White Sox

Calipari gets his title as Kentucky defeats Kansas

721498.jpg

Calipari gets his title as Kentucky defeats Kansas

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Won and Done, indeed. Maybe even Over and Out. All that really matters is that Kentucky parlayed a roster full of NBA talent into a 67-59 victory Monday night over Kansas for the team's eighth national NCAA basketball title -- its first since 1998. Kentucky's top freshman, Anthony Davis, had a rough shooting night, but John Calipari coached this team to a wire-to-wire victory -- a little dicey at the end -- to cap a season that cried for no less than a championship for their ol' Kentucky home. "I wanted everybody to see, we were the best team this season," said the coach who finally has the championship that eluded him for all these years. "We were the best team. I wanted this to be one for the ages." Doron Lamb, a sophomore with first-round-draft-pick possibilities, led the Wildcats (38-2) with 22 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers that put them up by 16 with 10 minutes left. The Jayhawks (32-7), kings of the comeback all season, fought to the finish and trimmed that deficit to five with 1:37 left. But Kentucky made five free throws down the stretch to seal the win. Davis' fellow lottery prospect, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, was another headliner, creating space for himself to score all 11 of his points in the first half. Davis, meanwhile, might have had the most dominating six-point night in the history of college basketball, earning the nod as the most outstanding player. He finished with 16 rebounds, six blocks, five assists and three steals -- and made his only field goal with 5:13 left in the game. It was a surefire illustration of how the 6-foot-10 freshman can exert his will on a game even on a rare night when the shot isn't falling. "Well, it's not me, it's these guys behind me," Davis said after his 1-for-10 performance. "They led us this whole tournament. This whole game I was struggling offensively, and I told my team, every time down, you all score the ball; I'm just gonna defend and rebound." So much easier when you've got teammates like this. Davis is the likely first pick in the draft, though he said he hasn't decided yet whether he will come out, and Kidd-Gilchrist won't be far behind. Another first-round prospect, freshman Marquis Teague, had 14 points. And yet another, sophomore Terrence Jones, had nine points, seven rebounds and two of Kentucky's 11 blocked shots. "I love the fact Anthony Davis goes 1 for 10, and you all say he was biggest factor of game," Calipari said. "He was 1 for 10. I asked these guys what they would do without scoring. You have an idea what he does." Kansas also has a lottery pick in AP All-American Thomas Robinson. He was harassed all night by Davis and Jones and finished with 18 points and 17 rebounds on a 6-for-17 shooting night. He left upset, though not overly impressed with Davis, who he'll certainly see in "the association" over the next several years. "He's not Superman," Robinson said. "He's just a great player. I don't mean to be disrespectful by it, but as a competitor I'm not going to sit here and give all my praise to someone I go up against." The Jayhawks won the "B" League this year, as Calipari avenged a final-game loss to Bill Self back in 2008 when Cal was coaching Memphis. The Tigers missed four late free throws in blowing a nine-point lead in that one. Kansas didn't get any such help this time. Even so, it wasn't a bad season in Lawrence, considering where KU began. Kansas lost four of its top five scorers off last year's roster. There were times early in the season when Self and his old buddy and mentor, Larry Brown, would stand around at practices and wonder if this was a team that could even make the tournament. It did. Won its eighth straight conference title, too. "Nobody even expected us to be here in the first place, for us to have a great season," KU guard Travis Releford said. "And we did. We were able to compete for a championship. We had a great year." None of this, however, was for the faint of heart. The Jayhawks trailed by double digits in three of their five tournament games leading to the final and played every game down to the wire. They fell behind by 18 late in the first half of this one and this time, there was no big comeback to be made; not against these guys. "We knew coming in that we had been in situations like that before," Releford said. "We played like that all year. We figured we'd come out in the second half and run how we did. It just wasn't good enough." Davis realized early this was no shoot-first night for him at the Superdome, and Calipari all but told him to cool it at halftime. "I said, Listen to me, don't you go out there and try to score,'" the coach said. The freshman listened. Sporting his near-unibrow, which the UK Wildcat mascot also decided to paste on, he endured the worst shooting night of a short college career in which he makes 64 percent. No big deal. He set the tone early on defense, swatting Robinson's shot twice, grabbing rebounds, making pretty bounce passes for assists. Early in the second half, he made a steal that also could have been an assist, knocking the ball out of Robinson's hands and directly to Jones, who dunked for a 46-30 lead. Then, finally. With 5:13 left in the game, he spotted up for a 15-foot jumper from the baseline that swished for a 59-44 lead, putting a dagger in one of Kansas' many comebacks. "He was terrific," Self said. "The basket he made was one of the biggest baskets of the game." The crowd, a little more full of Kentucky fans than Kansas, went crazy. If this guy only stays one year and only makes one shot, they're fine with that. It's the new normal at Kentucky, where Adolph Rupp set a standard, Rick Pitino lived up to it for a while, then Calipari -- hardly the buttoned-down type -- was hired to bring back the glory. He goes for the best player, no matter what their long-term goals. Normally, the prospect of losing all those players in one swoop would have people thinking about a tough rebuilding year. But Cal has mastered the art of rebuilding on the fly. He's the coach who brings in the John Walls, Brandon Knights and Derrick Roses (at Memphis) for cups of coffee, lets them sharpen up their resumes, then happily says goodbye when it becomes obvious there's nothing left for them to do in school. Last year, the formula resulted in a trip to the Final Four that ended with a crushing loss to Connecticut in the semifinals. This year, Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and the rest came to Lexington with big-time bona-fides, and they didn't disappoint. Kentucky lost only twice all season -- once on a buzzer-beater at Indiana, the second time last month in the SEC tournament title game to Vanderbilt, in the arena across the way from the Superdome. That trip to New Orleans might have been, as Calipari put it, just what the doctor ordered for a team that could sometimes border on arrogance. They rebounded nicely for the real tournament, and through it all, the coach refused to apologize for the way he recruits or how he runs his program. Just playing by the rules as they're set up, he says, even if he doesn't totally agree with them. Because he refuses to promise minutes or shots to any recruit and demands teamwork out of all of them, he says he comes by these players honestly. He has produced nine first-round picks in the last four drafts with a few more coming. This latest group will have an NCAA title in tow and the everlasting love of a fan base that bleeds basketball. When it was over, all that Kentucky talent ran to the corner of the court, got in a group huddle and jumped up and down like the kids they really are. Will Calipari coach any of them again? "What I'm hoping is there are six first-rounders on this team," the coach said. "I'm fine with that. That's why I've got to go recruiting on Friday."

