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BYU DE 'Ziggy' Ansah making big impact in a hurry

BYU DE 'Ziggy' Ansah making big impact in a hurry

PROVO, Utah (AP) He grew up in Ghana, goes by ``Ziggy'' and actually tried out for the Brigham Young basketball team.

Yet the guy with a 39-inch vertical jump and arms that reach well above the rim instead has been wreaking havoc on the football field for a Cougars defense ranked fifth nationally and No. 1 against the run entering Saturday's game against No. 10 Oregon State (4-0).

To think Ezekiel Ansah didn't even know how to put on his pads three years ago.

``He had no idea,'' said BYU center Braden Hansen. ``Now the word I use to describe him is `beast.'''

The senior actuarial major has been racking up the stats in just his third season playing football - ever. The American sports icons he followed before arriving in Provo at age 19 were NBA stars named Jordan, Kobe and LeBron, and his first team at BYU was the track team, where he clocked 21.9 seconds in the 200 meters.

``It's been a long journey and sometimes I sit back and don't know how this came about,'' said the 6-foot-6, 270-pound defensive end/linebacker. ``I appreciate my teammates, and the motivation I get from everybody keeps me on track.''

The player who once had BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall scratching his head seemingly only has scratched the surface of his ability, though NFL scouts are taking a look at him along with linebacker Kyle Van Noy, a Lombardi and Nagurski Trophy watch list candidate and Ansah's roommate on the road.

In a 6-3 win last week over Utah State, Ansah had five tackles, three for loss, two sacks and two quarterback hurries. He announced his presence just two plays into the game against a running back fresh off a 260-yard rushing/receiving performance.

Ansah recognized a screen pass to Kerwynn Williams and slammed him to the ground for a 4-yard loss. Williams would finish with 14 carries for 18 yards and five catches for 39.

``I had to earn my respect,'' Ansah said of the play.

He certainly has earned it from teammates and coaches, especially Mendenhall, who was more than a bit surprised when Ansah showed up at his office unannounced in 2010 at the urging of friends.

``I was telling Bronco I want to try out for football and he looked at me like, `What are you thinking?' He told me it was going to be really hard and if I'm ready, to go out there and do it.

``I think he tried (to discourage me), but it didn't work.''

With that Ansah flashed a wide smile, one that has made him a favorite among his teammates. Actually, there are plenty of other reasons, too.

``Because he's from Africa and talks with an accent and all he wants to talk about is soccer,'' said quarterback Riley Nelson, expected to start Saturday for BYU (4-2) after sitting out two games with a back injury.

What's funny, Nelson said, is that Ansah is so unassuming.

``He had no clue what he had as far as physical tools or ability,'' Nelson said. ``Not only is he big and strong, but he's fast, too.''

Nelson has calculated that for every two steps Ansah takes, he needs four to escape his rush.

``Now I've got quick steps, but he's breathing down your neck in a hurry and if he catches you, look out,'' Nelson said.

Undefeated Oregon State certainly will be aware of Ansah, especially with junior backup Cody Vaz making his first collegiate start Saturday in place of Sean Mannion, out indefinitely because of a left knee injury suffered in last week's 19-6 victory over Washington State (a team BYU beat 30-6 in the opener).

The 6-foot-1, 198-pound Vaz played in five games in the 2010 season, completing 6 of 17 passes for 48 yards, and hasn't taken any snaps since for the Beavers.

Now Vaz faces a BYU team ranked first in the nation in rushing defense (59.5 yards) and red zone conversions (40 percent), third in scoring defense (8.8 points), tied for third in tackles for loss (50), tied for sixth in sacks (20) and fifth overall (229.3 yards a game). BYU's defense also has kept opposing offenses from scoring for 13 consecutive quarters and has held its last dozen opponents under 300 yards offense.

While Van Noy, and fellow linebackers Spencer Hadley and Brandon Ogletree may be the better-known playmakers, Ansah is putting up stats just as fast, chasing down quarterbacks, running backs and even playing on special teams.

