NCAA

Williams loses to Stephens; Federer advances

201301220210078423818-p2.jpeg

Williams loses to Stephens; Federer advances

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Serena Williams was only thinking out loud when she muttered that this Australian Open had been ``the worst two weeks.''

Not long after a courtside microphone picked up those comments during her quarterfinal with 19-year-old American Sloane Stephens, things got a whole lot worse.

Stephens outplayed Williams, whose movement and serves had been slowed by a back injury, and beat the 15-time Grand Slam champion 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. It was Williams' first loss since Aug. 17, and her first defeat at a Grand Slam tournament since last year's French Open.

Four-time Australian Open winner Roger Federer, a 17-time Grand Slam champion, looked for a while like he might join Williams on the sidelines. But Federer eked out a 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-3 win over 2008 finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a match that lasted 3 hours, 34 minutes.

Federer, who broke Tsonga in the fourth game of the deciding set, converted his fifth match point while serving after Tsonga saved four match points in the previous game. Federer, who advanced to the semifinals for the 10th consecutive year at Melbourne Park, will play U.S. Open champion Andy Murray on Friday.

``I thought he played very aggressive,'' Federer said of Tsonga. ``I love those four-set or five-set thrillers and I was part of one tonight.''

Murray advanced earlier Wednesday with a 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Jeremy Chardy. The other men's semifinal has defending champion Novak Djokovic playing David Ferrer on Thursday

Williams' downer of a Grand Slam Down Under started badly when she turned her right ankle in her opening match at Melbourne Park.

``I've had a tough two weeks between the ankle ... and my back, which started hurting,'' Williams said. ``A lot of stuff.''

While Williams packed for home - she and sister Venus have also lost in doubles - Stephens advanced to a semifinal Thursday against defending champion Victoria Azarenka.

The top-seeded Azarenka beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-5, 6-1 in the early quarterfinal at Rod Laver Arena. Maria Sharapova, who has lost only nine games in five matches, plays Li Na in the other semifinal Thursday.

Williams hurt her back in the eighth game of the second set and things got progressively worse. She yelled at herself on several occasions, and smashed a racket into the court, earning a $1,500 fine from tournament officials.

``I was running to the net for a drop shot,'' Williams said, describing the lead up to her injury. ``As I went to hit it, it was on the backhand. I even screamed on the court. I totally locked up after that.''

She reiterated after the match that her injuries had made this Australian Open difficult for her.

``Absolutely, I'm almost relieved that it's over because there's only so much I felt I could do,'' she said. ``I've been thrown a lot of (curve) balls these two weeks.''

Stephens has been, too, but has coped well, and the magnitude of her accomplishment only hit her while she was warming down after the match.

``I was stretching, and I was like, `I'm in the semis of a Grand Slam.' I was like, `Whoa. It wasn't as hard as I thought,''' she said. ``To be in the semis of a Grand Slam is definitely a good accomplishment. A lot of hard work.''

The No. 29-seeded Stephens hadn't been given much of a chance of beating Williams, who lost only four matches in 2012 and was in contention to regain the No. 1 ranking at the age of 31.

Williams' latest winning streak included a straight-set win over Stephens at the Brisbane International this month.

Stephens wasn't even sure that she could beat Williams until she woke up Wednesday.

``When I got up, I was like, `Look, Dude, like, you can do this.' Like, `Go out and play and do your best,'' she said.

Williams walked around the net to congratulate Stephens, who then clapped her hand on her racket and waved to the crowd, a look of disbelief on her face.

Stephens has said she had a photo of Williams in her room when she was a child, and had long admired the Williams sisters.

``This is so crazy. Oh my goodness,'' Stephens said, wiping away tears in her post-match TV interview. ``I think I'll put a poster of myself (up) now.''

Azarenka, with her most famous fan sitting in the crowd wearing a shirt reminding her to keep calm, overcame some early jitters to beat Kuznetsova.

