Arizona should get boost from knocking off Florida


Arizona should get boost from knocking off Florida

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Arizona was largely ignored as it raced through the early part of its schedule.

Sure, the Wildcats were ranked in the top 10 and off to their best start in 14 years, but the schedule wasn't exactly difficult.

The perception should change after their pull-it-out-of-thin-air win over No. 5 Florida on Saturday night.

Rallying from six points down in the final minute to beat at top-five team? That's a pretty good statement.

``We're the real deal,'' sophomore guard Nick Johnson said. ``Everybody said something about our schedule before this and this was the opportunity to prove ourselves in front of the nation.''

They certainly did, though it took them a while to get going.

After winning its first seven games by an average of 20 points, No. 8 Arizona had its hands full in the McKale Center's first matchup between top 10 teams since 2004.

Deep and talented, the Gators also were undefeated coming in and had one of the nation's best defenses, holding teams to 48 points per game.

Florida's mix of zone and man defenses, not mention its size inside, gave the Wildcats all kinds trouble in the first half. Arizona managed to keep it close, only to fall behind by double digits again early in the second half.

The Wildcats managed to chip into the lead, only to fall back again.

Trailing 64-58 with a minute left, Arizona appeared to be done.

Instead, the Wildcats pulled off a magic act that likely will be remembered for a long time in Tucson.

It started with a couple of free throws by Kevin Parrom with 56 seconds left. Arizona's press created a turnover to set up a layup by Solomon Hill, then did it again to send Grant Jerrett to the line.

The freshman hit 1 of 2, leaving the Wildcats a point behind, so they were forced to foul Florida's Kenny Boynton. A 90 percent free-throw shooter this season, he missed with 21 seconds left and Arizona snared the rebound.

Mark Lyons ended up with the ball on the right side and, seeing he was being guarded by Florida's Patric Young, put his head down and charged toward the basket. Facing pressure from the 6-foot-9 center, Lyons angled his body and flipped up a shot that hit high off the glass and fell through with 7 seconds left.

Arizona's defense closed it out, forcing Florida to fumble the ball away before launching a desperation 3-pointer that was nowhere near going in.

The victory sent the Wildcats charging off the bench, a handful of students onto the floor and coach Sean Miller into the arms of athletic director Greg Byrne.

In the short term, it should give the Wildcats a big boost of confidence.

Long term, the come-from-behind victory over the No. 5 team in the country is going to look awfully good come March, maybe even into April.

``We didn't win the national championship tonight,'' Miller said. ``But what we did do is we have a win in our pocket that's going to be very, very meaningful because Florida isn't a good team - I think they have the makings of a great team.''

Arizona may as well, thanks to the addition of Lyons this season.

Miller has been a superb recruiter in his four seasons at Arizona, landing one stellar class after another.

His class last year netted Johnson and athletic forward Angelo Chol, and this year's class includes three of the best incoming big men in the country: Jerrett, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski.

Combined with a solid core of upperclassmen, the Wildcats were going to be in good shape this season no matter what.

Lyons could put them over the top.

A former recruit of Miller's at Xavier, he led the Musketeers to the NCAA tournament three times, including the regional finals a year ago. As a graduate, he was allowed to transfer to Arizona without having to sit out, giving the Wildcats a heady, experienced point guard to lead all those young players.

Lyons struggled at times early in the season as he adjusted to new teammates, getting more turnovers than assists. Coming off a four-point game against Southern Miss on Dec. 4, he had a breakout game against Clemson, scoring 20 points while helping the Wildcats rally in the second half for a 66-54 win.

His confidence rising, Lyons stroked in some big shots against Florida, including his fearless drive over the outstretched arms of a player eight inches taller for the winning basket.

``We believe in a lot of guys on this team, but no one believes in Mark Lyons more than me,'' Miller said. ``I've seen him since he's been in 10th grade. Some guys are wired for the big moment, big stage. That big shot, he wants to take it or make the big play and no question when he drove I knew that something good was going to happen.''

