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    Times wires
    Friday, December 21, 2012

    TODAY

    New Orleans Bowl

    Who: East Carolina (8-4, 7-1 C-USA) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4, 6-2 Sun Belt)

    When: Noon

    TV/radio: ESPN; 620-AM

    Line: Louisiana-Lafayette by 5

    Notable: East Carolina seeks its first bowl win since beating Boise State 41-38 in the 2007 Hawaii Bowl. Lafayette averages 187.3 yards rushing per game, and the Pirates have yielded 145.7 yards a game on the ground. Last year's New Orleans Bowl marked the first bowl victory for the Ragin' Cajuns. Both teams enter riding three-game winning streaks.

    Las Vegas Bowl

    Who: No. 20 Boise State (10-2, 7-1 Mountain West) vs. Washington (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12)

    When: 3:30

    TV: ESPN

    Line: Boise State by 51/2

    Notable: Boise looks to win this bowl for the third straight year. Washington had a four-game win streak snapped by Washington State in the regular-season finale. The Huskies' Keith Price had just 11 TD passes, down from 18 as a junior. The Broncos' Joe Southwick had eight TDs and no INTs in his final three games. The teams meet again in August in Seattle in UW's renovated stadium.

    Times wires


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    By Gary Shelton, Times Sports Columnist
    Friday, December 21, 2012

    He has made the trip before. Once he lines up in the tunnel, Ronde Barber knows how to find his way home. • In the moments before kickoff, he will stand in the corridor, the way he has for 230 previous games, and he will wait for his name to be called. He will jog out, the colors blurring around him. Fans will call his name, and teammates will slap his palm, and once again Barber will think about the possibilities of the day. • So many afternoons have started like this for Barber, the last vestige of the Bucs' golden days. So many games, so many fields, so many cheers. So many plays, so many moments, so many memories. Together they add up to a legacy that has made Barber among Tampa Bay's most admired athletes. • This time, however, there is a difference. • This time you cannot help but wonder if this might be the last time Barber runs onto the field at Raymond James Stadium.

    Barber will not say if it is, largely because Barber does not know. For several years now, it has been the same. Barber plays out the season, and he unplugs his body for a while. Later he will meet with Bucs coaches and officials, and he will talk about his role, and he will decide if he has another year in him or if he should schedule 365 tee times in a row.

    For now, however, there is a game to be played. This time it is against the Rams, and Barber has spent 37 years and 258 days waiting to play it.

    He has aged well, Barber, and in his latter seasons he has finally reclaimed his reputation in his city. It seemed to have disappeared for a while — Barber has said he felt it, too — but once again people see him as a graceful, instinctive player worth remembering. There are five names on the Bucs' Mount Rushmore: Lee Roy Selmon, Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, John Lynch … and Barber.

    Still, this has been a mixed season for him. For the first time Barber has played safety, which on this defense is like renting an apartment in the eye of a hurricane. All around Barber there has been the chaos of the league's worst pass defense

    So here's a question:

    Given that pass defense, does Barber deserve to make this year's Pro Bowl?

    Some might say no. After all, the Bucs are last in the league in pass defense. It's easy to wonder how much excellence is in that secondary. (Of course, the Packers were last in the NFL in pass defense last year, and Charles Woodson was named to the Pro Bowl anyway.)

    Some might say yes. After all, Barber led the fan balloting for the free safety position. And if you talk to the smart guys of the league, the ones who can separate good safety play from bad cornerback play, they will tell you he has played good enough overall to deserve the trip. (Barber, like many Bucs, struggled against the Saints last week.)

    Besides, when you get down to it, the Pro Bowl is such a silly exercise that the notion of putting a longtime great in it to say his farewell (perhaps) sounds kind of nice. If you remember, Barber was robbed of a Pro Bowl berth in 2002 (he was second team All-Pro, for crying out loud), and you could have made a good argument for him in 2000. Frankly, the NFL owes Barber one or two.

    That's the thing, though. Nationally Barber has never quite gotten his due as a player. In Tampa Bay, fans see his 47 interceptions and 28 sacks as a testament to his versatility. Nationally many seem to see that as a gimmick perception. In Tampa Bay we know of Barber's greatness. Nationally they only suspect it.

    Someday this conversation will elevate, and we won't be discussing whether Barber deserves to be in the Pro Bowl. We'll be asking if he deserves to be in the Hall.

    The simple answer? Yeah, he deserves it. The complex answer? I'm not sure if enough voters have paid close enough attention to the Bucs over the last decade to be convinced.

    On the other hand, perhaps we shouldn't worry. Barber may play long enough until the current set of voters all retires.

    In the meantime, Tampa Bay knows all about this guy.

    Around here his legacy will always be that he was a hard-working player who turned every drop of his potential into production, and what more can be said?

    Around here he will be the proud competitor, one who will admit to thinking he was among the cornerbacks who defined his era, one who will suggest he has outworked his competition to gain everything he has received.

    Around here he will be the feisty, trash-talking player who changes personalities on the field.

    Around here he will be the instinctive player whom the football seems to love.

    Personally, I don't think he retires after this season. I'm not sure he will retire after any season.

    Just in case, however, give Barber's career some thought today. If this is the end, appreciate every drop of greatness along the way.

    Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM the Fan.


