Nationals

Testy times ahead in Palmetto rivalry

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Testy times ahead in Palmetto rivalry

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) It's the week Clemson and South Carolina fans have waited for all year. And it's never been this big - or this testy.

The 12th-ranked Tigers (10-1) and 13th-ranked Gamecocks (9-2) play Saturday at Death Valley - if South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier remembers the location of the stadium.

Spurrier and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney have spent the past year trading jabs since the Gamecocks won their third straight in the rivalry, 34-13 last season.

A few days later, Swinney went on a rant that should live for the ages in the lore of the rivalry. He ripped South Carolina's pedigree, nickname and football history against Clemson, all over a comment attributed to Spurrier on social media the head ball coach never said.

``Tweet that,'' Swinney concluded last December.

Spurrier has questioned Swinney's smarts, poked fun at Death Valley's location - ``Is there another one?'' Spurrier quipped before LSU week - and said at an on-campus celebration last month for injured tailback Marcus Lattimore that ``usually when that coach up there talks about South Carolina, it's a bunch of garbage.''

And that was before praising Swinney's kind words over losing Lattimore.

``They don't like us very much and we don't care for them,'' said Lattimore's replacement in the Gamecocks' backfield, Kenny Miles.

All the coaching back-and-forth may have overshadowed the best combined seasons in the history of the rivalry. The Tigers won their seventh straight game and 13th in a row at home with a 62-48 victory over North Carolina State on Saturday. Clemson was awarded a trophy afterward as co-champs of the ACC Atlantic Division, although Florida State will play in the title game because of its win over the Tigers two months ago.

South Carolina extended its winning streak to three with a 24-7 victory over FCS opponent Wofford.

It's the first time since 1987 and just the second time overall the schools have both been in the top 15 when they've played, although both dropped a spot in the latest rankings. Plus, the stakes are sky high. A win by Clemson could bring an at-large BCS berth to the Sugar Bowl. South Carolina's seeking a second straight 10-win season for the first time.

``I don't know how you can add any more juice to this game,'' Swinney said.

Spurrier has a chance for some additional history: A fourth straight win over Clemson, something that's happened just once before (1951-54) in a series that began in 1896.

It's a streak the Tigers are tired of hearing about.

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd says for all the team have accomplished with three divisional trophies and last year's Atlantic Coast Conference title, it's a little hollow without defeating the Gamecocks.

``I think it's a must-win situation for us,'' he said. ``It's one of those deals where it has to happen.''

You could tell South Carolina's run had worn on Swinney's nerves last fall when he was asked after a Tigers practice about a Twitter comment attributed to Spurrier - but actually said by radio play-by-play man Todd Ellis - that while South Carolina wasn't among the SEC's elite teams like Alabama or LSU, ``we ain't Clemson either.''

Swinney called the comment childish and without merit. He pointed out the Tigers' superior record overall and in the series. ``They're never going to be Clemson, to be honest with you. No three-game win streak is going to change that,'' the coach said.

Swinney wasn't finished, mocking nicknames and saying there's a different, higher standard to Clemson football than at South Carolina.

``He's exactly right. They ain't Alabama. They ain't LSU. And they're certainly not Clemson. That's why Carolina is in Chapel Hill and USC is in California,'' he continued. ``The university in this state, always has been, always will be - Clemson. It's right here in Clemson, South Carolina. Print that. Tweet that. Whatever.''

Spurrier wasn't angry. ``Smart people don't believe everything they read, and they don't believe hearsay,'' he said. ``I guess Dabo believed it.''

Spurrier's had a long history of tweaking rivals. His comments needling Tennessee (''You can't spell Citrus without UT'') and Florida State (''Free Shoes University'') while coach at Florida are part of college football legend.

Spurrier is 4-3 in the rivalry, tied for second-most Clemson wins by a South Carolina coach with Paul Dietzel. Spurrier trails Rex Enright's eight series wins in 15 years with the Gamecocks. Spurrier tied Enright's career program victories record at 64 last week and gets first crack at the school record at Death Valley.

Spurrier's most recent jab on the Tigers came at the Lattimore ceremony, where teammates, coaches, officials and fans came together two days after Lattimore's injury - and on his 21st birthday - to wish him well when Spurrier took a roundabout way to thank Swinney.

Clemson's coach took it as a compliment. ``It's like me telling my wife, `You don't look as fat in this dress,''' he said.

One thing players on both sides agree on: Little pregame chatter matters at kickoff. ``Regardless of what their coach says, what our coach says, it's going to be a heated game,'' Miles said.

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Associated Press writer Jeffrey Collins contributed to this report.

