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No. 5 Notre Dame finds another way to win ugly

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No. 5 Notre Dame finds another way to win ugly

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame's victory over Brigham Young lacked the drama of the goal-line stand against Stanford, the defensive domination the Fighting Irish showed against Michigan and the excitement of their last-minute win over Purdue.

Yet just like in those three other games, the Irish found a way to win a close game, beating BYU 17-14 to move to 7-0 for the 25th time in school history and the first time since Tyrone Willingham's first year as coach in 2002. That squad won five games by a touchdown or less en route to a 10-3 season.

Notre Dame is 4-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less this season and has won seven straight such regular-season games dating back to last season, after going 2-5 in such games after Brian Kelly became coach in 2010. Those included losses to Tulsa and South Florida and a pair of last-minute losses to Michigan.

Notre Dame is finding ways to win ugly rather than lose ugly.

``I think it's just a toughness,'' said quarterback Tommy Rees, who has played a role in all but two of those games. ``We've figured out how to play. We can close them out in the end.''

The Irish were without starting quarterback Everett Golson against BYU. He was held out as a precaution after sustaining a concussion a week earlier against Stanford. Kelly said Sunday he expects Golson to be ready to play against No. 8 Oklahoma (5-1), but wants to see how he reacts to a full exertion workout Monday.

For a while Saturday it looked like Notre Dame's perfect season was in jeopardy. Trailing 14-7, the Irish turned to their running game and a tough defense to pull out the victory. Theo Riddick rushed for 143 yards and Cierre Wood ran for 114, as each ran for more yards than any other opponent had against the Cougars.

``I think controlling the football for us and playing great defense in the second half has been our formula for winning and we are not going to go away from that,'' Kelly said.

A 2-yard touchdown run by George Atikinson III with 12:52 gave the Irish the lead and allowed them to keep alive their hopes of ending a national championship drought that dates back to 1988. The victory marked just the third time the Irish have won under Kelly after trailing at halftime. The other two times were a week earlier, when they beat Stanford 20-13 in overtime after trailing 10-3 at halftime, and a 24-17 win against Wake Forest last season after falling behind 17-10.

``It goes to the toughness of our football team,'' Kelly said. ``They believe they are going to win. ``

Irish players say the difference is they believe in each other.

``Football is very unpredictable. You have your ups and your downs and the most important thing is staying together when we hit adversity and that's exactly what we did,'' linebacker Manti Te'o said.

After giving up a total of three touchdowns in six games - none in the previous four - the Irish defense gave up a pair of touchdowns in just 2:18 to let BYU get the lead. But there was never a sense of panic, even as the Irish continually made mistakes that kept them from regaining the lead.

``That's the difference between this year's team and last year's team,'' tight end Tyler Eifert said. ``We're only down a touchdown or a field goal and you've just got to grind it out. Find a way to make it happen.''

Now the Irish have to find a way to make it happen at Oklahoma, which has only lost four homes games in 14 seasons under coach Bob Stoops. Kelly's Cincinnati team lost 52-26 in 2008 to the then-No. 4 Sooners. Kelly said it's a tough place to play.

``The fans are right on top of you. They're very knowledgeable. It's just a good college environment and they're a really good football team,'' Kelly said.

Kelly said what he took away from that 2008 game was that there was still a gap between where the Bearcats and the Sooners. The Irish are hoping to show against Oklahoma they are true title contenders. Kelly said the Irish know they need to continue to improve, saying that's a good thing.

``If you're 7-0 and five in the country and you think you've arrived, then that's where as a coach and a team you're in peril,'' he said.

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Wizards sit in a good spot at the All-Star break after rollercoaster first half

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Wizards sit in a good spot at the All-Star break after rollercoaster first half

The Washington Wizards did not make any significant changes to their roster over the summer and valued continuity, knowing they had a solid group of young players on the rise. That sort of stand-pat approach could have resulted in a boring first half of the season, but the Wizards managed to ride quite the rollercoaster from October to the All-Star break. 

A lot of things happened. Some were good and some were bad, but the eventual result as we sit here today is the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference and a 33-24 record, good for a 47-win pace. That's solid, especially considering the dramatic lows this team had to navigate through.

PODCAST: BREAKING DOWN THE WIZARDS' FIRST HALF

Here is a look at the biggest storylines of the 2017-18 Wizards season before the All-Star break...

Injuries played a role

During the 2016-17 season, the Wizards' starting lineup missed a combined 17 games. That group of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat logged more minutes than any other starting five in the NBA. In terms of health, that season was one big best-case scenario and it wasn't to happen again this season.

The Wizards ran into injury troubles before training camp even began when Morris needed sports hernia surgery. By November, Wall was dealing with a left knee injury and Porter has had hip issues all season. Beal and Gortat played in all 57 games, but Wall missed 20, Morris missed nine and Porter was out for four of them. This year their depth was tested much more than it was just one season ago.

RELATED: BEAL SHOWS HE BELONGS ON ALL-STAR STAGE

Inconsistency was a problem

For much of the first half, the Wizards just couldn't get out of their own way. They would rise up to play and often beat the good teams, then turn around and suffer terrible losses to some of the worst teams in the NBA. Many teams go through those types of issues, but the Wizards took it to an extreme. In the first half they beat the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors, Timberwolves and Thunder, yet lost to the Nets (twice), Mavs (twice), Lakers, Hawks and Hornets (twice).

It was a maddening trend and one the players and coaches were well aware of. As it kept plaguing them through the month of January, the Wizards appeared to have no answers, but they rebounded nicely in the final weeks leading up to the All-Star break and some of their losses to teams that were sub-.500 at the time now don't look so bad. The Wizards, in fact, sit 19-9 against sub-.500 teams at the break. Only four teams in the East have more such wins. And the Clippers and Jazz, who were struggling at the time they beat the Wizards, rallied to now hold winning records and be factors in the playoff race.

