No. 17 UCLA not looking past Washington State

No. 17 UCLA not looking past Washington State

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) Quarterback Brett Hundley promised that the No. 17 Bruins won't be looking past slumping Washington State on Saturday to the following week's game with rival Southern California.

``This team, we really feel like every game is one week at a time,'' Hundley said. ``We're on to Washington State, and then next week we'll be on to SC. But for right now, it's Washington State and that's all we're worried about.''

That focus has served UCLA (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12) well, as the Bruins lead the Pac-12 South after beating Arizona last week.

Washington State (2-7, 0-6) seems to be falling apart during a six-game losing streak that has prompted coach Mike Leach to describe some of his players as zombies and empty corpses. Star receiver Marquess Wilson is suspended for the UCLA game for storming out during a conditioning drill earlier this week. It's not clear when he will return.

The scene isn't nearly as stormy at UCLA, where first-year coach Jim Mora has the Bruins ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since the 2006 season.

``These guys, ever since we've got here, have worked extremely hard,'' Mora said. ``When you start to experience some success, I think you get anxious to get out there and do it again.''

The Bruins rely on running back Johnathan Franklin, who has 1,208 yards this season and ranks fourth in the nation with an average of 133 yards per game. He is UCLA's career rushing leader with 3,873 yards.

Hundley, a freshman, has thrown for 2,478 yards and 21 touchdowns so far this season, giving the Bruins a balanced attack.

Mora is worried about Leach's Air Raid offense, even though it has yet to click in his first season at Washington State.

``This will be the third week in a row we're going against a team that likes to really spread the field and dish it off to a lot of different guys,'' Mora said. ``Mike Leach does a really good job conceptually in the pass game of making you defend a lot of field, both vertically and horizontally.''

``Even though that record doesn't really reflect it, you see that offense becoming what he wants it to become,'' Mora added.

It began snowing in eastern Washington on Friday, and the night game is likely to be played in 20-degree temperatures. Mora insisted his team is ready for that.

``It doesn't matter,'' Mora said. ``We don't even address it.''

Hundley also said that temperature would not be a factor.

``We can't worry too much about the weather,'' he said. ``I should be able to get warm enough pregame that if I do need to take off, I should have the ability to run.''

Weather is the least of the worries for Washington State, where Leach is still looking for his first conference win.

The Cougars have one of the league's best passing attacks, although they are averaging just 19 points per game.

With Wilson benched, quarterback Jeff Tuel will be looking for Dominique Williams, Gabe Marks and Brett Bartolone to catch balls.

The Cougars have plenty to play for, despite being eliminated from bowl consideration, Tuel said this week.

``I play to win, it's as simple as that,'' he said.

But the Cougars have been frustratingly inconsistent. They've played some of their best football against highly rated teams like Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford. They stumbled badly in losing to Colorado.

``It's tough to put a finger on what makes this team play well some weeks and not well other weeks,'' Tuel said.

Last week they played their worst game of the season, losing 49-6 at Utah.

Afterward, Leach complained that the effort of some players was ``bordering on cowardice.''

``That could have been a zombie convention,'' he said of his team's play.

Leach was asked if the public criticism of his players might be counter-productive.

``Typically, if I am asked a question, I'll give an honest answer,'' Leach said.

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Alex Ovechkin goes for gold before a needed break from hockey

Alex Ovechkin goes for gold before a needed break from hockey

The Capitals’ season ended a month ago, but Alex Ovechkin has yet to take his break.

That will happen soon enough, but for now Washington’s captain is leading Russia at the IIHF World Hockey Championships in Slovakia. After that, he gets his first real rest since the end of the 2016-17 season. He has played in 194 NHL games, including the postseason, in 18 months.  

Ovechkin will turn 34 on Sept. 17 and the questions now start in earnest: How long can one of the world’s greatest goal scorers keep up his pace? Ovechkin recorded his eighth 50-goal season this past season. And while it ended in disappointment with a first-round loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Ovechkin deserved little blame after adding four goals and five assists in the series.

“As a captain and as a leader, I thought he took another step this year from how he showed up to training camp to how he played all year long two-way hockey, commitment and when the games mattered the most,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said last month. “He scored big goals and showed fantastic playmaking ability. A physical force. I'm excited to see what he comes back with now after a little extended time away because he was tremendous this year.”

