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Farley takes long route to BCS title game

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Farley takes long route to BCS title game

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) Matthias Farley's path to the BCS title game is far from conventional.

He'll start at safety for top-ranked Notre Dame on Monday night, when the Fighting Irish take on No. 2 Alabama to decide this season's college football national champion.

That notion would have seemed impossible four years ago.

It didn't even look all that likely even four months ago. Yet here he is, a rookie in terms of playing defense, set to potentially take on a huge role in the BCS title game.

``He's a great player and he's done a great job so far,'' said Notre Dame safety Zeke Motta, who starts alongside Farley. ``I wouldn't expect anything less. His preparation and how he's approached that transition, I think it's been great. He's definitely accepted the challenge.''

And that challenge was a daunting one.

To fully understand why Farley's role has been such a key for Notre Dame this season, the calendar would have to be flipped back four years to when he decided to give up soccer and play football - for the first time. He went from the pitch to the pigskin as a high school junior, wound up catching 74 passes for more than 1,500 yards and 22 touchdowns in his two seasons at that level, and was part of Brian Kelly's first full recruiting class with the Fighting Irish.

Once he got to Notre Dame, however, he just couldn't get on the field as a receiver.

So he switched to safety. And then starter Jamoris Slaughter was lost for the season with an Achilles injury. Farley was put in the lineup and never looked back.

``He's not afraid of anything, any challenge,'' Kelly said. ``If you ask him if he's got a tape of Portuguese, he'll learn Portuguese. You know what I mean? There's nothing that he looks at and says, `I can't do this.' He's got so much pride and so much confidence in himself that any task that you ask him to do, he's going to find a way.''

Against Alabama, Farley will need to do just that.

The Crimson Tide has thrown for 27 touchdowns this season and averages 38.5 points per game. Notre Dame's scoring defense leads the nation, allowing only 10.3 points per game (a mere 0.4 points better than Alabama's defense).

``Having people like Zeke Motta and Jamoris Slaughter there to get guidance from, to get advice from, they have all been huge parts of my development,'' said Farley, who also credited assistant coaches Bob Elliott and Kerry Cooks. ``And then just putting in the work myself, actually wanting to go meet with coaches after and see what I can work on and all that kind of stuff. A lot of it is just having great people around me to help develop me.''

Then again, some of it is simply personal commitment as well.

Farley broke his right hand on Oct. 27 in Notre Dame's win against Oklahoma. An injury like that could keep someone sidelined for many weeks.

Farley didn't even miss many days.

Broke the hand on Saturday, had surgery to insert two plates and six screws on the following Tuesday, practiced the next day and played that weekend against Pittsburgh - the game in which the Irish needed three overtimes before keeping the undefeated season and national-title hopes alive with a 29-26 win.

And Kelly said Farley played a big role in that.

``The kid broke his hand, had surgery and played the same week,'' Kelly said. ``Now the first half, he didn't play very well because he was still thinking about his hand. He was challenged at halftime and came back and played great football in the second half. He's just a special kid that when you challenge him he's going to come through for you.''

That seems to be a trend in the Notre Dame secondary.

The majority of the group seems to be converted receivers, like Farley. He had some growing pains this season - he got beaten for what should have been a long early touchdown for Miami in their game in October, but caught a break when the ball was dropped. Yet the Irish say he got better every week.

``Having been on offense, you can kind of think of how the receiver thinks,'' Farley said. ``But you don't necessarily know where they're going to go.''

Seems kind of fitting, since four years ago, Farley had no idea he'd be going to the BCS title game.

---

Associated Press Writer Tom Coyne in South Bend, Ind. contributed to this story.

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What makes Alex Ovechkin so hard to stop?

What makes Alex Ovechkin so hard to stop?

With Alex Ovechkin’s one-game suspension over, the NHL now once again faces the seemingly impossible task of trying to find a way to stop the Great 8. Even at 34 years old, Ovechkin remains one of the top goal scorers in the NHL with 34 on the season. He is currently on pace for 56 goals which is almost unfathomable for a player of his age.

Many players in the NHL catch fire before defenses begin to figure them out or until Father Time catches up to them. Coaches and defenses figure out ways to keep star players in check. But not Ovechkin.

“You feel like you're covering him, but he always finds a way,” Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi said. “He needs just a tiny bit of room to score goals and that's why he has so many goals.”

Not only is Ovechkin the leading active scorer in the NHL by a wide margin -- he leads second place Patrick Marleau by 133 goals -- but he is such a prolific scorer that he could potentially make a run at the untouchable goal record held by Wayne Gretzky.

It is not as if Ovechkin is catching anyone by surprise at this point. Teams know what they are in for when they play the Caps and still they cannot find a way to slow down this grey-haired, 34-year-old veteran player.

It is not hard to figure out the biggest reason for Ovechkin's success: his shot. Once Ovechkin gets his shot off, it is hard for a goalie to get in front of it.

“He's not afraid to put anything on net,” Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck said. “He's got a really good release and if you give him space, he'll take it and he'll make you pay for it.”

“It kind of curves, changing direction every time so it's pretty hard to stop for a goalie,” Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy said. “Like knuckleball, right? So it's very hard to stop.”

Knowing that his shot is so lethal, the focus of a defense must be to prevent him from getting his shot away in the first place. Doing that, however, is easier said than done.

“It's always a challenge playing against him,” Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “He's got that mean streak to his game. When he's coming at full speed it's going to hurt. He gets physical, he gets into the game more. He's always going to get scoring changes, that's how good they are as a team and that's how good he is.”

“He just can score from anywhere inside the blue line so you've got to get up on him,” Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano said. “ It's been pretty impressive to watch him over the years. You sort of think teams would come up with a gameplan to stop him, but you can't.”

That’s a feeling Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy can relate to.

“[The power play] is where I think you have the biggest challenge with that group of five guys and how to frustrate him, maybe to taking that shot away,” Cassidy said. “Five-on-five, we'll play him like anybody else, try to get a body on him as much as possible.”

It is essentially accepted around the league that if you give Ovechkin an opportunity with the puck, he is going to be able to find a way to get his shot off and get on the scoresheet. He does not need much room to shoot and when he does, it's lethal.

There is only so much you can do when a power forward of Ovechkin's size comes barreling down on you. If you play him too tight, he can create space with his physicality. Play him too loose and he will fire shots from anywhere.

That leaves a defense with only a few strategies.

“Try to keep the puck out of his hand is one thing, stay out of the box is another thing,” Hedman said. “He's got that quick release, he's got that one-timer down to a T obviously. … It's just trying to eliminate them to a few a game. You look at a game sheet and he's got 14 shot attempts and two goals. A good player's going to find the net if they get that many chances, so try to eliminate the shot attempts and try to keep the puck out of his hands.”

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The Big Twenty: The rise and fall of Gilbert Arenas

The Big Twenty: The rise and fall of Gilbert Arenas

For the next two weeks, NBC Sports Washington will be rolling out the 20 biggest stories in DMV sports in the past 20 years. Here is No. 14.

When asked to point out when Gilbert Arenas' downfall began, most would cite his infamous decision to bring guns into the Wizards locker room in Dec. 21, 2009. But those who followed his career closely know the turning point was actually on April 4, 2007.
 
That night the Wizards were playing the Charlotte Bobcats when forward Gerald Wallace missed a layup in traffic and fell into Arenas' left knee, tearing his medial collateral ligament (MCL). Even at the time, the injury did not seem as daunting as a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or Achilles tendon, yet little did we know Arenas would never be the same.
 
That moment was the beginning of the end of one of the most promising careers in the NBA at the time. Arenas rose to stardom quickly, but he crashed just as fast, leaving many to this day wondering what could have been.
 
Arenas' ascension began with the Golden State Warriors, where he went from a second-round draft pick to the NBA's most improved player in 2002-03 to free agency, all in a span of two years. Due to a loophole in the league's collective bargaining agreement that has since been changed, Arenas was able to bolt from the Warriors and sign for more money with the Wizards.
 
By his second year in Washington, Arenas was an NBA All-Star. And by his third year he was competing for scoring titles, averaging 29.3 points per game, second in franchise history only to Walt Bellamy's 31.6 in 1961-62.
 
The Wizards had been to the playoffs just once in 16 years before 2005 when Arenas helped lead them to three straight postseason runs. He made All-NBA three times, the first Wizards/Bullets player to do so since Elvin Hayes in the 1970s. The only other Wizards player to make All-NBA this century was John Wall and he's done it once.
 
Arenas wasn't simply an NBA star, either. He was a showman with a knack for coming through in big moments. He made a series of buzzer-beaters during the brief time he was at his peak powers, including one to win a playoff game against the Chicago Bulls in 2005.
 
Arenas had many other clutch shots during the regular season, including one against the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 3, 2007 when he turned and casually walked away, as if he knew it was going in. He made fans who showed up to the arena always feel like they could see something special that night.
 
Arenas holds the franchise record for points in a single game with 60, set on Dec. 17, 2006 on a night the late Kobe Bryant famously said Arenas had "no conscience." That game fell within a 30-day stretch where Arenas scored 50 points or more three times. Just six days later, after dropping 60 at Staples Center, he scored 54 against the Steve Nash-led Phoenix Suns, one of the best NBA teams of that decade.
 
To understand just how special Arenas was as a scorer, just look at this list. Here are the only players since 2000 to score 50 points or more three times within a single season: Bryant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson. Arenas is the only one who won't end up in the Hall of Fame. That's how good of an offensive player he was. 
 
Arenas’ size and strength for a point guard, 6-foot-4 with broad shoulders, was a major match-up problem. He was before his time in that regard, a bully at the position years before big point guards like Wall and Westbrook became commonplace.
 
Arenas combined that strength with a cat-quick first step and deep shooting range that pushed the boundaries of what was possible. He could pull up from 35 feet and sink a jump shot or put the ball on the floor and muscle his way to the rim. That combination led to him being one of the best in the game at getting to the free-throw line, where he shot 80.3 percent for his career. He averaged as many as 10 free throws per game back in 2005-06.
 
All those factors made Arenas one of the most gifted scorers of his generation. Several years ago, former teammate Caron Butler compared his game to Harden's and it's easy to see why. A lot of what we see today from Harden and other elite deep shooters like Curry and Atlanta’s Trae Young has roots in Arenas’ days in Washington.
 
There was also Arenas’ personality which, though quirky and with a dark side that would later reveal itself in full, helped make him a larger-than-life superstar. He would light up opposing teams, then deliver front-page quotes afterward. Lines like “my swag was phenomenal” and “hibachi” were part of his legend.
 
Unfortunately, Arenas' career can't be explained without including a wide variety of negative storylines. His knee injury was followed by a frustrating saga between him and the Wizards’ medical staff. His post-playing career has been marred by controversial statements and a disconnect with the Wizards franchise. And, of course, there is the gun incident in the locker room at Capital One Arena, among the most ill-advised off-court decisions in league history.
 
Arenas lived an eventful, yet incomplete NBA life. His career was over at age 30. If he had only stayed healthy, and out of his own way, maybe he would have ended up in the Hall of Fame. Maybe he would have led the Wizards to places they haven’t been in decades. We’ll never know. All we can do is continue to marvel at his extraordinary rise-and-fall, even all these years later.