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No. 5 Georgia guns for SEC East title at Auburn

No. 5 Georgia guns for SEC East title at Auburn

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Auburn remembers being where No. 5 Georgia stands: a win away from the SEC championship game with a national title still within grasp.

It was only two years ago, after all. Before the Bulldogs' impressive rise and the Tigers' dramatic fall.

Georgia (8-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) can clinch its second straight trip to the league championship game with a victory over Auburn (2-7, 0-6) on Saturday night.

The Tigers snapped a five-game losing streak last weekend against New Mexico State but are still a longshot to win an SEC game since that requires a win over the Bulldogs or No. 1 Alabama.

``Us playing big in a game like this is huge,'' Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. ``Our guys catching a little bit of momentum from last week. This is just a huge rivalry game.

``We've been on the flip side of this where we've got to win to win our side of the league. As a matter of fact, it was against Georgia when we were in the exact same position here at home. Hey, we're excited about the challenge.''

The stakes are pretty clear for the Bulldogs. Win, they're in the SEC title game. Lose, and Florida goes to Atlanta instead.

Georgia comes into this game a 15-1/2-point favorite in what's billed as the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry. The border battle has been traditionally competitive with Auburn holding a slender 54-53-8 edge.

But the gap has widened in Georgia's favor since Cam Newton rallied Auburn to a 49-31 win two years ago to clinch the SEC Western Division crown against a Georgia team on its way to a 6-7 season. The Bulldogs produced the biggest margin in the rivalry dating back to 1892 last season with a 45-7 win.

Now, the Tigers are in a tailspin and Chizik's job might be in serious jeopardy.

Richt blames the ultra-competitive SEC, even if that's not how frustrated Auburn fans view it.

``I think the big thing is just our league itself,'' Richt said. ``There is truly a very, very fine line between winning and losing. There are a lot of good teams in our league in my opinion that still might have a losing record in league play. You lose some close games and sometimes you win the close games.

``Sometimes you get a break here or there and you grab momentum, and it serves you well for the rest of the year, and sometimes you don't ever find it.''

Time's running out on Auburn's search.

Quarterback Aaron Murray and the Georgia offense face a defense that surrended 63 points to No. 15 Texas A&M two weeks ago but also a team with nothing to lose.

``That makes them extremely dangerous,'' Bulldogs wide receiver Tavarres King said. ``We know they want to ruin our season. What more could they possibly want than to ruin our dreams for the SEC or the national title? You know that's what they want to do. I told the guys you don't want that to happen. You don't want to feel like you did after South Carolina. That's all the motivation you need right there.''

Georgia has rebounded from a 35-7 loss at No. 12 South Carolina to win three straight, including a victory over No. 7 Florida. Now, the Bulldogs are moving on without receiver Marlon Brown, who's out with a torn ACL.

The defense has allowed just 19 points total in those games and now faces the league's 13th-rated offense and freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace. Wallace will make his second straight start and first in an SEC game.

Chizik said this defense is ``night and day'' from the one the freshman faced against New Mexico State, when the Tigers scored 35 second-half points. Wallace acknowledges that, and the challenge of facing a defense led by All-America linebacker Jarvis Jones, who has 8.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in seven games.

Wallace also has no doubt Georgia will try to rattle him early with pressure.

``Of course. Why not?'' he said. ``From what I think about Georgia they are going to come for me and I'm going to have to make some plays Saturday. That's just what it's going to come down to. Of course we're going to be able to run the ball some, but it's really going to come down to whether or not I can make the plays that need to be made.

``I'm going to step up to the plate. That's what this game is about, is competing. It's just one of those things where I have to grow up quick. I'm ready for the challenge. It's going to be a lot of fun Saturday.''

---

AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Athens, Ga., contributed to this report.

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John Tortorella ‘embarrassed’ by Columbus’ one-sided loss to the Capitals

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USA TODAY SPORTS

John Tortorella ‘embarrassed’ by Columbus’ one-sided loss to the Capitals

Before the Capitals dominated the Detroit Red Wings at Capital One Arena on Tuesday, they stopped off in Columbus on Saturday for what was expected to be a great game between the top two teams of the Metropolitan Division.

It wasn’t.

Instead of two heavy-weights trading blows or the Columbus Blue Jackets going after the Capitals in an attempt to exact some measure of revenge for last season’s playoff loss, Washington blew apart Columbus in a one-sided, 4-0 affair.

As you could imagine, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella was displeased with the result and sounded off on Monday in typical Tortorella fashion.

"I'm embarrassed as the coach of this team," Tortorella told reporters, according to The Athletic's Aaron Portzline. "I missed something along the way. I'm part of it also. I'm embarrassed that we embarrassed our organization."

The Caps took control of Saturday’s game early with three goals in the first period. The physical battle that had been the trademark of last season’s playoff series never came. Washington pushed and received no pushback from a Columbus team that looked like a shadow of the team that had jumped out to a 2-0 series lead over the Caps.

