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BYU, SDSU renew rivalry in Poinsettia Bowl

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BYU, SDSU renew rivalry in Poinsettia Bowl

SAN DIEGO (AP) Rocky Long and Bronco Mendenhall will leave it to the fans to get all worked up about the revival of the BYU-San Diego State rivalry.

Just two years after a botched review of an apparent fumble tainted what appeared to be the final game between the schools, the Cougars (7-5) and Aztecs (9-3) will meet in the Poinsettia Bowl on Thursday night at San Diego State's home stadium, Qualcomm.

As much as SDSU fans loved to hate the Cougars during their rivalry in the Western Athletic Conference and then the Mountain West Conference, they really howled in 2010.

In an episode known as ``Replaygate,'' BYU running back JJ Di Luigi fumbled against the Aztecs in Provo and San Diego State coach Brady Hoke asked for a review. Officials ruled there was not enough evidence to rule it a fumble. BYU scored five plays later en route to a 24-21 victory.

Six days later, Mountain West Conference athletic directors decided to ban employees or alumni of the host school from serving in the communicator position in the instant replay booth. The three replay officials reportedly were suspended for one game.

SDSU fans didn't get over it, even though BYU bailed from the MWC to become independent in football. SDSU, which has won seven straight games, will leave the league after this season for the Big East in football only.

Still, Long and Mendenhall - who worked together on New Mexico's staff for five seasons - aren't interested in rehashing it.

``Oh yeah, it's ancient history,'' said Long, who was SDSU's defensive coordinator that day and was elevated to head coach after Hoke left for Michigan following that season. ``I don't worry about the fans. I only worry about the 100 guys we've got on the team.''

Said Mendenhall: ``I've already been asked that a number of times, with people saying this is a giant rivalry game and there's a vendetta, etc. Again, being at BYU I've learned there are a lot of axes to grind. I don't even remember the game, to be honest with you. I know Rocky's team will be ready to play. Hopefully, I can get our team ready as well. That's really what my focus is on.''

BYU leads the series 27-7-1 and has won five straight against the Aztecs.

Then there's the familiarity Long and Mendenhall have with each other. When Long was head coach at New Mexico, Mendenhall was his defensive coordinator from 1998-2002. Mendenhall also was defensive line coach at Oregon State in 1995 when Long was defensive coordinator.

``I don't think it makes a darn bit of difference,'' said Long, who led the Aztecs to a share of the MWC title with Fresno State and Boise State. ``Bronco and I are friends and we know each other very, very well. But Bronco's not making one tackle, he's not catching one pass. Guess what? He's not calling probably one offensive play. I'm not making a tackle. I'm not carrying the ball. I'm not calling one offensive play.

``When he first became the D coordinator at BYU, we could watch each other from the sideline and know exactly what defense was being run, because we used the same signals that meant the exact same thing,'' Long added. ``And by the time I read his signals there was no time to get it to the quarterback or the offense before the ball was snapped. So after the first year, I stopped watching him. So I don't even know what his signals are now. I'm sure they're different. So just because we know each other has nothing to do with the game. The guys you'll see here in a little while wearing jerseys around? They're going to decide who wins the game.''

Long and his 3-3-5 defense will have their hands full with BYU receiver Cody Hoffman, who had 90 catches for 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns. Long said the Aztecs have to prepare for both BYU quarterbacks, Riley Nelson and James Lark. Nelson likely will start. With Nelson out for the regular-season finale with a rib injury, Lark made his first start and completed 34 of 50 passes for 384 yards and six touchdowns, with no turnovers, in a 50-14 win at New Mexico State.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Hoffman had a school single-game record five TD receptions among his 12 catches for 182 yards against New Mexico State.

``There is a huge matchup on the outside between our corners and Hoffman, because he is so big and strong and fast,'' Long said. ``We've got a couple pretty good corners, but they're not as big and strong as he is.''

The Cougars, who allow only 84.3 yards rushing per game, will have to try to stop SDSU sophomore Adam Muema, who averaged 6.4 yards per carry in running for 1,355 yards and 16 touchdowns.