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    Friday, December 21, 2012

    Playoff glance

    NFC

    Team/Div. Rec. Div. Cnf.

    y Falcons-S12-2 3-2 8-2

    z 49ers-W 10-3-1 2-1-1 6-3-1

    y Packers-N 10-4 5-0 8-3

    Redskins-E 8-6 3-1 6-4

    Wild card

    Seahawks 9-5 1-3 6-4

    Vikings 8-6 3-2 6-5

    In the hunt

    Bears 8-6 2-3 5-5

    Cowboys 8-6 3-2 5-5

    Giants 8-6 2-3 7-4

    Remaining schedules

    Falcons: at Lions, vs. Bucs

    49ers: at Seahawks, vs. Cardinals

    Packers: vs. Titans, at Vikings

    Redskins: at Eagles, vs. Cowboys

    Seahawks: vs. 49ers, vs. Rams

    Vikings: at Texans, vs. Packers

    Bears: at Cardinals, at Lions

    Cowboys: vs. Saints, at Redskins

    Giants: at Ravens, vs. Eagles

    AFC

    Team/Div. Rec. Div. Cnf.

    y Texans-S 12-2 5-0 10-1

    y Broncos-W 11-3 5-0 8-2

    y Patriots-E 10-4 5-0 9-1

    z Ravens-N 9-5 4-1 8-3

    Wild card

    Colts 9-5 3-2 6-4

    Bengals 8-6 1-3 5-5

    In the hunt

    Steelers 7-7 2-2 4-6

    Remaining schedules

    Texans: vs. Vikings, at Colts

    Broncos: vs. Browns, vs. Chiefs

    Patriots: at Jaguars, vs. Dolphins

    Ravens: vs. Giants, at Bengals

    Colts: at Chiefs, vs. Texans

    Bengals: at Steelers, vs. Ravens

    Steelers: vs. Bengals, vs. Browns

    y—clinched division z—clinched playoff

    Clinching scenarios

    Falcons

    • First-round bye: win OR Packers loss OR 49ers loss

    • Top seed: win OR losses by the Packers and 49ers

    49ers

    • NFC West: win

    • First-round bye: win AND Packers loss

    Redskins

    Playoff berth: win AND losses by the Giants, Bears and Vikings

    Seahawks

    Playoff berth: win OR losses by the Bears, Vikings and Redskins

    Giants

    Playoff berth: win AND losses by the Bears, Vikings, Cowboys and Redskins

    Texans

    • First-round bye: win OR Patriots loss or Broncos loss

    • Top seed: win OR losses by the Patriots AND Broncos

    Broncos

    First-round bye: win AND Patriots loss

    Ravens

    AFC North: win

    Colts

    Playoff berth: win OR clinch strength of victory tiebreaker over Bengals OR Steelers loss

    Bengals

    Playoff berth: win

    FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — In the span of five days, Mark Sanchez has gone from starter to benchwarmer to, possibly, offseason trade material. But the beleaguered Jets quarterback said he isn't focused on the trade rumors.

    "I haven't really thought about it," he said Friday about the team's reported interest in exploring "all options" regarding his 2013 status. "I'm focused on this game and the game next week and then we'll assess all that stuff at a later date."

    For the time being, he said his sole responsibility is helping third-stringer Greg McElroy prepare for his first NFL start.

    After Sanchez's five-turnover performance in a loss to the Titans, coach Rex Ryan tabbed McElroy as the starter ahead of Sanchez and former Gator Tim Tebow. "I'm just getting ready and helping Greg as much as I can," Sanchez said.

    Meanwhile offensive coordinator Tony Sparano praised Tebow's efforts and defended their use of the wildcat, saying he "wouldn't use the words 'didn't work' at all."

    "We had a plan going into this thing," he said. "Just predicated on what we saw out there. Tim has worked really hard out here, he's done a good job."

    Bills to renovate stadium: The Bills reached an agreement with Erie County and the state on a lease deal for the Ralph Wilson Stadium that will keep the franchise in western New York until at least 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and team officials said. The agreement includes $130 million in renovations, with the Bills providing $35 million and the state and county covering $95 million.

    RG3 probable: Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (sprained right knee) was listed as probable against the Eagles, or, as coach Mike Shanahan put it: "There is a very, very good chance he is going to play."

    Fines: Falcons safety Chris Hope was fined $30,000 for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Giants receiver Victor Cruz. Hope was penalized for unnecessary roughness on the play. Other fines levied by the NFL included 49ers safety Dashon Goldson ($21,000, illegal hit), Titans defensive end Antonio Smith and Jets defensive end Quinton Coples ($15,750 each, helmet-to-helmet hits), and Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin and Ravens cornerback Cary Williams ($15,750 each, unnecessary roughness).

    Steeler changes aim: Linebacker James Harrison said he has changed his approach to tackling because of the NFL's new standards on player safety. "I've really lowered my target area to where it's down around the knees," he said on ESPN Radio.

    Bears: Linebacker Brian Urlacher (hamstring) will miss his third straight game.

    Colts: Interim coach Bruce Arians is cautiously optimistic that coach Chuck Pagano, cleared to return by doctors after chemotherapy to battle leukemia, will be running the team Monday.

    Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.


