Alabama once again gets a 2nd chance at title shot


Alabama once again gets a 2nd chance at title shot

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Alabama players don't even have to leave their couches to be one of the big winners in college football's national championship sweepstakes.

The second-ranked Crimson Tide (10-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) has benefited the past two years from a pair of late-season upsets by other teams, proving that patience is sometimes as important as perfection.

Alabama jumped right back into win-and-in mode with Saturday night's losses by Oregon and Kansas State.

Last year, the one-loss Tide got a reprieve with Iowa State stunning Oklahoma State and Oregon toppling Stanford.

``It's college football,'' Tide safety Robert Lester said. ``Just like last year, crazy things are going to happen. Crazy things are going to happen next year. The only thing we need to worry about right now is to play our football and not worry about what's going on outside Alabama and handle it the way we need to handle it.''

What's going on inside Alabama is that rival Auburn (3-8, 0-7) visits Saturday for the Iron Bowl.

With a win, the Tide would play No. 3 Georgia for the SEC title and a chance at a second straight national championship. Alabama, which spent most of the season ranked No. 1, only needed a week to move back to the front of the line along with top-ranked Notre Dame.

The Tide was coming off a 29-24 loss to No. 9 Texas A&M. Last season, Alabama earned a rematch after losing to LSU partly thanks to the Cowboys and Cardinal finally losing.

Still, coach Nick Saban said he is focused only on the state title, a prize that's still pretty substantial in this heated rivalry.

``I just want to make everybody understands here that we're not in any conversations about anything other than the game that we're playing,'' Saban said Monday. ``Unless we win the next game, we don't have another game. We're trying to work our way into a conversation by how we play. We're not trying to hold a position. We're trying to create one by what we do and how we play.

``Everybody in this organization needs to understand that we're dismissing all talk about anything except playing Auburn.''

Not every Tide player said they were glued to the TV Saturday night hoping for a helping hand or two and celebrating the upsets.

``I think somebody sent a message to me on Facebook,'' linebacker Nico Johnson said. ``Other than that, what came across my mind was, `We've got an opportunity, but we can't look past the team we have this week.' We kind of got ahead of ourselves the Texas A&M game. It showed what happened. Now we understand that. We learned from that lesson. Now we've got to stay focused on us and control what we do and worry about Auburn this week.''

Johnson said defensive end Damion Square reminded the players of that after their run on Sunday that: ``We can't overlook our opponent. Never.''

The reality is, an Auburn win would be a bigger upset than Baylor over Kansas State or Stanford beating Oregon. Alabama is a 31.5-point favorite over the Tigers.

Still, last weekend's upsets took care of two of the teams standing in Alabama's way.

Linebacker C.J. Mosley said the Tide can't lose sight of the other two teams that will actually line up against them before a national championship shot can come.

``I'm glad that it happened, but if we don't win these next two games, all that really doesn't matter,'' Mosley said. ``So we're back in the picture for it, but that's really not what I'm worried about. We've got these two games coming up. They ought to be big for us. We've got a chance to do something good. We've got to make sure we take advantage of it.''

Saban said teams can get ``emotionally stressed out'' when the stakes of the games are so high. He's trying to keep that from happening to the Tide.

``You're worrying emotionally, which affects your ability to focus and you don't play as well,'' Saban said. ``None of these things are bad things. There's nobody taking anybody out and shooting them behind the barn because we've got an opportunity to play in this game. We've got an opportunity to play in this game and maybe another game, that's a good thing. That's something that everybody worked hard to create. You know, be positive. It's what great competitors love to do, go compete and play your best games. Don't get emotionally stressed out or start playing to keep from getting beat and be tentative about your approach to what you're doing.

``I think it did happen to us and it probably happened to some other people. That's what we try to guard against.''

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Wizards take out Pacers to earn important advantage in playoff seeding

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Wizards take out Pacers to earn important advantage in playoff seeding

The Washington Wizards beat the Indiana Pacers 109-102 on Saturday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Important victory: Saturday night's game between the Wizards and Pacers had several layers of playoff implications on the line and it was Washington who rose to the occasion and showed the urgency commensurate for the stakes.

By beating the Pacers, the Wizards locked up the season series between the teams, two games to one. That gives them the tiebreaker for playoff seeding if the teams finish the regular season with the same record. That could very well prove paramount. As of now, the Wizards and Pacers have the same record (40-30) with 12 games to go.

The season series advantage means the Wizards are above the Pacers in the standings despite having the same record. They moved into fourth place in the East with the win and the Cavs slotted back into third. There will likely be a lot more movement as these next few weeks play out, but the Wizards now hold an important edge over the Pacers.

The win also pushed the Wizards to 14-8 since John Wall went down with a left knee injury. Wall could return this coming week or the week after and the Wizards have more than stayed afloat during his absence.