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Stephen Strasburg dominates Marlins, Nationals salvage a win


Stephen Strasburg dominates Marlins, Nationals salvage a win

The Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins, 5-0, Sunday afternoon to move back .500 at 10-10.

Here are five observations from the game...

1. Sunday became of a day of salvage for the Nationals.

Washington lost the first two games of its initial series against the Miami Marlins. One of those losses included a subpar Max Scherzer start. Game three provided Miami a surprising chance to sweep. Stephen Strasburg snuffed out that idea with eight scoreless innings. Ryan Zimmerman homered twice, Brian Dozier once.

Kyle Barraclough was on the verge of peacefully pitching the ninth inning to close the game before he walked back-to-back hitters with two outs. Davey Martinez replaced him with closer Sean Doolittle who ended the game in his 10th appearance of the season.

And, guess what? The Nationals are back to even. Again. The upshot for them is how flawed and jam-packed the rest of the National League East remains. The downside is dropping any series against Miami can leave a mark.

Assume the division winner takes 13-15 victories when playing the Marlins 19 times during the season. That idea would force Washington to go between 12-4 and 14-2 the rest of the way against Miami. A run like that -- even against bad teams -- is extremely difficult. Being swept by the worst team in the major leagues would have made it even worse. So, a necessary win was delivered Sunday.

2. Strasburg spent Sunday down in the strike zone, throwing curveballs at his leisure, dominating all afternoon.

Eight innings. Ten strikeouts. Two hits. No runs.

Strasburg threw an astonishing amount of curveballs Sunday: 45 of his 104 pitches were bending toward the plate. He threw 41 fastballs (mostly two-seam fastballs) and 18 changeups. Strasburg came into the game throwing his curveball 21.4 percent of the time this season, just a tick above his career average of 19.7 percent.

The curveballs led to 12 swinging strikes, six called strikes and four foul balls. So, half of them were not put in fair play. That’s a dominating pitch.

Most opposition hitters will mark Strasburg’s changeup as his best pitch -- especially now that his fastball velocity is down to 92-93 mph, generally. Sunday, his curveball commanded the game, an interesting turn with Kurt Suzuki behind the plate a start after Strasburg mentioned he thought predictability was part of the issue when he was knocked around in his last start against the meager San Francisco Giants offense.

3. Anthony Rendon was out of the lineup Sunday because of a bruised left elbow.

X-rays on Rendon’s elbow were negative. Though, he told reporters in Miami on Sunday the elbow remained stiff. Washington played with a three-man bench in the series finale because Rendon has not been placed on the injured list. It also underwent a lineup shuffle.

Victor Robles moved up to the No. 2 spot. Howie Kendrick played third and hit cleanup. Dozier hit seventh and Wilmer Difo was in the eighth spot.

Rendon’s absence is another dig at an offense already without Trea Turner for an unclear amount of time because of a broken right index finger. Both were off to outstanding starts for a team that is not. Rendon’s 1.223 OPS was fourth in the National League coming into play Sunday.

The Nationals are in the midst of a brutal schedule stretch, which means they can’t play with a short bench for long. They have a three-game series starting in Colorado on Monday. If they think Rendon could play Tuesday, they could survive another day with a three-man bench. If they think he won’t play in that series, it makes sense to put him on the 10-day injured list retroactive to Sunday. Thursday is an off day. So, ultimately, Rendon would miss seven games he otherwise would not.

The rub there is potent San Diego and St. Louis are coming to Nationals Park next week. Washington is already laboring. Does it want to deal with those teams without Rendon?

4. Interesting in the sixth inning:

Juan Soto struck out on a changeup. That’s not the interesting -- or surprising -- part. Kendrick was next. He drove a second-pitch changeup from Trevor Richards to deep center field for a sacrifice fly. Only Lewis Brinson’s jump and speed kept Kendrick’s fly ball from being a two-run double.

