Warriors

Orange Bowl: Stanford, VaTech on historic runs

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Orange Bowl: Stanford, VaTech on historic runs

Dec. 30, 2010NO. 5 STANFORD (11-1) vs.NO. 12 VIRGINIA TECH (11-2)

2010-11 BOWL SCHEDULERESULTS

MIAMI (AP) -- In only four years, Stanford has completed a turnaround from doormat to elite team.

The reward for its hard work is a BCS bowl game against Virginia Tech -- one of the few teams in college football hotter than the Cardinal.

In a matchup pitting two of the nation's best quarterbacks, Andrew Luck leads Stanford into its first Orange Bowl on Monday night to take on Tyrod Taylor and ACC champion Hokies, who will try to close their season with a 12th consecutive win.

Stanford's transformation began in 2007 when Jim Harbaugh took over a team that had gone 1-11 the previous year. The Cardinal increased their win total each of the first three seasons under the former Michigan and NFL star quarterback before going a school-record 11-1 in 2010.

Even Harbaugh has been surprised.

ROSTERS: Stanford Virginia Tech

"I'm pretty much a historian of football, dating back 100 years," he said. "This is one of the best turnarounds I've witnessed in 50 years."

Since losing to then-No. 4 Oregon in early October, Stanford has reeled off seven straight wins, its longest run in 19 years.

"That's why this program has progressed, because guys have bought into what he's saying and what he was preaching," defensive lineman Sione Fua said of Harbaugh. "And now we're here four years later going to a BCS game."

A little bit of Luck has also helped.

Luck was a distant second to Auburn's Cam Newton in the Heisman Trophy voting, but he certainly put up stellar numbers. The Pac-10's offensive player of the year broke the single-season school record with 28 touchdown passes while helping the Cardinal average 40.3 points.

Luck has also completed more than 70 percent of his throws for 3,051 yards and rushed for 438 more, including three runs of at least 50 yards.

"With Andrew, you notice all of it because it's just amazing," said Doug Baldwin, who leads Stanford's receivers with 824 yards and nine TDs. "... You look on highlight film of the NFL and you don't see the things Andrew does at the college level."

The junior has thrown only seven interceptions, but he'll be facing one of the most opportunistic defenses in the nation. Virginia Tech is second in the FBS with 22 picks.

Luck's second-place Heisman finish was the second straight for the Cardinal after Toby Gerhart was runner-up to Alabama's Mark Ingram in 2009. Stanford, though, could have a Heisman winner down the road in running back Stepfan Taylor.

The sophomore was second in the Pac-10 with 15 TDs, trailing Ducks star and Heisman finalist LaMichael James. Taylor also became the sixth Stanford running back to eclipse 1,000 yards.

While Stanford is seeking its first postseason win since blanking Michigan State in the 1996 Sun Bowl, Virginia Tech probably couldn't have envisioned reaching a BCS game after seeing its national title hopes quickly disappear.

STATISTICS: Stanford Virginia Tech

Following a season-opening loss to Boise State, the Hokies were stunned five days later by FCS member James Madison, 21-16 in arguably the biggest upset of the year.

Frank Beamer's team hasn't lost since, defeating Florida State 44-33 on Dec. 4 to capture its third ACC title in four years.

"Those two losses we had at the beginning of the year makes these 11 wins and an ACC championship seem even greater," Beamer said.

The biggest factor in the Hokies bouncing back from the puzzling first two games to reach the Orange Bowl is Taylor.

Despite the stunningly poor start by his team, the conference player of the year finished with a school-record 23 touchdown passes and four interceptions. Taylor was the team's second-leading rusher with 823 yards and five scores, evoking memories of a former dual threat.

"We were fortunate to have Michael Vick at Virginia Tech. We were fortunate to have Tyrod Taylor. You get that feeling on the sideline like the next play could be a big play," Beamer said.

Taylor's top receivers are Jarrett Boykin (team highs of 763 yards and six TDs), Danny Coale (640 yards, three TDs) and tight end Andre Smith (five TDs). Darren Evans and Ryan Williams also provide punch out of the backfield - Evans leads the Hokies with 846 yards and 11 scores while Williams has gained 525 yards with nine TDs in only nine games.

Besides leading the ACC with 58 touchdowns and 462 points, Virginia Tech became the only school in the nation to notch 10 wins in each of the last seven seasons.

REWIND: Stanford results Virginia Tech season recap

That seemed highly unlikely not long ago.

"I'm just proud of the way we turned things around from an 0-2 start," Taylor said after beating Florida State.

This will be the Hokies' third Orange Bowl appearance in four years. They lost 24-21 to Kansas in 2008 and defeated Cincinnati 20-7 in 2009.

