Nationals

No. 6 Kansas begins chase for Big 12 championship

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No. 6 Kansas begins chase for Big 12 championship

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Kevin Young and Elijah Johnson squeezed behind a table just off the Allen Fieldhouse court and started taking questions after wrapping up non-conference play with a win over Temple.

The pair of seniors for sixth-ranked Kansas was asked whether they were looking forward to the start of the Big 12 grind, an 18-game odyssey that will include match-ups with two newcomers and all the usual pressure, intensity and nerves that come with late-season basketball.

``We're really excited,'' Young said. ``Get to see the new places we get to go to, TCU and West Virginia. I think it'll be fun this year.''

Johnson quickly chimed in: ``It's fun every year'' - probably because they win every year.

They Jayhawks will begin pursuit of a record ninth straight Big 12 title when they welcome Iowa State to the Phog on Wednesday night. The late time they failed to finish first was 2005, when Oklahoma won the title. Otherwise, they've won six outright championships and twice shared the title with Texas, in 2006 and '08 - the year the Jayhawks won the national title.

``It is pretty good, and we're proud of it,'' Kansas coach Bill Self said. ``We haven't got nine. We've got eight. Nine would be as difficult to win as any other.''

That may not be entirely true.

The conference is considered down this season with No. 18 Kansas State the only other team in the Top 25. The Horned Frogs and Mountaineers have both struggled, while recent departure Missouri is flying high at No. 10 as it begins its first season in the SEC.

So while a handful of schools, including Oklahoma State, Texas and the Cyclones, are capable of beating the Jayhawks (12-1) on any given night, they'll need to prove they can better Kansas over the course of a double-round-robin schedule that doesn't offer much chance of a reprieve.

The Jayhawks' remarkable run is approaching rarified status.

UCLA under John Wooden won 13 consecutive conference championships, a feat sometimes lost amid the Bruins' seven straight national titles. Gonzaga won 11 straight league titles before last season, when St. Mary's edged the `Zags by a game in the West Coast Conference standings.

The trick for Self is to spin the pressure that comes with constantly winning championships into a positive, rather than a negative. He'd prefer his players to think of winning a ninth title as an opportunity, rather than a responsibility.

``We have a chance to do something special. I think we all want to do that,'' Self said. ``But there's also a responsibility that we don't want to get our butts beat, and be the team that doesn't do it. So I think we're motivated both ways, to be quite candid.''

The Jayhawks are once again built for success. They have the nation's top shot-blocker in Jeff Withey, one of the game's dynamic freshman guards in Ben McLemore, and four senior starters - a rarity in the era of early NBA entrants - who played roles in taking the Jayhawks to the national title game last season.

They're starting to click, too. After losing to Michigan State on a neutral floor in early November, the Jayhawks have rattled off 11 consecutive wins, along the way beating Ohio State on the road, routing Pac-12 contender Colorado and fending off a game challenge from Temple.

``I didn't sleep much after watching the Colorado game,'' said Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, referring to the 90-54 throttling on Dec. 8. ``They just absolutely - from the jump ball, it was like there was eight guys on the court.''

Hoiberg should know something about Kansas' dominance. When he played for the Cyclones from 1991-95, the Jayhawks won the regular-season Big Eight title three out of four years.

``They're scary good,'' Hoiberg said. ``They do such a good job of making team uncomfortable, especially early on in games with the way they pressure, with the way they force turnovers, with the way they execute, with the way they get out in transition. It's a difficult team to play.''

Especially at Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks have won 30 in a row.

Self understands the value in winning conference titles, but he also knows that Kansas is a place where legacies are defined by national championships. He won his first in 2008 and nearly a second last season, and he'd be more jazzed doing that than winning another eight league crowns.

Or even three in four years, which Alabama just accomplished in football.

``If we're not the best in our league, we don't deserve to be mentioned with the best in the country, is how I look at it,'' Self said. ``I don't think our players in any way, shape or form are ever satisfied, or confident or relaxed, based on the Big 12, because that's just part of the stepping-stone to get where you want to go.''

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AP Sports Writer Luke Meredith in Ames, Iowa, contributed to this report.

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Turner, Adams power Nats over Giants to end 4-game skid

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Turner, Adams power Nats over Giants to end 4-game skid

SAN FRANCISCO -- Trea Turner got five hits, Matt Adams homered and drove in six runs, and the Washington Nationals broke out of their offensive funk in a big way, routing the San Francisco Giants 15-2 Wednesday to end a four-game losing streak.

The Nationals had totaled just eight runs during their skid. Andrew Stevenson had two doubles, two singles and four RBIs as Washington set season highs for runs and hits (18).