In the opener against Washington State, he sniffed out a screen, fought through a double team and delivered a spectacular throw-down for an 8-yard loss.

``He doesn't realize how special that is and we love that about him,'' Nelson said. ``He's almost looking at you like, `What, is that good?' And you're freaking out because you've never seen it before. That makes it fun.''

Last week Ansah split another double team and sacked elusive Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton from the back side, then got him a second time.

He'd also have a monster game against No. 24 Boise State, leading a goal-line stand and blowing up Boise State's fake punt - though the Cougars fell by one after a two-point conversion pass was tipped away,

``The sky's the limit because he has that natural physical ability,'' Nelson said. ``The stuff that is in your DNA, he's got every ounce of it.''

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Wizards notebook: Backing Bradley Beal; Downhill for Decker

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Wizards notebook: Backing Bradley Beal; Downhill for Decker

Back to back Beal?

Losing rarely leads to awards. The Wizards lost Monday in Indianapolis, 109-101. They also rallied from 25 points down to pull within one at 98-97 with 4:45 remaining. The comeback against the Pacers occurred with no John Wall (ankle) from the start and sans Otto Porter (knee contusion) after the opening seven minutes.

Lineups included a player making his Washington debut, combinations rarely used and a scoring Kelly Oubre, who shined for the locals with 23 points in one of his more controlled performances.

They also included the newly minted Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

Bradley Beal’s work Monday puts him in line for a repeat performance especially from those that consider leadership in the equation. Beal finished with 30 points, 19 coming in the second half as he played the final 24 minutes. He wasn’t peak efficiency (10 of 27 field goals, four turnovers), but the All-Star battled when crawling into a hole made sense. Beal had two of his three steals in the fourth quarter and finished 4 of 9 on 3-pointers.

Quick reminder: The Wizards lost for a second consecutive game heading into Wednesday’s clash with the Celtics. 

Pacers center Myles Turner dominated inside with 26 points, 12 rebounds and five emphatic blocks. Ex-Wizard Bojan Bogdanovic had 22 points. All five Indiana starters, none named Victor Oladipo, scored in double figures. 

Like many of Washington's opponents, Indiana knocked down shots from deep (10 of 20 from beyond the arc). The Pacers, tops in scoring defense, held the Wizards to 8 of 23 (34.8 percent) from the field in the fourth. 

Tired legs and minds hurt the cause late, but the shorthanded Wizards fought back. This isn’t amateur hour so simply trying doesn’t deserve praise. That the Wizards struggled in that area for chunks of this season makes such performances worth noting, as does the team following Beal’s lead. Keep this up, but pick up wins -- three games this week against the Celtics, at Nets, vs. Lakers -- and perhaps Beal earns another award.

Dekker hustle

It’s also downhill from here for the newest Wizard. Seriously, Sam Dekker, what’s the encore after the team goes on a 19-0 run after you enter for the first time in a Washington uniform?

The 6-foot-9 forward only finished with two points. We don’t take plus-minus seriously most games so that plus-20 is more oddity than reality of the situation. Still, we received a sneak peek at what Dekker could offer going forward once he learns the system, his teammates and gets back into game shape. This marked his first game action since suffering an ankle injury Nov. 5.

Dekker, who added two steals, runs the court with ease and offers energy from the forward position. It’s conceivable he falls outside the rotation most nights when all are available. Then again, if the former University of Wisconsin keeps running the court, his play might eventually badger Brooks into finding him minutes.

 Where art thou Okaro White?

Word came Monday morning that Wall would not face Indiana. Seeing as he acknowledged giving it a go in Saturday’s loss at Cleveland was probably a mistake considering his overall physical condition, cool. 

Around the same time, we found out that rookie swingman Troy Brown Jr. and forward Okaro White would remain with the Capital City Go-Go. The G-League squad plays in Arizona Tuesday.