``He's very, very good,'' Mendenhall said. ``I've seen a number of tackles missed on him. If that part can be contained, relatively, then their point production goes way down. If we're not able to get him on the ground consistently, then they'll control the momentum of the game.''

BYU will be making its 12th bowl appearance in San Diego. The first 11 were in the Holiday Bowl, the big brother of the Poinsettia Bowl.

SDSU is playing in a bowl game for an unprecedented third straight year and will be trying for its first 10-win season since 1977. The Aztecs beat Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2010 under Hoke and lost to Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans bowl last year, Long's first season in charge.

Hoke and then Long have changed the expectations of a once sad-sack program.

``I think we're at a critical point in our program now that it has to be expected, and if you don't get it, it's not acceptable,'' Long said about the three straight bowl appearances. ``I wouldn't have said that two years ago. Just getting to a bowl game was a big-time accomplishment.''

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Wizards fall flat in battle with young Grizzlies

Wizards fall flat in battle with young Grizzlies

The Washington Wizards lost to the Memphis Grizzlies 128-111 on Saturday night. Here are five takeaways from what went down...

1. It was just over a week ago the Wizards had their best win of the season against the Sixers. Saturday night was one of their worst.

They went into Memphis to play an emerging, but struggling team and got their you-know-whats handed to them. The Wizards jumped out to a 13-6 lead in the first, then lost the momentum and never got it back.

By halftime the Wizards were down 15. That deficit grew to 24 in the second half.

The Wizards ended up losing by 17, but it wasn't as close as the score would suggest. It was Washington's seventh loss in eight games.

Maybe it was the three-day layoff. Perhaps they weren't sharp. Whatever the reason, that was a bad one.

2. As this game went on, it became very obvious that Memphis' gameplan was to make sure Davis Bertans didn't beat them. They swarmed the Latvian Laser on the perimeter and guarded him well beyond the three-point line.

Bertans was held to nine points on 2-for-9 shooting and 1-for-6 from three. His one three was a quick release shot from about 27 feet out. Soon after that, the defense was picking him up at halfcourt.

 

This type of treatment was inevitable for Bertans, who has been the biggest surprise of the Wizards' season so far. He has turned into one of the league's best three-point shooters and the second-best scorer on the team. Teams now know it.

3. Rui Hachimura's college teammate stole the show in this one. Brandon Clarke, who played last year with Hachimura at Gonzaga, put on an impressive scoring display highlighted by a series of vicious dunks. He measured a max vertical of 40 1/2 inches and used every inch of it to dunk all over the Wizards.

He had 19 points in the first half, including an alley-oop where his head was level with the rim and a poster dunk on the fastbreak that nearly ended Ian Mahinmi's career.

 

Clarke had 25 points on 11-for-14 shooting with four rebounds. Coming out of the draft, he was considered a good defensive player but too old (he's 23) and too raw offensively without a three-point shot.

So far, he's looking like a major steal at the 21st overall pick. 

4. The Grizzlies might not be good, but they are fun to watch and have a nice young core with Clarke alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. and Morant. Jackson is a unicorn at 6-foot-11 with the ability to drive coast-to-coast and hit threes. Morant is a force of nature, able to play well above the rim despite being 6-foot-3.

Morant nearly pulled off one of the most disrespectful plays in basketball on Bradley Beal. He tried to pull a "Michael Jordan on Ron Mercer" by snatching the ball off the glass with two hands. But he clipped the rim and was called for goaltending. Still, it was impressive because of how high he got in the air.

Memphis has an exciting young team. They might contend for a playoff spot next year with a good offseason. If they were in the East, they could really make some noise.

5. The Wizards were without several key regulars once again. Isaiah Thomas missed his fifth straight game with a left calf strain and Moe Wagner was out with his left ankle sprain after playing in the past four games.

They did get back Garrison Mathews, though. The two-way guard played in his first game since Oct. 25 after sitting out due to a stress reaction in his right leg. It was Mathews' third professional game, but he made his first shot - a corner three. It happened to come in his home state of Tennessee. 

