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Tigers not finger-pointing with Alabama up next

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Tigers not finger-pointing with Alabama up next

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Missouri's defense pretty much held up its end of the bargain last week. If there's been any griping about the lack of production on the other side of the ball heading into the perceived mismatch against top-ranked Alabama, the Tigers have kept it to themselves.

Outspoken defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said no one's getting frustrated, and no one's pointing fingers.

``Nothing too dramatic. Ain't no wedges getting built,'' Richardson said. ``It ain't, `Are we fighting, we just enemies for the rest of our lives?' No, it's nothing like that at all.''

After Missouri limited Vanderbilt to 295 yards, end Brad Madison said the defense hasn't done its job if the opponent ends up with more points.

``We've got to stop the run,'' Madison said. ``Alabama's going to pound the ball on us.''

In the face of adversity, cornerback Kip Edwards remained very optimistic.

``We can still go 9-3. I don't see what the fuss is about,'' Edwards said. ``We can still win the East. You never know.''

Missouri (3-3, 0-3 SEC) dropped to .500 and its long-anticipated debut season in the SEC has produced mostly groans, especially after a 19-15 upset at home by lightly regarded Vanderbilt last week. The Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0) are three-touchdown favorites to send another Faurot Field sellout crowd home disappointed on Saturday.

The Tigers' no-huddle, spread offense is averaging just 25 points, the school's lowest since 2004. They're averaging less than 16 points the last three games, getting held to just 10 in the first SEC road game at South Carolina.

Even the opener, a 62-10 romp over Southeastern Louisiana, is a bit deceptive because there were two punt returns for touchdown by Marcus Murphy, plus an interception return and fumble return for scores.

Missouri is just 88th in the nation in time of possession at 28 minutes and 21 seconds, putting the burden on a defense that's sagged at the end of the half and end of the game.

It's rare during the Gary Pinkel years for the defense to carry such responsibility. But that's just the way it is right now, and all segments are far from perfect.

``It's just us playing for each other,'' Edwards said. ``That's really what it all boils down to. You can't just blame the offense, you can't just blame the defense, you can't just blame the special teams. You have to blame us as a whole. We haven't played four quarters of football yet.''

Production has slid due injuries at quarterback and on the line for an offense that's not so high-powered, ranked just 95th in the nation. Quarterback James Franklin will be sidelined several weeks with a sprained left knee, and the banged-up line includes the first freshman to start under Pinkel, a redshirt freshman, a former walk-on and a sixth-year senior tackle, Elvis Fisher, playing hurt.

``They've had some problems and issues this year with some very good players being injured,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said. ``Regardless of those circumstances and situations, I think they have some very good players who are filling in and are very capable.''

Backup quarterback Corbin Berkstresser was just 9 for 30 for 189 yards and a touchdown last week in relief of Franklin.

``He's not the first quarterback who's ever had a tough day,'' Pinkel said. ``One thing we're not going to do, we don't make any drastic changes. That would be kind of the worst thing to do.''

Opponents are averaging 22.8 points and 326.7 yards against Missouri, which ranks near the middle of the SEC in both categories. The defense has been vulnerable when overworked, allowing 110 points in the second and fourth quarters and just 27 in the first and third quarters.

This week the competition figures to be a lot stiffer. Offensive expectations can't be high considering Alabama is allowing just seven points per game and the defense will be facing a unit that's perfect 22 for 22 inside the 20, 16 of them touchdowns.

``We've got to have better continuity,'' Pinkel said. ``I think maybe kids might press a little bit. I think that might happen. I think that's natural because they want to do well.''

The bottom line: Right now, low-scoring games are probably Missouri's only chance at success.

``We've just got to work through it,'' Pinkel said. ``I don't have anything magical here.''

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Alex Ovechkin goes for gold before a needed break from hockey

Alex Ovechkin goes for gold before a needed break from hockey

The Capitals’ season ended a month ago, but Alex Ovechkin has yet to take his break.

That will happen soon enough, but for now Washington’s captain is leading Russia at the IIHF World Hockey Championships in Slovakia. After that, he gets his first real rest since the end of the 2016-17 season. He has played in 194 NHL games, including the postseason, in 18 months.  

Ovechkin will turn 34 on Sept. 17 and the questions now start in earnest: How long can one of the world’s greatest goal scorers keep up his pace? Ovechkin recorded his eighth 50-goal season this past season. And while it ended in disappointment with a first-round loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Ovechkin deserved little blame after adding four goals and five assists in the series.