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Beats by Scherz: Why Scherzer chose Dr. Dre song as his walk-up music

Beats by Scherz: Why Scherzer chose Dr. Dre song as his walk-up music

NEW YORK – A few constants remain during this wayward Nationals season. One is Max Scherzer.

Scherzer comes into Tuesday leading the National League in innings pitched and strikeouts. He's second in strikeouts per nine innings and third in strikeout-to-walk ratio. Scherzer's 3.72 ERA is well above his average of 2.71 since arriving in Washington in 2015. However, his FIP (fielding-independent pitching) is a league-leading 2.45, showing he has been victimized by bad defense more than bad pitching.

He hopped on a pop-up edition of The Racing Presidents podcast Tuesday in New York. Sitting in the visitors dugout a day ahead of another matchup with 2018 Cy Young Award Jacob deGrom, Scherzer touched on lighter topics, like his selection of Dr. Dre's "Still Dre" as his walkup song, and addressed who is responsible for the Nationals being seven games under .500 the last year-plus.

We're all responsible," Scherzer said. "When you wear a hat and jersey that says Nationals on it, we're all in the same position. It's frustrating to not have a winning record. It's frustrating not to be winning as a team. [Since] I've been here, we've won a couple division titles and you know that feeling of what it's like to win. You know you have the core group of players who have won here in the past that can win here again. It's just a matter of figuring out what the right chemistry is and going out there and getting it done."

Scherzer is in his 12th major-league season. He's made at least 30 starts for 10 consecutive seasons. One of the reasons for his lack of injuries and durability is not because he goes through extensive recuperation during the offseason. Instead, Scherzer keeps pushing both his arm and body. 

"I try to find a way to continue to do more, to take more on my body even as I age," Scherzer said.

And, about that walkup song, which is part-protest, part-comeback song? He was out to dinner with reliever Aaron Barrett when it popped on and Barrett suggested it as this year's entrance music.

So, click below to listen to everything Scherzer had to say in our exclusive interview. Also, don't forget to download, rate and subscribe to The Racing Presidents podcast. We're with you after every game and with marquee interviews and insight you can't find elsewhere.

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Bruno Fernando

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Bruno Fernando

The Washington Wizards will have the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Bruno Fernando

School: Maryland
Position: Center
Age: 20 (turns 21 in August)
Height: 6-10
Weight: 237
Wingspan: 7-3
Max vertical: 33.5 in.

2018/19 stats: 13.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.6 spg, 1.9 bpg, 60.7 FG% (5.1/8.4), 30.0 3PT% (0.1/0.3), 77.9 FT%

Player comparison: Jusuf Nurkic, Bam Adebayo

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 24th, NBADraft.net 12th, Bleacher Report 19th, Sports Illustrated 28th, Ringer 37th

5 things to know:

*Fernando tested the NBA draft waters last year before returning to school and clearly helped his stock by doing so. He went from a likely second round pick to someone who could fall in the lottery. Fernando is ranked in most mock drafts as the third-best big man in this draft behind Zion Williamson and Jaxson Hayes.

*He is one of the best rebounders in this class. He averaged 10.9 boards per game as a sophomore and had five games of 15 or more. That includes a 19-rebound performance against Nebraska on Feb. 6. Fernando is a strong, physical forward so there is reason to believe those skills will translate to the next level.

*Concerns about Fernando include his lack of an outside shot. He attempted only 13 threes in college and did most of his damage around the rim. But the potential for Fernando to become a reliable scorer in the NBA appear to be there. He has soft touch around the rim and can finish with power.

*Defensively, Fernando needs some work. He has the physical tools with his size and long arms, and he averaged 1.9 blocks per game in college, but some evaluatiors criticize his defensive instincts and discipline. As long as Fernando can block shots and rebound in the NBA, he should be fine on that end of the floor.

*Fernando is originally from the country of Angola and has played for their national team in several international tournaments. Angola basketball is famous for being the subject of one of Charles Barkley's most memorable quotes. During the 1992 Olympics, he said of USA's next opponent: "I don't know anything about Angola, but I know they're in trouble."

Fit with Wizards: Fernando would fit the Wizards in a variety of ways. Rim protection and rebounding are their biggest needs and he would help them to different degrees in both areas. With rebounding in particular, he could be a big plus.

But two questions about Fernando could give the Wizards pause. One is if they can justify taking him ninth when he may fall into the teens and second is what his ceiling will ultimately be. Does he have All-Star potential or will he top out as an Enes Kanter-type rebounding specialist?

Ideally, the Wizards would find someone with very high upside to give them hope for a true franchise building block moving forward. There may be better options than Fernando at No. 9, even if they play positions that are less of a need for the Wizards.

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