Other Sports

Louisville seeks to end skid vs. rival Kentucky


Louisville seeks to end skid vs. rival Kentucky

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Louisville has had enough of losing to Kentucky.

The No. 4 Cardinals have dropped four in a row to the Wildcats, including last spring's national semifinal in New Orleans. Kentucky won that game 69-61 and went on to beat Kansas two days later for its eighth national championship.

That Final Four loss still bothers Cardinals coach Rick Pitino, who is 0-4 against Wildcats counterpart John Calipari. Fortunately for Pitino, he enters Saturday's showdown in Louisville with an experienced team that's 11-1 and favored to reclaim Bluegrass State supremacy.

Kentucky (8-3) started the season No. 3 behind Indiana and Louisville. But the Wildcats have fallen from the rankings and are looking to establish themselves with another group of talented freshmen.

They enter the game as an underdog against a Louisville squad that's playing well and hungry to prove it against their archrival. However, Pitino has warned his team about getting too excited against the Wildcats.

``When it comes down to it, it's all about execution,'' Pitino said Friday. ``It really is about execution. And the emotional part wears off. Sometimes emotion is a killer and it drains you. You've got to be very careful in this type of game that it doesn't.''

At the same time, the Cardinals have reason to feel good about their chances. They've been ranked in the top six all season and have beaten quality schools such as Northern Iowa, Missouri, College of Charleston and Memphis.

Louisville has succeeded behind Pitino's trademark: tough pressure defense. The Cardinals lead the nation in turnover margin (+8.6) and are second in steals at 11.9 per game.

Since their only loss this season against Duke, the Cardinals have won six straight. Their streak is notable because they've done so without center Gorgui Dieng, who broke his left wrist Nov. 23 during the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas.

Expected to miss four to six weeks, Dieng was cleared this week and Pitino will start the 6-foot-11 junior against Kentucky. The Senegal native's availability isn't surprising, considering he had been working out and dressed the past few games.

Dieng grasps the importance of the in-state rivalry - his parents will be among the sold-out crowd at the KFC Yum! Center. He nonetheless insisted that the timing of his return was purely coincidental.

``I'm back because the doctors cleared me to play,'' said Dieng, averaging 8.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. ``If the docs said I could not play this game, I would not play. It's not because they (Kentucky) have two bigs that they want me to play. It's not like that. I just get back because it's a good time to be back.''

Dieng has explained the rivalry to his parents.

``I've told them it's two schools that hate each other,'' he said. ``The good thing is, they don't speak English. Whatever (fans) say, it doesn't matter to them.''

What matters to Louisville is how guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith dictate the backcourt battle against Kentucky.

Siva, a senior considered one of the nation's best point guards, is averaging a career-best 11.4 points along with 6.3 assists and 2.3 steals.

``He's good with the ball,'' Calipari said of Siva. ``He finds his teammates. He's scoring better, shooting the ball way better.''

Smith, who came off the bench to score 30 points against Kentucky here last New Year's Eve, has raised his scoring average from 11.5 to 19.7 points largely because of his 34-percent rate from 3-point range.

Kentucky's four-game winning streak can be attributed to its own improved guard play.

The Wildcats appear to have found their point guard in sophomore Ryan Harrow. Since returning from a four-game absence because of an illness and tending to a family matter in Georgia, he has played the past five contests and started the last two, scoring a career-high 23 points on Marshall last Saturday.

More important to Calipari, Harrow is putting his teammates in the right spots on the floor and getting them to communicate. That's important for the Wildcats, who will try to establish an inside presence with freshmen Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress.

``I'm definitely looking forward to it,'' the 6-10 Noel said of facing Dieng. ``It's going to be a good matchup for myself. ... He's a bigger dude, about 6-11. He's a physical player and I'm ready for the challenge.''

As both schools maintain that Saturday's meeting is just another game, players and coaches acknowledge the place the rivalry holds among their fan bases. Kentucky freshman Archie Goodwin said he followed it in high school but quickly learned how different it was to be a part of it.

``It's a big game,'' he said. ``It's not just the media that really says it. ... It's something we knew about coming in here. All schools have their rivalry and this is just one of them.''

Pitino has seen the rivalry from both sides. He coached Kentucky from 1989-97 and won the 1996 national championship before arriving at Louisville in 2001 and leading the Cardinals to two Final Fours.

However, Pitino came to understand what the rivalry meant after last year's semifinal loss because it denied the Cardinals a chance for their third NCAA title. That might explain his determination to beat Kentucky, a quest that will involve Big Blue Nation yelling nasty things in the Cardinals' house.

Asked if it's the best rivalry in college basketball, Pitino paused and said, ``Yeah, because we live with each other. I don't think a Duke woman would marry a North Carolina guy. And I don't think a North Carolina man would marry a Duke woman.

``We just intermarry all the time. It's hurt our society here in Louisville,'' he jokingly added. ``And for those of you who have married a Kentucky woman, you know what I'm talking about.''


AP Freelancer Josh Abner in Louisville contributed to this report.

John Carlson gets the better of John Klingberg in duel of top defensemen


John Carlson gets the better of John Klingberg in duel of top defensemen

One week ago, the hockey world was captivated by the matchup of Alex Ovechkin and Patrik Laine, two players battling for the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer. Tuesday's matchup between the Washington Capitals and Dallas Stars once again pitted two competitors locked in a point battle together in John Carlson and John Klingberg.

