Oregon looks for Civil War rebound


Oregon looks for Civil War rebound

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) With so many scenarios for how the season may - or may not - play out, No. 5 Oregon was focused only on Oregon State and the 116th Civil War.

Oregon's march toward the national championship game detoured last Saturday with a 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford. Now, even the team's shot at the Pac-12 championship is in jeopardy.

``You have to be mentally tough,'' Oregon running back Kenjon Barner said. ``It's football. You're going to lose some games. It happens.''

Saturday's Civil War at Reser Stadium is a must-win for Oregon (10-1, 7-1) if they want to keep their hopes for a fourth straight Pac-12 title alive. But the Ducks will need UCLA to help with a victory over Stanford in Los Angeles. To be back in the mix for a national championship berth, they'll likely also need USC to topple undefeated and top-ranked Notre Dame.

Oregon State coach Mike Riley laughed when asked this if he's worried the Ducks will be doubly motivated against the 16th-ranked Beavers (8-2, 6-2) after the loss.

``I don't know what they're mindset is going to be,'' Riley said. ``But they're a really good, resilient football team. So that's what we expect.''

No matter what happens on Saturday, Oregon State can count this season as a success. The Beavers have staged a stunning turnaround with essentially the same team that went just 3-9 last season.

Oregon State's best weapon against the speedy Ducks may be its defense - much like Stanford's was in its victory over Oregon last weekend.

The Ducks have the fourth-ranked offense in the country, averaging 548.3 yards a game, and the fifth-best rushing offense with 313.5 yards a game. Stanford's stout D was able to hold the Ducks to 198 yards on the ground and 405 yards in total offense.

The Cardinal held Barner, averaging 136 yards rushing going in, to just 66 yards.

Oregon State has the nation's No. 14 rushing defense, allowing opponents only 108.7 yards on the ground per game. The Beavers' overall defense is ranked third in the Pac-12, allowing an average of 345 yards.

On offense, Oregon State will start Sean Mannion at quarterback because quarterback Cody Vaz only returned to practice Wednesday after a left ankle sprain.

Mannion started the first four games of the season, throwing seven touchdowns and averaging 339 yards, but injured his left knee and required surgery. Vaz, who hadn't started since high school, took over and helped the Beavers to win in the next two games, and later became the team's starter.

But Vaz sprained his left ankle in the final moments of a loss to Stanford two weeks ago, and sat out last Saturday during Oregon State's 64-14 victory at home over California.

Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said this week that Oregon State's receiving duo, senior Markus Wheaton and sophomore Brandin Cooks, have the Ducks' attention.

Cook has 1,039 receiving yards with five touchdowns this season, and Wheaton has 986 yards with 10 TD catches. Both are among the top 15 in the nation for average receiving yards.

``I wish I could tell you `Not many worries, not many concerns,' but we got our work cut out for us because they remind me of an `SC down-the-field throwing team and last time I checked we didn't do really well in that one,'' Aliotti said. ``We're going to have to cover those receivers.''

For the record, Oregon beat the Trojans 62-51 but Matt Barkley threw for five touchdowns, including two to Marqise Lee.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota spent Sunday mulling over the loss to Stanford then got back to work on Monday. The redshirt freshman threw for 207 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinal.

``There were a lot of times I was trying to force it too much,'' Mariota reflected this week.

Mariota needs three total touchdowns - via pass or keepers - to reach Oregon's single season record of 36 set by Akili Smith in 1998 and matched by Darron Thomas in 2011. He already holds the Pac-12 freshman record with 29 touchdown passes this season.

In what could be his final game at Autzen Stadium, Barner needs two rushing touchdowns to match pal LaMichael James' single season record of 21 at Oregon in 2010. He needs just 15 more rushing yard to move past Derek Loville (1986-89) into second on Oregon career list.

The Ducks hold a 59-46-10 advantage in the Civil War, and they've won the last four games in the series. It is the seventh-longest contested rivalry in the nation, dating back to 1894.

Saturday's game will mark the fourth time that both teams are ranked for the Civil War. The last was in 2009, when Oregon was No. 7 and Oregon State was No. 13. That game was dubbed the ``War of the Roses'' because the winner was guaranteed a Rose Bowl berth. Oregon won 37-33.

Riley has seen his share of Civil Wars, both as coach of the Beavers and as the son of former Oregon State assistant coach Bud Riley, who passed away earlier this year. Growing up in Corvallis, Riley's watched the game from both the stands and the sidelines.

``I feel like this is to be embraced. It's fun to be involved in it, that's one of the things about tradition and history,'' Riley said. ``This game has been played a long time. In the record books when you total them all up it means the same thing, a win or a loss. But for the moment when you're in it, getting to play in a fun game like this, it means a lot to everybody.''

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Wizards' 2018-19 storyline No. 2: Can the core players of Wall, Beal, Porter and Oubre reach another level?

USA Today Sports

Wizards' 2018-19 storyline No. 2: Can the core players of Wall, Beal, Porter and Oubre reach another level?

With Wizards training camp set to begin next week, we at NBC Sports Washington are counting down the five biggest storylines for the team as they start a new season. Today, at No. 2, a look at the Wizards' young core and how those players can make another leap...

In signing Dwight Howard and Jeff Green, trading for Austin Rivers and drafting Troy Brown, Jr., the Wizards arguably added more talent to their roster this summer than they did in any recent offseason. Yet, the ceiling for this team will once again be determined mostly by a familiar dynamic. The best and most likely way for the Wizards to significantly change their fortune as a team is for one or several of their young, core players to make a big leap in their development.

