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UCF's Bortles dominates in Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl

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UCF's Bortles dominates in Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) Blake Bortles is just one of the reasons why Central Florida feels good about its chances of being successful in the new-look Big East.

The red-shirt sophomore turned the Beef `O' Brady's Bowl into a personal showcase Friday night, throwing for three touchdowns and running for another to pace a 38-17 victory over Ball State in UCF's final game as a member of Conference USA - a league the Knights won twice in eight seasons.

``He's an outstanding player, and he scared me ... coming in with his feet and his ability to escape in the pocket and keep his eyes down the field and make plays,'' Ball State coach Pete Lembo said.

``He did that basically from the beginning of the game until the end when he came out,'' Lembo added. ``I can't believe that this guy's not going to be a pro prospect if he continues to develop the way he has. So I'm very, very impressed with him and obviously the supporting cast.''

Bortles directed a balanced attack that gained 494 yards total offense. UCF's defense did its part by holding the high-scoring Cardinals to their lowest point total of the season.

``Offensively, this is one of the best games we had all year,'' Bortles said. ``Everyone just really picked up and went, and that's why we won the way we did.''

Bortles threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns. The red-shirt sophomore also rushed for a career-high 80 yards and scored on a 6-yard run that helped UCF (10-4) build a 21-point halftime lead.

``I thought Blake did everything he needed to do by making the right decisions,'' UCF coach George O'Leary said. ``Basically, he made the right decisions that moved us down the field. He really showed tonight why he's our guy out there.''

Bortles tossed first-half TD passes of 7 and 5 yards to Latavius Murray, who also scored on a 2-yard run. J.J. Worton's 7-yard scoring reception made 35-10 late in the third quarter.

Ball State (9-4) was hoping to finish with at least 10 wins for the third time in school history, however its offense sputtered while being held 18 points below its season average. Keith Wenning threw a 7-yard TD pass to Willie Snead early in the second quarter, but the Cardinals didn't get into the end zone again until Snead scored on a 16-yard reception with 5 minutes remaining.

Bortles completed 22 of 33 passes without an interception to become UCF's first 3,000-yard passer since 2002. His three TD passes were a career-best and tied the Beef `O' Brady's Bowl record.

Wenning, meanwhile, was 22 of 34 for 217 yards and two TDs for Ball State, which had a six-game winning streak snapped before an announced crowd of 21,759.

The Cardinals were 3 for 9 on third-down conversions and finished with 288 yards, nearly 200 below their season average.

``Obviously, to stay on the field on third down is critical, and (there is) very little margin for error for our offense,'' Lembo said. ``It wasn't a horrible day offensively by any means, but not quite to the degree we needed to stay in the game.''

UCF, one of several schools joining the Big East next season, rebounded from an overtime loss in the Conference USA title game to finish with double-digit victories for the third time since stepping up to the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Knights also won 10 in 2007 and 2010, when they were Conference USA champions.

The Knights' loss to Tulsa in the Conference USA title game kept them close to home for the postseason. Instead of heading to the Liberty Bowl for the second time in three years, coach George O'Leary and his players settled for a 100-mile trek west from Orlando to Tropicana Field, the home of Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays.

O'Leary also brought his team to St. Petersburg in 2009, losing to Rutgers by three touchdowns. Friday night's victory improved the 66-year-old coach's record to 4-5 in bowl games, including a 2-3 mark with UCF.

Ball State's first bowl appearance since 2008 is the latest step in an impressive turnaround under Lembo, whose team suffered early losses to Clemson, Kent State and Northern Illinois before winning six straight down the stretch to put themselves into a position to fill the Big East's slot in the Beef `O' Brady's game because the league didn't have enough bowl-eligible teams to meet its commitment.

The Cardinals beat two teams from BCS conferences in the same season for the first time, defeating Indiana and South Florida in consecutive weeks. They had the MAC's second-most productive offense at 471.3 yards and 35 points per game and won four times by scoring the winning points in the final 2 minutes or overtime.

``It's not the way you kind of desire to go out as a senior, but I'm proud of my teammates for even getting us to the point,'' Ball State linebacker Travis Freeman said. ``The guys worked hard and trained hard all year round for this opportunity. We didn't seize it, but I'm proud of my teammates for what they've done.''

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The Bradley Beal All-NBA Dilemma: How NBA execs would handle the big question facing the Wizards

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The Bradley Beal All-NBA Dilemma: How NBA execs would handle the big question facing the Wizards

“How do you get a player better than Brad if you trade Brad?”

That brain-busting question from a current NBA general manager came before the February 7 trade deadline when rumors involving Wizards guard Bradley Beal swirled.

Another migraine-inducing conundrum is forthcoming whether Beal receives All-NBA honors or not.

Should the league’s upcoming announcement of its first, second and third team include the two-time All-Star, the Wizards may have no choice but to break up the backcourt pairing with John Wall that fueled the franchise’s most sustained success since winning the 1978 title.

This honor comes with a financial reward-- if extended to Beal by the Wizards --  in the form of a supermax contract worth approximately $193 million over four years that would begin in 2021-22. He still has two years and $56 million remaining on the valued five-year, $127 million deal he signed in 2016.