The Wizards' magic number to make the playoffs is now just five. 


Sato went off: The Wizards jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter mostly thanks to a hot start from Tomas Satoransky, who scored the Wizards' first five points and had 10 by the end of the first quarter.

Satoransky's floater was automatic. He dropped in several in the lane from all different angles. Satoransky was practicing the same shots, floaters off each foot, the day before in practice and it paid off.

It was a well-rounded night for Satoransky. In addition to his 12 points, he also had eight assists and five rebounds, including this one to find Marcin Gortat for the dunk:

Gortat came up big: Speaking of Gortat, the Wizards' big man had one of his best games of the season. He poured in 18 points to go along with eight rebounds, four assists a steal and a block. Gortat shot 6-for-8, consistently having his way on the block.

The Pacers were without two of their best big men in Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis and Gortat took advantage of that. He was way too much for Al Jefferson.

The Pacers tried to roll with small-ball lineups using Trevor Booker and Thaddeus Young as their big men, but it didn't work. Gortat was too big for them and his teammates did a great job finding him for open looks.

Gortat's 18 points were his most since Jan. 3 when he had a season-high 21 against the Knicks. Lately, Gortat has seen his minutes dwindle with the increased role for Ian Mahinmi, so Saturday night must have felt good for the Polish Machine.


Bojan held in check: Bojan Bogdanovic, who spent part of last season with the Wizards, was a major factor in the first two matchups between Washington and the Pacers this season. He had 20 points in one game and 29 in another, each time getting hot from three.

The Wizards, though, made some adjustments in this one and held Bo Buckets in check. He didn't make his first shot until nearly the midway point of the second quarter and it was only because Kelly Oubre, Jr. (16 points, 18 minutes) lost his balance. Oubre stumbled backward, giving Bogdanovic a split second to get off an open three. That was the only shot he hit in the first half as he began the game 1-for-4.

Oubre did a good job harrassing Bogdanovic and not giving him space on the premiter. Otto Porter (eight points) and Bradley Beal (19 points) did as well. Both Porter and Beal stripped the ball out of Bogdanovic's hands early in the third quarter. Midway through the third, Bogdanovic got past Porter only to be called for an offensive foul on a collision with Gortat. All in all, it was a frustrating night for Bogdanovic, who had 11 points, three below his season average.

Bogdanovic is a very good shooter and when he's hot can alter games. But when you take his shots away, there's not much else he can do to hurt you. The Wizards did a good job taking away his strengths and making others beat them. Not having to focus on Turner and Sabonis certainly helped. 

Sessions is still in the rotation: It turns out those five games for Ramon Sessions over the course of his second 10-day contract weren't just an audition. Now that he has been signed for the rest of the season, Sessions is still getting the nod over Tim Frazier as the backup point guard.

Sessions logged 18 minutes and even played alongside Satoransky and Jodie Meeks in the fourth quarter. The Wizards had a sizable lead and head coach Scott Brooks decided to experiment with his lineups. That is something to keep in mind for when Wall comes back. Once he does, Sessions will be the third point guard and likely rarely see the court. But if they see something they like about him at shooting guard, that could open the door for more playing time possibilities.

Up next: The Wizards have three off-days before their next game. That will be on Wednesday when they head to San Antonio to face the Spurs. Tipoff is at 9:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. Pregame coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. with Wizards HangTime.

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Scandrick, Hankins both visiting with Redskins soon


Scandrick, Hankins both visiting with Redskins soon

The Redskins will be taking visits from two former NFC East foes in the next few days.

Former Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick will visit Redskins Park on Monday. Scandrick, 31, has been with Dallas since them made him a fifth-round pick in the 2008 draft. He has eight career interceptions and seven forced fumbles.

The Cowboys released Scandrick on Friday in a salary cap move. The Redskins would be attracted to Scandrick’s versatility. He can play either side at corner and, of particular interest to the Redskins, in the slot. That is a position of concern for Washington since they traded Kendall Fuller to the Chiefs as part of the deal for quarterback Alex Smith.

The Redskins have been trying to get former Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to sign for the past several days, but they can’t come together on money. Scandrick could be a fallback if they need one.

The other visitor will be former Giants defensive lineman Jonathan Hankins, per John Keim of ESPN. Hankins, 25, was a second-round draft pick and played his first four years in New York. Last year he moved on to the Colts as a free agent. They are changing their defense and decided to release Hankins after paying him $10 million last year.

Hankins could bolster a defensive line that still needs young talent. It’s not known if he would be considered a nose tackle in the Redskins’ scheme. The Giants ran a 4-3 defense and in the Colts’ 3-4 he was used as an end.

The Redskins had former Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson in for a visit earlier this week, but he decided to sign with the Packers.


Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.