number one team in the nation. San Diego State.
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
Total commitments (as of Jan. 24): 21
Five- and four-star commitments: 15
The 411: Long story short ... The 2011 Crimson Tide recruiting class is as good as it gets. Alabama recently vaulted Texas for the top-rated recruiting class in the nation as rated by Rivals.com, and it is easy to see why -- with commitments from five-star high school teammates like DB Hasean Clinton-Dix (6-2, 190, Orlando, Fla., Dr. Phillips HS) and RB Demetrius Hart (5-8, 190, Orlando, Fla., Dr. Phillips HS). Although their class took a hit when RB/LB Brent Calloway switched his commitment to Auburn, Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are still in line to bring in the nation's top recruit -- DE Jadeveon Clowney (6-5, 235, Rock Hill, S.C., South Pointe HS) as well as massive OT Cyrus Kouandjio (6-7, 295, Hyattsville, Md., Dematha Catholic HS).
Total commitments (as of Jan. 24): 21
Five- and four-star commitments: 11
The 411: As usual, LSU is a prime destination for top-flight talent across the Southeast, and coach Les Miles appears to be rebuilding the wall around Louisiana that was leaking some of the best out to the rest of the SEC. The Tigers have three five-star commitments -- OL La'El Collins (6-5, 285, Baton Rouge, La., Redemptionist HS), DT Anthony Johnson (6-4, 298, New Orleans, La., O. Perry Walker HS) and WR Jarvis Landry (5-11, 178, Lutcher, La., HS). If Alabama is No. 1 in the country, then LSU can be considered No. 1-A with room to grow in the homestretch.
Total commitments (as of Jan. 24): 19
Five- and four-star commitments: 10
The 411: Auburn got a bit of a late start due to preparations for the BCS Championship Game, but Gene Chizik and the Tigers are closing fast on what could be the best overall recruiting class in school history. Five-star LB Kris Frost (6-3, 210, Matthews, N.C., Butler HS) AND OL Christian Westerman (6-5, 288, Chandler, Ariz., Hamilton HS) are studs in the making, and OL Reese Dismukes (6-4, 287, Spanish Fort, Ala., HS) leads a trio of Tigers already on campus for spring drills.
Total commitments (as of Jan. 24): 21
Five- and four-star commitments: 11
The 411: Coach Mark Richt has the Bulldogs in prime position to reload from a disappointing on-field performance in 2010. QB Christian LeMay (6-2, 200, Matthews, N.C., Butler HS) is already on campus, and DB Malcolm Mitchell (6-1, 187,Valdosta, Ga., HS) could be in line to play early and often as a freshman.
Total commitments (as of Jan. 24): 22
Five- and four-star commitments: 7
The 411: Coach Derek Dooley's first full recruiting class in Knoxville appears to be a successful one, having pulled nationwide talent despite a lackluster on-field performance in 2010. WR DeAnthony Arnett (6-0, 167, Saginaw, Mich., HS) and OL Marcus Jackson (6-2, 315, Vero Beach, Fla., HS) are the highlights.
Rest of the Pack
Total commitments (as of Jan. 24): 15
Five- and four-star commitments: 8
The 411: The sudden retirement of coach Urban Meyer threw a major kink in what was shaping up to be a standout Gators recruiting class, and new coach Will Muschamp has major work to do to finish the task in the closing days. Pro-style QB Jeff Driskel (6-3, 225, Oviedo, Fla., Hagerty HS) never wavered during the transition.
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS
Total commitments (as of Jan. 24): 31
Five- and four-star commitments: 5
The 411: Coach Steve Spurrier and his staff appear to be almost done with recruiting, already landing commitments from a bumper crop of talent -- and still keeping an eye on Jadeveon Clowney down the stretch. OL Brandon Shell (6-7, 290, Charleston, S.C., Goose Creek HS) and DT Kelcy Quarles (6-4, 265, Fork Union, Va., Fork Union Military Academy) offer instant beef up front.
OLE MISS REBELS
Total commitments (as of Jan. 24): 26
Five- and four-star commitments: 4
The 411: Coach Houston Nutt also appears to be finished recruiting for 2011, having landed five junior-college athletes for spring workouts and a full house of freshmen commitments. Among the best future Rebels are WR Donte Moncrief (6-2, 203, Raleigh, Miss., HS) and OL Aaron Morris (6-5, 310, Jackson, Miss., Calloway HS).
Total commitments (as of Jan. 24): 28
Five- and four-star commitments: 5
The 411: Coach Bobby Petrino already has a stable of committed talent ready to sign onto a team that many are predicting could win the SEC West Division in 2011. QB Brandon Allen (6-2, 214, Fayetteville, Ark., HS) is in the mix to replace Ryan Mallett under center, and OL Brey Cook (6-7, 314, Springdale, Ark., Har-Ber HS) is in line to block for him.
MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS
Total commitments (as of Jan. 24): 24
Five- and four-star commitments: 2
The 411: Coach Dan Mullen might still have one or two more slots to fill to help the Bulldogs' overall ranking. The best future Mississippi State players -- DT P.J. Jones (6-3, 252, Tupelo, Miss., HS) and DB Jermaine Whitehead (6-0, 183, Greenwood, Miss., Amanda Elzy HS).
Total commitments (as of Jan. 24): 20
Five- and four-star commitments: 1
The 411: As with Mississippi State, coach Joker Phillips has a few more offers out there that could help the Wildcats' ranking. DB Glenn Faulkner (6-2, 194, East St. Louis, Ill., HS) is the best future Wildcat.
Total commitments (as of Jan. 24): 13
Five- and four-star commitments: 0
The 411: Keeping with the school's academics-first standards, judging Vandy against the rest of the SEC is tough sledding for the Commodores. RB J.J. Keels (5-10, 193, Melbourne, Fla., Florida Air Academy) has breakaway speed and could play early.
As National Signing Day approaches, more and more athletes are making their commitments. Since Thursday, two four-star athletes are among the 27 public pledges -- which are non-binding and are always subject to change before Feb. 2.
Four-star OT Josue Matias (6-5, 290, Union, N.J., Union Senior HS) committed to Rutgers. Four-star LB Denzel Perryman (5-11, 220, Coral Gables, Fla., HS) is staying home to play at Miami (Fla.).
CB Marcus Peters (5-11, 195, Oakland, Calif., McClymonds Senior HS) committed to Washington. CB Eric Robinson-Berry (6-0, 170, Indianapolis, Ind., Warren Central HS) pledged to Western Kentucky), TE Rakim Reed (6-4,205, Canton, Ohio, Timken HS) committed to Marshall, CB Bruce Dukes (5-10, 185, Tyrone, Ga., Sandy Creek HS) pledged to Central Florida, and DE Hunter Davis (6-3, 240, Choctaw, Okla.,HS) is headed to Kansas State.
DE Darrius Caldwell (6-5, 210, Atlanta, Ga., Mays HS) is going to Illinois, WR Darius Patton (5-9, 170, Poland, Ohio, Poland Seminary HS) committed to Pitt, OT Jalen Schlachter (6-6, 300, Corunna, Mich., HS) is bound for Ball State, QB Derrick Brown (6-3, 215, Murietta, Calif., Vista Murrieta HS) committed to Washington, and WR Hakeem Flowers (6-2, 180, Greenville, S.C., Wade Hampton HS) pledged to North Carolina State.
RB Andrew Blue (5-10, 192, Jacksonville, Fla., Trinity Christian Academy) and CB Terrell Chestnut (5-10, 178, Pottstown, Pa., Pottsgrove SHS) are bound for West Virginia, DT Brandon Clemons (6-4, 265, Milford, Pa., Delaware Valley HS) committed to Michigan State, WR B.J. Kelley (6-2, 175, Fresno, Calif., Central High East Campus) pledged to Oregon, and FB Alonzo Harris (6-1, 207, Gadsden, Ala., Gadsden City HS) is going to Louisiana.
CB Ahmad Christian (5-10, 190, Jacksonville, Fla., Trinity Christian Academy) is headed to South Carolina, CB Jacquese Kirk (6-0, 160, Jasper, Ala., Walker HS) committed to Vanderbilt, DE Michael Reynolds (6-4, 225, Wichita, Kan., Kapaun Mt. Carmel HS) is headed to Kansas, DT Uriah Grant (6-1, 185, Jacksonville, Fla., William M. Raines HS) pledged to North Carolina State, and WR Frankie Williams (5-10, 170, Tampa, Fla., Robinson Senior HS) committed to Purdue.
LB Nick Menocal (6-2, 225, Miami, Fla., Belen Jesuit Prep) committed to Georgia Tech, OG Derrick Thorpe (6-4, 260, Neptune Beach, Fla., Duncan U. Fletcher HS) pledged to Florida International, RB Corey Davis (5-11, 180, Gladewater, Texas, HS) committed to Pitt, S Geraldo Orta (6-0, 166, Valdosta, Ga., Lowndes HS) is headed to Tennessee, and RB Jordan Perkins (6-0, 180, Lodi, Calif., HS) committed to Northwestern.
Palmer threw 26 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in 2010, including five passes that were returned to the end zone by the opposing team. With Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens not expected to rejoin Cincinnati next season, the Bengals should feature much younger, less experienced receiving corps than their 4-12 team did last season.
After reports suggesting otherwise, the Bengals extended head coach Marvin Lewis' contract to secure his return for 2011. This came after his squads achieved a winning record only once over the past five seasons -- when Cincinnati won the AFC North in 2009 before losing to the New York Jets at home in the playoffs.
