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No. 5 Louisville uses defense to defeat Charleston

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No. 5 Louisville uses defense to defeat Charleston

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) Louisville coach Rick Pitino couldn't have asked for better trip South. He spent time with friends, got to visit his daughter and watched his fifth-ranked Cardinals play the defense he's been seeking all season.

Wayne Blackshear scored 18 points and Louisville turned up the defensive pressure throughout to blow past the College of Charleston, 80-38, on Tuesday night. The Cardinals (7-1) had a season-high 18 steals and forced the Cougars (5-3) into 27 turnovers, 11 more than they'd averaged coming in.

``It's the best we've looked this year'' on defense, Pitino said. ``We worked on it all week.''

It sure paid off at the sold-out TD Arena. The Cougars had hoped to rekindle the success of 2010 when they defeated ninth-ranked North Carolina here in overtime, 82-79. But Louisville never gave them a chance at the upset, pulling away with a 22-7 run midway through the opening period and eventually stretching the lead to 42 points.

Blackshear said the players watched film of some of Louisville's past, best defensive teams and brought that mentality into the game. Still, Pitino wasn't sure his players had absorbed the lessons and asked them before the game if they wanted to play zone defense or man-to-man against Charleston.

``I think we just all wanted to play man to show him we could get out there and play it well,'' Blackshear said.

Things turned Louisville's way for good in the opening half as Blackshear hit a 3-pointer to begin the decisive run. Russ Smith made seven of eight free throws and Peyton Siva had six points in the surge as the Cardinials led 36-16 at the half.

The Cougars scored the first five points after the break to cut the lead to 15 before Louisville got going again with five straight baskets.

Blackshear hit the second of three 3-pointers to increase the margin to 51-26 with 15:38 to go. Blackshear's last long-range basket some 11 minutes later made it 73-36.

``They are a great team if they get into a half-court set and that was our main key not to let them,'' Siva said. ``Our goal was to pressure their guards and it worked tonight.''

Smith finished with 13 points and Siva 12. The two combined for nine steals and held Charleston's backcourt of Andrew Lawrence and Anthony Stitt to 3-of-13 shooting, nine turnovers and 10 points, 14 fewer than their average coming in.

Adjehi Baru had 16 points and 14 rebounds for the Cougars.

Chane Behanan had 10 points, Louisville's fourth player in double figures.

Louisville had looked shaky its past two games without junior center Gorgui Dieng, who fractured his wrist in a win over Missouri on Nov. 23. Since then, the Cards lost to Duke (76-71) and hung on in a win over Illinois State (69-66) last Saturday.

This time, Louisville pushed the pace early and the Cougars couldn't stand up to its stifling defense. The Cardinals were up 12-3 less than seven minutes in, holding Charleston to 1-of-6 shooting and forcing five turnovers.

Blackshear's 3-pointer began the 22-7 run for Louisville over the final 8 minutes of the half. Smith made seven of eight foul shots in the run while Siva had 6 points.

Louisville had nine steals in the half as its pressing defense rarely let up.

Charleston finished the period with 16 turnovers, the amount it had averaged its first seven games.

The game was the 20th sellout in the TD Arena's five seasons and the Cougars had hoped to rekindle the success it had in 2010 when it rallied past then-No. 9 North Carolina here for an 82-79 overtime victory.

But that game's hero, ex-Charleston guard Andrew Goudelock, is in the NBA now and the Cougars had no one who could keep pace with Siva and Smith.

``We tried to simulate their pressure yesterday in practice. Their length and strength is pretty impressive,'' Cougars coach Doug Wojcik said. ``It was a tough night for us. We never put them on their heels.''

These played last year in Louisville and when then-Cougars coach Bobby Cremins stepped down last year, he urged Cardinals coach Rick Pitino to honor the trip South.

Why wouldn't he? Pitino said if he were going back to college, he'd put Charleston in his top three. It must run in the family since Pitino's daughter, Jacqueline, is a junior majoring in education at Charleston. He also spent time with Cremins and another ex-Cougars coach who's a friend in John Kresse, the man who the floor here in named for.

``I got to spent a little time with John Kresse, a little time with Bobby Cremins, I got to see me daughter, and we played great,'' he said. ``It couldn't have gone any better.''

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Brooks Orpik's time in Washington may not be over after all

Brooks Orpik's time in Washington may not be over after all

Friday's trade with the Colorado Avalanche seemed to mark the end of Brooks Orpik's time with the Washington Capitals. But that may not actually be the case.

Trading away Orpik also meant trading away his $5.5 million cap hit. That is not an insignificant amount of money especially for a team trying to re-sign defenseman John Carlson to a big-money contract.

But Orpik will not be playing out the final year of his contract in Colorado. The Avalanche placed Orpik on unconditional waivers Saturday for the purpose of a buyout, according to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.

CapFriendly has the details of the buyout. The Avalanche will pay Orpik $3 million and take a cap hit of $2.5 million in the 2018-19 season and $1.5 million in the 2019-20 season.

