Capitals

Releford leads No. 3 Kansas past No. 11 K-State

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Releford leads No. 3 Kansas past No. 11 K-State

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) Kansas and Kansas State rarely paint a masterpiece when they meet on the hardwood.

The defensive-minded Jayhawks, with Travis Releford on the perimeter and Jeff Withey in the paint, make life miserable for opposing offenses, while the veteran Wildcats relish the chance to bump, bang and bludgeon foes on both ends of the court.

Little surprise that they played another tough-as-nails game Tuesday night.

Releford scored 12 points, Withey and Ben McLemore each added 11, and the third-ranked Jayhawks held on down the stretch for a 59-55 victory that gave them sole possession of first place in the Big 12.

``That game went just as all you predicted, not the most artistic,'' Kansas coach Bill Self said, sporting the kind of wry smile that said he didn't mind one bit.

The Jayhawks have grown accustomed to such blood-and-guts games, needing a desperation 3-pointer from McLemore to force overtime in a win over Iowa State and a frantic second-half comeback to beat Texas, all while running their winning streak to a nation-leading 16 games.

Kansas (17-1, 5-0 Big 12) briefly led by 10 points in the second half before needing everything it could muster in the closing seconds to end the Wildcats' eight-game winning streak.

``They just find ways to win,'' Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said.

Shane Southwell, who had a career-high 19 points, tried to do the same for Kansas State (15-3, 4-1), getting his team within 56-53 with a scooping layup with 38.2 seconds left.

Naadir Tharpe made two foul shots to restore the Jayhawks' five-point lead, and the Wildcats' Rodney McGruder misfired from beyond the arc at the other end. But McLemore missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and McGruder's two foul shots made it 58-55 with 5 seconds left.

Elijah Johnson was fouled, and his free throw put the game away.

``There were several plays that allowed us to keep our distance,'' Self said. ``We made it hard on ourselves by not converting at the free throw line and stuff like that, but just a tough game and a great road win.''

McGruder finished with 13 points and Angel Rodriguez had 12 for the Wildcats, who lost for the 45th time in the last 48 games against their bitter in-state rival.

Kansas improved to 23-2 in Bramlage Coliseum since its opening in 1987.

``If anything, we look forward to this game,'' Withey said. ``It's a lot of fun, a hostile environment. It's one of the best crowds we're going to get besides our own crowd.''

The atmosphere was amped long before the opening tip. Students on their first day back from winter break lined up for several hundred yards in freezing temperatures, and then flooded seats on one side of the building more than 2 hours before the game started.

The Jayhawks, undaunted by the pulsating crowd, methodically built a 16-8 lead midway through the first half. Kansas took advantage of some balky outside shooting by the Wildcats, and routinely beat them off the dribble at the other end for easy baskets around the rim.

McLemore picked up his second foul of the half with 9:22 left, though, and Kansas State went on a run with the Jayhawks' leading scorer on the bench. Martavious Irving started the 11-2 spurt with a scooping layup and Southwell ended it with a 3-pointer for a 19-18 lead.

Self called a timeout and it settled down the senior-laden Jayhawks.

Perry Ellis scored a couple of baskets around a shot clock-beating jumper by Tharpe to help Kansas retake the lead, and Kevin Young's putback off his own miss made it 31-27 at halftime.

McGruder, shadowed everywhere by Releford, only managed two points on a soaring jam just before halftime. He missed both of his outside shots as the Wildcats went 4 for 16 from the arc.

The Big 12's reigning player of the week finally hit a 3 to start the second half, but Kansas answered with eight straight points, including a dunk by Withey off a feed from Young that forced Weber to call a timeout of his own early in the half.

McGruder hit consecutive 3s later in the half to help keep the Wildcats close, but a 3 from the corner by McLemore and then an open jumper by the freshman with 6:50 to go gave the Jayhawks a 53-43 lead, the first time the margin had reached double figures all game.

