No. 3 South Carolina enters road test at No. 9 LSU


No. 3 South Carolina enters road test at No. 9 LSU

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) Steve Spurrier lightheartedly, if not dismissively, shrugged off questions this week about the mystique of LSU's Tiger Stadium, even though he knows from experience how hard it can be to win there.

``That is THE Death Valley, isn't it? Or is there another one? There's two of them. That's right. There's two Death Valleys,'' the colorful coach of No. 3 South Carolina said in a two-pronged jab at both Saturday night's opponent - LSU - and the Gamecocks' in-state rival, Clemson. ``We know it'll be loud and crazy and all that kind of stuff, but we've won in front of 90,000 before.

``The tiger doesn't play defense or offense for them, not yet anyway,'' Spurrier added, referring to LSU's Bengal tiger mascot, Mike. ``They keep him caged up, I think.''

Spurrier has his best team in his eight seasons at South Carolina, which is now ranked higher than any time since climbing to No. 2 in 1984.

The coach has had plenty of victories at LSU, both as Florida's quarterback and coach, but also had one of his worst upset losses there, a 28-21 setback in 1997, when he was coach of the No. 1 and defending national champion Gators and the Tigers were ranked 14th.

This time it won't technically be an upset if South Carolina (6-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) fails to make it out of Louisiana's version of Death Valley with its record still unblemished. No. 9 LSU (5-1, 1-1) has been listed as a slight favorite by odds makers, even after losing for the first time this season last week at Florida.

Although LSU's offense stagnated in a 14-6 loss, the Tigers have one of the top defenses in the country and can still win the SEC West by winning their remaining league games. Such a run would put them right back in the national championship picture.

The Tigers have also won a school record 21 straight at home. They haven't lost in Tiger stadium since Oct. 10, 2009, against then-No. 1 Florida, led by Tim Tebow.

``We can't lose any more or our national championship hopes are gone. We've got to buckle down and just get to it,'' said LSU linebacker Kevin Minter, whose 20 tackles and forced fumble at Florida earned him SEC co-defensive player of the week honors. ``South Carolina - they're such an incredible team. If we win this game it would give us a little more momentum going into the rest of the season.''

LSU coaches and players sound convinced that first-year starter Zach Mettenberger can be an exceptional quarterback. He just hasn't shown it yet - not consistently anyway.

He didn't have to be that good in LSU's first five games because the Tigers have been averaging about 200 yards on the ground. But in his only two SEC games, he has struggled. At Auburn, he was 15-of-27 for 169 yards, no touchdowns and turned the ball over twice on fumbles. At Florida, Mettenberger completed fewer than half his passes for 158 yards, was intercepted once on an overthrow and was sacked four times.

``We have flashes here and there. We've just got to get more consistent,'' Mettenberger said. ``I can only take care of myself on the field. The other 10 guys have got to be responsible to do their job. But we're so close to being a good offense. ... We're just one guy away, a step away or a second away. If we just continue to work it out and iron out the little things we're going to be fine.''

If they haven't ironed it out this week, though, they could be in for a long night against a South Carolina defense with a lethal pass rush led by Jadeveon Clowney and fellow end Devin Taylor, who've combined for 15 1/2 tackles for losses this season, including 10 1/2 sacks.

The Gamecocks are looking pretty good on offense, too, after rolling past then No. 5 Georgia 35-7 last weekend. Marcus Lattimore rushed for 110 yards and a score against the Bulldogs, while dual-threat quarterback Connor Shaw passed for two TDs and ran for another.

That game was at home, though. LSU will pose a tougher test. The Tigers rank third in the nation in total defense, second in pass defense and eighth in scoring defense.

Shaw isn't even sure how much his foot speed will help.

``Those guys are just as fast as me,'' Shaw said. ``I don't think I'm going to get out of the pocket like I usually do. I'm just going to have my eyes downfield and get the passing game going.''

Spurrier, meanwhile, conceded crowd noise could pose problems for his offense.

``We won't be able to audible,'' Spurrier said. ``Last week, we changed a whole bunch of plays (at the line scrimmage), so hopefully, we get the right one called at the beginning.''

LSU coach Les Miles said the Tigers were stung by their lone loss and poor performance on offense, but have the talent and desire to grow from the experience.

``I'm not ready to say that we're not going to be a really good football team,'' Miles said. ``It's just that we need to do the things that we can do and do them extremely well. We need to execute them at a high level and make our opponents deal with it. It's about us and about what we want to do, not necessarily about our opponent.''


AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli contributed to this report from Columbia, S.C.

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John Wall goes through full practice for first time since left knee surgery

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John Wall goes through full practice for first time since left knee surgery

John Wall crossed one of the biggest hurdles of his months-long recovery from arthroscopic left knee surgery on Saturday by participating in his first full practice.

