Cubs

Reigning champs ousted by Iowa St.

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Reigning champs ousted by Iowa St.

From Comcast SportsNet
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Jim Calhoun and Connecticut didn't expect their season to end this way. Their future is equally unpredictable. "We're talking about tonight's game. We're not talking about me," Calhoun said after Iowa State stunned the defending national champions 77-64 in the NCAA tournament Thursday night. "I'm going to get on the plane tomorrow, go home and do what I usually do and meet up with the team on Monday. My own personal thing, I don't think it has any relevance, to be honest with you." Chris Allen led four Cyclones in double figures with 20 points, and Iowa State scored its last 14 at the free-throw line to beat UConn, the first time since UCLA in 1996 that the defending champs have lost in the opening game. Calhoun didn't even wait for the final buzzer, heading for halfcourt with about four seconds left to congratulate Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. It is only the second loss in the opening game of the NCAA tournament for UConn under Calhoun. "I'm surprised as anybody, clearly," Calhoun said. "I imagine our players are, too." For the eighth-seeded Cyclones, meanwhile, it's their biggest victory in a season of them, having knocked off Kansas and Baylor during Big 12 play. Royce White had a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds, and Scott Christopherson also had 15 for the Cyclones. Iowa State shot 48 percent from the floor and had a whopping 41-24 edge in rebounds. "I feel like just we wanted it more," Allen said. "I felt like we was doing everything we needed to and played hard." Next up for Iowa State: Overall No. 1 seed Kentucky in the third round of the South Regional on Saturday. The Wildcats routed Western Kentucky earlier Thursday. For the Huskies, the future is far less certain. This could be Connecticut's last tournament until at least 2014, with the Huskies facing a ban on tournament play next year because of past academic problems. Although Calhoun insists he hasn't made any retirement plans, he's had a history of health problems -- he's a three-time cancer survivor and missed a month this season with back pain -- and he turns 70 in May. "This game was a disappointment; this season was not a disappointment to me," Calhoun said. "I knew this team could be really good, but we just didn't reach that level." Shabazz Napier led the Huskies with 22, and Jeremy Lamb had 19. But Connecticut could never get into a rhythm and had no answer for the quicker, more aggressive Cyclones. "It's very disappointing to have to end the season this way," Napier said. The Cyclones arrived in Louisville with no shortage of swagger, smirking when asked if they were intimidated by the defending national champions. And they wasted no time backing up their big talk, jumping on the Huskies from the opening tip. It took Calhoun less than two minutes before he'd seen enough, jumping up to call a timeout. "We wanted to attack the boards more and whatever 3s we got, we took," Allen said. "At the end of the day, we were trying to get it in, get rebounds and do all the little stuff." After leading by as much as 22 in the first half, Iowa State (23-10) withstood a UConn rally in the second half. Ryan Boatright went on a one-man tear, making three straight baskets to pull Connecticut within 58-52 with 8:24 to play. "Once we cut it to six, I felt like if we dug down a little deeper maybe it would crack," Boatright said. But the Huskies (20-14) couldn't get any closer, missing their next four shots and going scoreless for more than five-and-a-half minutes. Iowa State, meanwhile, got a big layup from Bubu Palo and an even bigger bucket from Allen. Allen has played more NCAA tournament games than any player in the 68-team field after making back-to-back Final Fours with Michigan State in 2009 and 2010, and his experience showed. He chased down his miss on a 3 from the corner and went up and under the basket, scoring to put Iowa State back in front 63-52 with 4:15 to play. "Scoring in clutch situations always boosts your team's momentum," Allen said. "That's what I felt like it did and helped us just get back on track." UConn could never make another run, and all the Cyclones had to do was convert their free throws. As the game wound down, White pointed at Iowa State's radio crew and said, "I told you, didn't I?" NCAA investigations and questions about Calhoun's future have clouded the glow from UConn's third national title all season. Calhoun sat out the first three games of the Big East season for failure to maintain control of his program when it was charged with NCAA violations. Boatright missed nine games, including six at the beginning of the season, after an NCAA investigation found he and his family took more than 8,000 in impermissible benefits before he enrolled at Connecticut. Despite the turmoil, the Huskies won 12 of their first 13 games. Then things fell apart, in spectacular fashion. UConn lost 11 of its next 16, including a 21-point blowout by Louisville followed by an 18-point rout at the hands of Syracuse. Back problems forced Calhoun to take a monthlong leave, and the Huskies went 3-5 in his absence. He returned for the regular-season finale against Pittsburgh after back surgery, and UConn responded with three straight wins before losing a close one to Syracuse in the Big East tournament. Though Calhoun talked about having a second chance in the tournament, Iowa State put a quick end to that. "You saw the game," Calhoun said, "we played very poorly. We deserved to lose the game."

Cubs rallying behind Jon Lester after another tough outing

Cubs rallying behind Jon Lester after another tough outing

There are three ways to look at the Cubs' 9-3 loss Friday:

1) Jon Lester had another rough outing and the sun is starting to set on his career as a front-of-the-rotation starter.

2) Lester gave up some hard contact, but also had some tough luck and pitched better than his final line indicated.

3) Meh.

To be honest, each of the three perspectives has an element of truth to it, but the third one is probably the main way to look at it as the Cubs tasted defeat for the first time in a week.

No, the team did not play well, but it went far beyond Lester.

