Blackhawks

Calipari gets his title as Kentucky defeats Kansas

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Calipari gets his title as Kentucky defeats Kansas

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Won and Done, indeed. Maybe even Over and Out. All that really matters is that Kentucky parlayed a roster full of NBA talent into a 67-59 victory Monday night over Kansas for the team's eighth national NCAA basketball title -- its first since 1998. Kentucky's top freshman, Anthony Davis, had a rough shooting night, but John Calipari coached this team to a wire-to-wire victory -- a little dicey at the end -- to cap a season that cried for no less than a championship for their ol' Kentucky home. "I wanted everybody to see, we were the best team this season," said the coach who finally has the championship that eluded him for all these years. "We were the best team. I wanted this to be one for the ages." Doron Lamb, a sophomore with first-round-draft-pick possibilities, led the Wildcats (38-2) with 22 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers that put them up by 16 with 10 minutes left. The Jayhawks (32-7), kings of the comeback all season, fought to the finish and trimmed that deficit to five with 1:37 left. But Kentucky made five free throws down the stretch to seal the win. Davis' fellow lottery prospect, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, was another headliner, creating space for himself to score all 11 of his points in the first half. Davis, meanwhile, might have had the most dominating six-point night in the history of college basketball, earning the nod as the most outstanding player. He finished with 16 rebounds, six blocks, five assists and three steals -- and made his only field goal with 5:13 left in the game. It was a surefire illustration of how the 6-foot-10 freshman can exert his will on a game even on a rare night when the shot isn't falling. "Well, it's not me, it's these guys behind me," Davis said after his 1-for-10 performance. "They led us this whole tournament. This whole game I was struggling offensively, and I told my team, every time down, you all score the ball; I'm just gonna defend and rebound." So much easier when you've got teammates like this. Davis is the likely first pick in the draft, though he said he hasn't decided yet whether he will come out, and Kidd-Gilchrist won't be far behind. Another first-round prospect, freshman Marquis Teague, had 14 points. And yet another, sophomore Terrence Jones, had nine points, seven rebounds and two of Kentucky's 11 blocked shots. "I love the fact Anthony Davis goes 1 for 10, and you all say he was biggest factor of game," Calipari said. "He was 1 for 10. I asked these guys what they would do without scoring. You have an idea what he does." Kansas also has a lottery pick in AP All-American Thomas Robinson. He was harassed all night by Davis and Jones and finished with 18 points and 17 rebounds on a 6-for-17 shooting night. He left upset, though not overly impressed with Davis, who he'll certainly see in "the association" over the next several years. "He's not Superman," Robinson said. "He's just a great player. I don't mean to be disrespectful by it, but as a competitor I'm not going to sit here and give all my praise to someone I go up against." The Jayhawks won the "B" League this year, as Calipari avenged a final-game loss to Bill Self back in 2008 when Cal was coaching Memphis. The Tigers missed four late free throws in blowing a nine-point lead in that one. Kansas didn't get any such help this time. Even so, it wasn't a bad season in Lawrence, considering where KU began. Kansas lost four of its top five scorers off last year's roster. There were times early in the season when Self and his old buddy and mentor, Larry Brown, would stand around at practices and wonder if this was a team that could even make the tournament. It did. Won its eighth straight conference title, too. "Nobody even expected us to be here in the first place, for us to have a great season," KU guard Travis Releford said. "And we did. We were able to compete for a championship. We had a great year." None of this, however, was for the faint of heart. The Jayhawks trailed by double digits in three of their five tournament games leading to the final and played every game down to the wire. They fell behind by 18 late in the first half of this one and this time, there was no big comeback to be made; not against these guys. "We knew coming in that we had been in situations like that before," Releford said. "We played like that all year. We figured we'd come out in the second half and run how we did. It just wasn't good enough." Davis realized early this was no shoot-first night for him at the Superdome, and Calipari all but told him to cool it at halftime. "I said, Listen to me, don't you go out there and try to score,'" the coach said. The freshman listened. Sporting his near-unibrow, which the UK Wildcat mascot also decided to paste on, he endured the worst shooting night of a short college career in which he makes 64 percent. No big deal. He set the tone early on defense, swatting Robinson's shot twice, grabbing rebounds, making pretty bounce passes for assists. Early in the second half, he made a steal that also could have been an assist, knocking the ball out of Robinson's hands and directly to Jones, who dunked for a 46-30 lead. Then, finally. With 5:13 left in the game, he spotted up for a 15-foot jumper from the baseline that swished for a 59-44 lead, putting a dagger in one of Kansas' many comebacks. "He was terrific," Self said. "The basket he made was one of the biggest baskets of the game." The crowd, a little more full of Kentucky fans than Kansas, went crazy. If this guy only stays one year and only makes one shot, they're fine with that. It's the new normal at Kentucky, where Adolph Rupp set a standard, Rick Pitino lived up to it for a while, then Calipari -- hardly the buttoned-down type -- was hired to bring back the glory. He goes for the best player, no matter what their long-term goals. Normally, the prospect of losing all those players in one swoop would have people thinking about a tough rebuilding year. But Cal has mastered the art of rebuilding on the fly. He's the coach who brings in the John Walls, Brandon Knights and Derrick Roses (at Memphis) for cups of coffee, lets them sharpen up their resumes, then happily says goodbye when it becomes obvious there's nothing left for them to do in school. Last year, the formula resulted in a trip to the Final Four that ended with a crushing loss to Connecticut in the semifinals. This year, Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and the rest came to Lexington with big-time bona-fides, and they didn't disappoint. Kentucky lost only twice all season -- once on a buzzer-beater at Indiana, the second time last month in the SEC tournament title game to Vanderbilt, in the arena across the way from the Superdome. That trip to New Orleans might have been, as Calipari put it, just what the doctor ordered for a team that could sometimes border on arrogance. They rebounded nicely for the real tournament, and through it all, the coach refused to apologize for the way he recruits or how he runs his program. Just playing by the rules as they're set up, he says, even if he doesn't totally agree with them. Because he refuses to promise minutes or shots to any recruit and demands teamwork out of all of them, he says he comes by these players honestly. He has produced nine first-round picks in the last four drafts with a few more coming. This latest group will have an NCAA title in tow and the everlasting love of a fan base that bleeds basketball. When it was over, all that Kentucky talent ran to the corner of the court, got in a group huddle and jumped up and down like the kids they really are. Will Calipari coach any of them again? "What I'm hoping is there are six first-rounders on this team," the coach said. "I'm fine with that. That's why I've got to go recruiting on Friday."