That meant the Wizards would only have 10 active players in Indiana, a group including Sam Dekker, who only officially joined the team over the weekend. Reminder: Dwight Howard remains sidelined and the 15th roster spot sits empty. 

Perfect world Washington might not use more than nine players in a game so no whoop. As observers of this team know, there’s no such thing as a perfect world this season.

Sure enough, foul trouble struck Tomas Satoransky and Markieff Morris early, as did Porter’s injury. Other than Dekker’s 10 minutes and seven from Ian Mahinmi, Washington effectively used a seven-man rotation.

Nobody would dare suggest having Brown, White or either of their two-way players (Devin Robinson, Jordan McRae) available changes Monday’s result. Brooks might have bypassed all especially the kids. The G-League exists to offer players like Brown and Robinson a place to get in on-court work. It’s also how a team supplements its roster when needed. 

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Five observations from Wizards' loss to the Pacers despite Bradley Beal's big night

Five observations from Wizards' loss to the Pacers despite Bradley Beal's big night

The Washington Wizards lost to the Indiana Pacers 109-101 on Monday night. Here are five observations from the game...

1. Another loss: The Wizards just can't seem to put together a full, 48-minute performance, a collective effort good enough to beat a team that isn't among the worst in basketball. On Monday, they saw a Pacers team that despite missing Victor Oladipo is still very good, and they fell short of what could have been an epic comeback.

The Wizards stormed back from down 25 points, only to collapse in the final minute and get outscored 11-4 to close the game. The final result was another loss, their second straight. They are 11-16 on the year with the Boston Celtics up next on Wednesday.

The defeat spoiled another big night from Bradley Beal. He had 30 points, the fourth straight game he's dropped 27 or more. 

2. Otto went down: The Wizards found themselves in a tough situation on Monday with only nine available players after Otto Porter Jr. left in the first half with a right knee contusion. John Wall and Dwight Howard were already out, meaning the Wizards were down three starters. Markieff Morris then got into early foul trouble, giving head coach Scott Brooks a real dilemma.

Though Porter's injury doesn't seem serious, the Wizards can ill-afford losing anyone right now. It's worth a reminder that, as bad as the Wizards have started this season, they have done so with few injuries to blame.

3. Oubre came through: Not long after Porter went down, Kelly Oubre Jr. stepped in to fill the void. He had one of his best games of the season with 23 points, five rebounds, three steals, and a block.

Oubre shot poorly against the Cavs on Saturday, but overall he has been playing very well lately. This was the fourth straight game he's reached double figures and the third time in that stretch he's scored 19 or more.

In addition to scoring, Oubre did a lot of the things Brooks wants him to do. He drew an offensive foul, brought down two offensive rebounds and forced a few turnovers. Oubre's best attribute is his length and his ability to cause havoc defensively, especially off the ball. He came into this game sixth in the NBA in total deflections and second in deflections per 36 minutes.

4. Dekker debuted: The lack of options for Brooks detailed above and the lopsided score at least brought one positive and that was the debut of Dekker, who checked in with just under four minutes to go in the third quarter. 

Dekker actually played fairly well considering the circumstances and happened to help key a nice little run for the Wizards. Washington closed the third quarter on a 13-0 run once he came in. On one play during that stretch, Dekker got a steal and then finished with a dunk on the other end.

The run with Dekker on the floor extended to 19-0 in the fourth quarter and kept the Wizards within striking distance the rest of the game. Maybe Dekker was the missing piece all along.

5. Turner is good: For the second straight game, the Wizards had no answer for an opposing big man. Last game it was Tristan Thompson, this time it was Myles Turner. 

Turner had a huge first half on the defensive end and found his scoring groove in the second half. He had a monster stat-line of 26 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks.

The strategy for opposing teams at the moment appears to be to attack the Wizards in the middle, knowing they are just trying to make do with Thomas Bryant and a collection of small-ball fives. Teams may keep doing that until the Wizards stop them.

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