“As a captain and as a leader, I thought he took another step this year from how he showed up to training camp to how he played all year long two-way hockey, commitment and when the games mattered the most,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said last month. “He scored big goals and showed fantastic playmaking ability. A physical force. I'm excited to see what he comes back with now after a little extended time away because he was tremendous this year.”

Washington won the Stanley Cup on June 7 in Las Vegas last year and after a hectic summer of celebrating and, eventually, training, players were back less than three months later for another grind of a season that ended after 89 more regular-season and playoff games. Ovechkin missed just one of them. 

Next year could be another one filled with milestones for Ovechkin. He doesn’t even need 50 to reach them. With 42 goals he reaches 700 for his career. Only seven players have ever hit that mark.  

Ovechkin passes Mario Lemieux (690) with 32 goals and moves into the top 10 all time. He has a reasonable chance to catch Brett Hull for second-most power-play goals (265) in NHL history. Ovechkin has 247 right now and has averaged 17 per year each of the past four seasons.     

At some point, even for Ovechkin, scoring 50 goals will be too much. Only Johnny Bucyk (36) and Jaromir Jagr (34) have ever topped 50 goals at an older age. But if he could just do it one more time he would tie Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy for most 50-goal seasons ever (nine). We’re at the point where nothing should surprise, but we’ve gone off the known map. 

“That's the best I've seen him play in my three years here,” teammate Lars Eller said. “He just took some games over. It was impressive. He was our best player. Him and Nick, but especially O, he just took it to another level. Physicality-wise, he enforced his will out there and when he decides to do that, he's almost unstoppable. That was exciting to see."

Almost everything Ovechkin does now is unprecedented. In the past 20 NHL seasons dating to 1998-99, there have been 28 different 50-goal seasons as scoring has become harder thanks to better goalie play, equipment and more tactical defensive systems. And yet Ovechkin owns 29 percent of those 50-goal seasons. His 89 points (51 goals, 38 assists) were his most since 2009-10.  

For now, Ovechkin will settle for another IIHF World Championship. He has helped Russia win gold at the event three times (2008, 2010 and 2014). 

But Russia was 6-0 heading into the matchup with Sweden on Tuesday night and had outscored its opponents 29-3 in Group B despite just a goal and an assist from Ovechkin. 

There can be wild fluctuations in the competition level during the group stage at Worlds. The Russians beat Italy 10-0 last week. And the United States, Canada and Finland are all formidable opponents in Group A. 

Russia will likely play one of those teams in the quarterfinals on Thursday so nothing is guaranteed. The semifinals would be Saturday if they do win and then the gold-medal game - or the bronze-medal game - would be Sunday. Then, finally, Ovechkin can rest and get ready for his 15th NHL season with two years left on his contract with the Capitals. 

“[Ovechkin] elevated his game in the first round. He's just got a hunger to him to contribute and to score goals,” teammate Brett Connolly said. “You could tell that he was committed and that he was going to give everything he had to win it again. He was great last year and arguably even better this year….This fan base is very lucky to watch what he does on a consistent basis. You're not going to see that ever again. So, enjoy it while it's here.” 

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Tim Connelly explains his interview with Wizards, decision to stay with Nuggets

Tim Connelly explains his interview with Wizards, decision to stay with Nuggets

Tim Connelly sat down with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis about the head front-office opening on Friday.

On Monday, NBC Sports Washington confirmed that he decided to stick with his role as president of basketball operations for the Denver Nuggets

A day later, he spoke to the media at a press conference and answered questions about his meeting with Washington.

Clear in Connelly's comments were his respect for Leonsis, but commitment to continuity in Denver. 

"I had a really nice conversation with Mr. Leonsis and his staff. He's a fantastic owner, I think a real visionary. I was really impressed by who he was and his thoughts for the team. That team's going to be special quickly under his leadership. We just had a conversation and not much more than that."

As for the reason for the discussion with Leonsis, Connelly said it came down to his love for the franchise. 

"I spent 14 years there. Certainly it's where I'm from, it's where my wife's from, so I just wanted to have the conversation because I care about the organization," he said.

"I'd never had an audience with [Leonsis], so to have that conversation and exchange of ideas, you know, it's flattering." 

Ultimately, however, the Baltimore native emphasized that Washington couldn't entice him away from the franchise he'd spent the last six years building. 

"Loyalty and patience is such a rarity in professional sports and that's here in spades. Those things matter to me," he said. "I had a hard time envisioning myself elsewhere."

With Connelly out of the picture, the list of candidates for the Wizards front-office opening is narrowing. Currently, Tommy Sheppard, Danny Ferry and Troy Weaver remain in the conversation. 

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