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

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USA TODAY

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

The NHL Draft is over. Farm systems have been restocked and now the focus has shifted to free agency, where the fun is just beginning.

The biggest fish on the market is John Tavares, a franchise-changing center in the heart of his prime. For a little bit, it seemed like the loyal New York Islanders captain was ready to move on after they took another step back by missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

But then Lou Lamiorello became available and was snatched up by Long Island. His first order of business was relieving GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight of their duties, the first real sign that significant changes were coming. The next was securing Barry Trotz as head coach after he couldn't agree to terms on an extension with the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

For the first time in a while, there appears to be structure in the front office and coaching staff.

Yet, Tavares has remained committed to visiting with reportedly five teams in Los Angeles during the free agent negotiating window that opened Sunday. And he's absolutely earned that right. San Jose and Toronto are believed to be two of the teams. The rest is unclear.

When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle at the end of the draft on Saturday, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman wouldn't confirm nor deny that they were one of the teams scheduled to meet with Tavares.

"I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile.

Whether or not they are, could the Blackhawks realistically even make it work?

They actually have the cap space to do it. Or at least they can make room without shuffling too many cards.

As of Sunday, the Blackhawks have $9.225 million in open cap space to fill out six roster spots. If you can find a trade partner for Marian Hossa's contract, that creates an extra $5.275 million, which brings the total up to $14.5 million. That's without subtracting any real bodies from the roster. 

Tavares is likely to command in the $10 million range for average annual value over the next seven years, and the latter part is key. While it would certainly be challenging to have three players eating up at least $10 million each in cap space — with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews at $10.5 million — they could make it work in the short term.

But signing Tavares to a seven-year deal would probably get in the way of the Blackhawks' longer-term goals, which includes re-signing Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz when their entry-level deals expire and even Vinnie Hinostroza when his new two-year contract ends.

Are the Blackhawks willing to risk that?

For Tavares, maybe. But Toews is 30, Kane is 29 and Tavares will be 28 by the time this upcoming season starts. At some point, an infusion of youth would be required to remain competitive for the long term.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 18th homer of June and 31st of the season came off the Tigers in the Cubs' brief 2-game Interleague series in Detroit. 

Sosa connected in the first inning off Tigers starter Seth Greisinger, going back-to-back with Mickey Morandini. 

The Cubs wound up getting out to a 5-0 start in the game but still lost 7-6 on a Gabe Alvarez single in the bottom of the 11th.

The aforementioned Morandini homer was only the 3rd of the season for the Cubs second baseman. He finished with 8 homers on the year and 224 total bases on 172 hits in what was a very good offensive season. Yet it paled in comparison to Sosa, who had nearly 200 more total bases (416) and a slugging percentage nearly 200 points above Morandini's (.647 to .471), a testament to how truly incredible Sosa's season was.

Fun fact: Tony Clark was the Tigers' cleanup hitter that day. Clark is now the head of the MLB Players Union.

Fun fact No. 2: Paul Bako was the Detroit catcher in the game. He later became the Cubs backup catcher in 2003 and 2004, when he posted a .611 OPS in 119 games over the two years.