Wildcats steadily building momentum


Wildcats steadily building momentum

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) No. 8 Arizona rolled through the opening part of its schedule before facing a bit of adversity this week against Southern Miss.

Now the schedule is about to get tougher: A road game against Clemson on Saturday and No. 6 Florida a week later at the McKale Center.

This bump in competition couldn't have come at a better time for Wildcats coach Sean Miller.

With a team that relies on freshmen at key positions, Miller likes the idea of building up their confidence before throwing them into the ring against heavyweights.

``I think we'll learn a lot about our team in the next two games,'' Miller said. ``I don't think it's the defining moment of our season, but I do think we'll have a team that will be ready for both.''

The Wildcats have been ready for whatever opponents throw at them so far this season.

Living up to the hype of a team that has a talented group of veterans and another stellar recruiting class by Miller, Arizona (6-0) raced through the first five games of its schedule, scoring 85 points per game while winning by an average of 25 points.

The Wildcats faced their first test against Southern Miss on Tuesday night at McKale Center.

Struggling against the Golden Eagles' shifting zone, Arizona sped up on offense and spent most of the night throwing passes that were easily picked off or sailed out of bounds.

The Wildcats finished with 27 turnovers, doubling their season average, but pulled out a 63-55 win behind their defense, which prevented Southern Miss from making any of its eight 3-point attempts while forcing 17 turnovers in the second half.

It was ugly, but it was a win that could be a lesson Arizona's young players can look back on when things get tough later in the season.

``This allows us to have a little more confidence if we're in a game situation like this in the future,'' freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski. ``It just puts that under our belt.''

The game against Southern Miss also was an example of why the Wildcats are so dangerous.

Miller's latest recruiting class included three of the best incoming big men in the country: Tarczewski, a 7-foot center, 6-10 forward Grant Jarrett and 6-8 forward Brandon Ashley.

They've played well at times early in the season and should get better as the season progresses.

But the key to Arizona's success lies in its veteran leadership.

When the Wildcats had a hard time shaking Charleston Southern in their season opener, Miller stuck almost exclusively with his veteran players down the stretch.

Same thing against Southern Miss.

With the ball flying all over the court and the game a little too close for comfort, Miller turned to his older guys down the stretch to pull Arizona through.

Guard Nick Johnson, a confident and heady sophomore, led the defensive charge at the top of Arizona's defense and finished with 23 points in 37 minutes.

Senior Kevin Parrom came off the bench in the first half, but started the second and played 30 minutes. He scored 13 of his 14 points in the second half and used his passing ability to give the Wildcats a much-needed release valve at the center of Southern Miss' zone.

Senior Solomon Hill hit the biggest shot of the game, a 3-pointer in front of Arizona's bench with just under 2 minutes left, and again filled up the stat sheet.

The talented freshmen have a chance to be something special, but Miller can always count on his veteran players, three of whom - with junior point guard Jordin Mayes - reached the regional final of the NCAA tournament two years ago.

``As you guys have asked about this year's team, the gift isn't just our size or our youth and talent, it's also that a lot of different players have been through a lot,'' Miller said.

And there's plenty more for the Wildcats to go through, starting on Saturday at Clemson.

The Tigers are young but athletic and should be the toughest defensive team Arizona has faced so far. After that, the Wildcats face a marquee matchup in the desert the following Saturday against Florida, which beat them in overtime a year ago in Gainesville.

The two-game stretch will be a tough test, but the Wildcats should be ready after backing up all those easy early-season wins with the gut-check victory over Southern Miss.

``To be 6-0 matters to our team,'' Miller said. ``You may say, `Of course it matters,' but you would be surprised how sometimes when things don't go well for you, it's not about the 6-0, it's about you. I like that collective thinking with our team.''

It's worked so far. Now it's time for the Wildcats to see if they can keep it going against stiffer competition.

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Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game


Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game

You thought the Caps had a goalie rotation before, but now they have added a third netminder in the mix.

Pheonix Copley has been recalled from the Hershey Bears and will backup Philipp Grubauer for Washington's game in Detroit, the team announced Thursday.

The move comes in response to an injury concern for Braden Holtby.


Dallas Stars forward Remi Elie collided with Holtby midway through the third period on Tuesday as Holtby was extending to make a save. Holtby reacted awkwardly to the collision and could be seen skating and flexing his leg during the next stoppage.

With only nine games remaining in the regular season, Holtby's injury is a major concern. Given his recent struggles, the final few weeks of the season offered a chance for Holtby to get his game back to form. Just where his game will be when he is 100-percent healthy again is certainly a storyline to watch.


The good news for Washington, however, is that Grubauer is perhaps more ready this season to lead the team than he ever has been and confidence in him around the team should be high.

Since Thanksgiving, Grubauer has played in 22 games with a 17-11-4 record, a .939 save percentage, 1.85 GAA and two shutouts. No goalie who has played in 20 games or more has registered a better save percentage or GAA. He will certainly be looked upon to carry the load until Holtby returns. Whether this means he now has the inside track on starting in the playoffs, however, remains to be seen. That will depend largely on just when Holtby is ready to return and how Grubauer plays down the stretch.

Copley, 26, has gone 14-16-6 with two shutouts, a .898 save percentage and 2.86 GAA in 38 games in Hershey this season. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Washington in 2014. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues in the package that netted the Caps T.J. Oshie, but was reacquired by Washington in Feb. 2017 in a trade deadline deal that included Kevin Shattenkirk.

At the time, it was believed Copley would be the team's backup for the 2017-18 season with Grubauer likely headed to Vegas in the expansion draft. Vegas, however, took Nate Schmidt instead which led to Copley spending the season in Hershey. The Caps now will be happy for the extra goalie depth for as long as Holtby's health remains a concern.

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Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

Washington Wizards

Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

This weekend was already going to be special for Washington Wizards fans. Now they will get souvenirs to remember it.

As part of their celebration of Phil Chenier's legendary career and the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship, the Wizards are handing out emoji signs on Friday night and commemorative t-shirts on Sunday. All fans in attendance will receive a giveaway.


The emoji sign has Chenier's face on it and will be handed out for the March 23 game against the Nuggets. Chenier will have his jersey retired at halftime during the game. 

The emoji sign is presented by NBC Sports Washington. You're welcome, Authentic Fans.


The shirts will be given out on Sunday when the Wizards host the New York Knicks. 

Here's the front...

And the back...

Let's take a closer look at that back...

As a reporter who has received many giveaways over the years at pro sports stadiums, these are uniquely awesome. Should be a great weekend for Wizards fans. See you at the arena.


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