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    By Stephen F. Holder, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 21, 2012

    Tonight

    Falcons (12-2) at Lions (4-10)

    When/where: 8:30; Ford Field, Detroit

    TV/radio: ESPN; 98.7-FM, 1010-AM

    Line: Falcons by 4; 51

    Sunday was a new low for the Lions, when they lost by four touchdowns to … the Cardinals? It's one thing not to make the playoffs and have a disappointing season, but quite another to pull off that kind of loss. The Falcons have a chance to clinch homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with a win. The Lions' defense has quite a bit of talent, but their tendency to give up lots of points — 27.1 per game — is problematic with playmakers such as Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White on Atlanta's side.

    Stephen F. Holder's pick: Falcons 26, Lions 21


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    By Andy Warrener, Times Correspondent
    Friday, December 21, 2012

    EAST LAKE — Despite lugging an 0-3 district record into Friday night's game against East Lake, Palm Harbor University made a statement by stomping its rival 54-40 in its own gym.

    The Hurricanes led by just five after the first quarter but pulled away in the second to take a 17-point lead into halftime. The Hurricanes stretched the advantage to 19 after three quarters and cruised from there.

    "It was so crucial that we win," junior guard Kaylin Ingram said. "It puts us right back in the hunt."

    Palm Harbor University will have a long climb back to reach the top of Class 8A, District 8 but Friday's win gave the Hurricanes a shot of confidence.

    Ingram hit four 3-pointers to finish with a game-high 16 points. Ingram's sophomore sister, Megan, added eight points but also had four rebounds, a steal and two assists — one to Kaylin in the fourth quarter that extinguished any hope of an Eagles comeback.

    "I told the girls before the game that this would be the night where we get back on track," PHU coach Darian Dublin said.

    The Hurricanes outhustled the Eagles for loose balls and rebounds for 32 minutes. Sophomore Chardonay Aldrich had a game-high seven rebounds and scored 10 for PHU.

    East Lake junior Emily Dine did everything she could to keep her squad in the game, leading with 13 points, but the Hurricanes contested every shot and the Eagles had gaps on defense.

    "At first they played tight, so we took our outside shots, then they moved out and we attacked the basket," Ingram said. "We played to their defense really well tonight."

    The Hurricanes improved to 10-4, 1-3 in the district, and the Eagles drop to 4-8, 1-3. Both teams are still looking up at Riverview (2-2) and leader North Port (4-0) going into the break.

    On the Web

    Have a question for one of our prep writers? Want to sound off in response to one of our writers' blog posts? For this and more, visit tampabay.com/hometeam.


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    By Michael K. Bohn, McClatchy-Tribune News Service
    Friday, December 21, 2012

    On Dec. 23, 1972, the "Immaculate Reception" heralded the beginning of the Pittsburgh Steelers' dynasty. The team's run of four Super Bowl victories in the 1970s, and the wins in 2006 and 2009, arose from a last-second miracle in a playoff game against the Oakland Raiders. Forty years ago Sunday, the Steelers' faithful experienced an awakening at Three Rivers Stadium.

    Trailing 7-6 with 0:22 left, the Steelers faced fourth and 10 on their 40-yard line. Dodging a furious pass rush, quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw a pass to running back John "Frenchy" Fuqua. What happened in the ensuing seconds became one of the greatest plays in NFL history.

    Pittsburgh had a 40-year history of lackluster football, with only six winning seasons before 1972. No playoff wins, no championships, no answered prayers.

    But in one play, a ray of sunshine parted the clouds and shone warmly on Bradshaw, Fuqua and a rookie running back named Franco Harris.

    The preliminaries

    The dramatic game followed an 11-3 regular season in which the Steelers won the AFC Central Division, the franchise's first title of any sort. Coach Chuck Noll, a future Hall of Famer, had a solid team by 1972. The players' names would later become household words — Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Jack Ham and Mel Blount on defense, plus Bradshaw, Harris and Rocky Bleier on offense.

    Pittsburgh hosted Oakland in the division playoff on a cold and snowy Sunday.

    Early in the fourth quarter, Raiders coach John Madden sent in quarterback Ken Stabler to replace an ailing Daryle Lamonica. Stabler soon lost a fumble when popped by Greenwood, setting up Roy Gerela's second field goal and a 6-0 lead for the Steelers.

    Stabler moved the Raiders to the Pittsburgh 30 on the next possession. Steelers linebacker Andy Russell described the next play. "We called a blitz, but our right defensive end, Craig Hanneman, missed the call and he didn't keep containment on that side."

    Stabler, nicknamed "Snake," slithered left, slipped outside and ran down the sideline for a touchdown. George Blanda's extra point gave Oakland a 7-6 lead. The clock showed 1:13.

    Bradshaw quickly directed the Steelers to their 40-yard line with completions to Harris and Fuqua. But Oakland safety Jack Tatum broke up two passes, and another fell incomplete to Ron Shanklin. Fourth and 10, with 22 seconds left.

    The play

    On the Steelers sideline, rookie receiver Barry Pearson, who had not played a down that season, dutifully stayed near Lionel Taylor, his position coach. "Lionel told me to go in for Shanklin," Pearson said in a recent phone interview. "Someone gave me the play to take in to Bradshaw. The plan was to just get a first down." Asked if he was nervous, Pearson chuckled, stuck his tongue in his cheek, and asked back, "Why would I be nervous?"

