Blackhawks

Harvard reaches 1st NCAA Tourney since 1946

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Harvard reaches 1st NCAA Tourney since 1946

From Comcast SportsNet
PRINCETON, N.J. (AP) -- A year after stealing the Ivy League title from Harvard with a last-second shot, Princeton gave the Crimson the crown and an NCAA berth, and took no joy in doing it. Ian Hummer had 18 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Tigers to a 62-52 victory over Pennsylvania on Tuesday night, giving Harvard the league title and its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1946. "It was an interesting game coming in," said Princeton senior forward Patrick Saunders, who scored 10 points. "We don't have much love for either team. So it's definitely nice to get a win but it's kind of tough to swallow, knowing that our win puts Harvard in the tournament." Penn (19-12, 11-3) needed to win the game to tie Harvard (26-4, 12-2) for the regular-season championship and force a one-game playoff for the league's automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. However, the Quakers came out flat, fell behind by 17 points early in the first half and never got over the hump. It allowed Harvard to celebrate a year after Princeton and Douglas Davis dashed their hopes in a playoff game with a last-second game-winner. "We are thrilled and honored to have an opportunity to compete in the 2012 NCAA tournament," Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said in a statement. "This is a tremendous moment for Harvard University, our basketball program and our community. Go Crimson!" Davis felt the same as Saunders. He took no joy in helping Harvard. However, he didn't want to help Penn, either. "I didn't feel right letting Penn win the Ivy League, or share the Ivy League title and win it on our home court," said Davis, who finished with 12 points. "This is a rivalry. Our rivalry with Penn goes way back. Harvard, they're good, but our rivalry is with Penn, so yeah. Harvard, yeah, they won the Ivy League, but Penn wasn't going to win it on our court." Princeton (19-11, 10-4) had some anxious moments in the second half, when Penn got to within 34-31 with 12:25 to play. Hummer then hit a 15-footer to ignite a 7-0 run and the Tigers closed out the game for their 17th straight league win at home. Penn coach Jerome Allen wasn't happy with the way his team played defensively and was disappointed to come up short of a title. "From the start of the game, (Princeton) really didn't have anything to play for other than to just be the spoilers," Allen said. "How can the team playing for nothing, play harder than the team that is supposedly playing for something. That's really what blew my mind. OK, the ball wasn't going in but defensively they just got whatever they wanted." Princeton shot 58.3 percent (21 of 36) for the game, including nearly 65 percent in the first half. Zack Rosen had 19 points on 8-of-24 shooting from the field for Penn. Miles Cartwright added 11 for the Quakers, who were held to 38.6 percent shooting from the field (22 of 57). "We blew our opportunity," Rosen said. "That's the bottom line. There is nothing past that to say." Hummer's jumper pushed the lead to 36-31 and T.J. Bray followed with a floater before Davis, playing in his final league contest, nailed a 3-pointer for a 41-31 advantage. Rosen sandwiched a pair of 3-pointers around a basket by Patrick Saunders to close the gap to 43-37, but the Quakers never got any closer. Princeton hit 11 of its first 15 shots and led by as many as 17 points in the first half before Rosen got the Quakers back in the game, scoring nine points in an 11-4 spurt to close the half. Penn had to work for almost every point and Rosen, who had 28 points in the Quakers' 82-67 win on Jan. 30, was the focal point of the Princeton defense. Penn's 17 first-half points were a season low and came on 8-of-24 shooting from the field. The Tigers finished the first half 11 of 17, or nearly 65 percent. Seven of those 11 baskets were layups, while three others came from long range. Hummer led the way with eight points.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.