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No. 3 Kentucky still has some growing up to do

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No. 3 Kentucky still has some growing up to do

ATLANTA (AP) For the Kentucky Wildcats, these are the necessary growing pains.

Clearly, they have as much talent as anyone in the country - who couldn't think that after watching Alex Poythress put on a dunk-a-thon against Duke - but they're still learning just what it takes to win at this level.

The Blue Devils provided the schooling Tuesday night.

Senior guard Seth Curry scored 23 points and No. 9 Duke held off a furious comeback by the third-ranked Wildcats, preserving a 75-68 victory at the Georgia Dome.

Both teams hope to return to Atlanta in April, when the Final Four will be held in the same building.

``I wouldn't mind having some of their guys,'' Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. ``And I'm sure they would like to have some of our guys.''

The Blue Devils relied heavily on their experience to hold off coach John Calipari's latest group of stellar freshmen, who nearly came all the way back from a 14-point deficit in the second half.

Even so, Calipari actually sounded happier about the way his kids played in a loss than he did after their season-opening win over Maryland.

``We're getting better,'' he said. ``This team just had some seniors. But we had a chance.''

Calipari scanned the scoresheet and was pleased with the way the shots were spread around. Among the starters, everyone had between five and 12 attempts.

``That's pretty good. They're sharing,'' he said. ``What they don't understand is how hard they have to play every possession, how a minute and a half can cost you a game. They don't know it yet. It's never been important to them. Our job is to teach them. We've got to get them in stronger shape mentally and physically.''

Duke (2-0) appeared to be in control, even with Mason Plumlee on the bench in foul trouble. The Blue Devils ripped off a 13-3 run, capped by Rasheed Sulaimon's 3-pointer that made it 58-44 with 9 1/2 minutes remaining.

But Kentucky (1-1) wasn't done, rallying like a defending champ even though this is essentially a whole new team in Calipari's one-and-done system. The Wildcats outscored Duke 17-6 over the next six minutes and actually had a chance to tie it.

Julius Mays missed a 3-pointer with the Blue Devils clinging to a 64-61 lead.

Curry made sure youthful Kentucky didn't get any closer. He blew past Archie Goodwin on a drive - using a pump fake to get by the freshman guard - that essentially clinched the win.

This was the first meeting between the storied programs since 2001. In the stands, Christian Laettner cheered on his alma mater, a reminder of perhaps the most famous game in the series - the 1992 NCAA regional final, in which Duke's Grant Hill heaved a long pass to Laettner, who turned and sank a buzzer-beating jumper that sent the Blue Devils on to their second straight national title.

There were no such heroics in this one.

Poythress led Kentucky with 20 points, soaring over the Blue Devils for several dunks, including a thunderous one-handed slam off a missed jumper by Mays. Nerlens Noel and Goodwin added 16 points apiece. All are freshmen, with plenty of room to grow before tournament time.

This was a good starting point, getting a chance to play in a doubleheader featuring four of the nation's best teams. In the opener, No. 21 Michigan State knocked off No. 7 Kansas 67-64.

``I think we learned a lot about ourselves,'' Noel said. ``When you go up against a team like Duke, you've got to bring it every possession. Tonight was a learning process.''

Calipari wasn't happy with his team's effort against Maryland - especially on the boards. They were outrebounded 54-38 by the Terrapins, including 28 at the offensive end.

That was simply unacceptable given Kentucky's vaunted frontcourt featuring the 6-foot-10 Noel and 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein.

Rebounding wasn't as much of an issue this time - Duke finished with a 31-30 edge - but the experienced Blue Devils showed a bit more poise down the stretch.

``Nerlens played way more aggressive than he did against Maryland,'' Calipari said. ``When we got it to three I said, `We're going to win this.' They just made their free throws.''

After Duke let Kentucky back in the game by continuing to put up errant jumpers, Curry finally changed things up. He gave a slight fake and took off for the hoop with just over 2 minutes remaining, forcing Goodwin to grab him by the arm. The senior knocked down both ends of the one-and-one, pushing Duke to a 66-61 lead with 2:04 remaining.

Poythress gave the Wildcats a semblance of hope, putting back a missed shot, but Curry blew by Goodwin again for a layin that made it 68-63 with 1:13 left and essentially sealed it. Calipari called a timeout and screamed at Goodwin as the freshman walked toward the bench.

In the final minute, Curry added two more free throws to finish off the Wildcats.

``I had it going,'' he said, ``so they kept coming to me.''

Kentucky still must address the same point guard questions it had before the opener. Sophomore transfer Ryan Harrow has been suffering from flu-like symptoms and didn't even make the trip to Atlanta, ruining a chance to impress the home folks. He played his high school ball in suburban Marietta.

Mays, a graduate student, started in place of Harrow but had only seven points and three assists.