    Harris recalled last week what his thought was as he entered the huddle: "This is our last play of the year."

    The play — 66 circle option — had wide receiver Al Young run an out to the left, Fuqua a curl over the middle and tight end John McMakin a deep post. Pearson, the primary receiver, was to run underneath McMakin, about 12 yards deep and just past the big Steelers logo at midfield. Harris stayed in to block.

    Oakland played prevent. Raiders linebacker Phil Villa­piano added more detail recently: "Another linebacker, Gerald Irons, and I were supposed to play man-to-man on the running backs, and I had Harris." According to Villapiano, one Raider shouted, "No penalties. This (expletive) game's over!"

    Bradshaw dropped back to his 30, but the pocket quickly collapsed. Defensive ends Tony Cline and Horace Jones chased Bradshaw right. Defensive lineman Otis Sistrunk pushed into Bradshaw's passing lane to Pearson, so Bradshaw ducked back left and saw Fuqua near the left hash marks. Bradshaw snapped a throw to Frenchy, at the Raider 34-yard line.

    Tatum, nicknamed "the Assassin," saw the ball and launched at Fuqua. The ball and the two men collided violently, and the ball caromed into the air.

    "Jack, being the aggressive player that he was, he went for the big knockout," Raiders safety George Atkinson told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this fall. "That was a big mistake for us."

    When he saw Bradshaw scrambling, Harris headed downfield. "My thought was to give Terry an outlet pass," Harris said. Villapiano picked up Harris as he left the line of scrimmage and ran on his right shoulder.

    When Harris saw the play going to Fuqua, he moved in that direction. "My Penn State training came into play," Harris said. "Joe Paterno always hollered, 'Go to the ball.' "

    Backup quarterback Terry Hanratty described what he saw next from the sideline. "The ball popped into the air after hitting a shoulder pad. It flew about 7 or 8 yards back toward the offense." The ball arched in the direction of Harris, apparently guided by the hand of God.

    "It was unbelievable," Villa­piano said last month on his cell phone. Calling from outside his Jersey-shore home that Hurricane Sandy had hammered, Villapiano said: "The ball could have bounced a million places, but it went right into his hands."

    Remarkably, Harris is a bit fuzzy on a few details. "I can't tell you what happened after I left the backfield. I have no memory until I was running down the sideline. It's frustrating at times. But when I watch the game film at regular speed, I say, 'How did that happen?' It was all so fast."

    Harris barely broke stride as he caught the ball at the Raiders 42 then sprinted for the end zone. Villapiano gave chase, but McMakin took a swipe at Villapiano's legs from behind. He stumbled and never had a chance. "It was a clip!" Villapiano yelled in mock anger from his tree-strewn front yard.

    Defensive back Jimmy Warren gave chase and lunged at Harris near the 10-yard line. Harris stiff-armed Warren, sending him to the ground. Touchdown!

    THE DEBATE

    Field judge Adrian Burk, who trailed Harris, signaled a touchdown, but umpire Pat Harder wasn't so sure. Harder, Burk and referee Fred Swearingen huddled while the frenzied crowd spilled out of the stands onto the field. The officials asked each other, "Did the ball hit Tatum or Fuqua?"

    The rules at that time prohibited two receivers from touching the ball consecutively on a play. So if the pass hit Fuqua's shoulder pads, Swearingen would have to rule the pass incomplete. Had it bounced off Tatum, Harris' catch was legal. There was, of course, no arrangement then for "upon further review."

    With the game clock showing :05 left, Swearingen pushed through the mob to the baseball dugout — Three Rivers hosted the Pirates as well. He called the NFL's supervisor of officials, Art McNally, in the press box. Dan Rooney, son of Steelers owner Art Rooney, overheard McNally's end of the conversation and recently described the situation to the Post-Gazette.

    "McNally kept saying, 'Call what you saw,' " Rooney recounted. Now the chairman emeritus of the Steelers, Rooney has scotched stories that Swearingen had either asked for McNally's mental replay or extra security if he ruled the pass incomplete. No one used the video recorders in the TV broadcast booth to help.

    Swearingen ran back onto the field and held both arms aloft.

    After Gerela's PAT and a kickoff, Oakland had time for one play. The Steelers defense was mentally in the locker room, so there was a scramble to get on the field. Safety Mike Wagner couldn't find his helmet. "Mike grabbed a lineman's helmet," Harris recalled, "but it was too big and he worried that it would swivel around and blind him."

    Stabler threw an incompletion. Game over. Pittsburgh, 13-7.

    THE NAME

    Steelers fan Michael Ord, celebrating after the game at a nearby bar, thought of a name for Harris' catch. In his view, the feat rivaled a religious miracle of the first order. Ord quieted the bar crowd, according to longtime sports writer and Steelers radio broadcaster Myron Cope, and proposed a toast to the "Feast of the Immaculate Reception."

    Ord's girlfriend at the time, Sharon Levosky, phoned Cope and suggested he use the term during his evening show on WTAE-TV. Cope wrote in the New York Times in 1997 of his thoughts at that moment. "The Immaculate Reception? Tasteless? I pondered the matter for 15 seconds and cried out, 'Whoopee!' " Cope went on to describe the origin of the term and a disclaimer: "I accept neither credit, nor, should you hold the moniker to be impious … "

    AFTERWARD

    Back to the play. Swearingen, Burk and Harder began a debate that endures — did the ball hit Tatum or Fuqua? After the game, Tatum said: "All I was trying to do was knock the ball loose. I touched the man, but not the ball."

