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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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NBA, NBAPA agree to move up start of free agency by six hours

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NBA, NBAPA agree to move up start of free agency by six hours

The Woj bombs are gonna start dropping a little earlier this year. 

The NBA and the NBA Players Association announced Friday that the two parties have agreed to move up the start of free agency by six hours. Teams can now begin negotiating with free agents at 6 p.m. ET on June 30 instead of having to wait until 12:01 ET on July 1. 

The move ensures fans -- and eternally grateful media members -- don't have to stay up until midnight waiting for the madness that is NBA free agency to begin. As Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports put it, this is "quite possibly the best thing to happen with NBA free agency in years!" 

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What to know about the Washington Mystics season opener

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What to know about the Washington Mystics season opener

The Mystics reached their first WNBA Finals in franchise history in 2018 but were swept by the Seattle Storm in the championship series.

Elle Delle Donne -- who was recently named in WNBA.com's GM survey as the favorite to win league MVP -- is back for her third season in Washington.

Though she is out for the opener, Delle Donne believes the team is ready to make another run at the title thanks to the return of All-Star forward Emma Meesseman. 

Earlier Friday, the Mystics announced their final 12-woman roster for the 2019 season. Delle Donne and guard Kristi Toliver headline a team that includes nine returners from the 2018 team, as well as Meesseman, who played for the Mystics from 2013-17 but sat out in 2018 to focus on playing for the Belgian national team. The final roster spots went to WNBA rookies Kiara Leslie and Kim Mestdagh.

According to ESPN, the Mystics, Los Angeles Sparks and Las Vegas Aces are the favorites to win the championship this season.

The WNBA's 23rd season kicks of Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET when the Atlanta Dream host the Dallas Wings.

MYSTICS VS. SUN HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Mystics vs. Connecticut Sun, Regular Season Game 1

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

Live Stream: You can live stream on WNBA's League Pass website by signing up for a free trial

NBC Sports Washington will be broadcasting 10 Mystics home games during the 2019 WNBA season. For the full regular season schedule, click here.

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