That means Wall went through 5-on-5 scrimmages with teammates that included contact. He is free of restrictions.

Now it is only a matter of days before Wall is ready to return to game action.

"John did everything, he did an entire practice which was great," head coach Scott Brooks said. "I thought he did a great job offensively and defensively."


Wall, who last played on Jan. 25 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, has missed the Wizards' last 24 games. He has been absent for 35 of their 72 total games this season.

In the months he has been out, Wall has slowly worked his way to this point. He still has to get a few more practices under his belt before the Wizards can outline a target date for his return.

Wall was aggressive in testing his knee by attacking the basket, according to Brooks. Wall was moving around well and even lost a few pounds during his time off.

"He looks great and that's not easy with time off," Brooks said. "He will be back in no time."


The Wizards have gone 14-10 since Wall went down, an impressive mark especially considering how tough their schedule shook out. Most of those games came against teams with winning records either holding playoff spots or fighting for them.

The shine, though, is wearing off. They have lost two straight games and seven of their last 11. Their offense has stalled in recent defeats and it's become more and more clear they could use Wall's presence.

"He gives us that edge," Wall said. "When you have him on the floor, you get a lot of easy shots. John creates a lot of attention when he drives to the basket... I think [his teammates] have always appreciated it, but when you don't have him around you definitely miss it."

While the Wizards continue to wait for Wall to return to games, just having him in practices helps. Brooks explained how guarding a player of Wall's caliber, a five-time All-Star, raises the intensity level of their scrimmages. If his teammates do not bring their best effort, Wall can very easily expose them.


There is also something intangible about Wall's presence. The media sees it once the doors open at practice. He is talkative and energetic on the court.

Some of his teammates even described him as "loud."

"Sometimes I tell him that he's a little too loud," guard Bradley Beal said. "But that's the energy that we've missed."

"He brings the juice. He brings the energy level up," Brooks said. "You miss his spirit. You miss the way he interacts with guys. He's fiery and competitive. He gets after guys. He cheers guys on. I like that. I like guys that show emotion and passion on the court."

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Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Following their seventh loss in 11 games and another lackluster performance in key areas, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks reverted back to a critique that characterized many defeats months ago. He called into question the effort of his team, more specifically their urgency. How they could overlook the stakes at this point of the season and with so much on the line had escaped him.

Brooks wasn't pleased following Washington's 108-100 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. He didn't like their three-point defense, their inability to force turnovers and their lack of zip on offense. But overall, it was the apparent lack of realization that time is running out in the regular season and off-nights cannot be afforded.

"We have to play with more spirit [and] we have to take some pride in our home court," Brooks said. "We’re building our habits going into the playoffs and these are moments where we need to take advantage because it’s playoff implications in every game."


Pride is something Brooks has referenced after the Wizards' worst defeats since he took over. This one didn't qualify, as they only lost by eight points and had opportunities late to write a different ending. But they were playing a team fighting for their own playoff position in the opposite conference and for the most part did not match their intensity.

The Nuggets, to put it plainly, are among the worst defensive teams in basketball. They were missing their leading scorer, Gary Harris. And they tightened their rotation to just eight players.

Yet the Wizards only managed 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers. Aside from their 33-point third quarter, the Wizards' offense was effectively stalled. 

"We can’t have guys that are not going to participate with hard cuts and hard setups and good screens. We need everybody. It’s not one person, it’s all," Brooks said.


The Wizards only forced 10 turnovers on the Nuggets and only three in the first half. That held back their offense in the sense they had few opportunities for fastbreak buckets.

"That’s where we get most of our offense from anyways, getting stops, getting out in transition," forward Otto Porter said.

The Wizards have lost two straight games. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers and Pacers both won on Friday night.

The Wizards are sixth place in the East and just 1 1/2 games out of fourth, but there is a huge difference in those spots. Sixth could mean meeting the Cavs in the first round and they have won three straight since Kevin Love returned from injury.


The Cavaliers could quickly become the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference. Their record is deceiving due to Love's injury and they still boast LeBron James, the best player on the planet. No one can control a playoff series quite like he can.

An argument could be made the Wizards would be better off moving down than up, as the seventh spot would match them up with the injury-riddled Boston Celtics. The Wizards are just 1 1/2 games ahead of the seventh-seed Miami Heat.

The Wizards, though, would prefer to move up and they still have a chance to get into fourth, which would mean home court advantage.

John Wall will return at some point, likely soon. In the short-term, Brooks would like to some urgency and for his team to get back to the trademark ball movement that allowed them to go 10-3 in their first 13 games when Wall went down.

"We can get it back, but it’s not going to come back. We have to go get it. It’s time to do it; it’s time," Brooks said.

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