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Wilfork enjoying another standout season

Wilfork enjoying another standout season

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) His numbers don't leap off the page. They never do.

Yet as he has done throughout his entire nine-year career in New England, Vince Wilfork is leaving an unmistakable imprint all over the Patriots this season.

The only defensive player still on the roster from any of New England's championship teams is once again living up to the billing as one of the best nose tackles in the league. Wilfork is a stalwart force in the center of the Patriots' defensive line who's been instrumental in their much-improved rushing defense.

``I could care less about stats,'' Wilfork said earlier in the year. ``The only stat I care about is the W. We win, and I'm happy. We lose, and I'm not.''

The 6-foot-2, 325-pound Wilfork wasn't too jolly following New England's 41-34 loss to San Francisco on Monday night that snapped the Patriots' seven-game winning streak.

After back-to-back games against two of the top teams in the league - the first a possible AFC championship preview against the Houston Texans and last week's showdown a potential Super Bowl matchup - New England travels to Jacksonville to face the struggling Jaguars.

And after playing two teams that have combined for 22 victories, Wilfork isn't about to look past 2-12 Jacksonville.

The Jaguars, like every other team on New England's schedule, likely will find it impossible to overlook Wilfork.

``A lot of people might look at their record, but you can just tell, they just line up and they play football. They're old school,'' Wilfork said. ``They line up and they try to do things right and you can just tell, when they do the things right, they move the ball, they make plays.

``It's going to be challenging for us.''

Attempting to block Wilfork is always a tall order.

Just ask Patriots offensive lineman Nick McDonald, whose job is to help handle Wilfork each and every practice.

``Going up against (a guy) like that, you've got to play your best football. He's a tough player to defend,'' McDonald said. ``He's a great football player. He's a good leader. He's a guy that's been around the system for a long time and he does a lot of things well.

``He's a hell of a football player.''

When the stage is biggest, Wilfork seems to shine the most. Take two weeks ago, for example.

The mammoth man in the middle was credited with four tackles, one for a loss, a sack, one pass deflection and a forced fumble, igniting a stunning blowout of the first-place Texans in front of a national television audience.

He also was almost single-handedly responsible for bottling up running back Arian Foster, who for the third straight season has eclipsed 1,200 yards but managed just 46 yards on 15 carries against the Patriots.

Wilfork didn't even need to be standing on his large feet to make one of the more memorable tackles of his season, either. On the second offensive play of the game, Wilfork was blocked to the ground, but still managed to clamp his massive mitts around Foster's shin, dragging him down for a 1-yard loss.

``He's a unique player,'' McDonald said.

Wilfork by no means is your average pass rusher, barreling down the middle rather than from the side, and has totaled fewer sacks in his career (15) than some players have this season alone.

But then again, nothing about the four-time Pro Bowler is typical.

The surprisingly mobile veteran is enjoying a standout season for New England with 42 tackles, two forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, a pair of sacks and six passes defended.

``The athletic ability he has and the size he has is very rare, and just his passion for the game,'' McDonald marveled. ``Guys that have been around the league a long time like that and still have amazing passion and work as hard as he does, he's going to be successful.''

The offensive line also is benefiting from his presence.

``Going up against a guy like that . that rare athletic ability and size, the power he has, the quickness, it's definitely going to make you better,'' McDonald said. ``He's going to make everybody around him better, too.''

Wilfork is a major reason the Patriots have forced a turnover in 25 straight games and lead the league in turnover differential at plus-22, seven more than second-ranked Houston.

``That's one of the things that we do. That's one of our goals. That's one of the things that we work very hard toward. And it's paying off for us this year,'' Wilfork said. ``Hopefully we can continue to get our offense the ball. There's no other offense I would want to get the ball than inside (quarterback Tom Brady's) hands. The more we get our offense the opportunity with the ball, the better we'll be as a team, and we understand that.

``Our goal is to go out and create negative plays and create turnovers and give our offense the ball back.''

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WATCH: Rui Hachimura punishing Spurs interior defense with dunk and two layups

WATCH: Rui Hachimura punishing Spurs interior defense with dunk and two layups

As Rui Hachimura continues to grow and take his lumps at the NBA level, one important point of development for the Wizards' rookie will be finishing through contact at the rim. 

The Wizards play the Hornets on Friday at 7 p.m. EST on NBC Sports Washington.

On Wednesday night against the Spurs, Hachimura hit a nice hook shot over LaMarcus Aldridge and then finished through traffic after attacking a closeout a few plays later. He entered the game shooting nearly 70 percent at the rim, a major reason why he's one of the top-scoring rookies this season. 

Then at the end of the first half, Isaiah Thomas found Hachimura on a back-door cut for the easy slam. Well-timed cuts are a great source of points for young players. 

After the break, the ninth-overall pick flashed a little finesse at the rim for another pretty finish. 

His three-point shooting will have to improve at some point down the line and learning better positioning as a defender is something every rookie has to go through. 

Both of those skills can be improved in the practice gym or in the film room. Finishing at the basket through contact is learned by repetition in-game, so it's a promising sign to see Hachimura take the ball to the rim. 

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When Gregg Popovich thinks the NBA will be ready for a female head coach

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When Gregg Popovich thinks the NBA will be ready for a female head coach

WASHINGTON -- The Wizards hosting the Spurs on Wednesday night brought together two of the 11 NBA teams that currently employ a female assistant coach. The Wizards have Kristi Toliver on their bench and the Spurs have Becky Hammon.

That confluence prompted a question to San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich on the future of women in the NBA coaching ranks and whether a head coaching hire could happen sometime soon. 

The Wizards play the Hornets on Friday at 7 p.m. EST on NBC Sports Washington.

Though it has been five years since he hired Hammon as the first full-time female assistant coach in league history, Popovich is uncertain on exactly when a team will make the leap to hiring a woman to run their operation.

"That depends on people and organizations," he said. 

"It's a process and it doesn't happen quickly. But I think the more women there are [in the game] and as it becomes more commonplace and more the rule, it will then depend on an organization realizing there are women that can do this. Every woman can't, every man can't. But the point is there gotta be enough to choose from and it's gotta be pretty commonplace before I think somebody's gonna pull the trigger."

Popovich believes it will happen, he's just not sure when. The Wizards hiring Toliver last summer was another step in that direction and he believes she and others are showing the basketball world what they are capable of.

"There's no difference between a woman who knows the game and a man who knows the game. It's just another prejudice that probably has to be overcome just like a lot of other prejudices in the world have become less and less as people paid attention to them," Popovich said.

Hammon made the news over the weekend when Popovich was ejected from the Spurs' loss to the Kings and a committee of assistants coached the rest of the game. Popovich was asked why he didn't appoint Hammon to serve in the role for the rest of the game and he told reporters he was "not here to make history." 

Still, though there has never been a female head coach in any of the four major U.S. sports, it seems like the NBA is by far the closest with people like Hammon and Tolliver already knocking on the door.

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