The issue is less about Beal’s hefty chunk of the Wizards’ salary cap, but combining it with Wall’s four-year, $170 million supermax deal that begins next season. Offer Beal the supermax and, should he accept, approximately 71 percent of the team’s future salary cap beginning in the 2021-22 season would be chewed up by two players.

Beal and Wall, when healthy, are All-Stars. They’re not Jordan and Pippen.

NBC Sports Washington spoke with over a dozen league sources in recent weeks including three current or former general managers, other executives, NBA coaches, and scouts, about Beal’s contract situation and the Wizards’ overall equation coming off a 32-50 campaign.

Some dutifully tried putting themselves in the mindset of Washington’s next front office leader knowing Beal’s contract status and other limiting or uncertain factors.

The executives shared opinions on whether to boldly hold or sell high on the Wizards’ best player. Regardless of their stance, their initial instinct almost unanimously landed in the same place as this current lead executive: “I have no idea what you would do.”

*****

There’s an incredibly strong argument for doing nothing. How do you get a player better than Brad if you trade Brad?

Several NBA sources largely acknowledge the choice almost gets removed from the Wizards front office should Beal receive the All-NBA nod. Even if Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson or Ben Simmons trump Beal in the voting, events from early February may effectively force the Wizards’ hand.

Washington faced its second consecutive luxury tax payment, diminishing playoff hopes and the knowledge that Wall would miss the rest of the season with a heel injury.

Despite those negatives and salary cap concerns with only five players catapulting the team over next season’s salary cap, big picture hope existed. The headliners -- Wall, Beal and Otto Porter -- previously put the Wizards in a playoff contender mode. “We're not trading any of those players,” Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said at the time.

There’s a good reason to believe Leonsis meant what he said. Then life intervened and forced change.

Wall’s left Achilles ruptured during the first week of February. The recovery time means an entire calendar year and perhaps the full 2019-20 season. Those negatives, especially with the salary cap, were now amplified.

Washington dealt with that financial scenario two days after the Wall status update by trading Porter and Markieff Morris to slide under the luxury tax.

Another life event requiring a financial decision could happen soon.

*****

There’s no debating whether Beal is worthy of the All-NBA accolade. Some believe he is a favorite to snag one of the two guard spots on the third-team.

The dilemma is can the Wizards justify offering a contract with those hefty terms knowing what’s already on the books, plus the upcoming challenges.

Pass and the likelihood of trading Beal at peak value becomes a leading option. Hold Beal regardless and his trade value effectively decreases over the next two seasons with the possibility he leaves as a 2021 free agent without compensation.

“The Wizards is a hard job right now,” a former GM told NBC Sports Washington. “There’s a lot to figure out. Timelines can’t be certain with John Wall in particular. For Bradley Beal, that's a decision… Hard to walk in [to those interviews) with a specific plan.”

Leave the supermax contract off the table and the human element arises. Those familiar with Beal’s mindset do not see a Robin to Wall’s Batman. Co-headliners, cool, but then pay and appreciate accordingly. Maybe folks could start referring to the pair as Beal and Wall once in a while.

Forget the money, which isn’t Beal’s driving motivation. As one source familiar with Beal’s thinking stated, “Brad needs to be in the playoffs. He’s not disruptive...Brad just wants to win.”

The Wizards might not be in playoff position next season even if Beal maintains his All-NBA level. It's a near lock they won't if the 2012 first-round pick is traded.

Beal averaged 30.9 points in February, the same month he dropped a season-high 46 at Charlotte and his All-NBA buzz soared. Beal joined 2019 MVP finalist James Harden as the only players this season to average at least 25 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1.5 steals.

The wing guard’s leadership kept Washington tangibly in the playoff race until realities of the undermanned roster kicked in.

“I think [Brad is] an all-NBA player in my eyes,” said Wall, an All-NBA selection in 2016. “You know how tough it is to make that team? It’s always tough. The year he’s had speaks for itself.”

How do you trade that player especially one groomed by the organization since selecting him third overall in 2012? You can't -- but the Wizards might not have a choice.

Nobody recognizes this more than Bradley Beal.

"Honestly, I’m here until I’m not here," Beal told NBC Sports Washington earlier this month. "I’m not thinking too strong on it. My personal desire is to be here and see the direction we go. Hopefully, the correct direction.

"I keep hearing the possibility of rebooting, trading Brad and getting assets back. It’s a business. I understand both sides of it. I can’t be mad at it."

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Bradley Beal rooted for the Capitals to win the Stanley Cup, so now he deserves to see his hometown team win it this year

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Bradley Beal rooted for the Capitals to win the Stanley Cup, so now he deserves to see his hometown team win it this year

The St. Louis Blues defeated the San Jose Sharks Tuesday to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1970, where they were eliminated by the Boston Bruins.

They will look to even the odds, as they will be taking on the Bruins yet again on Monday night.

Blues fan and St. Louis native Bradley Beal will hope that his hometown squad will take the cup from the reigning champs, the Washington Capitals, and win the matchup against the Bruins.

Beal cheered on the Caps just a year ago and is ready to show out for the surging Blues.

To really put it into perspective how long it has been since the Blues played for the Cup, take a look at the number one song in the country when these two teams faced off 49 years ago. 

The Blues besting the Bruins will be a challenge, and Beal will be ready to root for his squad until the final buzzer.

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