Golden State, do we have a problem? Another loss to Rockets awakens Warriors

Golden State, do we have a problem? Another loss to Rockets awakens Warriors

In saying goodbye to their impressive road win streak and a chance to make franchise history, the Warriors also experienced an awakening that should linger somewhere in their minds for months to come.

The new and improved Houston Rockets are a serious threat to the defending champs having a parade in downtown Oakland for the second consecutive June.

That threat likely can’t be realized, however, unless the Warriors put the worst of themselves on full display, as they did Saturday night at Toyota Center in a 116-108 loss to the Rockets.

“In the first quarter, every time we made our push, we gave up easy baskets,” Draymond Green told reporters in Houston. “In the second quarter, we put them on the line the entire quarter, which slowed down our pace and let them control the tempo of the game. In the third quarter, we fought back to kind of get there but not get over the hump. And then we finally did, but we just didn’t have the right amount of focus it takes to win a game like that.”

Indeed, the Warriors were guilty of questionable shot selection at various points. They were largely allergic to rebounding, taking a 46-33 drubbing in that category. And far too often they were impatient and therefore utterly careless with their passing, resulting in 19 turnovers that led directly to 23 Houston points.

“It seemed like we kept making one silly play after another,” coach Steve Kerr said.

Sounds familiar, eh? The Warriors know their greatest weaknesses and hear about them ad nauseam from the coaching staff, yet still struggle to consistently address them.

Stephen Curry, who committed a team-worst six turnovers, lamented two possessions in particular. On one, he missed Kevin Durant “butt-naked at the top of the key,” and on another he had Durant open for a dunk but flipped it to Klay Thompson for a 3-pointer that missed.

“I made two of the worst plays of the season on those two possessions,” Curry conceded. “It’s kind of one of those nights when I personally didn’t have the right vision on the floor I’ve got to take responsibility for that.”

This is why the Warriors deserved to lose this game, which gave the Rockets a 2-1 victory in the season series and the homecourt tiebreaker should the two teams finish with identical records.

The Warriors took a 122-121 loss to Houston at Oracle Arena on opening night, then went to Houston on Jan. 4 and claimed a 124-114 victory.

This is enough to prove the Rockets are capable of beating the Warriors. We also note that in the other loss, Warriors’ turnovers gifted 21 points to Houston.

“We know the recipe against this team,” Curry said. “They’re going to shoot a lot of 3s. They’re going to make some tough shots. But if you turn the ball over and if you foul, which we did both in the first half, then that plays right into their hands. It’s just a lack of focus on the game plan.”

That lack of focus is something that has nagged the Warriors numerous times over the course of the season.

Here’s Houston’s problem: The postseason Warriors tend to be a bit sharper than the regular season Warriors.

And the Rockets, well, remain a postseason mystery. Chris Paul, who was so magnificent Saturday night, has an inglorious postseason history, complete with multiple collapses. MVP candidate James Harden also has dubious postseason resume, with epic pratfalls against the Warriors and the Spurs.

So the events of Saturday night, and the three games in the regular season, serve as reminders that if the Warriors play smart and tough and are fully engaged, they’re still the better team. Despite the chance to set a franchise record with a 15th consecutive road victory, the Warriors were less than fully engaged.

There’s a better than even chance of them being fully engaged in the postseason, should these teams meet again.

“We always talk about hitting singles,” Kerr said. “Well, we were trying to hit home runs all night, and you can’t do that against these guys.

“On the bright side, we know we can play a lot better. And we will.”

Daniel Cormier can finally feel like a champion again

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USATSI

Daniel Cormier can finally feel like a champion again

Daniel Cormier was awarded the UFC light heavyweight championship Saturday night at UFC 220 after his loss to Jon Jones was overturned when Jones failed a prefight drug test. Cormier said leading up to the fight that he didn’t feel like a champion. He probably feels like one now.

The San Jose-based 205-pounder defeated No. 2-ranked Volkan Oezdemir by secon-round TKO to retain the title.

“I felt as if I was fighting for a vacant title because (Jones) beat me last time,” Cormier (20-1) said in a postfight interview referring to his loss last July.

“I fought for a vacant title and I got the job done so I’m the UFC champion again.”

Cormier, who turns 40 in March, nearly won the fight a round earlier. In the final minute of the first frame, Cormier landed a right hand flush on the challenger’s face. After securing a takedown and taking Oezdemir’s back, Cormier locked in a rear naked choke but was forced to relinquish the hold when the bell rang.

Oezdemir, 28, was given a second chance, but he couldn’t capitalize. Cormier dominated the second round from the beginning. The AKA-product once again took down Oezdemir, transitioned to a crucifix, and landed a barrage of shots until the referee called the fight at the 2:00 mark.

“He was so game. I knew he was a dangerous guy. He hit hard,” Cormier said of Oezdemir (15-2). “But once I was able to get him to the ground, I knew it was my world.”

And for now, the rest of the light heavyweight division is just living in it.