Cubs

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."

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

After finishing 30th in goals against average (3.55) and 31st in penalty kill percentage (72.7) this past season, the Blackhawks are clearly making it a priority to patch up their defense this summer. And that's been evident with the acquisitions of defensive-minded defensemen Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta.

But it raises some interesting questions about the future of the Blackhawks blue line.

With the de Haan and Maatta additions, the Blackhawks now have five defensemen under contract through at least the 2021-22 season: Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million cap hit), Duncan Keith ($5.538 million), de Haan ($4.55 million), Maatta ($4.083 million) and Connor Murphy ($3.85 million). That's $24.8 million tied up to five guys.

The money isn't the primary concern, though. It's the limited amount of roster spots available. The Blackhawks don't have to immediately figure out how it's going to work a year from now and beyond, but it makes you wonder how the cards may eventually be shuffled.

Let's run through the situations:

— Erik Gustafsson had a breakout season and is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He's obviously not part of the five current players under contract after next season, putting the Blackhawks in a spot where they have to consider trading him or be comfortable with letting him walk for nothing if he isn't re-signed. (They could always trade his negotiating rights after next season and pull off a sign-and-trade as well, if it came to that).

And even if Gustafsson is re-signed, the Blackhawks would then have six players locked up for the 2020-21 season and on, and that's enough to submit a lineup.

— Henri Jokiharju, who was drafted No. 29 overall in 2017, is probably ready to take the next step and become an everyday player. Where does he fit into the long-term plans?

— Adam Boqvist, who was taken No. 8 overall in 2018, likely needs one more year in the OHL before making the jump to the NHL, which would put him on a timeline to become part of the Blackhawks next season. Does he occupy that sixth spot if another one isn't opened by then?

— Nicolas Beaudin, who was drafted No. 27 overall in 2018, is expected to start the upcoming season in Rockford after four years in the QMJHL but might be NHL-ready by the 2020-21 campaign.

— And then there's Ian Mitchell, who's returning to Denver for his junior season and will serve as the team's captain. He's said all along that he intends to sign with the Blackhawks once he's finished with college, but does the organization value him enough to create a spot for him when he's ready?

To make things a little more complicated, the Seattle expansion draft is set to occur in 2021 and the same rules will apply as Vegas in 2017.

The Blackhawks have the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters and one goaltender. All players with no-movement clauses at the time of the expansion draft (and who decline to waive them) must be protected; Keith and Seabrook have a NMC. And all first- and second-year pros are exempt; Jokiharju would have to be protected.

As of this moment, the Blackhawks are likely to use the eight-skater option, but they will also have valuable forwards to protect. They're going to lose a good player one way or another, and it's probably going to come from the defensive group. All of this comes into play when weighing roster decisions for next season and beyond.

As stated above, the Blackhawks do not have to make an immediate decision on the future of their blue line corps. They can play out the 2019-20 season with the group as currently constructed. But the decisions the Blackhawks have to face next season could impact how Stan Bowman operates the rest of this summer and throughout the upcoming campaign.

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