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Stingy Iowa St D gets final shot in Liberty Bowl

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Stingy Iowa St D gets final shot in Liberty Bowl

AMES, Iowa (AP) Iowa State might have the best defense no one outside of Ames has heard of this season.

The Cyclones held 11 of their 12 opponents below their season scoring average, and half of them at least 10 points under what they normally got.

Iowa State's shaky offense is the main reason why the Cyclones are just 6-6 heading into the Liberty Bowl against Tulsa (10-3) on Dec. 31.

So for the defense, a rematch of the season opener against the Golden Hurricane - who scored 12 points below their average - marks one last shot to show the nation just how strong they've been all season.

``Our goal is to hold teams to no points. Obviously holding teams below their average is a priority, but we also strive to do better,'' first-team All-Big 12 linebacker A.J. Klein said. ``We're just trying to play the best defense we can. If they score 30 points and they still win, it's what happens.''

Iowa State's 38-23 win over Tulsa nearly four months ago was the start of a remarkable run for a program that's often struggled defensively in the past. Though the Cyclones finished 36th nationally in scoring defense, they did so while playing eight teams that scored at least 31 points a game.

The Cyclones held Iowa to just six points at Kinnick Stadium, explosive Texas Tech to 24 points and TCU to just 23 in a road win.

The Cyclones gave Fiesta Bowl-bound Kansas State one of its toughest challenges of the season and held Baylor, the nation's fifth best offense, to a season-low 21 points.

Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia also failed to reach their season averages. Of course, the Cyclones lost all three of those games - but it certainly wasn't the defense's fault.

``I'd like to think we play with a chip on our shoulders, as if we have something to prove to people regardless of how the outside world sees us,'' Iowa State linebacker Jake Knott said.

The Liberty Bowl will be the final showcase for a number of Cyclones who've helped turn around the defense. Knott will miss the game with a shoulder injury, but Klein, senior lineman Jake McDonough, a first-team all-league pick by the coaches, and defensive backs Durrell Givens - back from injury for the bowl game - and Jeremy Reeves will all be playing for the last time at Iowa State.

``I want to go out a winner,'' Klein said. ``It's important to me, and it's important to the rest of the senior class.''

The offense, which scored just 25.2 points a game, appears to have the potential to be much better in 2013. Redshirt freshman Sam Richardson looks like he's has stabilized the quarterback position, which had three different starters this season. The Cyclones also have tremendous depth at running back, and they should be able to plug in replacements everywhere else with relative ease.

There will be much more uncertainty on defense, where a number of promising but unproven players will compete for playing time.

But it's a unit that is slowly establishing itself as the trademark of the program under fourth-year head coach Paul Rhoads, a longtime defensive coordinator, and current coordinator Wally Burnham.

``To have the coaches we have, and for them to be around for this amount of time, is unbelievable in college,'' Knott said. When you can do that, you set up a great system and groundwork for people to just come in like I did and like (Klein) did and just learn every single year and get better and get smarter and quicker and faster. If that continues, the sky is the limit for the defense.''

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Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' loss to the Raptors, including Kelly Oubre Jr's putback slam

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USA Today

5 must-see moments from Wizards' loss to the Raptors, including Kelly Oubre Jr's putback slam

The Washington Wizards lost to the Toronto Raptors 117-113 on Saturday night in the Wizards' 2018-19 regular season opener. Here are five plays or moments worth revisiting...

1. Early on in this one, there was a difference in Otto Porter Jr. He came out firing from long range after not taking a single three in the Wizards' season-opening loss to the Heat earlier in the week.

This was Porter's best play. Off an incredible fastbreak pass from John Wall, Porter knocked down a near-corner three and got the and-1:

It's often you see a four-point play. Porter finished with 11 points in 24 minutes after fading in the second half.

2. This may have been the best play of the night for the Wizards. Wall zoomed down the floor and missed a contested transition layup. But Kelly Oubre Jr. was there to clean it up with a vicious putback slam:

Oubre had eight points and six rebounds, but shot 3-for-8 and had two turnovers in 19 minutes.