As Cactus League play begins, how many spots are actually up for grabs on the White Sox roster?

0223-rick-renteria-rick-hahn.jpg
AP

As Cactus League play begins, how many spots are actually up for grabs on the White Sox roster?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Some teams have it easy, with their 25-man rosters seemingly locked into place before spring training games even start.

The White Sox actually have a lot more locked-down spots than you might think for a rebuilding team, but this spring remains pretty important for a few guys.

The starting rotation figures to be set, with James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Miguel Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer the starting five. Carlos Rodon, of course, owns one of those spots once he returns from injury. But the date of that return remains a mystery.

From this observer’s viewpoint, eight of the everyday nine position players seem to be figured out, too: Welington Castillo behind the plate, Jose Abreu at first base, Yoan Moncada at second base, Tim Anderson at shortstop, Yolmer Sanchez at third base, Nicky Delmonico in left field, Avisail Garcia in right field and Matt Davidson as the designated hitter. More on the omission of a starting center fielder in a bit.

Omar Narvaez would be a logical pick to back up Castillo at catcher, and Tyler Saladino is really the lone reserve infielder with big league experience, not to mention he’s a versatile player that can play anywhere on the infield.

Leury Garcia also figures to be a lock for this 25-man roster. But will he be the everyday center fielder, as he was for a spell last season? He played 51 games in center in 2017 but battled injuries throughout the year. I think Leury Garcia will end up the starting center fielder when the season begins because of his bat. His .270/.316/.423 slash line isn’t going to make anyone do cartwheels, but it’s better than the offensive struggles of Adam Engel, who started 91 games in center in 2017 and slashed .166/.235/.282. Engel would still be a solid inclusion on the bench because of his superb defense, but to create that big a hole in the everyday lineup is tough.

How could that position-player group change? Keep your eyes in center field, where there are a couple other guys who could force their way into a roster spot this spring: Charlie Tilson and Ryan Cordell. Tilson has had a tremendous amount of trouble staying on the field since coming over to the White Sox in a 2016 deadline deal, but that hasn’t dampened the White Sox hopes for him. And Cordell got name-dropped by general manager Rick Hahn during SoxFest, when the GM said he’s received multiple calls about Cordell since acquiring him last summer. Cordell put up good numbers at the Triple-A level prior to a significant injury last year.

But the main battles figure to be in the bullpen. At times this winter, as the White Sox kept adding players to that relief corps mix, that the whole thing seemed wide open. But when you think about it, maybe there are only one or two open spots.

You’d have to think these guys are pretty safe bets to make the team: Juan Minaya, Gregory Infante, Nate Jones, Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan. Though Hector Santiago was just recently acquired on a minor league deal, he’s really the only long man of the group, and he could sub in if there’s an injury to a starting pitcher. That leaves two spots between the group of Aaron Bummer, Danny Farquhar, Jace Fry, Jose Ruiz and Thyago Vieira — not to mention guys signed to minor league deals like Xavier Cedeno, Jeanmar Gomez and Bruce Rondon.

Bummer had a 4.50 ERA in 30 big league games last year. Farquhar had a 4.40 ERA in 15 games. Vieira has gotten attention as a flame-thrower, but he’s got just one big league game under his belt, something that might or might not matter to the rebuilding White Sox. Guys like Gomez, who has 40 career saves including 37 just two years ago, and Rondon, who had multiple shots at the Detroit Tigers’ closing job in the past, could vault themselves into the mix as potential midseason trade candidates.

Then there's the question of which of those guys will be Rick Renteria's closer. Minaya had closing duties after most of the bullpen was traded away last summer. He picked up nine saves and posted a 4.11 ERA in his final 17 appearances of the campaign. Look to Soria, though, a veteran with plenty of closing experience from his days with the Kansas City Royals. If he's given the opportunity to close and succeeds, he could fetch an intriguing return package in a potential deadline deal.

But now it's game time in Arizona.

“The fun part of playing the game of baseball is playing the game of baseball," Renteria said earlier this week. "We prepare. I think they all enjoy what they’re doing in terms of their preparation. They take it seriously, they focus. But ultimately like everything that we do in life, I guess it’s a test. And the games are a test for us on a daily basis. And how we are able to evaluate them and take advantage of the opportunities that we have to see them in a real game situation is certainly helpful for us.”

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.