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Badgers' Bielema: No shame backing into title game

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Badgers' Bielema: No shame backing into title game

Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema understands a lot of people believe his Badgers don't deserve to be playing in the Big Ten championship game.

Asked if he's insulted by the sentiment, he says he's not.

``I appreciate the question and understand it totally,'' he said Sunday. ``I think there are 10 teams out there in the Big Ten that would love to be in the position Nebraska and we're in right now. When the two teams take the field on Saturday, neither is going to care how the other team got there or what their record is.''

With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible because of NCAA sanctions, the Badgers will represent the Leaders Division against Legends champion Nebraska this Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The winner goes to the Rose Bowl to play UCLA or Stanford.

The Badgers (7-5, 4-4), the two-time defending Big Ten champions, finished third in their division behind Ohio State and Penn State after losing three of their last four games in overtime.

The 14th-ranked Cornhuskers (10-2, 7-1) have won six straight since a 25-point loss at Ohio State on Oct. 6. They won their division outright when Michigan lost to the Buckeyes and will be playing for their first conference championship since winning the Big 12 in 1999.

Nebraska opened Big Ten play on Sept. 29 with a 30-27 win over the Badgers, coming back from a 17-point, third-quarter deficit.

Pelini told Bielema after that game that he thought they might meet again in Indianapolis.

``Here we are,'' Pelini said.

Wisconsin won last year's inaugural Big Ten championship game 42-39 over Michigan State. The Badgers are looking for their 14th Big Ten title and a third straight league title for the first time in school history.

Nebraska has won 43 conference titles and is looking for its first Big Ten championship in its second year in the league.

The Badgers were 6-2 overall and 3-1 in the league after beating Minnesota in mid-October. An overtime loss to Michigan State, a win over Indiana and OT losses to Ohio State and Penn State ended the regular season.

Bielema said he's received supportive correspondence from people around the Big Ten since the Badgers clinched a spot in the title game.

``We've been on the short stick of some close, hard-fought games,'' he said. ``The optimist in me looks at it and says, `Hey, we were in these games.' We lost to Ohio State and Penn State, who are ineligible to play in the game. One play here or there, we could we win them. We didn't. I get it... It's not going to diminish what we've accomplished.''

Pelini said he doesn't buy that some of the luster is off the Big Ten championship game because unbeaten Ohio State, which finished first in the Leaders, won't be there.

``I don't really care what people say about that,'' he said. ``Wisconsin is there because they deserve to be there. (Ohio State's) not there for a reason. That's not taking anything away from Urban Meyer or the kids who played at Ohio State and played their tails off, but there's a reason they're not there.''

Wisconsin is in the same position it was in a year ago, playing an opponent in the championship game that had beaten the Badgers in the regular season. Last year Michigan State handed the Badgers their first loss of the season, 37-31.

Montee Ball scored four touchdowns, the last coming on a 7-yard run with 3:45 left, and the Badgers used a running into the kicker penalty to kill the clock to win the championship game. Russell Wilson, who threw for three touchdowns, was the game's MVP.

Wilson has gone to the NFL, leaving the Badgers to play three quarterbacks this season.

Joel Stave, who replaced Danny O'Brien, made his first road start against Nebraska and turned in a strong first-half performance before O'Brien replaced him late in the game. Curt Phillips has started the last three games.

The Badgers still have Ball, the 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist who went over 1,500 yards rushing and became the NCAA career touchdown leader in the loss to Penn State. Ball ran for 90 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries against Nebraska but was held to 31 yards on 15 runs in the second half.

``We lost a heartbreaker to Nebraska on the road,'' Bielema said. ``We played well in that game and did some things not so well. I know they're a better team than we saw. I know we're a better team, too. It's going to be fun for us.''

Nebraska is coming off a 13-7 win over Iowa, a game that marked the return of running back Rex Burkhead. The senior, who had been out with a left knee sprain, ran 16 times for 69 yards in his first action since Oct. 20 at Northwestern. In the fourth quarter alone, Burkhead carried the ball 10 times for 57 yards.

Burkhead had 86 yards in the first game against Wisconsin. The Huskers' playmaker that night was Taylor Martinez, who threw for 181 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 107 and a score.

Pelini said what happened in the first meeting won't have any impact in the second.

``The challenges will be the same,'' he said.

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Warriors will visit D.C. kids instead of White House when they play Wizards

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USA Today Sports Images

Warriors will visit D.C. kids instead of White House when they play Wizards

Instead of visiting the White House when they come to Washington this week to play the Wizards, the defending-champion Golden State Warriors plan to hold an event with D.C.-area kids.

Their invitation was rescinded by president Donald Trump following a back-and-forth between the two sides last year. After the Warriors won the title, they openly questioned whether they should follow the tradition given many of the players and coaches disagree with his policies. Trump took the opportunity away before they came to a final decision.

PODCAST: WIZARDS MAKE A FREE AGENT SIGNING

The Warriors' event will be closed off to the media and held at an undisclosed location. It is set for Tuesday, the day before they play the Wizards at Capital One Arena. The Warriors had the option of holding a ceremony with other politicians in the Democratic party, but decided that would send the wrong message. 

"It's their championship. They got disinvited to the White House, so it's up to them what they wanted to do. So they made their plans," coach Steve Kerr said. "I want the players to have a good day and to do something positive and to enjoy what they're doing."

The Warriors are the first NBA team to make this choice since Trump was elected president. Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers held their celebration with president Barack Obama in November. They did so just days after Trump was elected and LeBron James questioned at the time whether he would visit the White House with Trump in office.

RELATED: DURANT MAKES HUGE DONATION TO PG COUNTY SCHOOLS

Sports teams visiting the White House goes back to the mid-1800s. The first World Series title team to visit was the 1924 Washington Senators. By the 1960s, NBA teams were going and by the 1980s NFL and NHL teams made it a tradition.

Entire teams snubbing the White House is unusual, but many players have turned down the opportunity. In the NBA, some famous cases include Larry Bird in 1984 and Michael Jordan in 1991, according to Rolling Stone.

Perhaps the Warriors start a trend, or maybe it will be a one-off thing. Regardless, the alternative they chose is a respectable one. 

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS

 

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Game 62: Capitals vs. Sabres Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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USA TODAY Sports

Game 62: Capitals vs. Sabres Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Buffalo Sabres

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Sabres will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Sabres game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME?

The Capitals (34-20-7) take on the Sabres (18-32-11) Saturday, February 24 at 7:00 p.m. ET in Capital One Arena.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME ON?

The Capitals-Sabres game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 10:00 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Capitals vs. Sabres
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:00 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME?

Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Sabres game:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Michal Kempny - Brooks Orpik

Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches: Alex Chiasson, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME?

The Capitals-Panthers game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

CAPITALS-SABRES OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.