    Frenchy Fuqua makes part of his living on the banquet circuit and is coy about what he knows. Throughout his regular after-dinner speech, he hints that he is the only person who knows for sure what happened. But he ultimately ducks the question of who touched the ball.

    "I doubt that Frenchy can remember anything after that hit by Tatum," Russell said, "because he suffered a concussion on the play." Hanratty agrees — "Frenchy is making a few bucks telling the story, so if he can actually remember what happened, he won't spill the beans anytime soon."

    Multiple examinations of game film have failed to discern definitively if the ball hit Fuqua or Tatum. Villapiano gave it a try. "NFL Films sent me clips from six different angles, but I couldn't tell," he recalled. "Tatum clearly hit Frenchy early, but no ref would call pass interference at that point in the game."

    Cope, who died in 2008, gave his view in the 1997 New York Times article. Two days after the game, he examined, frame by frame, film by WTAE cameraman. Cope wrote that the clip, which had never aired, had been destroyed by 1997. "No question about it: Bradshaw's pass struck Tatum squarely on his right shoulder. I mean, I saw it."

    But all agree, the play changed the face of football in Pittsburgh.

    "It was the defining moment of the Steelers organization," Pearson declares. Russell agrees. Hanratty calls it "the most memorable moment in sports." Harris likely speaks for all in Pittsburgh: "The play meant a lot to the team. We were not losers anymore. We could play against anybody and win." Even a member of the self-styled demonic Raiders, Villapiano, whispers, "Amen."

    A 2012 Sports Illustrated poll confirmed the players' opinions. More than 87,000 respondents named the Immaculate Reception the best NFL play ever. The folks at NFL Films concur.

    Harris reaches out to his Raiders friends every year as this anniversary nears. "He calls me every Dec. 23," Villapiano said, as he laughed about the friendly insults. " 'What were you doing 30 years ago?' he asks, or another time, '35 years ago?' Every year he calls to needle me."

    Harris enjoys the give-and-take. "For years, Phil has been saying that I was loafing on that play, and I say to him, 'Phil, watch the film. You and I were about even when I left the backfield. So Phil, who got to the ball first?' "

    The Steelers' joy was short-lived, as they lost to the unbeaten Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship Game.

    Pittsburgh's Heinz History Center has commissioned two lifesized statues of Harris making the catch. One is on the main concourse of the Pittsburgh International Airport, with a second in the Center's Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum.

    Harris chuckled when asked about the statue. "People say to me all the time, 'Hey, I saw you at the airport.' But I'm happy that it's out there. It helps people connect with Pittsburgh."


    Associated Press (1972)Associated Press (1972)

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    By Rick Stroud, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 21, 2012

    TAMPA — As the Bucs checked into their hotel in the French Quarter last week to play the Saints, suspended starting cornerback Eric Wright was excited about spending the weekend with his wife in Laguna Beach, Calif.

    Wright — serving the final game of a four-game suspension for violating the league's performance enhancing drug policy (resulting, he says, from taking Adderall) — was eager to share his plans with his 21,903 followers on Twitter at @EWrighteous21: "Sometimes you just need a change of pace … Taking @LaTanyaWright to Laguna for the weekend … Spa weekend, shopping and good food #RelaxMode."

    A day later, what was left of the Bucs secondary also appeared to be in RelaxMode, allowing Drew Brees to pass for 307 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-0 rout

    The Bucs defense, last in the NFL against the pass, has been so obliterated through the air, there is a good chance the organization will need to go on a shopping spree of its own for cornerbacks in free agency and the draft.

    "It's definitely frustrating. It's not discouraging," said first-year defensive coordinator Bill Sheri­dan, whose unit has allowed 310.6 passing yards per game. "Our guys don't get discouraged. But it's definitely frustrating because it's easy yardage.

    "If you talk to our defensive line, they'll tell you we need to rush better. And if you talk to the back end guys, they'll tell you they need to cover better. And when the linebackers both blitz, we've got to finish our blitzes better."

    The Bucs have allowed 66 passes of 20 yards or more this season, fewer than only New England's 68. The Patriots, however, began to stop the bombardment after trading a 2013 fourth-round pick to Tampa Bay for cornerback Aqib Talib in November — while he was serving a four-game suspension of his own.

    To put things into perspective: In 2011, the Bucs allowed 49 passes of 20 yards or more — and set the franchise record for points allowed with 494. (This season, they are on pace to allow 399.)

    Rams quarterback Sam Bradford identified the problem with the Bucs pass defense during a conference call last week.

    "They're not afraid to blitz," he said. "They probably bring more secondary pressure than any team we've seen all year."

    The result?

    "Those guys are left one-on-one quite a bit on the outside," Bradford said.

    It's easy to cite the suspensions of Talib and Wright — and eventual trade of Talib — for why the pass defense has struggled. But both were part of the 510-yard day by the Giants' Eli Manning, who overcame a 14-point deficit at the Meadowlands by throwing three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

    The Bucs have used five different starters at cornerback this season, including undrafted rookie Leonard Johnson and Danny Gorrer, who already had been with five teams before he was claimed off waivers from the Seahawks on Oct. 31.