Mathews might actually get some minutes in the next few weeks because he is the second-best shooting guard on the roster with Jordan McRae out due to a finger injury.

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Samsonov shines, the bottom-six was the difference and time to Panik?

Samsonov shines, the bottom-six was the difference and time to Panik?

Ilya Samsonov had his best NHL performance on Saturday in a big 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Capitals got contributions from players all over the lineup in a big win.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

Everyone is pitching in

Look at Saturday's game and Wednesday's game. Whatever the Caps needed, they were able to get. Against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, they needed a key coach's challenge and the video coaches delivered. They needed someone to take over the game and T.J. Oshie delivered. They needed a big night from the penalty kill and Carl Hagelin and Co. delivered. They needed a response to Boston's tying goal and John Carlson delivered.

Now look at Saturday's game. Ilya Samsonov got the start and he delivered when the Caps had a slow start to the game. The fourth line settled everything down and Alex Ovechkin forced a turnover behind the net to give Washington the lead. The bottom-six scored twice to give Washington control, Oshie scored a quick response goal when Tampa Bay tried to battle back and the penalty kill delivered again.

The Caps are not being carried by Ovechkin, it's not a hot goalie or a dominant blue line, it is a complete team effort and it is extremely impressive to watch.

Samsonov had his best NHL game

We knew Samsonov and Braden Holtby were going to split the weekend's games for the dad's trip. I expected Holtby would get the tougher game in Tampa Bay, but instead Todd Reirden went with Samsonov. The rookie had three brilliant saves in the first five minutes of the game. Tampa Bay was the better team for the first two periods and Samsonov only gave up one goal in those 40 minutes. This was a big boy offense and some big boy hockey. Samsonov was up to the task.

Good penalty kill, too many penalties

The Lightning entered this game with the second-best power play in the NHL. Limiting penalties was a big key to the game for Washington and...they did not do that. The Caps gave up five power play opportunities to Tampa Bay, just daring the Lighting offense to take fire. Tampa Bay was only able to cash in only once.

On the one hand, it's great that the penalty kill is playing so well. On the other hand, the Caps must stop taking so many penalties.

Time to Panik?

I have stressed the importance of patience for Richard Panik who is not only adjusting to a new team, but who had an injury and missed 10 games on LTIR. Now, however, it seems like patience is starting to run out.

Panik played a team-low 8:10 on Saturday. Players who get that little ice time are usually either fourth line players or players who do not contribute to special teams. Panik is supposed to be a penalty killer, but despite five penalty kill opportunities, he registered only 14 seconds of shorthanded ice time.

Panik's offensive struggles have been well documented (he had an assist on Saturday), but if he is not contributing on the penalty kill either...well, that's an issue.

Turning point

Tampa Bay looked like the better team for the first 40 minutes. Thanks to Samsonov, the game was tied at 1 at the start of the third. These two teams boast some of the top offensive stars in the NHL, but it was Washington's bottom-six that gave them the edge as Lars Eller scored early in the third and Garnet Hathaway added a second goal just 45 seconds later.

Suddenly the Lightning were on their heels after looking in control for the majority of the game.

Play of the game

Just when the Caps took the one-goal lead, Hathaway came swooping in to make it 3-1.

Stat of the game

The Caps' PK had a success rate of only 78.9-percent last season. This is a dramatic improvement.

Quote of the game

John Hathaway, father or Garnet, stole the show between the first and second period:

"I think as parents, we try to teach them like two lessons as kids growing up. It's like, if you can dream it, you can do it and never, never, never give up. The dads are here tonight and I think they're not only so proud of their sons, but they're happy for their sons because they know that they had big dreams, they dared to dream big and they never gave up."

Fan predictions

Hey, two for two.

No Ovechkin goal, but you got the score right.

Eller with a big goal tonight assisted by Panik.

Backstrom had only two, but just a few games removed from returning from injury, he looks like he hasn't missed any time at all out there.

This bit will never get old to me.

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