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AP photographers captured the year in sports

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AP photographers captured the year in sports

From London to Los Angeles, Miami to Medinah and just about everywhere else imaginable, Associated Press photographers captured countless images from the sports world in 2012.

Each of them was unforgettable in its own way, capturing either someone's success or someone's struggles.

Here's a look at 10 photos that helped define the sports year.

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CABRERA'S YEAR

Miguel Cabrera will be remembered for making two things during the 2012 baseball season - history and the last out.

The Detroit Tigers' third baseman became baseball's first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, after batting .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBIs on the way to the AL Most Valuable Player award.

But in the World Series, the Tigers were swept by the San Francisco Giants. San Francisco's Sergio Romo struck out the side in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 4, and got Cabrera looking at an 89 mph, belt-high fastball to end the Giants' 4-3, title-clinching win.

``We've got to feel proud about what we did this year,'' Cabrera said. ``We went through a lot, down and up.''

In his case, mostly up.

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SUPER BOWL

This is not how we're used to seeing Tom Brady.

Seated. Somber. Second-best.

Early in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots quarterback nearly slammed the door on the New York Giants. With the Patriots up 17-15, Brady took a snap, avoided two would-be sacks, settled and threw downfield toward Rob Gronkowski, who was behind a defender inside the Giants 10.

Gronkowski never had a chance.

The Giants' Chase Blackburn defended the play perfectly, making the interception. Brady got knocked down just after he released the ball, and from his temporary seat watched Blackburn make the play that gave New York new life.

Final score? Giants 21, Patriots 17.

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CHAMPION HEAT

Everyone at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami knew LeBron James was finally about to become an NBA champion. With a couple minutes left on the clock in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the outcome in no doubt, Heat guard Mario Chalmers waved his arms in celebration.

James yelled at him to stop. ``It's too soon,'' he said.

Even in that moment, James wanted to take no risks.

The only things James didn't seem to win in 2012 were Powerball and the presidential election. NBA MVP. NBA Finals MVP. Olympic champion. And, at long last, he got his hands on the NBA championship trophy, when the Heat beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games for the crown.

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SHARAPOVA SLAM

She won as a bright-eyed and super-talented kid at Wimbledon in 2004, prevailed at the U.S. Open in 2006 and captured the Australian Open in 2008. The French Open, however, had always been a huge problem for Maria Sharapova.

That is, until 2012.

Sharapova rolled across the clay at Roland Garros, dropping only one set - a tiebreaker - in her seven matches. The final was a 6-3, 6-2 win over Italy's Sara Errani, a victory that made her the 10th woman to complete the tennis version of a career Grand Slam. She dropped to the clay in both celebration and disbelief, after seeing someone else emerge victorious at each of the previous 16 majors.

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BAYLOR'S 40

There are magic numbers in basketball. For Wilt Chamberlain, there's 100. For Michael Jordan, there's 23.

For Baylor, there's now 40.

Star center Brittany Griner and the Bears were the best team in the women's game in 2012. Baylor played 40 games and won them all, becoming the seventh team in the NCAA era to finish something-and-oh - and the Bears topped the previous record of 39-0 first achieved by Tennessee in 1998 and then matched three times since by Connecticut.

To be perfect, Baylor had to beat Tennessee - twice. Had to beat Notre Dame - twice. Had to erase an 11-point deficit over the final 13 minutes to beat Connecticut. And in the end, the Bears had to escape a Final Four where all four No. 1 seeds made their way to the national semifinals.

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RYDER FOR SEVE

For Jose Maria Olazabal, joy and pain went together perfectly at the Ryder Cup.

Seve Ballesteros was in Olazabal's mind and heart throughout the competition, when Europe trailed 10-6 entering the final day and pulled off a series of epic singles victories to win the gold trophy. And when it was over, Olazabal didn't even bother trying to contain his emotions.

``All men die, but not all men live,'' Olazabal said, addressing his team. ``And you made me feel alive again this week.''

Ballesteros died of brain cancer in 2011, but Olazabal made sure that he was part of the 2012 European team in spirit. His image adorned the team's golf bags. And it wasn't coincidental that at the closing ceremony, Olazabal wore a blue-and-white jacket, Ballesteros' traditional Sunday colors.

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KING OF GRASS

Seventh heaven. That's how to describe what Roger Federer enjoyed on Centre Court, Wimbledon this year (at least until the Olympics). For the seventh time, Federer prevailed at the All England Club, beating Britain's Andy Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 to win the title and his 17th Grand Slam tournament.