Calipari said he shouldn't have played Harrow against Maryland. As it was, the guard was only able to go 10 minutes. Now, while the team awaits the results of blood tests, the coach vowed not to play him again until he's fully recovered.

``He said he could go, but he wasn't ready,'' Calipari said. ``We need to get him healthy.''

In the meantime, he hopes the loss will benefit the Wildcats down the road.

``If this is what we look like in December and January, this is not going to be the team everybody thinks,'' Calipari said. ``We have to figure out exactly how we're going to play - then get after it.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Trotz's future in Washington remains unsettled on eve Stanley Cup Final

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USA TODAY Sports

Trotz's future in Washington remains unsettled on eve Stanley Cup Final

Caps Coach Barry Trotz doesn’t have a contract beyond the Stanley Cup Final, and any potential talks about an extension will wait until the trophy is awarded, GM Brian MacLellan said Friday.

“No,” MacLellan said, asked if a decision on Trotz’s future had been made. “We’re going to address everything after the playoffs are over.”

Trotz’s four-year contract expires at season’s end.

It’s rare for a head coach to enter a season while in the final year of his deal. But that’s how the Caps decided to handle Trotz’s situation last offseason after another strong regular season performance ended with yet another second round playoff exit at the hands of the Penguins.

It was a suboptimal situation for Trotz, a 55-year-old who ranks fifth all-time in regular season victories but, until this year, had never led any team beyond the conference semifinals.

Despite his lame duck status, all Trotz did was produce his best coaching performance to date. 

Consider:

  • While visiting his son in Russia last summer, Trotz visited Alex Ovechkin in Moscow to discuss the changes he’d like to see the Caps’ captain make to his training and his game.
  • When the Caps reconvened for training camp in September, it was clear there were still some hurt feelings in the locker room. So Trotz and his assistants backed off, allowing some necessary healing to occur.
  • When the team suffered back-to-back blowout losses in Nashville and Colorado back in November, Trotz initiated a tell-it-like-it-is team meeting that many players have pointed to as the turning point of the regular season, which ended with the team’s third straight Metropolitan title.
  • Trotz also got his highly-skilled lineup to buy into a more structured, detailed style of play late in the campaign, a transformation that prompted MacLellan to call this playoff run the most defensively responsible of Trotz’s tenure.
  • In each of the two previous conference semifinals, Washington was defeated by Pittsburgh and, as a result, the Penguins had become a physical and a mental hurdle for the Caps. Earlier this month, Trotz helped direct Ovechkin and Co. past the two-time Cup champions.

Although MacLellan wouldn’t say much about Trotz’s contract, he did say that he’s noticed a big change in Trotz’s day-to-day approach to his job, a change possibly prompted by the coach’s free agent status.

“I think his demeanor has changed a little bit,” MacLellan said. “He seems a little lighter, a little looser, a little less pressure. Maybe a little more freedom about how he goes about things. He’s more relaxed, I guess would be the way to describe him.”

MacLellan also acknowledged the job Trotz’s has done this season, beginning with his delicate handling of the dressing room to start the year.

“I think he’s done a good job managing it,” MacLellan said. “To come in this year with so many questions—from my point of view, the lineup questions weren’t that big of a deal—but just the emotional state of our coming into to start the year [and] how to handle that. I think he’s done an outstanding job.”

Indeed, Trotz’s situation remains unclear on the eve of the Final. But we do know this much: He’s having one of the best contract years in NHL coaching history.

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Small Virginia town changes name to Capitalsville ahead of Stanley Cup Final

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FB/The Town of Lovettsville

Small Virginia town changes name to Capitalsville ahead of Stanley Cup Final

Welcome to Capitalsville, Va., population: #ALLCAPS

Hoping to become the Washington Capitals' Stanley Cup headquarters, the small Northern Virginia town of Lovettsville has renamed itself to Capitalsville, Va.

Caps superfan and Mayor of Lovettsville, Bob Zoldos, had a lightbulb moment while watching Game 7 in a local bar and restaurant, Velocity Wings. Overcome with emotion from the win, he decided to take his idea to the town council meeting Thursday and Capitalsville was born after a unanimous vote to "unleash the fury."

This is not the first time name changes have occurred ahead of a big game. Ahead of the Caps' first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Blue Jacket Brewery located in downtown D.C. changed its Twitter handle to "Grujacket Brewery" in support of goaltender Philipp Grubauer.

The name change from Lovettsville to Capitalsville is temporary, with the plan to keep the new name through the end of the Stanley Cup Final. However, Zoldos hopes the sign brings in other Caps superfans from across the DMV to take in a piece of history 20 years in the making. 

Here's to hoping Capitalsville brings the city some luck heading into Game 1 on Memorial Day.

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