Those core players would be John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Jr. and Kelly Oubre, Jr., four first round picks drafted between 2010 and 2015 who have served as the nucleus of their recent success. 

Wall, Beal and Porter in particular are the straws that stir the drink. Oubre is worth including because of his pedigree and potential and because this, a contract year, is such an important season for him.

There are reasons to believe that all four of the Wizards core players can get better, despite what they have already shown at the NBA level.

Wall, at 28 and entering his ninth NBA season, is probably looking for more incremental improvement at this point in his career. He has already made five All-Star teams and earned All-NBA honors. As long as he's healthy, which wasn't the case last season, the Wizards know what they are going to get.

That said, it may be unreasonable to expect Wall to make another major leap in his career. It's possible he has already entered his prime and his peak as a basketball player. If there is another level for him to reach, he will likely need to get there soon, as he's two years away from turning 30.

When healthy, Wall is one of the 10 or so best players on the planet. More consistent defense and more efficient scoring are the ways he can move up the ladder. Also, simply going further in the playoffs would change a lot about how he is perceived among NBA superstars.

At 25, Beal is young enough to have a lot of room to grow. Last year was his first All-Star season. If he has another gear, the logical next step would be All-NBA honors and perhaps going from a guy who scores 22-23 points per game to one of the elite scorers in the league.

Porter is also 25 and therefore may still not be in his prime. He has emerged as one of the most efficient players in the entire NBA and is as reliable as anyone on the Wizards. But to become an All-Star or an All-NBA candidate, Porter will need to have volume numbers to buoy his high shooting percentages. 

Bad players in the NBA have neither volume or efficiency, good players have one or the other, while true stars have both. Porter may take his game to the next level simply by taking more shots and expanding his role from a usage perspective. If he can maintain his efficiency while adding a few points per game to his scoring average, Porter will enter another echelon as a player.

Oubre has more room to develop than the other three because he is younger and less accomplished. He is 22 and entering the final year of his rookie scale contract.  

The Wizards have kept Oubre around, hoping for a breakout year much like they saw from Beal and Porter at this point in their careers. Those guys did not get contract extensions from Washington before their rookie deals were up, but ended up with max money. If Oubre can follow a similar track, the Wizards will be significantly better.

Wall, Beal, Porter and Oubre are all at different points in their careers and have a wide range in their room to grow. Their continued development will be the most important indicator for the Wizards' success this year and beyond.



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Caps winning, new practice facility has Ted Leonsis thinking bigger for Wizards: 'No excuses'


Caps winning, new practice facility has Ted Leonsis thinking bigger for Wizards: 'No excuses'

No matter what happens this fall and winter, the year of 2018 was a big one for Ted Leonsis. His Capitals won their first-ever Stanley Cup and the new practice facility and arena for the Wizards, Mystics and Go-Go in Ward 8 was opened. Even his Valor won the Arena Football League and Wizards District Gaming played their inaugural season.

The Caps winning and the St. Elizabeth East Entertainment and Sports Arena opening its doors has Leonsis thinking bigger and particularly when it comes to the Wizards. As he puts it, there are "no excuses" anymore. It's time to accomplish their goals and Leonsis has some specific ones in mind.

"We need to raise the expectations. We have to make the playoffs. I'd like us to win 50 games. I'd like us to go to the Eastern Conference Finals," Leonsis told NBC Sports Washington.

Leonsis, in many ways, feels like he has done his part as the owner. He has given the Wizards the resources to compete and win at the highest level. They have the salary commitment - the Wizards are fourth in the NBA in payroll ($134.9M) - and the facilities that any team in the NBA would covet.

"We have one of the highest payrolls in the league with the Wizards. They have a beautiful, world-class practice facility. They're healthy entering the year," he said. "Alright Wizards. If you have this practice facility and one of the highest payrolls in the league and you're getting well-tended for your health, nutrition and the like; no excuses. Let's play ball."

When it comes to the practice facility, it's much more than just added space, new locker rooms and shiny courts. The Wizards will have at their disposal the newest training technology and all the medical resources they need from Medstar. 

The facility has a virtual reality room, which goes way beyond the headsets and cameras they have utilized in recent years. They will also have a sensory deprivation tank. 

It's a pod that fills with salt water and allows people to float without light or sound. The benefits include decompression of the spine, alleviation of soreness and muscle tension and stress relief. In case you are wondering, they aren't cheap.

The weight room at the Medstar performance center is also calibrated for different exercises and methods. And with more space, the Wizards can continue to move into the future from a technology perspective and stay ahead of the curve.

"It's not just being an early-adopter. If you make an investment in this size and scale, you'll be at an advantage because you can build in and not add on a lot of that right into the utility of the building," Leonsis said.

In having this type of facility for the Wizards, Mystics and Go-Go, Leonsis hopes those teams can follow the model that worked for the Capitals. The Caps have had a specialized training facility in Ballston, Va. for years and have benefitted from a strong minor league system, most notably with the Hershey Bears. That top-to-bottom approach can help the Wizards, in particular, as they now have a G-League affiliate.

The foundation is in place for the Wizards to someday compete for an NBA championship. Many never expected to see the day the Capitals would reach the mountaintop. Now the Wizards can follow the blueprint.

"We've proven that there is no [D.C. sports] curse," Leonsis said. "If you are patient and work hard and are committed to continuous improvement than you can win a championship."