Southwell shot the Wildcats back in it, hitting a jumper with 8:13 remaining and then consecutive 3-pointers - his fourth and fifth of the game - to make it 54-49 with 5:30 remaining.

But the Jayhawks kept buckling down on defense, kept finding an answer for every push that the Wildcats made, allowing them to pull out a win despite a scoring a season-low 59 points.

``I'm upset we lost that game. This is the last time I'm going to play them in Bramlage,'' McGruder said. ``But we have a lot of basketball left. This can't be the end of it right here.''

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NHL All-Star Skills: John Carlson puts his title on the line

NHL All-Star Skills: John Carlson puts his title on the line

ST. LOUIS -- The NHL's All-Star weekend kicked off on Thursday with media day. On Friday, we have the first competition as the players take part in the NHL All-Star Skills. Compared to the regular season, not much is on the line on Friday. Teams are not battling for two points in the standings, rivalries are pushed aside and the quest of the Stanley Cup is put on hold. But Friday's event will pit the best hockey players in the world against one another as they show off some of the skills that got them there. For Capitals fans specifically, there will be plenty of reasons to tune in.

Here is what you should be watching for in Friday's All-Star Skills:

T.J. Oshie's reception

You thought he was just a fan favorite in Washington? Oshie spent the first seven seasons of his NHL career with the St. Louis Blues and those fans have not forgotten. Oshie received a thunderous ovation from the fans on hand when he was introduced at Thursday's media day and you can expect that again on Friday anytime he is on the ice.

Unfortunately, with the shootout no longer included in the competition -- something in which Oshie excels -- he will not be specifically competing in any event himself. He will, however, participate as a shooter in the Bud Light NHL Save Streak so at least he can show off his skills there.

Holtby goes for the save streak

The majority of Friday's event -- and, let's face it, the All-Star Game itself -- is geared towards the offense. The one event for the goalies is the save streak. Braden Holtby and each of the other seven other goalies invited to the All-Star Game will take part in the save streak competition.

Each goalie will face shooters from an opposing division. All nine skaters will shoot with the divisional captain shooting last. If the goalie stops the captains' shot, the shooters continue shooting until the next goal. The goalie with the longest consecutive save streak wins.

Regardless of who you may cheer for, everyone should be keeping their fingers crossed for a tie. Why? The first tie-breaker is the total number of saves made, but if there remains a tie after that, then the tied goalies will compete in a sudden death round of goalie goals.

Yeah, we all want to see that.

Holtby is making his fifth consecutive appearance at the All-Star Game. He is the only active goalie to do so and one of only four players in franchise history to make five all-star appearances. It still must feel bittersweet as he has not had a great season thus far, but Friday's event -- as well as Saturday's game -- will be his opportunity to show that he remains one of the top netminders in the league.

Carlson defends his hardest shot title

The Caps player with the most at stake on Friday will be John Carlson who will be defending his title in the Enterprise NHL Hardest Shot. Should Carlson lose, it will be the first time in three years a Cap has not won the event as Alex Ovechkin won it in 2018 with a shot of 101.3 MPH.

Carlson faces stiff competition this year as Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber returns for the event. Weber is a three-time winner of the hardest shot, winning it in three consecutive years from 2015 to 2017. His best shot cames in 2015 when he fired a blazing 108.5 MPH to win, very close to Zdeno Chara's 108.8 MPH record.

Carlson and Weber should be considered the two favorites. Also competing against them will be Mark Giordano, Seth Jones, Victor Hedman and Elias Pettersson.

3-on-3 women's event

The All-Star Skills will feature two new events this year and easily the most highly anticipated will be the Elite Women's 3-on-3 presented by Adidas. One of the best rivalries in all of hockey, Team USA women and Team Canada women, will be renewed as all-star teams from each country will face-off in a 3-on-3 game.

The game will consist of two 10-minute periods with a running clock. All penalties will result in a penalty shot.

