Capitals

Arizona should get boost from knocking off Florida

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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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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final

It all comes down to this.

The Eastern Conference Championship is on the line Wednesday as the Capitals take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in Tampa. Here are five keys for how the Caps can win and advance to face the Vegas Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

Score first

Game 7 is in Tampa Bay, the Lightning are deeper offensively and defensively and have a goalie capable of shutting down an offense.

Oh, and the Lightning are 8-1 when scoring first this postseason.

The Capitals are at their best when they are dictating the play. They want to play physical, trap the blue line and counter against the Lightning. None of those are particularly great strategies for chasing a game.

That makes the first goal critical.

The Lightning fans have seen their team lose twice at home already this series and fail to close out the Caps in Game 6. They have watched their team reach the conference finals two straight years in 2015 and 2016, fail to win the Stanley Cup in either year and fail to even make the playoffs in 2017.

Not only does playing with a lead better suit their game plan, but if Washington scores first that crowd is going to get very uncomfortable very quickly.

Gauge the referees

The Caps were very physical in Game 6 and they found success with that game plan. You would expect them to have a similar approach to Game 7, but they need to be careful.

In Game 6, it was clear the referees had put away the whistles. There were a few questionable plays on both sides that the referees let go. In a Game 7, you would hope the referees take the same approach, but they may not.

Tampa Bay’s power play is very good and the Caps cannot afford to give them many opportunities, but Washington will still want to play a physical style. It’s a fine line to walk so the Caps will need to quickly figure out how strictly the referees are calling the game and adjust accordingly.

Win the goalie matchup

In this series, Andrei Vasilevskiy has had two bad games and four good ones. He lost both of his bad games and won three of his good ones. He did not win the fourth, however, because he was outplayed by Braden Holtby.

Vasilevskiy was great in Game 6, but Holtby matched him save for save as both teams battled to get on the board. When the Caps finally did, Holtby shut the door to make sure the Lightning could not climb back. Vasilevskiy allowed just two goals on 32 shots, but Holtby turned away all 24 of the shots he faced for the shutout.

This is Game 7. There is no Game 8 just because you run into a hot goalie. If Vasilevskiy is on his game again on Wednesday, Holtby will have to be just as good if not better to make sure the Caps win.

Beat the fourth line

Playing at home in Game 6 allowed the Caps to get away somewhat from the Alex Ovechkin vs. fourth line matchup the Lightning have found success with. At 5-on-5, Chris Kunitz played 6:55 against Ovechkin, Ryan Callahan played 6:22 and Cedric Paquette played 6:12, considerably less than the 13:04, 13:46 and 13:42 each respectively logged in Game 5.

With Game 7 in Tampa, Barry Trotz will not be able to get away from that matchup. That means Ovechkin will just have to beat it.

That does necessarily mean he has to score a hat-trick. Ovechkin was one of the team’s top performers in Game 6 despite not logging a point as he helped establish a physical tone that ignited the team. But he has to make sure at the very least that his line is not outscored by the fourth like it was in Game 5 when Paquette and Callahan each scored.

Have a short memory

If you have a bad game in Game 1, you know you can bounce back in the series. A Game 7, however, is winner take all. If there’s a bad bounce, a bad call by the referees, a bad play, a missed save, whatever it may be, the Caps have to be able to put it out of their minds quickly.

There is no room for the “here we go again” mentality on Wednesday. The fate of this season will be determined within 60 minutes. If Holtby is not on his game, the Caps will have to battle through it. If Ovechkin has a bad night, the Caps will have to battle through it. If the referees decide they are going to call everything down to the letter of the law, the Caps will have to battle through it.

If something goes against them, they cannot allow it to bog them down mentally as we have seen at times in Game 7s of the past.

Likewise, if things go well they need to put that out of their heads as well. Desperation will grow among the Lightning as the game goes on. This is not the time to sit on a lead or circle the wagons.

Washington can’t let mistakes or success go to their head until the clock hits 00:00.

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, May 23, 65 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

What to look for at OTAs

Redskins OTAs started yesterday. The no-contact drills are the first time during the offseason program that the offense and defense are permitted to line up against each other. The-no pads aspect of it does take off a lot of the edge but the reality is that this will be the closest thing to football we will see until training camp starts in late July. 

Here are some things that I will be looking for during today’s practice.

Who’s in? Jay Gruden told us earlier that we should expect to see some injured key players not participating as they continue to recover from 2017 injuries. Specifically, OT Trent Williams (knee), OT Morgan Moses (ankles), and TE Jordan Reed (hamstring/toe) will only be spectators if they are at Redskins Park at all. Other players who may sit out or participate only in light drills are RB Chris Thompson (leg), and ILB Mason Foster (shoulder). The Redskins have been relatively healthy the past few offseasons so we will see how they deal with the aftermath of the injury scourge that hit the team last year. 

Seven-on-seven—Sure, it’s fun to watch the full team drills with 11 on each side but since blocking and tackling is limited by the rules about contact, there isn’t much to be gleaned from watching an off-tackle run. But when they eliminate the guards, tackles, and interior defensive linemen it’s all passing and then we can watch how well Alex Smith and his receivers are connecting. One thing I’ll keep in mind is that Smith decided not to get the receivers together for a “passing camp” before the offseason activities started. He said that he wanted to get to know the playbook first. Because of that they can be forgiven if they are not quite as sharp as they might be. Also, how natural does Derrius Guice look coming out of the backfield to catch passes? His primary job will be to carry the ball, but if he is a legitimate pass-catching threat, the whole offense will be harder to defend.

Rookies vs. pros—In rookie camp two weeks ago we saw Trey Quinn putting defensive backs on the ground with some moves and Troy Apke showing great makeup speed on some long passes. But those tryout defensive backs and quarterbacks are no longer around. How will Quinn look against veteran Orlando Scandrick or second-year corner Josh Holsey? Will Smith’s ball placement negate Apke’s speed? In the one-on-one pass blocking drills, which emphasize technique over power, can Daron Payne get past Brandon Scherff?

The big guys—With Williams and Moses out, who will line up along the offensive line? Does Payne line up at nose tackle or is he used more as an end with Tim Settle in the middle? Is Ziggy Hood in the middle or will he work outside? How is Phil Taylor looking after a quad injury ended his season in training camp? As noted, the rules make it hard to tell much about linemen before Richmond but we try to glean what we can. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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My reaction to this tweet from the NFL illustrating the changes to the kickoff rules:

Timeline  

Today’s schedule:Redskins OTA practice 11:30; Jay Gruden and Alex Smith press conferences, players available coming off the field, after practice, approx. 1:30

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 20
—Training camp starts (7/26) 65
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 79

The Redskins last played a game 143 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 109 days. 

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