Oubre and Satoransky emerged

The development of two young players in the first half of the season has vastly changed the Wizards' outlook in the short- and long-term. Kelly Oubre, Jr. took another step and gives them starter-caliber production off their bench. And Tomas Satoransky is now not just a replacement level backup point guard, but a real strength on their roster. 

Oubre continues to cut out his youthful mistakes on defense and has become one of their most consistent offensive players. He is third on the team in double-digit scoring games (38) with an average of 11.7 points, nearly double his output from last season. Satoransky is using his size and athleticism to affect games while making few costly errors. He has the best assist-to-turnover ratio on the team and leads the Wizards with a 46.8 three-point percentage. Both Oubre and Satoransky are providing value on both ends of the floor, have high ceilings and are on bargain contracts.

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They rallied without Wall

The Wizards were dealt some news in late January that could have crippled their season. They learned that Wall, their best player, would be out up to two months following arthroscopic left knee surgery. He would likely miss well over 20 games and the Wizards had been significantly better with him than without him in the previous months.

The Wizards, though, responded exceptionally well. They won seven of their final nine games before the break after Wall went down. The others in their starting lineup stepped up and Satoransky proved he was more than just a placeholder. They likely won't be able to keep up the 7-2 pace, but the Wizards showed they can still compete and win while Wall is out. That will be important with a tough schedule coming up out of the break.

Locker room disagreements

The Wizards entered this season with heightened expectations and as a result couldn't tolerate some of their early season woes. There was a team meeting that didn't go as planned. There were things said in the media. Then, when Wall went out and the Wizards started playing better, people got carried away and said that Wall was holding the Wizards back. Wall even thought that sentiment was suggested by his teammates and aired his grievances publicly. 

That's what happens when teams have big goals and hit adversity, they point fingers and problems ensue. The Wizards, though, don't seem to have any major, untenable issues. However, their concerns need to be communicated better, not through social media or in front of cameras. That's what makes what could be considered normal locker room strife into national news.

RELATED: 2018 NBA MOCK DRAFT HAS STACKED CLASS

 

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2018 Olympic Hockey Results: U.S. Women back in the gold medal match

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: U.S. Women back in the gold medal match

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- The Americans played their way back into the only women's hockey game that matters: a showdown with Canada for the Olympic gold medal.

The Americans are back in the title game for a third straight Olympics after shutting out Finland 5-0 on Monday in the semifinals. They will face their arch-rival, which beat the "Olympic Athletes from Russia" 5-0 a few hours later, on Thursday. They Americans will be trying to win their first gold since 1998 when women's hockey made its debut in the Olympics.

And yes, the Americans understand the United States-Canada playing for gold is what everyone expects to see.

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"Definitely the rivalry has been there since I think I was born, so everyone's looking forward to that," said 22-year-old Dani Cameranesi.

This will be the third opportunity at gold for six Americans: captain Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, Gigi Marvin, Kacey Bellamy and twin sisters Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson.

"It's honestly a dream come true," Knight said. "This is the world's biggest stage. This is the game that you want. This is the game we've been dreaming of and to have another opportunity to get back here, it's huge."

Olympic newcomer Cameranesi scored two goals and added an assist to lead the Americans over Finland. Marvin started the scoring, and Lamoureux-Davidson and Knight both scored during a 5-on-3 34 seconds apart in the second period. Maddie Rooney made 14 saves for the shutout.

Finland remains winless in eight games against the Americans at the Olympics. The Finns, ranked third in the world last year, will try to take home the bronze medal for the first time since 2010.

"We're got one thing on our mind, and that's to get a medal," said goaltender Noora Raty, who made 33 saves. "They're the best in the world (U.S. and Canada). We just need to get more girls involved so we have more to choose from."

The Americans opened these games a 2-1 loss to Canada wrapping up pool play.

"This was really a gold-medal preparation for us because they're a darn good team, and we had to be ready to play," U.S. coach Robb Stauber said of Finland.

The Americans wasted no time getting on the board. Captain Meghan Duggan found Marvin alone in the slot, and she beat Raty stick-side for the easy goal just 2:25 into the game.

Finland lost defenseman when she had to be helped off the ice and to the locker room after a knee-on-knee collision with Duggan. She was knocked off balance before crashing face-first into the boards, snapping her head back. When play resumed without a penalty, some fans booed. Savolainen returned in the second period.

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Stauber said the referee immediately came over and said it was a collision. Duggan said she was really happy Savolainen got up and that any decision about a potential suspension was out of her control.

"There's been some other plays that haven't been put into question, and so I can't imagine that there would be any disciplinary action just based on other things that have been let go," Duggan said.

Cameranesi put the United States up 2-0 with 1:22 left in the period, taking the puck away from Susanna Tapani and skating into the left circle before beating Raty's blocker with a wrist shot top shelf.

Lamoureux-Davidson's slap shot from the left circle came with 2 seconds left on the 5-on-3 at 13:21 of the second period, and Knight got her first goal of this tournament by redirecting a shot from Sidney Morin with 5 seconds left on the man advantage for the 4-0 lead. Cameranesi padded the lead as she scored from the slot over Raty's glove off a pass from Hannah Brandt.

"We're super excited to be in this position again," Lamoureux-Davidson said. "We worked four years to put ourselves in position to compete for a gold medal and we'll enjoy this for a little bit, but we know that this isn't what we came here for. We're ready to go to battle in a couple days."