One of the biggest criticisms of All-Star weekend is that the skills and the game are not competitive enough. If you have ever felt this way, then this is the competition for you. The women's game will likely be the most competitive event of the entire weekend. Women's hockey does not often get the spotlight and you can beat these all-stars are going to take full advantage of the chance to promote their game. Add in the fact that they get to play against their biggest rivals and you can expect a pretty intense performance.

Shooting Stars

The second new event added to this year's competition is the Gatorade NHL Shooting Stars. Players will be positioned on an elevated platform behind the goal, about 30 feet up and shoot at different targets on the ice. Each player will attempt seven shots.

There will be eight shooters from the NHL All-Stars and an additional two women, one from the U.S. team and one from Canada, will participate. The women will be selected by social media vote.

With all events the NHL experiments with, we have no idea just what this will look like or how good it will be until we see it. Maybe it is the next big thing and maybe it will be a total flop.

But hey, nothing could be worse than watching the players try to shoot on the mini nets as they have in the past so at least it's not that.

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Kevin Long dissects Juan Soto’s World Series Game 1 home run off Gerrit Cole

Kevin Long dissects Juan Soto’s World Series Game 1 home run off Gerrit Cole

Before the Nationals faced off with the Houston Astros in the 2019 World Series, Washington’s hitting coach Kevin Long sat down with FOX Sports analyst Tom Verducci. Long told the veteran reporter that he guaranteed young phenom Juan Soto would hit a home run off a high fastball from Gerrit Cole.

It was considered a lofty prediction, as Cole was in the midst of a Cy Young-caliber year and had allowed just one earned run in 22.2 postseason innings thus far that October. But sure enough, four innings into the first game of the series, Soto did exactly that.

In his first at-bat, Soto looked overmatched and struck out on three pitches. He got his second look three innings later and must have learned something, because he took Cole’s 1-0 pitch—a fastball high and outside—and sent it 417 feet to the opposite field.

At the Nationals’ annual WinterFest event, Long spoke with NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas about what went into that prediction and why he felt compelled to make it.

“First and foremost, I do believe that Juan Soto is one of the best high fastball hitters in baseball,” Long said. “I’ve seen him numerous times take high fastballs and take care of business. Gerrit [Cole] doesn’t pitch in much, so I figured it was going to be out over the plate.

And the other factor there is, we weren’t getting much credit. They basically were cashing that game in as a loss. ‘We can’t beat Gerrit Cole. Gerrit Cole is too good. Gerrit Cole hasn’t lost since May.’ So I just said, ‘You know what? Let me just make a prediction, because I’m sick of hearing about how we’re not going to be able to do anything against this guy…and it ended up working out, it’s pretty cool.”

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW ON THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST BELOW

The Nationals entered the World Series facing the longest odds Las Vegas oddsmakers had given to an underdog since 2007, when the Boston Red Sox were heavy favorites over the Colorado Rockies. Given that Washington went on to stun the baseball world and win in seven games, it isn’t surprising that most national fans didn’t quite yet understand what kind of player Soto is when the series began.

“I’ve had numerous people come up to me and say, ‘That was one of the most impressive home runs I have ever, ever seen,’” Long said. “As a left-handed hitter, number one. A 97-mph fastball and how far he hit it was remarkable. It truly was.

“We were putting together pretty good at-bats off him in those big situations you just need one guy to come through and that was Juan Soto’s moment. He got the pitch, he didn’t miss it and I don’t know if Gerrit was admiring it—I’m sure he wasn’t—but he was probably like, ‘Wow, this kid is pretty special.’”

Now, Soto is entering the 2020 season as the undisputed top hitter in Washington after Anthony Rendon departed for the Los Angeles Angels in free agency. Long doesn’t want Soto to change his approach too much, but rather just focus on what got him to this position in the first place.

“He doesn’t have to do a whole lot extra, he’s just got to basically be the Juan Soto he’s been,” Long said. “His swing is really, really good. He makes adjustments really well. He’s smart. He gets it, and at 21 years old that’s what makes him certainly unique.”

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