No. 4 Notre Dame tries to keep its focus vs Pitt


No. 4 Notre Dame tries to keep its focus vs Pitt

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Fourth-ranked Notre Dame and Pittsburgh are looking to avoid distractions on Saturday.

The Fighting Irish (8-0) tried all week to distance themselves from talk about possibly playing for their first national championship since 1988. They skipped discussions about how the 2002 team stumbled at this same point.

They've done their best to escape the demand for tickets - and their time - that friends and family have created leading up to recent games at Notre Dame Stadium, where the Irish haven't been as dominant as they have been on the road.

It's a problem that perplexes the Irish. Notre Dame's average margin of victory at home is five points and away from South Bend it's 28 points. Coach Brian Kelly said he believes the Irish have to raise the intensity at home.

``I think teams that come into Notre Dame Stadium play their very, very best. We have to match that intensity,'' he said.

The biggest differences for the Irish at Notre Dame Stadium and away are turnovers, penalties and their rushing offense and defense. Seven of Notre Dame's eight turnovers have occurred at home and the Irish have committed 27 penalties at home and 15 away. Meanwhile, the Irish are averaging 110 yards a game more away from South Bend while the defense is holding opponents to 41.5 yards a game less away from South Bend.

``I don't know. That's the same thing we talked about this week. We have to come with the same energy at home as we do on the road,'' Kelly said.

The Panthers (4-4) have a different sort of distraction after leading rusher Ray Graham, leading receiver Devin Street and defensive back Lafayette Pitts were charged Thursday with misdemeanor counts of simple assault and conspiracy involving three other students. The players deny being involved and will play on Saturday.

Left tackle Zack Martin and other Irish players say playing in hostile stadiums might help motivate them.

``When you come out you hear a bunch of people yelling at you, booing you, it amps you up a little more,'' cornerback Bennett Jackson said. ``I don't think that has anything to do with playing home or away. I think people lose mental focus.''

Kelly believes part of the problem is the time demands from parents and friends of players at home, saying he saw several players giving tours of the athletic complex on the day before the last home game against Brigham Young. He's trying to take steps to guard against that.

``We want to make sure that Friday and Saturday is not the Super Bowl, parents asking for tickets. Friends wanting, `Can you take me on a tour,''' Kelly said.

Another distraction is all the talk about Notre Dame possibly having its best season in two decades. Jackson concedes it's hard to avoid the big picture talk because that's what everyone on campus is interested in.

``You can't look at it because if you look at it and you look past something you won't reach the goals you want to reach,'' he said.

The Irish also are trying to avoid the fate of the 2002 team that started 8-0, then was upset by unranked Boston College following a big win at Florida State.

Coming off a big win at Oklahoma last week, Kelly said he didn't plan on talking to his team about that past history. One player who didn't need to be taught a lesson is center Braxton Cave, who grew up a die-hard Irish fan in nearby Mishawaka. He remembers watching the loss to Boston College.

``I think I recall throwing something through a window at the house,'' he said.

But he said he hasn't talked about that game with teammates.

``Because right now this team is focused one game at a time. Everybody knows. Everybody knows it's one game at a time and this is the most important game,'' he said.

Another distraction for Kelly is the team's health. A week ago, tailback George Atkinson III missed the Oklahoma game because he was sick. Kelly said a few more players were ill this week.

``Everybody should dress on game day. We'll see. But it's not an epidemic. It's not going to knock out four, five, six guys,'' he said. ``If one guy is affected by it at all, it will be just minimizing some of his reps.''

Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst also is concerned about another distraction, that his team could get caught up in focusing on the role of being a spoiler.

``All that stuff is really good for the game and you love the interest, but the game stands on its own. We can play this game and it would be a great game if no one was in the stands and they weren't talking about it on all the things. The game still stands on its own,'' he said.

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Juan Soto's 2-run double carries Nationals past Orioles


Juan Soto's 2-run double carries Nationals past Orioles

WASHINGTON -- A teenager among men, Juan Soto has impressed his teammates on the Washington Nationals with his maturity and, even more so, his potent bat.

Soto hit a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning, and Washington beat the Baltimore Orioles 4-2 Thursday night in the deciding matchup of a three-game interleague series between neighboring rivals.

