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Bama-UGA gearing up for latest huge SEC title game

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Bama-UGA gearing up for latest huge SEC title game

Alabama coach Nick Saban finds plenty to like about competing in a league where the champion has a near-automatic reservation to the BCS national title game.

That's the case again for Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship game between the second-ranked Crimson Tide and No. 3 Georgia. The winner advances to meet No. 1 Notre Dame with a chance to keep the national championship in the SEC for a seventh straight year.

And the loser? Well, that team might be shut out of the BCS picture because No. 5 Florida is in line to grab that spot. Saban is less thrilled about that prospect - another side effect of playing in the SEC.

``For either one of these teams, it's not really a great scenario,'' Saban said on a conference call Sunday. ``You play your way into the championship game, which means you're the best team in your division. They're the best team in their division. They played their way into the game by a total body of work for the whole season. It doesn't seem quite right, but it is what it is.

``I don't really know what me commenting about it is going to do to change it, but I don't feel good about it for our football team or their football team.''

Then again, he wasn't complaining when the Tide (11-1, 7-1) landed in the BCS title game against LSU last season without winning the West.

The Bulldogs (11-1, 7-1) rebounded from a 35-7 loss at South Carolina on Oct. 6 to win the East for the second straight season.

Georgia coach Mark Richt said he doesn't want his team getting caught up in the stakes and magnitude of the game.

``All you can do is get your staff and your team as prepared as possible to go play a game,'' Richt said. ``That's what we're going to do. If you think about what the game means, this that and the other, it doesn't really help you win the game. The only thing that helps you win the game is preparation and getting your mind ready to go to battle. That's what you've got to do.

``Physically, mentally, be ready to handle your business when the ball kicks off. That's my only focus. I don't worry about all that stuff.''

Coincidentally, Georgia beat Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl for its only AP title to end the 1980 season.

Richt isn't drawing too much from that history.

``That's the first time anybody's brought that up to me,'' he said. ``I can't worry about all that stuff. We're just working like mad trying to get a game plan ready to go this week. That's all I can say.''

Georgia earned the trip down the road to Atlanta with a win over Florida to claim the tiebreaker. The Gators were ranked third at the time, but Richt can still draw from that win when asked how his team will handle a big game even if his memory is a touch off.

``We've already played the No. 2 team in the country once this year and had a good day against Florida,'' he said.

The game will feature the nation's two most efficient passers, Georgia's Aaron Murray and Alabama's AJ McCarron. Alabama comes in leading the nation in scoring and total defense.

Both teams are coming off blowout wins over in-state rivals.

The Tide produced its fourth shutout of the season with a 49-0 win over Auburn. Georgia dispatched Georgia Tech 42-10.

This is Alabama's eighth time in an SEC championship game but the first time the team has played someone other than the Gators.

The Tide is aiming for its second straight national title and third in four years. Saban still talks like a guy gunning for his first.

``Regardless of what you've accomplished in the past, this is the most important game we're going to play this entire year for our team,'' he said.

``I'm always looking forward to the next challenge. When I can't do that, I probably shouldn't do this anymore. ``

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What Wizards guard Chris Chiozza learned from playing with James Harden and Chris Paul

What Wizards guard Chris Chiozza learned from playing with James Harden and Chris Paul

WASHINGTON -- Point guard Chris Chiozza is hailed as a success story for the Wizards' G-League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go, which played its first season last year as an expansion franchise. He joined the organization in training camp as an undrafted rookie and by February had played his way into an NBA contract with the Houston Rockets.

Chiozza initially signed a 10-day contract with Houston and ended up sticking around through the playoffs until late July when he was waived. That opened the door for a reunion in Washington where he landed on an Exhibit 10 contract last month.

His time in Houston was brief, but important for a variety of reasons. For one, Chiozza got some official NBA experience for the first time by appearing in seven regular season games. 

Chiozza, 23, is now back with the Wizards with a different perspective.

"It's a much more comfortable feeling now, just having that experience," he told NBC Sports Washington. "I wasn't expecting to be back here. But it's a great opportunity. I get along great with everybody here."

Chiozza is currently gunning for a roster spot with the Wizards out of training camp. With injuries to two of Washington's point guards, John Wall and Isaiah Thomas, Chiozza could earn some playing time early in the season behind projected starter Ish Smith. Chiozza's main competition is undrafted rookie Justin Robinson, who joined the Wizards on a three-year deal this summer. 

Chiozza could have his contract converted into a two-way deal, as they have an open spot there next to Garrison Mathews. That would allow Chiozza to start the season with the NBA team until G-League training camp begins on Oct. 28. Then, a 45-day limit would kick in for how much time he could spend in the NBA. Forty-five days, though, would be plenty for the Wizards to work with, as Thomas is expected to return from his left thumb injury not long after the season begins.

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks believes Chiozza has a real chance to carve out a steady career in the NBA.

"I think he knows that he can play in the league. As a young player, you hope that you can be in the league but you're not quite sure if you can," Brooks said. "But with Chris, I think he knows he can play in it."

Chiozza draws confidence from having a full year of professional basketball under his belt. But he also had a unique experience playing in Houston. He got to square off every day at practice with two guards who will be in the Hall of Fame someday.

Chiozza got to see up close what makes James Harden and Chris Paul great. And he took away from that lessons of how he can elevate his own game as a point guard.

"It was crazy just to see how good of a one-on-one player [Harden] is. When you watch him on TV, you can't really tell how smart of a player he is with the reads he makes. He can read when it's his shot or it's time to kick out to a shooter. Just watching him and CP3 and how they read the defense is pretty interesting," Chiozza said.

"When I was growing up, [Paul] was my favorite point guard. Just being around him and going to his camps and stuff and then being on his team, it was crazy."

Chiozza said practicing with Paul is a different experience than in games where he is more conservative with his ball-handling and passing. In practice, Paul may surprise you by passing the ball through a big man's legs or with dribble combinations he doesn't allows deploy. Chiozza calls them "pick-up moves."

Chiozza saw the finer details of what makes two great guards the players they are. As he aims to find a niche in the NBA, that can only help his cause.

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Nationals to honor WNBA Champion Mystics prior to Tuesday's NLCS Game 4

Nationals to honor WNBA Champion Mystics prior to Tuesday's NLCS Game 4

There may be no victory parade until next spring, but the WNBA Champion Mystics will be honored in front of 40,000-plus people in the nation's capital on Tuesday.

The Mystics' tremendous season will be recognized in front of a likely sold-out crowd at Nationals Park prior to the Nats' NLCS Game 4 against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday, the team announced on Monday.

Additionally, WNBA MVP Elena Della Donne will throw out the game's ceremonial first pitch. Head coach Mike Thibault will be involved in pregame festivities as well.

This comes after the Mystics took home their first-ever WNBA title last Thursday, defeating the Connecticut Sun 89-78 in a decisive Game 5.

Being honored at Nationals Park will be the latest of quite the celebrations from the Mystics. They earned props from President Barack Obama and were featured on Good Morning America Monday morning.

Congratulations to the Mystics, and props to the Nationals for honoring the latest champions from Washington, D.C.

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