3. It was a bad overall night for the Wizards, but Bradley Beal did provide a great moment in the second half when he knocked down his fifth three of the game. That one passed Gilbert Arenas on the Wizards/Bullets all-time list for career threes:

Beal had 32 points in 35 minutes on 12-for-21 from the field and 6-for-11 from three. He also added six rebounds, a steal and a block.

4. Per usual, Wall made a lot of plays attacking the rim on Saturday night. On this one, he got the bucket and the foul:

Wall finished with 25 points, six assists and four steals.

5. Those were the good moments for the Wizards. But the play of the game was by Raptors guard Fred Van Vleet.

On a broken play with the shot clock ticking down, Van Vleet threw up a desperation shot that went in and sealed the victory:

It has only been two games, but the Wizards failing to execute late to secure victories has been an early season theme. 

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What is a back-up goalie’s job during a game?

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USA TODAY

What is a back-up goalie’s job during a game?

At the end of every bench in the NHL is a goalie sitting in full pads and a hat. What is his job during the game?

Friday’s game between the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers was one of the rare games that featured four goalies. Braden Holtby and James Reimer started, but both were ultimately pulled in what was a high-scoring affair. In stepped Pheonix Copley and Michael Hutchinson.

And yet, despite being little more than an afterthought in the team’s preparation for the game, both Copley (one goal allowed on 19 shots, .947 save percentage) and Hutchinson (one goal allowed on 11 shots, .909 save percentage) stepped in and out-performed the starters giving both of their respective teams a chance to win the game.

“It's easier in some aspects,” Holtby said of coming into a game off the bench, something he has done at various points of his career despite being the primary starter for Washington. “I think that's why you see a lot of guys go in and have success right away and have good games because you don't have that day or two days to be getting rid of your thoughts and that kind of thing.”

At the end of every bench in the NHL is a goalie sitting in full pads and a hat. Every team dresses two goalies on the roster for a game. One starts and one sits on the bench as the backup in case he is needed because of injury or because a coach chooses to make a goalie switch. That backup is tasked with being ready at all times to step into the game knowing full well that, if all goes according to plan, he will not get to play at all.

Holtby and Reimer had prepared for Friday’s game knowing they were going to start. Both players took warmups in order to prepare them to play a full game while Copley and Hutchinson had little reason to think they would see any action at all.

By the end of the second period, however, both Holtby and Reimer had been replaced. Copley at least had an intermission to prepare as he came on at the start of the second period while Hutchinson had to step in midway through the second period.

“I guess it can be a little challenging,” Copley said, “But I feel like as long as you’re kind of paying attention to the game and your mind's kind of in that hockey mindset then if something happens, I'll be ready to go.”

Professional athletes are creatures of habit. To have to step into a game unexpectedly with little to no warning or preparation and be expected to perform at the highest level is an incredibly tough mental challenge.

And yet, in many ways, it can be easier than starting.

“The whole thing about mental preparation is so that you go out there not thinking about anything, not worrying about any of that,” Holtby said. “When you're forced in with a matter of 30 seconds, there's no time to think about anything. You just go in and play.”

For goalies, not starting does not mean having the night off. Both coaches and teammates alike can lean upon a backup netminder as an extra set of eyes.

“Sometimes they'll ask a question like did it look like I had room there?” Copley said. “Was it a shot or missed? Did you see what happened on this play? So I just try to be there and watch.”

Some coaches even give goalies assignments in game, though that practice seems to be on the decline.

“I know [Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock] makes them look at faceoffs or something,” Holtby said. “It's pretty archaic. There's guys that do that now that are better than the backup goalie at looking at things.”

In truth, there is no defined in-game requirements for most goalies in the NHL when they sit as backups and that is true of the Caps’ tandem. That makes the job of a backup a very simple one.

“I just try and be ready if I have to go in,” Copley said. “Make sure I'm physically and mentally ready and be a good teammate.”

Holtby put it even more succinctly as he said, “Don't do anything stupid.”