The 2005 season currently stands as the peak of Palmer's career, when he tossed 32 touchdowns and topped 3,800 yards. However, a knee injury in the ensuing postseason required surgery, and an elbow injury in 2008 has been followed by a marked decline in the Southern California alum's play.
Palmer has been unavailable for comment while awaiting the birth of his third daughter.
Pouncey's second-year backup Doug Legursky jogged onto the field and into the huddle in Pouncey's stead. A moment later, he helped shove would-be Jets' tacklers out of the way so running back Rashard Mendenhall could plow into the end zone for the AFC championship game's first score. The Steelers never relinquished it en route to holding off the Jets, 24-19.
"We don't worry about other things going on," Steelers linebacker Lamarr Woodley remarked afterward. "Pouncey went down; we didn't lose a beat."
The Steelers, particularly this season's edition, never do.
It was resilience that got them off to a surprisingly strong start this year after losing the heart of their team, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was suspended four games following accusations that he assaulted a teenaged female college student in a small Georgia town. It was resilience that Sunday closed out their third successful run to the Super Bowl in the past six seasons.
And as much of a cliché as it may sound when talking about the Steelers, it is that toughness that made them look on Sunday like the team to beat in the Super Bowl next month in Dallas.
After all, the Packers lost some sheen Sunday afternoon by allowing a third-string quarterback, the Bears' Caleb Hanie, to nearly pull off a comeback against them for the NFC title. The Packers finally subdued the upstart with an interception in the final minute to hold on to a 21-14 victory.
The Steelers, however, added some luster in dominating the Jets early and using a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter to keep their challengers at bay. That was world championship mettle.
"We found a way," the Steelers' veteran receiver Hines Ward said standing in front of his locker gripping an emptied bottle of bubbly in one hand.
They even overcame a lackluster performance by their quarterback, a former Super Bowl MVP, who had to find another way other than his arm to score points and keep drives moving. Roethlisberger completed just 10 of 19 passes for a paltry 133 yards. He was intercepted twice, including once near the goal line.
But at least three times he scampered for first downs and another time he ran for a touchdown. He didn't let an off day throwing in the frigid air against a tough Jets' defense deter him.
As uneven as Roethlisberger's performance was, it reminded how difficult it is to beat the Steelers. If the Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a bad first Sunday in Dallas next month, there will be no way that the Packers can win.
The Steelers, however, do not have a bell cow.
While Roethlisberger struggled, Rashard Mendenhall thrived. He carried the football 27 times for 121 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers even turned for a spell to an undrafted running back off their practice squad last season, Isaac Redman, from Bowie State, a historically black college tucked between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. Pro-football-reference.com showed Redman was only the third player from Bowie State to make it to the NFL.
"It feels great," Redman said watching a gaggle of media crowd around longtime Steelers' stars like Woodley, Ward and Ryan Clark as the Steelers' patriarch, 78-year-old Dan Rooney, roamed the locker room congratulating his charges. "I had flashbacks to where I came from, Bowie. It was emotional. Now I can take my mother to Dallas. I shed a tear. Coach (Mike) Tomlin gave me a chance."
The Steelers, of course, gave Tomlin a chance. They plucked him almost from obscurity. Now, a second trip to the Super Bowl in his four seasons at the helm after taking over from Bill Cowher is what Tomlin has brought Pittsburgh.
Sunday marked his 48th win in those four seasons. There is no reason to doubt the upcoming Super Bowl won't mark the 49th win in his head-coaching career. Indeed, he moved to 5-1 all time in the playoffs on Sunday and did so by avenging his only head-to-head meeting with his jets' counterpart, Rex Ryan. The Jets beat Tomlin last month.
Tomlin on Sunday didn't just guide the Steelers to another Super Bowl appearance, but into the conversation of being the new measuring rod in pro football. Last week, we saw the dissolution of any more dynastic descriptions of the Patriots, who lost their first outing in the playoffs for the second straight time.
The Steelers dared after Sunday to be the new dynasty of the NFL if they can do what they are more capable of than the Packers: win next month's Super Bowl. That would give them half of the Super Bowl trophies awarded in the past six seasons.
"I get greater appreciation for it now," Ward said, admitting that his days in the league were drawing to an end sooner than later. "I've been blessed. Now I'm going to my third Super Bowl."
Ward pointed out that his team was in good shape even after next month.
"We got some guys who've been there," he said of the Super Bowl. "But for a lot of guys making plays, this is their first time."
He was thinking of Pouncey, whose injury was later described as an ankle sprain. He was thinking of Antonio Brown, a rookie receiver who caught two passes and someday might take Ward's place. He was thinking of Redman, who rushed four times for 27 yards including an impressive 13-yard bolt to help set up a Steelers' field goal.
"Us going 3-1 [in September] without Ben showed what kind of team we are," Ward said. "It brought us closer together as a unit."
Unbreakable, I think.