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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What winning the Stanley Cup would actually mean, a fan's perspective

What winning the Stanley Cup would actually mean, a fan's perspective

Just four more wins. It hardly seems possible.

For only the second time ever and for the first time in 20 years, the Capitals will be playing in the Stanley Cup Final. And they could actually win it.

They’re not there yet. The Vegas Golden Knights have cruised through the playoffs thus far and continue to shock the hockey community with their postseason run. Washington’s players need to think about how to beat Vegas, not what happens after.

But while the players cannot and should not look ahead, for fans, it’s hard not to. It’s hard not to dream about that moment when Gary Bettman hands the Stanley Cup over to Alex Ovechkin.

Winning the conference is always a huge achievement that should be celebrated, but this year is different than 1998’s run. Back in 1998, the Caps played against a Detroit Red Wings team that is one of the greatest teams in NHL history. They were the defending champions after sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers the year before. Washington suffered the same fate as the Flyers, losing in just four games.

This year is a battle between two more evenly matched teams. Picking the Caps to win this series is not outlandish or crazy at all. This year, they could actually do it.

So before the puck drops for Game 1 and all dreams are pushed aside for the realities of what may happen, allow a fan a chance to think about what seeing the Washington Capitals actually hoist the Stanley Cup would actually mean.

Breaking news: Washington is not Canada and the Capitals are not an original six team. Hockey is not ingrained in the culture of D.C. the way it is in Canadian cities or in places like Boston and Detroit. Unlike in Vegas where the success of the team in its inaugural season has caught the city by storm, the Capitals won only eight games in their first year. Eight wins doesn’t exactly help a team grow roots in the community.

If you’ve been a fan of the Capitals long enough, chances are you’ve seen some pretty tough times. There have been plenty of playoff disappointments in this team’s history even before the current era. There was also the rebuild that began before the lockout that saw a very bad team play in front of a half empty stadium for several years. And they would not have even gotten to that point without the “Save the Caps” campaign in 1982.

But through it all, that small group of hardcore fans kept coming back. Some may have wavered from time to time, but they came back because being a hockey fan is different than other sports.

It’s hard to be a sports fan in any city with an NFL team and not follow football. Football may not even be your sport, but there is almost on obligation to following it because coverage and interest in football is so prevalent. It’s hard to avoid.

You have to seek out hockey

Hockey at times has been viewed as more of a niche sport than mainstream. Before the age of Alex Ovechkin, if you were from Washington and you were following the Caps, it was because you loved both.

So why did those Caps fans keep coming back after so much heartbreak? Because despite all of the disappointing seasons we always walked away telling ourselves, this will just make it that much sweeter when they do win.

One day, it will all be worth it.

That’s why we watch sports, isn’t it? We watch with the knowledge that sometimes, our hearts will be broken but it’s OK because the good will always outweigh the bad. And the worse the bad times are, the better the good times will feel afterward.

We kept telling ourselves that for a long time, but admittedly some years were tougher to get past than others. It’s hard to keep believing when you’ve seen your rival beat you nine times out of 10 in the playoffs heading into this year’s postseason. It’s hard when a team cannot seem to overcome its playoff history despite having one of the best players of all-time on its roster.

When Ovechkin was drafted, the question we all asked ourselves was not whether he would bring a Cup to Washington, but how many? He brought new fans with him, he brought excitement with him, he brought validation with him…at least initially.

But with every passing year, doubt began to creep into our minds. The upset loss to Montreal in 2010 stung, but Ovechkin was still 24. There was still hope that one day, he would still win the Cup.

Now at 32 years old, many did not know what to expect from the Great 8 this year. When would decline start to show in his game?

Ovechkin is part of why we want the Cup so badly. We want to see the best player in this franchise’s history honored. We want to see the player who transformed hockey in Washington from niche sport to mainstream take his proper place in the sport’s history. No one wants to hear him described as one of the best players to never win a Cup because he should be remembered as one of the best players, period.

But that’s not all of it.

This is about all those times we told ourselves this would all be worth it someday. This is about how we used to cope with the sting of another postseason heartbreak by thinking about what it would feel like when it was finally our year. This is about how we stuck with the team when the stadium was half empty. This is about the blue jersey in our closet with the eagle on the front and the black one hanging next to it with the capitol building on the front. This is about all the 5, 12, 32 and 37 jerseys. This is about replacing Esa Tikkanen as our lasting Stanley Cup memory.

When the Washington Redskins have a rough year, those fans who can remember them think about those three Super Bowl wins. When the Washington Wizards fall short, those fans who can remember it think about the championship in 1978. Even if you’re too young to remember the Super Bowls or NBA championship, those banners still give your team a sense of validation. They have their little piece of history to be proud of.

That’s what this would mean. A Stanley Cup would be not just for the players, it would be for the fans who stuck it out through thick and thin, those fans who despite everything still supported their team. This win would be about the Capitals forever earning their spot in the heart of Washington sports alongside the Redskins and Wizards.

This would be about never having to tell ourselves again that someday all the love we pour into this team will pay off.

A Stanley Cup would mean finally getting to experience a championship and realizing, yeah, it was all worth it.

Let’s go Caps!


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Capital One Bank just made a Caps-themed update to its logo and we're here for it

Capital One Bank just made a Caps-themed update to its logo and we're here for it

Capital One is repping the district in a big way: by changing their logo to incorporate the Capitals' font and name. 

The new Capital One logo appears on the bank's websites and social media ahead of the Caps' Stanley Cup Final games, which begin on Memorial Day Monday in Vegas.

The McLean, Virginia, based bank recently purchased the naming rights to the Capitals' home arena, formerly known as "Verizon Center." And in the first year of its renaming, the Capitals have advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years. Coincidence? 

We've seen a small, Northern Virginia town change its name to "Capitalsville," and now Capital One Bank is all-in for the Caps.