So why would Colorado agree to take Orpik just to buy him out and take on dead cap space? Because by acquiring him, it lowered the cost of the Grubauer trade.

What this means for Brooks Orpik is that he will become a free agent, free to sign with anyone for the upcoming season. Including Washington.

For a 37-year-old defenseman who does not boast great mobility or speed, a $5.5 million cap hit was a bit too steep for the Caps who were very close to the cap ceiling last season and who need that extra money to re-sign their free agents. But the team did value Orpik's leadership and that could be especially important as young defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos continue developing plus prospects Jonas Siegenthaler, Lucas Johansen and Connor Hobbs all try to work themselves into contention for a spot on the NHL roster.

If Orpik does return, it will be a masterstroke for general manager Brian MacLellan. MacLellan freed up a lot of cap space to re-sign Carlson without having to buy out Orpik's contract, but could still possibly keep him on the roster at a much-reduced cost.

After a strong playoff performance, there may be other teams vying for Orpik's services next season. Getting traded to get bought out likely isn't a good feeling, but considering he just won a Stanley Cup in Washington, the defensive guru Todd Reirden is expected to be promoted to head coach and that re-signing with the Caps would mean not moving his family for what could very possibly and will very likely be the last contract of his NHL career, there are a lot of reasons why it would make sense for both the team and the player if Orpik stayed with the Caps.

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Jay Gruden know the pressure is on him in 2018

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Jay Gruden know the pressure is on him in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 24, 32 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The heat is on Jay Gruden

Jay Gruden knows that his Redskins need to win in 2018.

“This isn’t a two- or three-year process,” he said last week. “This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away.” 

Jay Gruden gave this answer to a question about Alex Smith, but his words should resonate with the whole team. He’s right. This is no longer a rebuilding team. It’s time for this team to get it together and make a playoff run. 

That puts the pressure on Gruden. 

This is his fifth year as coach of the Redskins. He is well beyond the point where he can credibly point a finger of blame at his predecessor for any problems that are lingering. Only five players who were around in 2013, Mike Shanahan’s last year in Washington. It’s Gruden’s show now. 

His tenure is now the longest for a Redskins head coach since Norv Turner made it nearly seven years, from 1994 through 13 games into the 2000 season. His 49-59-1 run with the Redskins spanned three owners in Jack Kent Cooke, John Kent Cooke, and Dan Snyder. 

It should be noted that Turner’s third and fourth years at the helm closely resembled Gruden’s past two years. Turner’s team went 9-7 in 1996 and 8-7-1 the next year, narrowly missing the playoffs both years. That looks a lot like Gruden’s 8-7-1 and 7-9 records over the past two years. 

Gruden does not want this year’s team to resemble the 1998 Redskins. Turner’s fifth team started out 0-7 before winning four of their last five to finish 6-10. 

Turner kept his job in part because of the team’s uncertain ownership situation after the elder Cooke passed away in 1997. Gruden will not have a similar set of circumstances to help him out if he needs a lifeline in January. 

Gruden wants his fifth year to turn out more like Turner’s sixth season. That team went 10-6, topped the NFC East standings and won a playoff game. 

To get there, he needs a lot of his decisions to go right. While the trade for Smith was not his call, every indication is that he was on board with it. 

Last year, it was his decision to say no, thanks to Wade Phillips, who wanted to be his defensive coordinator and promote Greg Manusky into the job. The results were mixed as the Redskins were sixth in pass defense DVOA but 29thagainst the run. It was viewed as a marginal improvement on defense but the unit still seeme to be more of a liability than an asset. 

This year, the Redskins re-signed inside linebackers Zach Brown and Mason Foster and added defensive lineman Daron Payne with their first-round pick after spending their first-round pick on DE Jonathan Allen in 2017. There will be no excuses for Manusky and, by extension, Gruden if the defense does not improve. 

Joe Barry, Manusky’s predecessor who also was hired by Gruden when Phillips was an option, was out after two years of failing to significantly improve the defense. Any reasonable analysis would have to conclude that Barry did not get an infusion of talent anywhere approaching what Manusky has received in his two seasons. Manusky is getting a second year but he probably won’t get a third if the defense is still considered to be an impediment to the team’s progress. 

And if Manusky has to go, you have to wonder if Gruden will get a chance to hire a third defensive coordinator. 

I’m not sure if there is a certain number of games that the Redskins have to win for Gruden to return in 2019. It feels like he would not survive a 6-10 season or maybe not even another 7-9 finish. On the other end of the spectrum, making the playoffs and winning a game when they get there would certainly punch his ticket for a sixth season. 

Anything in between would leave Gruden in some jeopardy and the call would come down to the vague “moving in the right direction” criteria. 

There are some holes on this team, to be sure. But every team has some and the ones that are well coached figure out how to overcome them. The pressure will be on Gruden to best utilize their strengths and minimize any damage brought about by the weaker points. 

From his statement, it’s apparent that he is well aware of that. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 32
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 46
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 60

The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 77 days. 

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