"It was disgusting," Tortorella said. "After our last home game, that debacle, 9-6 [loss to Calgary], to show up on a Saturday night for first-place seeding, against a team that knocked us out of the playoffs, in front of a full house, it's embarrassing."

The Blue Jackets seem to be reeling a bit of late. On Dec. 4, Columbus coughed up a 4-1 lead allowing five goals in the second period to the Calgary Flames in what turned into a 9-6 loss. A narrow overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday was followed by the blowout loss to the Caps and on Tuesday, Columbus allowed two goals in a span of 1:18 late in the third period that turned a 2-1 victory into a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks.

Washington and Columbus have been locked in a standings battle the last few weeks (and years) with both teams vying for supremacy over the Metropolitan Division. Now, the Caps hold a five-point lead for first place in a division that seems to be rapidly declining. At mid-December, we are still waiting to see if another team can emerge to push Washington late in the season in a battle for first place in the division. A contender has yet to emerge and, the longer the season goes, the less likely it seems that someone will.

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When it comes to Wall vs. Kyrie debate, Stephen A. Smith believes Irving is 'just on another level'

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USA Today

When it comes to Wall vs. Kyrie debate, Stephen A. Smith believes Irving is 'just on another level'

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- After the Los Angeles Lakers selected Magic Johnson first overall in the 1979 NBA Draft, only one point guard (Allen Iverson) went No. 1 before the Washington Wizards snagged John Wall in 2010. Kyrie Irving’s selection by the Cleveland Cavaliers the following season turned an anomaly into a trend. A rivalry was born, debates began.

Fan bases and ardent backers made valid points and outlandish claims for their guy and against the other. This continued even after Irving joined the Celtics in 2017 and as physical ailments limited both players.

Entering the latest showdown, the head-to-head count read 8-8. Another thriller ensued. Irving took the win-loss lead from the speedy Wall Wednesday with a magical overtime performance in Boston’s 130-125 win.

For Stephen A. Smith, Irving scoring 38 points including the Celtics’ final 12 didn’t nudge the Boston star ahead of Wall, who wowed with 34 points and 13 assists. It just helped shine a light on a gap that already existed.

“It was a nice matchup. John showed up to play. I thought he played well in the fourth quarter. Over time he got a little bit erratic. That’s to be understood going up against Kyrie. Kyrie is special. Kyrie is something special. He’s just a spectacular player,” the often outspoken ESPN analyst told NBC Sports Washington following the game.

“John Wall reminded you how talented he is,” Smith continued, “but in the process, he also reminded you there are levels to this. Kyrie is just on another level and there is no other way around that.”

That statement joins a list of bold commentary in the long-running Wall-Irving arguments. There are certain dynamics that back up this claim.

Wall racks up assists, but Irving laps him as a shooter. Both players are five-time All-Stars with a single All-NBA selection. Irving’s résumé also includes Olympic Gold for Team USA in 2016 and one of the biggest shots in league history. He sank the series-winning jumper for Cleveland in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. The Wizards, while improved recently compared to franchise norms, have not advanced beyond the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs since Wall's arrival.

“They’re very, very talented. There is no doubt about that,” Smith, who attended Wednesday’s contest, said of the guards.  “But in the same breath, they’re not on the same page. 

"John Wall is a tremendous, tremendous talent. His success is predicated on his ability to get to the basket, his athleticism, his conditioning. He came into this season he was clearly not in ideal shape. He was heavier than he usually is. He’s never really, really truly improved that jump shot.”

Irving’s heroics Wednesday included two 3-pointers in the final minute, one a go-ahead bomb with 17.3 seconds remaining. Wall missed the second of Washington two game-tying attempts from beyond the arc on the next possession.

“When you look at Kyrie Irving, how did he stick the dagger in you? Long 3’s,” Smith said. “Now, John can do that from time to time, but you can’t rely on him to do it. When he makes those shots you say, ‘Thank God.’ When Kyrie makes those shots you say, ‘Yeah, that’s what he’s supposed to do because that’s what he does.’

“A perfect example is that the game is waning, you’re in overtime. (Wizards guard) Bradley Beal misses a 3-pointer. You’re John Wall. You get the ball back. You launch a three when you should have got it back to Bradley Beal because he’s the shooter. That’s not what you do, but that’s what John Wall did. Again, that’s the kind of thing you look at.”

Wall’s primary statistics this season – 21.0 points, 8.5 assists – are worthy of All-Star consideration. His overall game is more under the microscope than usual because of the Wizards’ slow start and his four-year, $170 million contract extension that tips off next season.

“You look at [Wall] as a big-time talent. Somebody who I felt was worthy of his money considering the fact that it’s not like you can go out and get Kevin Durant or somebody like that. In the same breath, you’re looking for him to improve upon the game that he already has, not to bring you back the same old, same old,” Smith said.

“Unfortunately, that’s what you’re seeing right now. You’re seeing a guy who is a big-time talent, who can ball, but who is giving you nothing different or nothing better than what he’s been giving you, and that hasn’t been good enough to get this team to the next level. That’s where you have a problem if you’re the Washington Wizards.”

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