Soto, a 19-year-old rookie, is batting .326 with 16 RBIs in 28 games. Starting in the cleanup spot for the first time, he drew a walk and delivered the game's pivotal hit.

"I think we're all amazed every single day," Washington ace Max Scherzer said. "He puts together great ABs. He has antics and has some flair. He's a great young player. He's just enjoying himself."

Bryce Harper led off the eighth with a double off Mychal Givens (0-4) and Trea Turner followed with a single. After Anthony Rendon struck out, Soto hit a liner into the gap in left-center.

"He's got unbelievable poise," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said of Soto. "No matter what the situation is, he goes out there with a game plan."

Whatever that plan is, it's effective.

"I just try to be focused and keep working," Soto said.

Rendon homered for the Nationals, who received seven strong innings from Scherzer and flawless work from their bullpen.

Newcomer Kelvin Herrera (1-0) pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and Sean Doolittle got three straight outs for his 20th save in 21 tries.

Seeking to end a rare run of two straight losses, Scherzer left a tied game after allowing two runs -- both on solo homers -- and striking out nine.

Afterward, the right-hander heaped praise upon Soto for the manner in which he's adapted to playing in the big leagues.

"He has a great feel for the strike zone," Scherzer said. "To have that type of eye, it's remarkable for him to be able to do that at this time and this age and this level."

Activated from the 60-day disabled list before the game, Colby Rasmus homered for the Orioles in his first at-bat since April 6.

"Me and Max, we go way back, so I felt real good," said Rasmus, who had been sidelined with a hip injury.

In addition, Rasmus made an outstanding throw from right field to the plate, nailing Wilmer Difo on a tag-up play in the seventh inning with the score tied.

Mark Trumbo also homered for Baltimore, his sixth of the season and third in four games.

Baltimore starter Kevin Gausman gave up two runs and four hits over six innings. The right-hander was lifted with the score tied, leaving him winless in his last seven starts.


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How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

While meeting with Oregon's Troy Brown during the pre-draft interview process, evaluators from the Washington Wizards issued him an on-the-spot challenge. Head coach Scott Brooks pulled out a dry-erase clipboard and a pen. He wanted to see Brown draw up a play.

This is a test Brooks has administered before to other players. Some have failed miserably.

"It sounds easy to throw a board at somebody in front of a big group and say 'okay draw a play' and I have seen many plays drawn, and I have seen it where there are not five players on the floor," Brooks said.

That wasn't the case with Brown. He didn't just draw up one play, he drew up several. One in particular came to mind when asked by reporters on Thursday night soon after the Wizards took him 15th overall in the first round of the NBA Draft.

“I think it was a situation where we were down by two or something like that," he said. "It was like a back screen into a slip, and then the fade three and they gave you a lot of various options to cause mismatches on the court for a last minute shot to either go ahead, or even attack the basket for a layup to go into overtime.”

NBC Sports Washington analyst Cory Alexander, a veteran of seven NBA seasons, demonstrated what Brown's play looked like on a whiteboard:

The Xs and Os of basketball flow effortlessly for Brown and Wizards' brass couldn't help but be impressed.

"He really understands the game. I think for a kid that is 18 years old, that is rare but he just has a good feel," Brooks said. 

"We were impressed with his character and the type of person he is and his basketball knowledge," team president Ernie Grunfeld said. "Obviously, like any young player, he has a lot of work to do but he has a lot of the intangibles that I think you need in today's game."

Smarts are a big part of what makes Brown a good basketball player. He isn't a particularly explosive athlete, with a modest 33-inch max vertical leap, but he boasts a 6-foot-10 wingspan and solid agility. Being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to operate an offense helps him make the most of his natural abilities.

Passing is where his basketball IQ comes in handy. Brown is unusually good at distributing for a 6-foot-7 small forward. He averaged 3.2 assists as a freshman at Oregon and nine times had five assists or more in a game.

He can pass like a point guard and the Wizards are excited to implement that skill into their offense.

"Passing is contagious. We’ve been pretty good the last two years and with talking about that how we even want to take another step," Brooks said. "He has the ability to make a lot of quick plays and his ball handling is pretty good for a guy his size. That is one thing I was impressed in his workout last week or when we had him. He is able to take the contact and use his strong frame to get inside the key and make plays.”


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