    Sheridan heaps a lot of the blame on the lack of a pass rush. Tampa Bay is tied for 28th in sacks with 25, including nine by end Michael Bennett. In his only other season as a coordinator, the Giants in 2009, Sheridan's defense finished 30th in points allowed at 26.7 per game.

    "It's very easy to identify the big passes and say, 'Well, that's on the back end,' " Sheridan said. "But I think if you talked to our front guys, they would say we need to be more effective pressuring the quarterback. Not that you're going to get sacks. Sacks are few and far between in this league because people protect and they get rid of the ball and are not going to let their quarterback get beat up.

    "We have some talented defensive linemen. And along with the pressures that we run, we haven't gotten as much mileage as you could have. You've got to affect the quarterback, and it doesn't mean getting sacks. But if they're comfortable back there, the skill level is so good that it makes it very difficult because he'll just throw to the guys (who are) open."

    Even more confounding is the Bucs rank first against the run at 83.3 yards per game. That should lead to obvious passing situations and make things easier. But it hasn't translated into sacks or pressures.

    "If you're rushing four guys 15 to 20 snaps in a game, you're talking about three or four of those times you have to at least make quarterback hits," Sheridan said. "There were a lot of weeks we hadn't had that."

    Coach Greg Schiano remains confident the Bucs will stop the long passes. Wright returns from his suspension Monday — if only for a change of pace.

    "We have good players, so how do we get them to do it consistently?" he said. "We have to coach better. We have to help them more. It will happen."


    DIRK SHADD   |   TimesDIRK SHADD | Times

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  • 12/21/12--19:13: Sports in brief
  • Times staff, wires
    Friday, December 21, 2012

    NHL

    Union approves dissolution step

    NEW YORK — Locked-out NHL players have given the players association executive board the power to file a disclaimer of interest, a move that would dissolve the union.

    Such a filing would let the union become a trade association. That would allow players to file antitrust lawsuits against the NHL as they tussle over a labor deal.

    In balloting conducted this week, 706 players voted yes to giving the board such power, and 22 voted no, easily reaching the two-thirds majority necessary for approval, media reports said Friday. The union didn't officially announce the result, saying it wanted to keep voting internal.

    The league said it had no comment.

    The board has the power to file a disclaimer of interest until Jan. 2. Negotiations between the NHL and union have been at a standstill since talks ended Dec. 6. No talks are scheduled.

    Baseball

    Report: Ex-Ray Kazmir gets deal with Indians

    Former Rays All-Star pitcher Scott Kazmir signed a minor-league deal with the Indians, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.

    Kazmir, 28, is attempting to revive his career, having drawn interest after a strong showing in the Puerto Rican Winter league.

    Injuries and ineffectiveness led to Kazmir's release by the Angels in 2011, two years after they acquired him from the Rays for infielder Sean Rodriguez and pitchers Alex Torres and Matt Sweeney.

    Unable to find a major-league home in 2012, Kazmir pitched for Sugar Land, Texas, of the independent Atlantic League, going 3-6 with a 5.34 ERA.

    Brewers: Left-hander Tom Gorzelanny signed a two-year deal the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said is worth $5.7 million.

    Pirates: Left-hander Francisco Liriano agreed to a two-year, $14 million deal, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.

    Twins: Right-hander Rich Harden signed a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training. He sat out this year after rotator cuff surgery Jan. 31 on his throwing shoulder.

    Et cetera

    tennis: After seven months off for left knee tendinitis, Rafael Nadal believes it may be some time before he is back in top form. He is set to play an exhibition Thursday. "I can only trust my doctors and believe in myself and that everything will be all right," he told France's Canal Plus TV. … Referee Lois Goodman, whose career was almost ended by a charge she murdered her husband with a coffee cup, was reinstated after dismissal of the charge for lack of evidence.

    Soccer: The Iraqi Football Association denied media reports it was negotiating with Argentine great Diego Maradona to take over as national team coach.

    Joe Smith, Times staff writer; Times wires


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    By Stephen F. Holder, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 21, 2012

    TAMPA — Nothing about 2012 played out the way Da'Quan Bowers envisioned. The Achilles rupture he sustained in May, during an offseason workout, changed the entire course.

    But since his quick return to the lineup Oct. 25, Bowers has seen continued improvement that has him and coaches excited about his long-term prospects.

    Bowers is still coming off the bench, mostly as a pass rusher, but the defensive end is getting more out of the snaps he's playing, making some good quarterback rushes while also playing strong against the run and showing a good overall burst.

    "I can definitely tell a difference the longer I play," said Bowers, who has played eight games. "I wasn't really in football shape when I started, and every week I get in better and better shape."

    That's not to say Bowers isn't benefitting from some of the conditioning he did while injured.

    "When he came back initially we were all apprehensive because of the injury," coach Greg Schiano said. "But the thing that I mentioned when he came back is that he really did more than rehab his Achilles. He changed his body somewhat. He's stronger, he's quicker and I think the sky's the limit for Da'Quan. He got to play and he's got two more games, God willing, and then another whole offseason with the program. I think he's going to be a really talented guy."