Washington won the Stanley Cup on June 7 in Las Vegas last year and after a hectic summer of celebrating and, eventually, training, players were back less than three months later for another grind of a season that ended after 89 more regular-season and playoff games. Ovechkin missed just one of them. 

Next year could be another one filled with milestones for Ovechkin. He doesn’t even need 50 to reach them. With 42 goals he reaches 700 for his career. Only seven players have ever hit that mark.  

Ovechkin passes Mario Lemieux (690) with 32 goals and moves into the top 10 all time. He has a reasonable chance to catch Brett Hull for second-most power-play goals (265) in NHL history. Ovechkin has 247 right now and has averaged 17 per year each of the past four seasons.     

At some point, even for Ovechkin, scoring 50 goals will be too much. Only Johnny Bucyk (36) and Jaromir Jagr (34) have ever topped 50 goals at an older age. But if he could just do it one more time he would tie Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy for most 50-goal seasons ever (nine). We’re at the point where nothing should surprise, but we’ve gone off the known map. 

“That's the best I've seen him play in my three years here,” teammate Lars Eller said. “He just took some games over. It was impressive. He was our best player. Him and Nick, but especially O, he just took it to another level. Physicality-wise, he enforced his will out there and when he decides to do that, he's almost unstoppable. That was exciting to see."

Almost everything Ovechkin does now is unprecedented. In the past 20 NHL seasons dating to 1998-99, there have been 28 different 50-goal seasons as scoring has become harder thanks to better goalie play, equipment and more tactical defensive systems. And yet Ovechkin owns 29 percent of those 50-goal seasons. His 89 points (51 goals, 38 assists) were his most since 2009-10.  

For now, Ovechkin will settle for another IIHF World Championship. He has helped Russia win gold at the event three times (2008, 2010 and 2014). 

But Russia was 6-0 heading into the matchup with Sweden on Tuesday night and had outscored its opponents 29-3 in Group B despite just a goal and an assist from Ovechkin. 

There can be wild fluctuations in the competition level during the group stage at Worlds. The Russians beat Italy 10-0 last week. And the United States, Canada and Finland are all formidable opponents in Group A. 

Russia will likely play one of those teams in the quarterfinals on Thursday so nothing is guaranteed. The semifinals would be Saturday if they do win and then the gold-medal game - or the bronze-medal game - would be Sunday. Then, finally, Ovechkin can rest and get ready for his 15th NHL season with two years left on his contract with the Capitals. 

“[Ovechkin] elevated his game in the first round. He's just got a hunger to him to contribute and to score goals,” teammate Brett Connolly said. “You could tell that he was committed and that he was going to give everything he had to win it again. He was great last year and arguably even better this year….This fan base is very lucky to watch what he does on a consistent basis. You're not going to see that ever again. So, enjoy it while it's here.” 


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Tim Connelly explains his interview with Wizards, decision to stay with Nuggets

Tim Connelly explains his interview with Wizards, decision to stay with Nuggets

Tim Connelly sat down with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis about the head front-office opening on Friday.

On Monday, NBC Sports Washington confirmed that he decided to stick with his role as president of basketball operations for the Denver Nuggets

A day later, he spoke to the media at a press conference and answered questions about his meeting with Washington.

Clear in Connelly's comments were his respect for Leonsis, but commitment to continuity in Denver. 

"I had a really nice conversation with Mr. Leonsis and his staff. He's a fantastic owner, I think a real visionary. I was really impressed by who he was and his thoughts for the team. That team's going to be special quickly under his leadership. We just had a conversation and not much more than that."

As for the reason for the discussion with Leonsis, Connelly said it came down to his love for the franchise. 

"I spent 14 years there. Certainly it's where I'm from, it's where my wife's from, so I just wanted to have the conversation because I care about the organization," he said.

"I'd never had an audience with [Leonsis], so to have that conversation and exchange of ideas, you know, it's flattering." 

Ultimately, however, the Baltimore native emphasized that Washington couldn't entice him away from the franchise he'd spent the last six years building. 

"Loyalty and patience is such a rarity in professional sports and that's here in spades. Those things matter to me," he said. "I had a hard time envisioning myself elsewhere."

With Connelly out of the picture, the list of candidates for the Wizards front-office opening is narrowing. Currently, Tommy Sheppard, Danny Ferry and Troy Weaver remain in the conversation.