Nationals

Cincinnati, No. 16 Louisville renew rivalry

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Cincinnati, No. 16 Louisville renew rivalry

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Louisville has shown it can start fast and win with late-game heroics.

The No. 16 Cardinals (7-0, 2-0 Big East Conference) now want to eliminate all those mid-game letdowns in between.

That has been difficult for Louisville, which has found ways to remain undefeated. But there's no room for error Friday night against Cincinnati (5-1, 1-0), which enters with the league's best offense and a four-game winning streak against Louisville.

The winner keeps pace with undefeated, first-place Rutgers in the Big East and claims bragging rights that come with the Keg of Nails trophy.

``It (the rivalry) feels bigger now because we're both undefeated in the conference,'' said Louisville senior linebacker Preston Brown, a Cincinnati native. ``They've beaten us the last few times, so we're trying to get the win this time.''

Last year's 25-16 loss at Cincinnati marked a turning point for Louisville, which rebounded from the setback to claim a share of the Big East title with the Bearcats and West Virginia. The Cardinals have won 12 of 13 regular season games since and can post their first 8-0 record in 87 years.

Nothing has come easy during this surge, and Louisville came within 95 seconds of joining Cincinnati in the one-loss club last Saturday against South Florida. Leading 14-3 at halftime, the Cardinals allowed the Bulls to rally and take a four-point lead before quarterback Teddy Bridgewater responded with a game-winning touchdown drive in the 27-25 victory.

That symbolized a season-long habit the Cardinals are desperate to break.

``We have to improve, we know this,'' Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. ``We have to improve on defense; we have to improve on offense; we have to improve on special teams.

``We're getting to ready to hit a stretch where we're playing some outstanding teams in the conference, so we have to get better ourselves.''

Louisville stands well in several Big East offensive categories, ranking second in scoring (32.4 points per game), fourth in total offense (405.6 yards), and third in rushing (161.4).

Bridgewater (1,694 yards, 11 TDs), leads the league in passing efficiency (165.2).

``Boy, he can manage their offense,'' Cincinnati coach Butch Jones said. ``Extremely accurate, (he) knows where he's going with the football. Not only can he beat you by throwing the football, he can beat you by running the football.''

Bearcats quarterback Munchie Legaux is also impressed - almost as much as he is with his own play. Legaux praised Bridgewater's efficiency, playmaking ability and leadership. But when asked how similar he is to Bridgewater, the league's fifth-rated passer (136.7) declared with a straight face, ``I'm better.''

Cardinals nose tackle Brandon Dunn wasn't surprised to hear that.

``They got some players that hate us and we got some players that hate them,'' he said. ``Whatever happens, happens.''

Of course, Legaux and the Bearcats already had the Cardinals' attention before that.

While the junior (53.3 percent completion rate) can be cold for long stretches - Toledo returned a Legaux interception 75 yards for a touchdown in last week's 29-23 victory - and then get hot, he has thrown for 1,435 yards and 12 touchdowns. And the Bearcats lead in several offensive areas including scoring (34.7), rushing (225.7) and total offense (467.5).

Senior running back George Winn is second in rushing with 607 yards and a 101.2 average.

``I do feel confident'' in Legaux, Jones said. ``I think everyone to the naked eye, they always think about the quarterback. And the quarterback is just like the coach, they get more credit when you win and probably more blame when you lose than what's deservedly so.

``We forget we had a touchdown pass dropped in the first quarter that changes the complexion of the game in a hurry. So I think it's everyone doing their job around the quarterback. We're going to see a tremendous amount of pressure, we're going to see a lot of man coverage, and football comes down to winning your 1-on-1 matchups.''

The Bearcats will try to move past a loss that knocked them from the ranks of the unbeaten and the rankings without defensive Walter Stewart, who's out with an upper-body injury.

The Cardinals are healthy but eager to break a habit that has put them on the brink of collapse several times before their resilience showed.

Whoever meets their objective still faces a tough road with many Big East games ahead. But it could help determine which one chases down Rutgers next month.

``We still feel like we haven't played up to our abilities,'' Cardinals linebacker George Durant said. ``We have to step up and get better.''

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Juan Soto's 2-run double carries Nationals past Orioles

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USA TODAY Sports

Juan Soto's 2-run double carries Nationals past Orioles

WASHINGTON -- A teenager among men, Juan Soto has impressed his teammates on the Washington Nationals with his maturity and, even more so, his potent bat.

Soto hit a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning, and Washington beat the Baltimore Orioles 4-2 Thursday night in the deciding matchup of a three-game interleague series between neighboring rivals.

Soto, a 19-year-old rookie, is batting .326 with 16 RBIs in 28 games. Starting in the cleanup spot for the first time, he drew a walk and delivered the game's pivotal hit.

"I think we're all amazed every single day," Washington ace Max Scherzer said. "He puts together great ABs. He has antics and has some flair. He's a great young player. He's just enjoying himself."

Bryce Harper led off the eighth with a double off Mychal Givens (0-4) and Trea Turner followed with a single. After Anthony Rendon struck out, Soto hit a liner into the gap in left-center.

"He's got unbelievable poise," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said of Soto. "No matter what the situation is, he goes out there with a game plan."

Whatever that plan is, it's effective.

"I just try to be focused and keep working," Soto said.

Rendon homered for the Nationals, who received seven strong innings from Scherzer and flawless work from their bullpen.

Newcomer Kelvin Herrera (1-0) pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and Sean Doolittle got three straight outs for his 20th save in 21 tries.

Seeking to end a rare run of two straight losses, Scherzer left a tied game after allowing two runs -- both on solo homers -- and striking out nine.

Afterward, the right-hander heaped praise upon Soto for the manner in which he's adapted to playing in the big leagues.

"He has a great feel for the strike zone," Scherzer said. "To have that type of eye, it's remarkable for him to be able to do that at this time and this age and this level."

Activated from the 60-day disabled list before the game, Colby Rasmus homered for the Orioles in his first at-bat since April 6.

"Me and Max, we go way back, so I felt real good," said Rasmus, who had been sidelined with a hip injury.

In addition, Rasmus made an outstanding throw from right field to the plate, nailing Wilmer Difo on a tag-up play in the seventh inning with the score tied.

Mark Trumbo also homered for Baltimore, his sixth of the season and third in four games.

Baltimore starter Kevin Gausman gave up two runs and four hits over six innings. The right-hander was lifted with the score tied, leaving him winless in his last seven starts.

MORE NATS COVERAGE: 

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How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

While meeting with Oregon's Troy Brown during the pre-draft interview process, evaluators from the Washington Wizards issued him an on-the-spot challenge. Head coach Scott Brooks pulled out a dry-erase clipboard and a pen. He wanted to see Brown draw up a play.

This is a test Brooks has administered before to other players. Some have failed miserably.

"It sounds easy to throw a board at somebody in front of a big group and say 'okay draw a play' and I have seen many plays drawn, and I have seen it where there are not five players on the floor," Brooks said.

That wasn't the case with Brown. He didn't just draw up one play, he drew up several. One in particular came to mind when asked by reporters on Thursday night soon after the Wizards took him 15th overall in the first round of the NBA Draft.

“I think it was a situation where we were down by two or something like that," he said. "It was like a back screen into a slip, and then the fade three and they gave you a lot of various options to cause mismatches on the court for a last minute shot to either go ahead, or even attack the basket for a layup to go into overtime.”

NBC Sports Washington analyst Cory Alexander, a veteran of seven NBA seasons, demonstrated what Brown's play looked like on a whiteboard:

The Xs and Os of basketball flow effortlessly for Brown and Wizards' brass couldn't help but be impressed.

"He really understands the game. I think for a kid that is 18 years old, that is rare but he just has a good feel," Brooks said. 

"We were impressed with his character and the type of person he is and his basketball knowledge," team president Ernie Grunfeld said. "Obviously, like any young player, he has a lot of work to do but he has a lot of the intangibles that I think you need in today's game."

Smarts are a big part of what makes Brown a good basketball player. He isn't a particularly explosive athlete, with a modest 33-inch max vertical leap, but he boasts a 6-foot-10 wingspan and solid agility. Being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to operate an offense helps him make the most of his natural abilities.

Passing is where his basketball IQ comes in handy. Brown is unusually good at distributing for a 6-foot-7 small forward. He averaged 3.2 assists as a freshman at Oregon and nine times had five assists or more in a game.

He can pass like a point guard and the Wizards are excited to implement that skill into their offense.

"Passing is contagious. We’ve been pretty good the last two years and with talking about that how we even want to take another step," Brooks said. "He has the ability to make a lot of quick plays and his ball handling is pretty good for a guy his size. That is one thing I was impressed in his workout last week or when we had him. He is able to take the contact and use his strong frame to get inside the key and make plays.”

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