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Arizona picked to win Pac-12, narrowly edging UCLA

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Arizona picked to win Pac-12, narrowly edging UCLA

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Predictions are not something most coaches care about this time of year. They're focused on players and practices, not what pundits and pollsters presume.

Except for Oregon State's Craig Robinson.

During the Pac-12 men's basketball media day at the conference's new network studios in downtown San Francisco on Thursday, Robinson admitted he has been paying attention to polls for months - just not the league's annual media poll, which picked Arizona over UCLA by a mere point.

Robinson, the brother of First Lady Michelle Obama, has been following a much bigger campaign. He has spent his days practicing and his nights stumping for President Barack Obama ahead of Tuesday's election against Republican nominee Mitt Romney in a race Robinson predicts is ``probably going to be pretty close.''

Not that the First Brother-in-Law will take a break before flying to Chicago - ``classified information,'' he joked - on election night. No chance his players will get a day of rest, either.

``Are you kidding?'' Robinson said. ``We have got a game on Nov. 9. There will be practice.''

No matter what else is on anybody's agenda, coaches and players around the league are getting in all the last-minute work now. After all, the Pac-12 is expected to be an even tighter and tougher conference this season.

No. 12 Arizona received 403 points and 15 first-place votes to top the preseason poll by media who cover the league. That narrowly edged 13th-ranked UCLA, which received 402 points and 16 first-place votes.

California (325) was third, Stanford (296) fourth and defending regular-season champion Washington (278) fifth. Of course, fall forecasting might not always mean much.

``They picked us 11th last year. They picked us sixth this year,'' said Colorado coach Tad Boyle, whose Buffaloes surprised everybody by winning the league tournament title last season. ``Nothing is more irrelevant in my mind.''

Oregon (217) was picked seventh followed by Oregon State (166), Southern California (163), Washington State (111), Arizona State (107) and Utah (78) last.

``To put any kind of pressure on ourselves automatically places it maybe at a position where we're not,'' Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. ``I'm concerned that I'm not at practice today.''

The media has correctly picked the conference winner 12 of 20 times. Arizona has correctly been selected in seven of the 11 times the Wildcats have been picked to capture the league title.

``I can remember a long time ago when I played, I would always cheer against the teams in our conference because I didn't want them to do as well as us,'' Arizona coach Sean Miller said. ``And those days have ended a long time ago. This year in particular every time that a Pac-12 team plays a non-conference opponent, we want them to win. The most success that we can have as a conference only helps each other.''

Change is all around the conference.

Master-recruiter Miller pulled together one of the best classes in the country in the desert. Ben Howland did the same at UCLA, which is moving back into historic Pauley Pavilion after a $132 million renovation. Lorenzo Romar is just fine with his Huskies playing the underdog role, too, especially after flaming out as the top seed in the quarterfinals of last season's league tournament.

Kevin O'Neill is trying to turn around USC from a school-record 26 losses last season. Stanford is looking to make the NCAA tournament for the first time under fifth-year coach Johnny Dawkins, who led the Cardinal to the NIT title last season. Across San Francisco Bay, crafty Cal coach Mike Montgomery's teams are never pushovers, either, and he's more focused than ever after bladder cancer and surgery that left him cancer-free before last season. Well, sort of more focused.

``Unfortunately, it hasn't changed me that much. I'm still the nut case I always was,'' Montgomery joked. ``But it was certainly a wake-up call for me. But I'm fine.''

The only real guarantee this season is exposure will be at an all-time high.

The league's landmark 12-year television contract with Fox and ESPN worth about $3 billion, which created the Pac-12 Networks and Pac-12 Digital Network, started this fall. The swanky studios will help increase viewership after more than 90 games - including 23 conference matchups - weren't televised last season, said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott.

After 10 years at Staples Center in Los Angeles, the conference tournament also is moving to a new home at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Even bigger moves could also be on the horizon, with UCLA becoming the first program to travel to China over the summer as part of the league's new initiative to gain exposure in the lucrative Asia market each preseason.

Not everything is different.

This is the first time since the 2001-02 season that there have not been any coaching changes, Scott said. And a year after Colorado and Utah joined the league, no more expansion is expected for the foreseeable future.

Teams across the league already noted some of the tangible benefits from the growth.

Colorado is 200 seats away from selling out its home opener against Wofford on Nov. 9. Utah finished in the top three in attendance. Even Washington State, which returns Pac-12 leading scorer Brock Motum, is getting more revenue to Pullman than ever before - but still has bigger goals on the court.

``Looking to accomplish a lot more wins than last season,'' said Motum, whose Cougars went 19-18 last season and finished tied with Oregon State for eighth.

All Robinson wants from his Beavers in Corvallis - besides perfecting the Princeton offense, of course - is for them to register to vote. The Oregon State coach isn't predicting how the Pac-12 will shake out and isn't telling players who to take on the ballot - though he has a suspicion his famous family member might've already.

``If I took you to the White House,'' Robinson said, ``you'd like him, too.''

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Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP

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A special night for Barry Trotz on his return to Washington

A special night for Barry Trotz on his return to Washington

WASHINGTON — Barry Trotz stood on an the unfamiliar visitors’ bench and scanned the rafters at Capital One Arena as the national anthem played. 