    Bowers has three sacks and looks to finish strong. Given how his body feels, he has a shot.

    "I feel fresh," he said. "I don't have as much wear and tear this year. But I also didn't have that training camp and preseason to really get ready like the other guys did. That's something you need. But I feel good."

    REUNION: Bucs DT Gerald McCoy and Rams QB Sam Bradford will forever be linked for a number of reasons. For one, McCoy, the third overall pick in the 2010 draft, was selected two spots after top pick Bradford.

    But more than that, the two are friends, having played together at Oklahoma and maintaining their relationship ever since.

    They'll meet as pros for the second time Sunday, when the Rams visit Raymond James Stadium. But when the two spoke this week, the conversation wasn't about what would transpire on the field.

    "I talked to him (Wednesday)," McCoy said. "We were just checking on each other. I wanted to make sure his mom, dad and grandma didn't need extra tickets. We're friends, so we leave it at friends. No football talk. But we know we both are players and get paid to do a job, so that's what we'll both do on Sunday."

    After studying the Bucs this week, Bradford is convinced McCoy is doing his job rather well.

    "I think Gerald's playing at a really high level," Bradford said. "Watching the tape, he seems to show up a lot. I've got to be aware of him, and I'd really like to get out of this game without him hitting me."

    FAMILIAR FOE: The Bucs weren't the only team Schiano had talks with before his hiring in Tampa Bay.

    The Rams also interviewed him before hiring Jeff Fisher, and Schiano did due diligence on St. Louis before speaking with its brass. Those observations have been reinforced this week as Schiano watched the Rams more in-depth.

    "I do recall some of those things," Schiano said. "And as I've been watching them, I'm a little more familiar going into the week than I would be with another team."

    INJURY REPORT: The main Bucs concerns are DE Aaron Morgan (shoulder), who didn't practice Friday and was listed as doubtful, and CB LeQuan Lewis (knee), who is questionable.

    For the Rams, there are concerns about top CB Cortland Finnegan, questionable with a thigh injury.

    View Stephen F. Holder's blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs.


    DANIEL WALLACE   |   TimesDANIEL WALLACE | Times

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    By David Rice, Times Correspondent
    Friday, December 21, 2012

    TAMPA — Tampa Catholic junior Chivarsky Corbett reached a major personal milestone in school-record fashion and carried the Crusaders into today's City of Tampa Championships final by scoring a 50 to eclipse 1,000 for his career on Friday.

    Corbett also had 15 rebounds in a 105-89 victory over Sarasota Cardinal Mooney, as the Crusaders went 13-for-21 from 3-point range.

    Tampa Catholic advances to play host Tampa Prep, a 65-35 winner over Robinson, in today's final.

    Corbett's big night came on the heels of a 34-point performance Thursday. He needed just 17 to reach the 1,000-point mark, making it there shortly into the second quarter.

    "It felt good to get the 1,000-point thing out of the way because I had been thinking about it all day," Corbett said. "I wasn't really thinking about the school record, but I remembered coach talking about someone beating it at the beginning of the season and was happy to go get 50."

    In the other semifinal, the Terrapins allowed just 14 second-half points. Coach Joe Fenlon's frontcourt duo of freshman forward Juwan Durham and senior center Adonis Rwabigwi evenly split a combined eight blocks and four steals as his team increased its lead in the second half.

    "We're fortunate to have those guys because we can funnel a lot of our play through them," Fenlon said. "In the second half I was really happy to see the guys getting into passing lanes and being active on the defensive end."

    Rwabigwi led the Terrapins with 20 points, but the scoring was spread throughout the team. Two big factors were free throws and turnovers as Terrapins went to the line 23 times making 16 and forced 13 Robinson turnovers.

    Three reach 1,000

    In what might be a piece of Hillsborough County history, three players — Tampa Catholic's Chivarsky Corbett, Berkeley Prep's Justin Gray and Jesuit's Travis Johnson — all hit the 1,000-point mark for their careers on the same night. Corbett scored 50 Friday in the City of Tampa Championship semifinals to reach 1,033. Johnson scored 17 at the Gulfshore Invitational to hit 1,000 on the nose, as did Gray, who scored 19 at the Bright House tournament.


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    Times wires
    Friday, December 21, 2012

    TALLAHASSEE — Florida State will host Idaho on Nov. 23 at Doak Campbell Stadium, paying nearly $1 million to the Vandals.

    FSU released its game contract in response to a public records request filed by the Orlando Sentinel and other news agencies.

    Idaho will receive $950,000 from FSU, according to the document. The contract also states that if either party cancels, it owes the other $2 million. The buyout fees has been important for FSU in the past year after West Virginia, in January, canceled the Seminoles' 2012 and 2013 meetings. The schools ultimately settled on $500,000 in damages to be paid to FSU.

    BOISE STATE STATUS: Boise State, scheduled to join the Big East next season, is talking to the Mountain West about possibly staying put, espn.com reported.

    At the same time, cbssports.com reported that the Mountain West and CBS renegotiated their TV contract. The Big East's TV deal for football expires after the 2013 season and the league doesn't have a deal for 2014 and beyond.

