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No. 1 Alabama coasts into showdown with No. 5 LSU

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No. 1 Alabama coasts into showdown with No. 5 LSU

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) The Southeastern Conference Western Division is getting a jumpstart on the playoff system.

No. 1 Alabama won the semifinal game convincingly, 38-7 over No. 17 Mississippi State, and now moves into the championship round against No. 5 LSU, of course. The winner moves a big step closer to the SEC championship game and perhaps another national title shot.

Not against each other this time, presumably.

``I think at this point in the season it's kind of like the playoffs in a way,'' Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. ``You've got a tough game the next week. You've got a good opponent the next week. You've got somebody in your division that's a really good team.''

He never even had to mention LSU by name in the postgame news conference Saturday night.

The Bulldogs came in unbeaten but trailed 21-0 by the opening minutes of the second quarter. This certainly shapes up to be the Tide's biggest test so far.

Alabama (8-0, 4-0) marches into Baton Rouge Saturday night still having trailed all of 15 seconds in regulation in the past 13 games plus nearly 49 minutes, with few hiccups along the way this season.

Even Saban has to press a bit for issues to harp on. He had told his players and reporters last week they had played better on the road than at Bryant-Denny Stadium, where they've now outscored opponents 146-28.

The Tigers (7-1, 3-1) had an open date since a 24-19 win over No. 16 Texas A&M. The Aggies, who visit Alabama in two weeks, and Mississippi have two league losses each while the Bulldogs have only one and still play LSU.

LSU won 9-6 in overtime in Tuscaloosa last season but Alabama blanked the Tigers 21-0 in the national title game in New Orleans.

``We don't even have to talk about it,'' Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley said. ``You already know what is set for next week's game, based off last year and based off the national championship.

``We just have to treat every game like it's another game. We've just got to be ready for what they bring.''

Alabama has been awfully consistent in doing that to this point, but Mississippi State is its only opponent still in the Top 25.

Against that competition, things have looked easy.

Quarterback AJ McCarron still hasn't thrown an interception, a school-record streak currently at 262 passes dating back to last year's Mississippi State game.

Alabama has forced 23 turnovers and converted them into 17 touchdowns and two field goals. The Tide scored its only two second-half turnovers after a fumble and an interception.

And the defense continues to lead the nation in the major statistical categories despite losing last season's biggest stars to the NFL draft.

Even Saban is pleasantly surprised by that.

``Really for all of the young players we have, if you would have told me that we would be in the position statistically and scoring defense-wise that we are in right now, I would have said, probably, no way,'' he said. ``These guys have really set out with an attitude that they want to prove something and we have had some guys that have really stepped up as playmakers.''

That doesn't mean he wasn't a little steamed when the reserves gave up a late touchdown to prevent a shutout, just as it happened against Florida Atlantic. In that game, fired-up Alabama coaches drew an unsportsmanlike conduct flag for stepping too far onto the field before the late score in a 40-7 victory.

That's just part of coaching `em up.

``I know everybody is probably going to say, `Well, you got upset with the backup players,''' Saban said. ``I got upset with the backup players because they are better than that. They can play better than that. They need to play with poise and confidence when they go in the game and compete just like everybody else competes.

``That's being able to execute and do your job. It's not about shutting anybody out. It's not about any of that. It's about them playing their best football.''

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How one half of assertive basketball may turn around the Wizards' season

How one half of assertive basketball may turn around the Wizards' season

The fat lady wasn’t warming up to sing an operatic number, not with 66 games left in the regular season. Then the flailing Washington Wizards, coming off consecutive double-digit losses, came out flat yet again. They trailed the Los Angeles Clippers by 19 points at halftime some 36 hours after the general public heard about their private quarrels and following weeks of basketball nightmares. 

So, she might have at least begun some mental prep for an upcoming performance. Then came the comeback within the comeback. The Wizards rallied for a 125-118 win when all the world was ready to say sayonara. 

Did Washington indeed save its season by outscoring Los Angeles 71-45 in the second half?

Answering 'yes' presumes all is right with the gang that has struggled to defend throughout the season and possibly has chemistry issues even a family therapist couldn’t fix with thrice-weekly sessions. 

The day began with coach Scott Brooks and the team’s stars addressing leaks of intense arguments among players and a scolding by All-Star John Wall directed to the head coach. There was no spark initially, just a dismal first half that saw them down 24 points and 73-54 at halftime.