It had to be around here somewhere. He looked to one side of the scoreboard and then the other. Finally his eyes locked on the 2018 Stanley Cup banner hanging in the south end of the arena, a testament to a season he will remember the rest of his life. 

"I was just focused on the game. Until the national anthem, I didn’t even know where it was,” Trotz said. “I was looking on the other side, around the clock, and then I turn around and there it is. That’s a proud moment for everybody involved: ownership, Ted Leonsis, and [Brian MacLellan] in management, and the players and everybody, the fans. That’s the one you want.” 

Trotz could afford a reflective mood as he spoke after a 2-0 win against the Capitals in his first game back in Washington since leading the franchise to its first Stanley Cup last June. The Islanders broke a scoreless tie with two goals in the third period just 2:26 apart. They are the surprise of the NHL after losing star center John Tavares to free agency last summer. They are all alone in first place in the Metropolitan Division now well past the halfway point of the season. 

Trotz stayed focused before the game. He arrived hours before game time and holed up in his office trying to figure a way the Islanders could win the second of a back-to-back against the rested Capitals.

At the first television timeout of the first period, Trotz steadied himself for the video tribute the Capitals put together. There, on the giant scoreboard, the indelible images flashed: Trotz at his opening press conference in 2014, promising his new team had what it took to win a championship, winning the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year, laughing with his players, skating the hot laps during last year’s playoffs, lifting the Stanley Cup. The Capital One Arena crowd stood and roared for the entire break in the action.  

“My heart got full of all the good memories,” Trotz said. “I was looking up there. I was trying not to look too much because I was getting pretty close to that sensitive side of myself. But it was extremely well done and it was just great memories. Everybody was a part of something special.”

Afterward they had another mini reunion outside the Washington locker room, his home for four years. Trotz and Lane Lambert, his assistant for all four years with the Caps, chatted with players as they came out. It wasn’t as emotional as the championship ring ceremony when the two teams first met on Nov. 26 in Brooklyn. Trotz’s voice wavered as he addressed his former players before that game. This time was all laughs. 

Capitals assistant Blaine Forsythe was there and head coach Todd Reirden briefly stopped by. Tom Wilson and Matt Niskanen and Devante Smith-Pelly came over to say hello. Brooks Orpik, who had a memorable night of his own with a ceremony for playing in his 1,000th NHL game earlier in the week, leaned against a wall and chatted with Trotz and Lambert, who jabbed Caps goalie coach Scott Murray and said he better have a “hotter suit” the next time they meet, which will be in New York on March 1.

Maybe then the Islanders will have come down to earth or maybe Trotz is in the midst of another magical season. Maybe these two teams, with so much shared history, are destined to meet again in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

“They’ve got the same team. They’re a good hockey team. There’s no question,” Trotz said. “They’ve got lots of mettle and it starts with their leadership and [Nicklas Backstrom] and [Alex Ovechkin] and that core group….That whole group, Johnny Carlson, all the guys that have here for a long time, they’ve got lots of mettle. I’m fortunate to have another great group to work with on the Island. As I said to them, I hope we can have the same experience down the road. It’s special doing that.”

 

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Barry Trotz returns to DC and hands the Capitals a fourth straight loss

Barry Trotz returns to DC and hands the Capitals a fourth straight loss

The New York Islanders outlasted the Capitals in a defensive battle Friday with two third period goals to hand Washington a 2-0 loss in Barry Trotz's return to Capital One Arena. The loss is now the Caps' fourth straight and knocks them down to third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Here are three reasons Washington lost.

Defense

You could definitely see the effect Barry Trotz has had on this Islanders team in this one. Last year, the Islanders were laughably terrible on defense. On Friday, they frustrated the Caps offense all night long.

New York was positionally sound all game long, forcing the Caps to the outside and limiting all of their offensive opportunities. Every time it looked like Washington had a rush developing, the Islanders got back and got in front of the puck. Every time the Caps tried to set up their offense, New York forced them to the perimeter and kept them from the high-danger areas. Thomas Greiss was there to clean up the rest as he recorded his second shutout of the season.

Washington was limited to just 19 shots on goal on the night, 15 through the first two periods.

A third period breakthrough

Braden Holtby looked very sharp for the Caps all night long in his first game since he suffered an eye injury on Jan. 12. He was finally beaten in the third period thanks to a great deflection by Josh Bailey.

Mathew Barzal showed some great puck control as he entered the offensive zone, wheeled around away from the initial defensive pressure, carried it to the high slot and fired a shot. By wheeling around, that allowed Bailey the chance to park himself in front of Holtby for the deflection.

In such a tight defensive game, you knew it was going to be an ugly goal like Bailey’s that would finally break through.

A third-period 2-on-0

John Carlson pinched into the offensive zone. When that happens, that means it’s Michal Kempny’s job to hightail it back on defense if the puck gets past Carlson.

Instead, Kempny tried to step up and to try to keep the puck in at the blue line. Cal Clutterbuck got the puck past him, and it was off to the races with him and Matt Martin on a 2-on-0. Clutterbuck called his own number and finished off the play with the goal to put the Islanders up 2-0.

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