After dropping serve in a long fourth game that went to deuce 10 times, Azarenka recovered to dominate the rest of the match against Kuznetsova, a two-time major winner who was floating dangerously in the draw with a No. 75 ranking as she recovers from a knee injury.

Azarenka's American rapper friend, Redfoo, returned from a concert in Malaysia to attend Wednesday's quarterfinal match.

Wearing a red sleeveless T-shirt that read ``Keep Calm and Bring Out the Bottles,'' the name of his next single, Redfoo stood, clapped and yelled ``Come on, Vika!'' during the tight first set.

Williams' loss was a boost for Azarenka, who lost all five head-to-heads against the American in 2012 and is 1-11 in their career meetings.

The 25-year-old Murray had his service broken for only the second time while serving for the match. But he broke back immediately to clinch a quarterfinal victory.

Murray discounted comments in the British media that he was upset with an almost full schedule of day matches while Federer was given featured cooler night slots on Rod Laver Arena.

``The scheduling for me is part and parcel of playing in really any tennis tournament,'' Murray said. ``It's tough to make the schedule perfect for every single player.''

2018 Big South Tournament Bracket, How to watch, Dates, Preview, Location

winthrop_unca_usat.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

2018 Big South Tournament Bracket, How to watch, Dates, Preview, Location

The Big South conference had a surprising start to their league play this year with preseason favorites UNC-Asheville and Winthrop losing two of their first three games.  Since, things have settled down in the Big South with those two squads separating themselves from the pack late in the season.

This 2017-18 season, the Big South is a single bid conference but does have opportunities to get a couple of teams into the NIT. Depending on how this tournament plays out, there may be two or three teams in the second biggest tournament in the country.

READ MORE: NCAA TOURNAMENT BUBBLE WATCH

Like always the tournament will be hosted at multiple sites. The first round will be on campus-sites with the No.7 and No. 8 teams hosting their respective games. From there, the remaining teams will head to Asheville, NC for two rounds as the Bulldogs earned the No. 1 seed. The highest remaining team will then host the championship game.

Home-court advantage will clearly be a factor for which ever team hosts, but it has also been a theme of the Big South. Combined, the entire conference is 88-38 at their home court. Only Liberty has a winning record on the road at 5-4. The host of the quarterfinals and semifinals, UNC-Asheville, is 13-1 at Kimmel Arena. The lone loss being against Liberty.

Only one year in this format, Winthrop won the championship in 2016-17 as the hosts.

TOURNAMENT INFORMATION:

When is the Big South Tournament?

The Big South Tournament will be Tues. Feb 27, March 1-2, and the Big South championship is on March 4.

Where is the Big South Tournament?
The Big South tournament will primarily be hosted at Kimmel Arena in Asheville, North Carolina. The higher seeds will host the first round match-ups. The Big South Championship will also be at the highest seed’s home court.

How to watch the Big South Tournament?

The Big South Tournament will be televised as a part of ESPN’s family of networks, excluding the first round. The first round can be seen on the Big South Network, the quarterfinals and semifinals will be streamed on ESPN3, and ESPN will televise the Big South Championship.

Who is the defending Big South Champion?

The Winthrop Eagles won the 2016-17 Big South Championship after hosting the main portion of the tournament. It was the Eagles 11th Big South Championship in their history, the most ever in the Big South.

2018 BIG SOUTH TOURNAMENT BRACKET:

First Round – Tuesday, Feb. 27

No. 9 Presbyterian at No. 8 Charleston Southern 7:00 pm (Big South Network/ Roku)
No. 10 Longwood at No. 7 High Point                     7:00 pm (Big South Network/ Roku)

Quarterfinals - Thursday, March 1

7/10 Winner vs. No. 2 Radford                     1:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)
No. 6 Gardner-Webb vs. No. 3 Winthrop   3:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)
8/9 Winner at No. 1 UNC Asheville              7:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)
No. 5 Liberty vs. No. 4 Campbell                  9:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)

