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Not just footballs are deflated at USC

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Not just footballs are deflated at USC

LOS ANGELES (AP) It's not just the game balls that are deflated at Southern California this fall.

An unimpressive season reached a new, weird low late Wednesday night when No. 21 USC announced a student manager had been dismissed for underinflating several game balls before the Trojans' loss to No. 2 Oregon last weekend, earning a fine and a reprimand for the school from the Pac-12.

Coach Lane Kiffin then spent a soggy Thursday morning on campus explaining why the Trojans' latest brush with questionable tactics was an isolated misdeed by an overeager student, not an indication of a somewhat sleazy culture building around a program still attempting to emerge from the clouds of heavy NCAA sanctions in 2010.

``I was just disappointed, because it was just a distraction,'' Kiffin said. ``It was a distraction that nobody knew about here, that had no effect on the game. If anything, it had a negative effect to be throwing two different types of balls for a quarterback. I was just disappointed, because it was a distraction that we didn't need.''

Kiffin is telling the truth: With two straight losses, the preseason No. 1 team can't afford to waste much thought for anything other than the salvage of its season. USC (6-3, 4-3 Pac-12) hosts Arizona State (5-4, 3-3) on Saturday before finishing against No. 17 UCLA and No. 4 Notre Dame, hoping to earn a probable rematch with Oregon in the Pac-12 title game.

Kiffin insists his coaching staff and quarterback Matt Barkley knew nothing about the manager's actions on the Oregon sideline, where officials apparently discovered three underinflated balls before the game and two more at halftime. Kiffin offered no thoughts about the possible motivation of the unidentified manager, saying he hadn't spoken to the student.

USC athletic director Pat Haden, who took over the department after Kiffin was hired nearly three years ago, was obviously unhappy about the embarrassment.

``We acknowledge the Pac-12's reprimand and fine,'' Haden said in a statement released through Twitter. ``We regret this incident occurred. It was unacceptable and we apologize for it. I can assure you this will not happen again.''

Deflating footballs is an uncommon - but not unfamiliar - bit of gamesmanship on many levels of football. Softer balls are thought to be a bit easier to throw and catch - and that's exactly what the Ducks did while racking up 730 yards during a 62-51 win over USC, which had the worst defensive game ever at a school that began playing football in the 19th century.

Kiffin said he realizes ``conspiracy theories ... will think we were behind this,'' but thinks the lack of an obvious advantage to be gained from the tactic - and the sloppy manner in which it happened - should prove the innocence of his coaches and players.

``I don't think if we were trying to deflate balls, we would be directing a student manager on the Oregon sideline, right in front of them, to be deflating balls, and then playing with some deflated and some non-deflated balls,'' Kiffin said. ``I'm sure if we knew that, our kickers wouldn't have been happy with that, either. No kicker is ever going to happy with a deflated ball.''

While Kiffin claimed he didn't hear about the officials' discovery until Sunday, Oregon coach Chip Kelly told SiriusXM's College Sports Nation channel Thursday he heard about it after the game.

``It doesn't affect us,'' Kelly said. ``I mean, we worry every day, or are concerned with every day, of what we can control and what we can't control, and what other teams do doesn't really affect what we're doing.''

USC announced the Pac-12's fine and reprimand late Wednesday night, well after every member of the program except Kiffin is done talking to the media for the week. Barkley and his offensive teammates only speak to reporters for a few moments on Tuesday mornings - another part of a strict policy on injury reporting and media access instituted by Kiffin this season, ending USC's tradition of famously open practices and Kiffin's own largely cordial relationship with Los Angeles media before the last few months.

While Kiffin has been fairly successful on the field, particularly given the Trojans' NCAA-mandated scholarship limitations, the underinflated footballs are just the latest minor misstep adding up to a potentially major problem. Kiffin's apparent predilections for cutthroat competition and gamesmanship have followed him from USC to the Oakland Raiders to Tennessee and back again.

Last month, USC backup quarterback Cody Kessler took off his No. 6 jersey and put on No. 35 while playing on special teams against Colorado, even running for a 2-point conversion attempt with the new jersey. Players are allowed to wear different jerseys for many reasons during games, but it's widely considered deceptive, if not unethical, to change numbers during a game specifically to confuse an opponent.

USC also is still the FBS' most penalized team with 85 penalties for 702 yards, even after a relatively clean game against Oregon. The Trojans counter that they were a mostly clean team last season, and that the Pac-12 has seven of FBS' 16 most-penalized teams, perhaps indicating more about the conference's officiating crews than the schools' play.

But after USC's latest brush against propriety, even Kiffin acknowledged it's fair to wonder whether his staff has created a culture of moral relativism, where a student might deflate footballs on his own just to try to gain an advantage.

``I don't believe that at all,'' he said. ``I believe this was a very isolated incident that had nothing to do with the coaches or the players on this team.''

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Five observations from Wizards' 115-104 loss to the Brooklyn Nets despite Dwight Howard's huge night

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USA Today Sports

Five observations from Wizards' 115-104 loss to the Brooklyn Nets despite Dwight Howard's huge night

The Washington Wizards lost to the Brooklyn Nets 115-104 on Friday night. Here are five observations from the game...