Manager Dave Martinez's ballclub has been stunted by a rash of injuries this season but salvaged the final game of the three-game series at AT&T Park series to end a rough 4-5 road trip. Max Scherzer (5-1) did his part, striking out 10 in six innings.

Turner came into the game batting .232, and the leadoff man's slow start had contributed to the Nationals' struggles. He raised his batting average 35 points, tying a career high for hits in a game. He also scored twice, drove in two runs and stole his 10th base this season.

Adams matched his career best for RBIs. He singled as part of a three-run first, put the Nationals up 6-1 with a three-run homer off Jeff Samardzija (1-1) in the fourth and added a two-run single in the eighth.

The Nationals scored 14 of their 15 runs with two outs.

Scherzer earned his fourth consecutive win, all of them coming after a Washington loss. He allowed two runs and five hits, and reached double figures in strikeouts for the fourth time in six starts this season.

Brandon Belt and Pablo Sandoval each two hits apiece for the Giants.

Samardzija labored through a 30-pitch first inning and was done after retiring 11 batters. He gave up six runs on eight hits with three walks.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: 1B Ryan Zimmerman and 2B Howie Kendrick were given the day off.

Giants: Mac Williamson was a late scratch because of neck stiffness, one day after stumbling over the bullpen pitching mound and crashing into a low fence while chasing a foul ball. ... RHP Chris Stratton was placed on the paternity list. ... RHP Roberto Gomez was called up from Triple-A Sacramento.

UP NEXT

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (2-2, 2.97 ERA) pitches against the Diamondbacks on Friday in Washington. He has yielded six earned runs and three homers over his last 13 innings.

Giants: LHP Derek Holland (0-3, 4.98) faces the Los Angeles Dodgers in the opener of a four-game series at AT&T Park on Friday night. Holland is winless in two career starts against the Dodgers.

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Late push for McGlinchey, Landry and Davenport would help Redskins at 13

Late push for McGlinchey, Landry and Davenport would help Redskins at 13

For months, draft conversation suggested that there wasn't an offensive tackle to pick in the Top 10. And after Bradley Chubb, there wasn't an edge defender worth a Top 10 pick either. 

All of a sudden, that conversation is changing. 

Late charges from Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey, Boston College defensive end Harold Landry and University of Texas San Antonio pass rusher Marcus Davenport are starting to influence mock drafts.

On Wednesday, NFL Network's Peter Schrager predicted the 49ers to take McGlinchey with the ninth overall pick. Charley Casserly, in a mock draft with NBC Sports Washington on Monday, predicted the Chicago Bears take Davenport with the eighth overall pick. Reports on Landry are all over the place, but some guess he could break the Top 10 as well.

The thing to remember about the NFL: It's a passing league. Positions tied to the quarterback are the most important, and that means protecting the QB and getting after the QB is in high demand. No position will ever get over-drafted like quarterback, but it's not a surprise that teams might reach for players at tackle or edge rusher.

What does this mean for the Redskins holding the No. 13 pick?

It means great news. 

Washington will already benefit from four QBs going in the Top 10. That will likely push down an elite talent to their draft spot.

If McGlinchey, Davenport or Landry also crack the Top 10? Even better.

The Redskins need help at just about every position group on the defensive side of the ball. It's well documented how the team struggled against the run in 2017, but the defense also lost Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller this offseason. 

There will be a number of weapons available for Washington at 13, and that could include players like Minkah Fitzpatrick or Derwin James in addition to Vita Vea or Da'Ron Payne. It might mean Tremaine Edmunds or Roquan Smith lasts to 13 too. 

For the Redskins, Fitzpatrick or James at 13 seems like a steal. Both players present elite potential at the evolving position of nickel cornerback. They can play some corner, some safety, and James might even be able to play some linebacker. 

Regardless of the eventual destination for James or Fitzpatrick, if more surprise players sneak into the Top 10 on Thursday night, the better Washington's options become. And that includes the possibility of trading down, Vea or Payne, Smith or Edmunds.

More elite options at 13 only helps the Redskins. 

Redskins fans should be rooting for Mike McGlinchey, Harold Landry or Marcus Davenport early Thursday night. The folks in Ashburn will be. 

MORE 2018 NFL DRAFT:
- Mock Draft 9.0: Almost draft day
- Top Prospects: RB options for the Redskins
- Top Prospects: WR options for the Redskins
- Need To Know: Rich Tandler's Seven-Round Redskins Mock Draft
- Mega-Mock Predictions: DC Media choose No. 13 pick

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