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No. 6 Kansas begins chase for Big 12 championship

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No. 6 Kansas begins chase for Big 12 championship

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Kevin Young and Elijah Johnson squeezed behind a table just off the Allen Fieldhouse court and started taking questions after wrapping up non-conference play with a win over Temple.

The pair of seniors for sixth-ranked Kansas was asked whether they were looking forward to the start of the Big 12 grind, an 18-game odyssey that will include match-ups with two newcomers and all the usual pressure, intensity and nerves that come with late-season basketball.

``We're really excited,'' Young said. ``Get to see the new places we get to go to, TCU and West Virginia. I think it'll be fun this year.''

Johnson quickly chimed in: ``It's fun every year'' - probably because they win every year.

They Jayhawks will begin pursuit of a record ninth straight Big 12 title when they welcome Iowa State to the Phog on Wednesday night. The late time they failed to finish first was 2005, when Oklahoma won the title. Otherwise, they've won six outright championships and twice shared the title with Texas, in 2006 and '08 - the year the Jayhawks won the national title.

``It is pretty good, and we're proud of it,'' Kansas coach Bill Self said. ``We haven't got nine. We've got eight. Nine would be as difficult to win as any other.''

That may not be entirely true.

The conference is considered down this season with No. 18 Kansas State the only other team in the Top 25. The Horned Frogs and Mountaineers have both struggled, while recent departure Missouri is flying high at No. 10 as it begins its first season in the SEC.

So while a handful of schools, including Oklahoma State, Texas and the Cyclones, are capable of beating the Jayhawks (12-1) on any given night, they'll need to prove they can better Kansas over the course of a double-round-robin schedule that doesn't offer much chance of a reprieve.

The Jayhawks' remarkable run is approaching rarified status.

UCLA under John Wooden won 13 consecutive conference championships, a feat sometimes lost amid the Bruins' seven straight national titles. Gonzaga won 11 straight league titles before last season, when St. Mary's edged the `Zags by a game in the West Coast Conference standings.

The trick for Self is to spin the pressure that comes with constantly winning championships into a positive, rather than a negative. He'd prefer his players to think of winning a ninth title as an opportunity, rather than a responsibility.

``We have a chance to do something special. I think we all want to do that,'' Self said. ``But there's also a responsibility that we don't want to get our butts beat, and be the team that doesn't do it. So I think we're motivated both ways, to be quite candid.''

The Jayhawks are once again built for success. They have the nation's top shot-blocker in Jeff Withey, one of the game's dynamic freshman guards in Ben McLemore, and four senior starters - a rarity in the era of early NBA entrants - who played roles in taking the Jayhawks to the national title game last season.

They're starting to click, too. After losing to Michigan State on a neutral floor in early November, the Jayhawks have rattled off 11 consecutive wins, along the way beating Ohio State on the road, routing Pac-12 contender Colorado and fending off a game challenge from Temple.

``I didn't sleep much after watching the Colorado game,'' said Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, referring to the 90-54 throttling on Dec. 8. ``They just absolutely - from the jump ball, it was like there was eight guys on the court.''

Hoiberg should know something about Kansas' dominance. When he played for the Cyclones from 1991-95, the Jayhawks won the regular-season Big Eight title three out of four years.

``They're scary good,'' Hoiberg said. ``They do such a good job of making team uncomfortable, especially early on in games with the way they pressure, with the way they force turnovers, with the way they execute, with the way they get out in transition. It's a difficult team to play.''

Especially at Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks have won 30 in a row.

Self understands the value in winning conference titles, but he also knows that Kansas is a place where legacies are defined by national championships. He won his first in 2008 and nearly a second last season, and he'd be more jazzed doing that than winning another eight league crowns.

Or even three in four years, which Alabama just accomplished in football.

``If we're not the best in our league, we don't deserve to be mentioned with the best in the country, is how I look at it,'' Self said. ``I don't think our players in any way, shape or form are ever satisfied, or confident or relaxed, based on the Big 12, because that's just part of the stepping-stone to get where you want to go.''

---

AP Sports Writer Luke Meredith in Ames, Iowa, contributed to this report.

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16 years ago with the Wizards, Michael Jordan became the NBA's first 40-year-old to score 40 points

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16 years ago with the Wizards, Michael Jordan became the NBA's first 40-year-old to score 40 points

Sixteen years ago Michael Jordan delivered one of the most memorable performances of his two-year stint with the Washington Wizards. 

On February 21, 2003, Jordan dropped 43 points four days after his 40th birthday. The mark made the Jordan the first player older than 40 to record 40 points or more in a contest. 

It was also the fifth-most points he ever scored in a Wizards uniform. 

The record was made against the then-New Jersey Nets. Throughout the entire game the two teams went back-and-forth with 13 ties and 17 lead changes. That was until the Hall of Famer put the game away for Washington with the final go-ahead basket with 34 seconds to go. 

The Wizards won 89-86. 

"We hadn't really been playing well and coach has been really disappointed in the way we play and I had to take the leadership. I had to do everything I had to do to get this team to understand what winning is all about," Jordan said.

The 43 points was scored on 18-for-30 shooting, all within the 3pt arc. In the third quarter alone he scored 14 of the team's 25 points. He also grabbed 10 rebounds for the double-double in the contest with four steals, three assists and a block.

All 13 seasons of Jordan's career he had incredible feats. The season prior he recorded his final 50-point game at 38 years of age, which is also the oldest anyone's ever been to reach 50 points. And that came two months after he returned from retirement. 

The 2002-03 season was his last and this display was an attempt for Jordan to return to the postseason one final time. He had not been there since he was with the Chicago Bulls in 1998. 

"I've only got 28 games left in my career. I do whatever I've got to do to get into the playoffs."

Ultimately the Wizards did not make it to the playoffs with Jordan, but he sure left his mark on the organization. 

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NHL Hall of Famer Bobby Orr visits Nationals Spring Training

NHL Hall of Famer Bobby Orr visits Nationals Spring Training


Bruins defenseman Bobby Orr, widely regarded as one of the greatest hockey players of all time, visited Nationals spring training at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches today.

Players and staff introduced themselves individually to the Hall of Famer, who was ushered around by GM Mike Rizzo.

Orr also was given a Nationals hat and pullover with his number (4) on it.