Semifinals - Friday, March 2

TBD vs. TBD                          6:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)
TBD vs. TBD                          8:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)

Big South Championship - Sunday, March 4

TBD vs. TBD                          1:00pm, higher seed host (ESPN)

MORE NCAA: ALL THE TOP BRACKETOLOGISTS PICKS IN ONE PLACE

PREVIEW:

Even as the No. 3 seed and losers of their last two games, Winthrop is probably still the favorite heading into the tournament. Their offense is one of the highest scoring in all of college basketball (80.7 ppg), with Xavier Cooks scoring 17.6 ppg (3rd in Big South). However, the Eagles’ offense is not powered entirely behind three-point shooting, it is done with balance on both sides of the ball. They have the best two-point shooting percentage in the league (47.3 percent), lead the Big South in rebounding averages, blocks, and field goal defense. In addition, their guards’ three point shooting ability is pretty good too at 37.5 percent and making 9.5 deep balls a game.

However, when they go quiet from long range or another team matches their three-point shooting for a contest, they are susceptible. Also as defending champs, they have been here before and are motivated to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

As the Big South tournament hosts, UNC Asheville will have a leg up on the competition, but they have not been as dominant as a top seed should be. The Bulldogs are one of the most consistent teams in the conference with all five starters scoring in double figures each game. If one is betting, they are the safe bet to win it all based on what is mentioned above.

While Radford was a pleasant surprise throughout league play, do not anticipate that they will be a contender. They are eighth in scoring in the conference (68.2) and around the same mark when it comes to shooting. Their defense has bailed them out as probably one of the top defensive units in the league, but their leading scorer is a post player, Ed Polite Jr.  (13.6 ppg) and if shut down in the paint, there is no offense.

Liberty is the darkhorse in the Big South Tournament. The do boast the best defensive numbers in the conference (64.0 points against per game) and have a high-powered offense, although it is spotty.  Two players are shooting well above 40 percent or better from behind the arc. Dominating the boards, they limit other team’s second chance opportunities. Do not bet against the Flames in a one-on-one contest.

PICK: No. 3 Winthrop

Quick Links

Wizards vs. Sixers: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

usatsi_10446977.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Wizards vs. Sixers: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick and the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

WASHINGTON WIZARDS VS. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 8 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (coverage begins at 7 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

Another test

The Wizards continue their difficult stretch coming out of the All-Star break against a very dangerous Sixers team. Philly has proven to be very streaky this season, but right now they are rolling. They come to Washington having won their last seven games dating back to Feb. 6 when they beat the Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center. The Wizards are also playing well, having won eight of their last 11, despite their loss to the Hornets on Friday.

The Sixers are currently seventh in the East and appear on track to make the playoffs. If they keep rising the standings, they could meet the Wizards, who are currently fourth, in the first round. 

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

Season series

Speaking of the playoffs, this game could end up looming large for postseason seeding. The Sixers have won two of the three matchups between these teams this year. If they win on Sunday, they will take the season series and own the tiebreaker over Washington.

If the two teams tie head-to-head and end up with the same record at the end of the season, it will then come down to conference record. The Sixers currently have a better record against East teams than the Wizards. But if they can beat Philly this time, the Wizards will have a chance to secure the conference tiebreaker down the stretch of this season.

RELATED: BEAL IMPRESSED BY LEBRON AT ALL-STAR GAME

Sixers are tough to guard

The Wizards have found out the hard way this season just how difficult it can be to match up with the Sixers, who are led by two emerging stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Embiid is 7-foot-1 with rare abilities to stretch the floor and beat opponents off the dribble. Simmons is 6-foot-10, yet can lead the fastbreak with rare speed and vision to find his teammates with crisp passes.

The mobility for their size is almost unmatched and it has not been easy for the Wizards to answer. In their last meeting earlier this month, Simmons had 15 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals. Embiid had 27 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. The Wizards have to try to limit those guys while also dealing with other challenges like Robert Covington, Dario Saric and J.J. Reddick.

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKING