Nationals

Mora not ready to take bows for UCLA's big season

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Mora not ready to take bows for UCLA's big season

LOS ANGELES (AP) Jim Mora isn't even thinking about the Victory Bell, let alone a victory lap for his outstanding debut season at UCLA.

Although Mora's players say he has done more in 10 games to close UCLA's football gap with Southern California than Rick Neuheisel accomplished in the previous four years, the veteran coach wants none of the credit. Mora isn't taking any bows while his No. 17 Bruins (8-2, 5-2) are getting ready to play the No. 21 Trojans with the Pac-12 South title going to the winner.

``I'm just proud of the program, and that we put ourselves in this spot,'' Mora said. ``The players, they've worked hard since the spring. They've stayed focused. They've done everything we've asked them to do, and so they put themselves in this position. I don't think about it personally, about myself. I don't think that way. I just try to do my best every day.''

Yet UCLA has returned to national relevance during the brief tenure of Mora, the longtime NFL coach who has adapted to the college game almost seamlessly. With one more victory, Mora will match Terry Donahue's nine wins in 1976 for the most by a first-year UCLA coach.

His players' next goal is to put some parity back in their Victory Bell rivalry with the Trojans (7-3, 5-3), who are ranked lower than UCLA and sporting a poorer record in the Los Angeles schools' annual meeting for the first time since 2001. USC ushered Neuheisel out of town last year with a 50-0 victory, the biggest margin since 1930.

``We know who we're playing,'' linebacker Dalton Hilliard said. ``It's another stepping stone for us to prove ourselves, to get our names back in the running for the BCS and for the top teams in the nation. But you can't play this game any differently than any other game this year.''

Indeed, Saturday isn't about ending UCLA's five-game skid in the rivalry for Mora. The Washington alumnus has no ancestral stake in the crosstown rivalry, except for his memories of the 1974 game at the Coliseum during his father's sole season as an assistant coach at UCLA, when Mora was 12 years old.

Mora only cares about the game in the context of improvement and growth for his freshman-packed team. After dozens of 16-game seasons in the NFL, Mora is trained to maintain equanimity during a regular season, never getting too interested or too dispassionate.

He knows it's entirely another thing to sell that concept to teenage football players, but Mora is trying.

``They listen to us as coaches when we ask them to ignore the hype, and they do the best they can,'' Mora said. ``I know they're excited, though. They should be excited. It's an exciting time. They're 8-2, and they have a chance to play our crosstown rival for a chance to go to the Pac-12 championship. They should be excited, but they still have to keep it in perspective. We've got to focus on the process.''

The process is working out splendidly for the Bruins so far. Along with its highest ranking in the Top 25 in nearly seven years, UCLA is also No. 17 in the BCS rankings, its highest mark since Dec. 4, 2005.

After surging to a huge lead and holding off a late comeback for a 44-36 victory at chilly Washington State last Saturday, the Bruins have won four straight for the first time since 2005. UCLA is an impressively well-rounded team, with freshman quarterback Brett Hundley's offense complemented well by Mora's opportunistic defense, which is averaging nearly four sacks per game.

The Bruins still don't get a wealth of attention in Los Angeles, where USC coach Lane Kiffin's collection of high-profile talent and off-field drama dominates the casual fan talk. But UCLA's season has been a pleasure for right guard Jeff Baca and other upperclassmen who have spent their careers in USC's shadow.

``I'm very excited for the future of this program as long as coach Mora is here,'' said Baca, the only current starter on the UCLA offensive line who played against USC last year. ``His intensity for the game, his knowledge of the game, everything is top-notch, and that's sincere. Unfortunately, I only have a few games left for him.''

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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.

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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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