The first half served as a season-long microcosm. It’s why rumors of breaking up the team seemed plausible. 

Over the remaining 24 minutes, the Wizards finally woke up. They flew around the court defensively and passed to the open man. The stars played like a team wanting to play each other, willing to do whatever necessary for a win.

John Wall finished with 30 points. Bradley Beal scored 27. Otto Porter grabbed 14 rebounds to go with 11 points. Six players scored in double figures. Everybody ate. 

“That’s how we need to play,” Bradley Beal told NBC Sports Washington.

“Not going to say everything is fixed because we were still down [24 points], still have a lot of work to do. Got a lot of to change and get better. Our effort was there in the second half. That’s the type of intensity we have to have for the full 48.”

Numerous moments and performances stood out in the second half beyond the main players. Tomas Satoransky’s hustle helped begin the turnaround. Thomas Bryant, who started with Dwight Howard sidelined, provided interior energy. Jeff Green dropped 20 points. Markieff Morris, coming off the bench for the first time since Feb. 29, 2016, showed more than in recent games.

One play deep in the fourth quarter showed the difference between 16 games of defensive slumber and Tuesday’s resolve. 

The clock ticked under five minutes with Los Angeles leading 109-107. Clippers forward Tobias Harris crushed the Wizards early and finished with 29 points. He had the ball near the left corner when Wall and Beal sprung an aggressive trap as the shot clock wound down. Morris hustled for support. The late arrival helped. Shot clock violation. The Wizards then took the lead with a Morris 3-pointer. They soon pulled away with an 11-2 run. Their main players showed the way.

“We have to,” Beal said to NBC Sports Washington. “When it’s coming from the main guys. John and I have to give more, more and more. That’s something we realize and tell each other that. That’s that only way we’re going to get out of it. We just have to give more.”

The Thanksgiving holiday provides a natural break.

Washington resumes game action Friday at Toronto. At 6-11, the Wizards have to do, but at least they can catch their breath after a surreal span. 

“It’s a whirlwind. It’s a whirlwind,” said Beal, who remained in the game after suffering a cut over his eye following a head-butt collision with Clippers guard Tyrone Wallace. “We embrace it. Everything is a challenge. It’s adversity. We’ve been in this situation before. We’ve been in this situation where everybody thinks we have an issue. I think we did a great job of ignoring it as best we could. Doing what we could to get a win. A  much-needed win at that.”

Clippers coach Doc Rivers monitors the Wizards because of his son, Austin, Beal’s primary backup. More film work came leading into the second meeting between the teams. Los Angeles hammered Washington 136-104 on Oct. 28. Things were only getting worse for the Wizards. Then came the second half.

“They just forgot about the stuff they’re going through and got back to playing basketball,” Doc Rivers said of the Wizards.

“I’ve always thought that’s what you have to do. Every guy out there on both teams, they played basketball all their lives. Then you get all the, what I call ‘stuff.’ The clutter starts affecting your game. Tonight you could see the clutter was killing them early. Then when they saw they had a chance to win, they started playing basketball again.”

Assume nothing but sunshine and swishes going forward if you must. Ideally, the Wizards do not. They have work remaining. In the second half against the Clippers, Wall, Beal, and crew rose up. In doing so, the fat lady took a seat.

We’ll see for how long.

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Markieff Morris unhappy with leaks coming out of Wizards' locker room

Markieff Morris unhappy with leaks coming out of Wizards' locker room

The Wizards had just completed a 24-point comeback against the L.A. Clippers, but something wasn't sitting right with power forward Markieff Morris.

When asked by a reporter if it was nice to get the win given their recent losing and the media controversy surrounding the team, Morris couldn't help but wonder who it was who leaked comments made by players behind closed doors at a practice last week.

There were very specific quotes cited by several media outlets and Morris wants to know where they came from. 

"It's f***ed up what's going on," he said.

"The comments that's coming from the locker room, that's f***ed up."

Morris went on to say that anonymous sources leaking information shouldn't "happen in sports." Many professional athletes see the locker room and team-only events like practice as sacred. Anyone who breaks that code is, in their eyes, a traitor.

If Morris knew who the information came from, it sounds like he would do something about it.

"I don't know who it is, so it's hard to address. But it's messed up," he said.

Which player or member of the organization spilled the beans could be a question for this team all season. It doesn't sound like Morris will forget that it happened.

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