Carlson and Klingberg entered Tuesday's games with 59 points each, tied for the league lead in points among defensemen. In a 4-3 win for Washington, both defensemen delivered phenomenal performances as each recorded two points, two assists for Klingberg and a goal and an assist for Carlson.

Tuesday's game was the latest example this season of Carlson rising to the occasion. He has been at his best when he has been needed the most such as when he was averaging 27:46 of ice time a night while Matt Niskanen was out injured.


Carlson's ability to deliver has not gone unnoticed by his teammates.

"John's having just a whale of a year, obviously," Niskanen said. "Monster year. Production, been carrying the load all year. He's been just a stalwart back there for us. He leads the way."

"The numbers don't lie, he's been having an unreal season," T.J. Oshie said. "Definitely on the points side of things, but maybe some parts that don't get talked about, the defensive side of things. He rarely loses a battle. It's very encouraging, it gets the bench going when he plays like that."

After the game, Carlson tried to downplay the notion that he elevated his game in response to playing against Klingberg.

"No," Carlson said when asked if he was motivated by the points race. "I think the guys do a good job of pumping that up in the locker room. I just want to go out there and win. I think we played a good game tonight so that's most important."

But while his words were subdued, his play was anything but.

Despite both players getting two points, Carlson got the better of his counterpart by scoring the game-winning goal in the third period, a one-timer slap shot to beat goalie Kari Lehtnonen, to lead Washington to the win.


Carlson may say he was not motivated by Klingberg, but his play certainly seemed to suggest otherwise.

"I think they both know, they know the stats," Barry Trotz said. "They know who they're lined up  [against]. They're proud athletes. You're in a business where there's a lot of alpha males. That's what it is."

Of course, Carlson may not need a matchup with Klingberg to motivate him.

In the final year of his contract, Carlson has picked a good time to set new career highs in goals, assist and points. With a cap hit of just under $4 million, the 28-year-old blueliner will be due a significant raise in the offseason. That price tag continues to climb with every good performance as Carlson continues to cement himself among the league's top defensemen.

"Obviously he's very motivated," Trotz said. "He's in the last year of his contract. He'll be motivated. He's putting out points. He's gotten better and better. He's more poised every year. When he's intense and detailed in his game, he's a top defenseman in the league and he shows it."

Quick Links

Need to Know: Redskins player quick hitters—Offensive starters

USA Today Sports Images

Need to Know: Redskins player quick hitters—Offensive starters

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, March 21, 36 days before the NFL draft.  

Redskins starters quick hitters—offense

The last couple of days here I looked at how the depth charts are shaping up with a little bit of commentary (offense, defense). Today and tomorrow I’ll take a closer look at the starters with some quick hitters about each one, starting today with the offense.

QB Alex Smith—The deal is done, and the Redskins have their man for five years at $22.2 million per year or, if they prefer, three years at $23.7 million per. It seems like most fans are behind him but there will have to be a few more wins than losses this fall for that to become permanent.

RB Samaje Perine—He got better as the year went on, averaging nearly a half yard per carry more in the last seven games compared to the first nine. But the 3.4 average per carry certainly did not stop both Doug Williams and Jay Gruden from talking about drafting a running back early.

TE Jordan Reed—According to reports, he is rehabbing well from the hamstring and toe injuries that severely limited him last year. Still, expect him to be kept in bubble wrap until training camp and even then, his action may be limited.

WR Josh Doctson—Did Kirk Cousins look away from Doctson too often, lacking the confidence in him to let him go get the 50-50 balls? Will Smith have more confidence in Doctson? The answers to those questions may determine if the third-year receiver breaks out in 2018 or he continues to tease with flashes of ability.

WR Paul Richardson—He’s capable of the acrobatic catch, which should be fun to watch. Richardson was good with Russell Wilson on the off-schedule plays, maybe he can do the same with Smith.

WR Jamison Crowder—I guess it’s fair to say he had an off year in 2017 but his receiving yardage only dropped by 60 yards from 2016. It will be interesting to see if they keep him in as the punt returner after he averaged 6.3 yards per return (23rd of 25 qualifiers) last year.

LT Trent Williams—The six-time Pro Bowler is still in the relatively early stages of recovering from surgery to the knee that kept him from practicing from about Week 6 on. Don’t look for him until training camp and even then, the early workload is likely to be light.

LG Arie Kouandjio—This is the one offensive position that remains up in the air. Kouandjio has shown some grit as a spot starter but I don’t think the organization views him as a 16-game starter.

C Chase Roullier—Shortly after Roullier got the starting job when Spencer Long went out injured, Jay Gruden said that Roullier would be the Redskins’ center “for a long time”. There is no reason to doubt that at this point in time.

RG Brandon Scherff—His concern no longer is trying to live up to having been the fifth pick of the draft. Scherff has to play well enough to justify his 2019 option-year salary, which will be in the vicinity of $13 million.

RT Morgan Moses—He had surgery to repair his ankles, which were an issue most of last season. Still, he didn’t miss a start. Like Williams, even if he’s ready for training camp, don’t expect to see a whole lot of him.

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.

Tandler on Twitter


Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/16) 27
—Training camp starts (approx. 7/26) 129
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 173

In case you missed it