Step back: The Wizards just can't crack the code of consistency or the pesky Brooklyn Nets.

After winning three straight and looking like they had made some corrections, the Wizards stumbled out of the locker room at halftime and couldn't match Brooklyn's energy. The Nets pulled away to lead by as many as 19 and handed the Wizards yet another blowout loss in a season of which are quickly piling up.

The Nets have the formula to give the Wizards fits. They are scrappy and play defense. They are cohesive and well-coached. The Wizards are susceptible against try-hards who play with a chip on their shoulder. They too often let others set the tone and that's just what the Nets did in this one. 

The Wizards are now 5-10 on the season. That matches their 15-game start from two years ago, when they rallied to win 49 games, but that only means so much, of course.

Threes were off: While their attempts are up, the Wizards have been shooting uncharacteristically bad from three this season. They entered the game 27th in the NBA, shooting just 32.8 percent.

In this game, they didn't just struggle to make threes, they had trouble shooting them at all. Brooklyn sold out to take away the perimeter and was successful doing it. 

The Wizards went 3-for-17 from three and shot just 17.6 percent. They were 2-for-13 entering the fourth quarter.

Surely, head coach Scott Brooks won't be happy about that. Three-point shooting continues to be a major point of emphasis for him.

Howard was dominant early: Perhaps we should have expected this from Dwight Howard. After all, it was the Nets, the team Howard was bought out by over the summer, right before he signed with the Wizards. 

Was three days with a franchise enough for a revenge game? Sure, we'll go with it.

Or, perhaps he's just a bad matchup for Brooklyn because they were the team he smacked around for 32 points and 30 rebounds against last season.

He didn't quite go 30-30, but Howard was unstoppable in the first half. He ate Jarrett Allen, who is a very talented young player, for lunch. Allen and the rest of the Nets' frontline were no match for Howard's strength.

Howard popped off for six of the Wizards' first eight points. By halftime, he had 17 points, nine rebounds, a steal and a block.

This game was a reminder of the fact he can do things his predecessor, Marcin Gortat, cannot. Howard, really, can produce in a way no Wizards' fourth option has been able to in years.

Markieff Morris has often served as the fourth scoring option behind John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter Jr. But Morris doesn't often go off for nearly a double-double in a half. 

But, the second half:  What was strange about Howard, though, is that he barely played in the second half until the game was out of hand. Howard picked up his fourth foul in the third quarter, but that didn't explain it all.

Howard played only five minutes from the start of the second half until there were less than nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter. During that stretch, Allen found success against the Wizards' small-ball lineups and helped the Nets pull away.

By the time Howard returned, the Wizards were down 19 points. Brooks had something that was working really well and, in part because of the fouls, he went away from it a little too long. It proved costly.

Morris struggled: As good as Howard was, Morris had one of his worst games of the season. The Wizards power forward had one of those nights we see far too often where he wasn't active enough on defense or on the boards. He couldn't get anything going offensively, either.

Morris, who ended the game with four points and two rebounds in 20 minutes, had zero points and zero rebounds in nine minutes in the first quarter. 

While the Nets' big men were overmatched by Howard's strength, Morris couldn't keep up with their quickness. He was a step behind and had trouble matching their bounce around the rim.

Morris predictably didn't play at all in the fourth quarter. That's the way it goes with Brooks now.

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Despite coming off of the bench, Bruno Fernando delivered a perfect performance against Hofstra

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USA TODAY Sports

Despite coming off of the bench, Bruno Fernando delivered a perfect performance against Hofstra

COLLEGE PARK, Md. --- Bruno Fernando came off the bench to deliver 17 points and seven rebounds as part of a balanced offense as Maryland defeated Hofstra 80-69 on Friday.

Fernando made all eight of his field goal attempts for the Terrapins (4-0). It was the 12th time in school history a player was perfect from the floor with at least eight attempts and the first since Sean Mosley was 8 of 8 against Longwood in 2010.

Freshman Eric Ayala scored a career-high 14 points, while Aaron Wiggins added 13. Darryl Morsell had 12 points, and both Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith had 11. It was the first time since Jan. 7, 2017, against Iowa that Maryland had six players score in double figures.

Justin Wright-Foreman, who entered the game tied for 10th in the country with 25.3 points per game, scored 27 points for the Pride (2-2). Hofstra built a 37-31 lead the break, the first time Maryland trailed at halftime this season.

Hofstra extended its edge to 43-35, but Maryland responded with a 16-3 run to claim the lead for good. The Terps never led by less than three points in the final 14 minutes.

BIG PICTURE

Hofstra: The Pride is an efficient scoring team and showed in the first half why they are expected to contend in the Colonial Athletic Association this season. Maryland is Hofstra's lone power conference opponent, and the Pride is unlikely to see a frontcourt as athletic as Fernando and Smith the rest of the season.

Maryland: The Terps continue their build up toward a difficult stretch that starts Nov. 23 and includes games against Marshall, Virginia, Penn State, Purdue and Loyola Chicago in a 16-day stretch. Maryland is off to a 4-0 start for the fifth consecutive season.

UP NEXT

Hofstra returns home to face Cal State Fullerton on Wednesday.

Maryland looks to improve to 9-0 all-time against Mount St. Mary's when the Mountaineers visit on Sunday.