Kendrick appeared to be sitting on the changeup from Richards, his out pitch and one he used almost as often as his fastball throughout the day. Zimmerman hit a changeup for a home run. Dozier hit a changeup for a home run. Those vetered hitters appeared to adjust in a way Soto did not: instead of trying to push Richards into a fastball count, they sat on the changeup. Big results followed.

5. How about a couple strange things?

Robles bunted against the shift in the sixth inning. It was simultaneously the worst and best bunt in history. Robles bunted the ball so hard, it went almost to the outfield the air. Marlins first baseman Neil Walker did not get it because he was holding a runner. Second baseman Starlin Castro did not get it because he was shifted toward the middle. Robles was easily safe as a result.

Then a scare from an oddity: an eighth-inning foul ball roared into the Nationals dugout. When Max Scherzer moved to avoid it, he tweaked an intercostal muscle in his left rib cage, according to reporters in Miam. He was in enough pain director of athletic training Paul Lessard came to check on him. Scherzer was all right. That would have been the capper for the Nationals recent run of bad injury luck where balls coming from the opposition are causing fluke injuries.


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Todd Reirden on TJ Oshie's surgery: 'It's a tough situation for our team'

Todd Reirden on TJ Oshie's surgery: 'It's a tough situation for our team'

ARLINGTON — Capitals forward T.J. Oshie had a surgical procedure Friday to repair a broken right collarbone and remains out indefinitely.  

Oshie was not at Capital One Arena for Washington’s 6-0 win in Game 5 of its Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes. He was injured with five minutes to go in Thursday’s Game 4 loss in Raleigh when nudged from behind by Hurricanes forward Warren Foegele and slamming hard into the boards near full speed. 

“There's not one person who can take T.J. Oshie's spot for all that he is as a human being, player on the ice, off the ice all the stuff that he adds,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said at his media availability on Sunday afternoon. “But what I did notice is that everybody picked their level up last night. And that's what we're going to need going into Raleigh for [Monday]."

That’s when Washington, ahead 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, can eliminate Carolina in Game 6. It’s something it has done successfully on the road in recent years in Philadelphia (2016), Toronto (2017), Pittsburgh and Columbus (2018). All series the Capitals were up 3-2. In all four they won Game 6. 

But they won’t have Oshie this time and he is the emotional engine that has helped fuel some of those series-ending performances. There is still no exact timetable for Oshie’s return. The Capitals have avoided ruling him out for the season and Reirden artfully dodged a question about whether he’d be ready for training camp. 

A broken collarbone usually doesn’t take longer than two months to heal barring complications. But that’s almost certainly going to be after the playoffs ends even if the Capitals make a repeat run to the Stanley Cup Final. Last year they won it on June 7 in five games against the Vegas Golden Knights. 

“I do know that T.J. Oshie is going to do everything he can, and we're not willing to put a timetable on it right now with regard to any time,” Reirden said. “Just lots of these things take a different course in terms of how they rehab and don't rehab. I just know that I can tell you about T.J., he's all-in at all times, and that's a great person to have around our room at the very least." 

Oshie had 25 goals and 29 assists in 65 regular-season games. He missed 11 of 13 games with a concussion. He had eight goals and 13 assists in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. He also plays the “bumper” role on the top power-play unit and kills penalties.

Oshie tweeted thanks to fans both before and after Washington’s 6-0 win on Saturday. In the third period, periodic “T.J. Oshie!” chants rang from the sellout crowd at Capital One Arena. 

“It was nice to see the crowd give [Oshie] a little love,” center Nicklas Backstrom said on Saturday.  

Added Reirden: “That's obviously a tough loss for us, but we're prepared to go without him as we saw last night. It's a tough situation for our team, but I certainly liked our response last night and was proud of our effort in terms of how we played and how we were playing with him in the back of our mind."