A week earlier, few might have thought Federer would win. He needed to win an 8-6, fourth-set tiebreaker just to take France's Julien Benneteau to a fifth set (Federer won 6-1) in the third round. From there, though, old form emerged.

He beat Novak Djokovic in four sets in the semis, getting broken only once, and then surviving a first-set loss to topple Murray - who beat him at Wimbledon for Olympic gold later in the summer - for the title.

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MCKAYLA'S POSE

It might have been the sports photo - and certainly the sports-meme-generator - of the year.

McKayla was not impressed.

Arms folded, lips together, pursed to the side a bit, it will almost certainly be the moment that stays with McKayla Maroney from 2012. She won the silver medal in vault at the London Olympics, and on the medal podium, let the world know that she wasn't thrilled about her performance.

Hence, the picture.

It captured everyone's attention. When Maroney and the team visited the White House, President Barack Obama wanted a picture with Maroney.

Yes, they did the McKayla Is Not Impressed face.

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DOMINANT PHELPS

The best Olympian ever? Could be.

The most-decorated Olympian ever? There's no question Michael Phelps has that title.

In all, 22 medals, 18 of them gold, the last four golds coming at the London Olympics. And in his final race, the third leg of the 400-meter medley relay, Phelps got to hear ``The Star-Spangled Banner'' play in his honor one last time.

In his final swim, he helped the U.S. reclaim the lead in the relay final. And afterward he got a special trophy from swimming officials that said: ``To Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympic athlete of all time.''

Phelps didn't just go into retirement with more golds than any other Olympian - he doubled the total that anyone else had ever won.

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BOLT REPEATS

Once again, Usain Bolt stole the Olympic show.

He easily won the 100-meter dash in an Olympic-record time, then captured the 200-meter dash four days later, with Blake finishing second in both of those finals. And then came the capper, a world-record time for Jamaica in the 4x100-meter relay, with Bolt running the final leg and ensuring that the United States could do no better than second on that night.

Gold, gold, gold in London. Gold, gold, gold in Beijing. And he became the first man to win the 100-200 double at consecutive Olympics.

That's perfection.

``I'm now a living legend,'' Bolt said. ``I'm also the greatest athlete to live.''

Virginia Tech survives marathon 6OT game thanks to a two-point conversion

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USA Today Sports Images

Virginia Tech survives marathon 6OT game thanks to a two-point conversion

In a vacuum, the final play wasn’t anything to write home about. But the journey to get there sure was.

The Hokies needed a whopping six(!) overtimes to complete the task, but they were in fact able to record a win over the visiting UNC Tar Heels Saturday evening in Blacksburg.

There was an amazing one-handed catch to help keep their hopes alive, a missed field goal to shatter them in the fourth overtime period, and everything in between. 

The fact that it ended on such a simple two-point conversion almost seems anticlimactic.

The marathon game itself was anything but anticlimactic, however. The two programs traded great plays and failed opportunities all afternoon long, but ultimately it was Virginia Tech who managed to come away with a big win.

It was an instant classic, and something students and fans alike in attendance won’t soon forget.

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Virginia Tech requires 6 OT periods to take down visiting UNC in wild finish

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Virginia Tech requires 6 OT periods to take down visiting UNC in wild finish

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Quincy Patterson's two-point conversion run in the sixth overtime lifted Virginia Tech a wild 43-41 victory over North Carolina on Saturday in the longest game in ACC history.

Both teams squandered opportunities to win the game in earlier overtime periods, as Virginia Tech kicker Brian Johnson missed game-winning attempts from 41 and 42 yards and North Carolina kicker Noah Ruggles missed from 35 yards and had a 44-yard attempt blocked.

The game marked the debut of college football's new overtime rules, which now call for going for two points after the fourth overtime. In the fifth overtime, Virginia Tech (5-2, 2-2 ACC) had the ball first, but Patterson's pass to Damon Hazelton was broken up by the Tar Heels' Storm Duck, giving the Tar Heels an opportunity to win the game.

North Carolina (3-4, 2-2 ACC), though, couldn't convert. Virginia Tech's Khalil Ladler read an option play perfectly and tackled Michael Carter for a loss, sending the game into a sixth overtime. The Tar Heels received the ball first, but quarterback Sam Howell was tackled for a loss, setting up Patterson's game-winning conversion.

The loss spoiled an outstanding game by Howell, who completed 26 of 49 for 348 yards and five touchdowns.

Patterson played the majority of the second half for the Hokies after starting quarterback Hendon Hooker went down with an injury late in the first half. He rushed for 122 yards on 21 carries and threw for 54 yards to pace the Hokies.

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