The Nationals didn't get into town until the wee hours of Friday morning, yet it was the Cubs who looked sluggish Friday. They managed only two baserunners - a single and a walk - until the ninth inning when they put together a too-little-too-late rally thanks to some shoddy Washington fielding.

But even if the offense did come to play, the game was out of hand by the fifth inning, when Lester and Pedro Strop combined to allow 3 runs, extending Washington's lead to 7-0.

Lester was charged with 6 runs on 9 hits and a walk over 4.1 innings, but 8 of those 9 hits were singles. The only extra-base knock off the Cubs southpaw was Adam Eaton's line drive home run in the first inning that he smacked into the 18 mph wind howling in off the lake.

Of the singles, a couple were hard ground balls knocked down by Cubs infielders and one was a perfectly executed bunt by pitcher Anibal Sanchez with two strikes that the Cubs had no choice but to hope it would roll foul. At that point in the fourth inning, the score was only 3-0, but the Cubs' misfortune seemed to open the door for the Nationals.

"I'm telling you, I don't think he was that bad today," Maddon said. "We were a little bit unlucky with him. ... Outside of that last inning when they squared him up, I thought he actually threw the ball decently.

"I think he's gonna be fine. He will find a way to get himself back into the picture in the right way. There's a lot of time left with the playoffs, etc., so I'm counting on it. I believe in Jon."

Beyond the tough luck, the Nationals hit five balls more than 100 mph off Lester, including a 108.5 mph single on the final batter (Juan Soto) he faced in the fifth inning.

After the game, Lester couldn't do much but shrug and accept responsibility for the loss.

"I feel fine," he said. "Today sucks. Tomorrow, I'll wake up and start a new day and get ready for another start. That doesn't take the sting away from today. Joe's always said, 'you win hard, you lose hard' and losing for me is even harder than that. Sucking as a pitcher is even harder than that.

"It's my job to do better and I'm not. I let a five-game winning streak basically go by the wayside because I didn't throw the ball very well. It's frustrating, but tomorrow starts a new day and move on to the next one."

Friday's game marks the fifth time this season Lester has allowed at least 6 runs in an outing. This was his 25th start of 2019, so that means 20 percent of his appearances have resulted in putting his team in a major hole.

"I think we're getting to the point where you can't isolate [the rough games]," Lester said. "They're happening a little bit too much for myself. I felt pretty good about myself after the last one, just being able to continually execute pitches. I don't feel like stuff was much different than last time, just different results and that's the shitty part about this game and my job - it's results driven and it doesn't matter how I feel or what the gameplan was going in.

"You have to execute and get people out and keep them from scoring runs and I'm just not doing that."

Lester started the five-game winning streak for the Cubs with a performance befitting true "ace" or "stopper" status. After a pair of disheartening bullpen meltdowns, he took the ball last Saturday and shut out the Pirates through 6 innings, battling despite not having his best stuff (5 walks).

But even including that start in Pittsburgh, Lester has now allowed 23 earned runs in 24.1 innings in five starts in August.

For a 35-year-old with three World Series rings and a long track record of pitching well when the lights are the brightest, he isn't where he wants to be as September approaches in a tight playoff race.

"Better than this," he said. "Usually this is the time of year where I pitch a lot better than I have been. For whatever reason, I haven't hit that stride. I usually have ups and downs to every season, but usually more ups than downs.

"Right now, it's just continuing to go down. The old saying - one step forward, two steps back - is kinda what I'm doing right now. The positive is I physically feel fine. Can't blame it on that. Just have to be better. Tomorrow's a new day, prepare for the next one."

Even with the recent struggles, Kyle Schwarber said Lester is still the guy the Cubs would want to give the ball to in Game 1 of a playoff series.

"He'll bounce back," Schwarber said. "He knows how to handle himself really well. He's a leader out there and we always have his back."

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Lakers sign Dwight Howard, ending the Joakim Noah-to-LA-possibility

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USA TODAY

Lakers sign Dwight Howard, ending the Joakim Noah-to-LA-possibility

The Los Angeles Lakers were scrambling for another big man in the wake of the DeMarcus Cousins torn ACL and Bulls fan were sent into a collective panic at the idea of lifelong LeBron James (and Cleveland) agitator Joakim Noah joining forces with him in Hollywood. 

Following a series of workouts with Noah and veteran centers Mo Speights and Dwight Howard, the Lakers have settled on Howard as their replacement for Cousins. 

Howard was a member of the Washington Wizards before they traded him to the Memphis Grizzlies as part of a deal to acquire wing shooter CJ Miles earlier this offseason. 

Over the 2018-19 season, Howard averaged 12.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 0.4 blocks per game and finished with the second-lowest PER (17.4) of his career. Comparatively, Noah played 42 games in 2018-19, averaging 7.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 0.7 blocks per game and posted an 18.6 PER. 

The Lakers deal with Howard is non-guaranteed and the Lakers have all the leverage in the deal as ESPN reported, they will be able to cut Howard before the NBA's January 7 deadline without any financial impact on the team. 

The move reunites Howard with the Lakers, with whom he played 76 games for in the 2012-13 season.

Howard was an All-Star during his first Lakers stint, averaging 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds per game but ultimately had an unsuccessful (in terms of championship aspirations) tenure in the purple and gold.

The Howard-to-Lakers deal makes LA's roster full with 15 players in tow, so this officially ends any possibility of Noah teaming up with LeBron. Bulls fans can rejoice, for now. 

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