    ESPN reported that the MWC was not talking to San Diego State about staying. The Aztecs have also announced they are heading to the Big East, which has released a football schedule for 2013 with both Boise State and SDSU in it. Both schools are slated to join for football only. The Big East, which includes USF and is adding UCF among other schools in all sports, is losing its guaranteed spot in a major bowl after next season when the BCS gives way to a four-team playoff.

    ALABAMA: Monaca (Pa.) Central Valley's Robert Foster, rated the nation's No. 2 receiver by ESPN and No. 10 by Rivals, has orally committed.

    Baylor: Running back Lache Seastrunk, finishing up his first season of college ball, is staking claim to next year's Heisman Trophy. "I'm going to win the Heisman. I'm going to win it in 2013," he told the Sporting News. In his first seven games this season, the redshirt sophomore averaged fewer than 26 yards a game but emerged as a star in November. In his final five games, he averaged 138.6 yards and ran for five TDs, three against Oklahoma.

    STANFORD: Defensive lineman Terrence Stephens is ineligible for the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin because of a secondary violation of NCAA rules related to his rental of off-campus housing.

    WISCONSIN: Gary Andersen was introduced as coach and said he will be more of a "fly on the wall" in the Rose Bowl. His boss, athletic director Barry Alvarez, is handling the coaching duties for the bowl game.

    Baseball: The SEC is adding two teams and a fifth day to the conference's postseason tournament.


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    By Don Jensen, Times Correspondent
    Friday, December 21, 2012

    ST. PETERSBURG — John Graham was right after all.

    Six months after Tmc's Roxslide failed to qualify for the St. Petersburg Derby in what Graham believed would be her "coming-out party," the 64-pound greyhound gave him the biggest prize at Derby Lane on Dec. 15, winning the $75,000 Holiday Distance Challenge.

    The event, formerly named the 660-Yard Challenge, carries the track's richest paycheck at $33,500. It was the first stakes victory for Tmc's Roxslide and the first for Graham as manager-trainer of Pauline O'Donnell kennel, a position he accepted 2½ years ago.

    Graham, 53, had not won a stakes since 2009, when Ww's Deathvalley took the St. Petersburg Derby. Graham worked for Wayne Ward kennel at the time but moved to Pauline O'Donnell after Wayne Ward dissolved the following season. He was with Wayne Ward for 22 years and won 17 stakes.

    "I was lucky in the '90s and thought (winning stakes) was an easy game," Graham said. "But then it got a little tougher sledding once we started sending our better dogs to Wheeling (Island in West Virginia, where purses are substantially higher)."

    Tmc's Roxslide, a 2½-year-old female out of a litter by 2012 leading sire Lonesome Cry and Tmc's Jiffy, beat Jack's Cruze (Cal Holland kennel) by 4½ lengths. Breaking from the No. 4 box in the 660-yard event, she never trailed and clocked her second-best time of 37.36 seconds. It was her 17th victory from 67 lifetime races. Graham said the key for Tmc's Roxslide was winning her first two qualifiers.

    "She was able to show her class and get some confidence," Graham said. "I could never develop a lot of confidence with her (before), because she kept drawing some bad post positions."

    Bred and owned by Eddie McDonald of Bridgeport, Texas, Tmc's Roxslide made her first 20 starts at 550 yards, including two uneventful outings in the Gold Trophy Juvenile in May. With the St. Petersburg Derby approaching, Graham moved Tmc's Roxslide to 660.

    Her unlucky run of unfavorable posts continued in the Derby, where she drew the No. 8 box and was eliminated with a sixth-place finish. It was one of 14 consecutive losses for Tmc's Roxslide, who started from boxes 5 through 8 in all but one of those races.

    "I thought her coming-out party would be in June, when she turned 2 and it was Derby time," Graham said. "She drew a tough race."

    Tmc's Roxslide has the season's best time at 37.24 seconds.

    "She ran exactly the perfect race (in the finale)," Graham said. "She hit the box, saved ground and didn't let up at all."

    HOLIDAY SCHEDULE: Christmas Eve: Derby Lane — live matinee performance, poker and simulcast wagering, closes at 6 p.m.; Tampa Bay Downs — poker only, closes at midnight; Tampa Greyhound Track — poker and simulcast wagering, closes at 6 p.m.; Christmas — All sites are closed.


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    By Darek Sharp, Times Correspondent
    Friday, December 21, 2012

    NEW PORT RICHEY — Dillon Martin created the go-ahead goal, then came in quite handy in the closing seconds to secure Mitchell's 2-1 victory over Land O' Lakes in boys soccer Friday.

    With 10 minutes left, Martin played a long ball that was mishandled by Gators goalie Tommy Koen. It came loose to Nick Bartkus, who snuck it inside the left post for the lead.

    "I should have punched the ball, but at the last second I opened my hands," said Koen, who 10 minutes before had kept the game tied by stopping Nathaniel Hayes' penalty kick.

    Land O' Lakes (8-3) nearly tied it in the last minute. Sean Young's header beat goalie Davis Byrkit, but Martin was there to clear it away from the goal line. The final whistle blew 10 seconds later and the Mustangs improved to 13-3-1.

    A chippy tone was set midway through the first half when two Gators left with injuries. Blake Quarishi turned his ankle and did not return. Then Eric Thielbar took an elbow to the face that forced him out for the half.

    "Aside from the injuries, you never want to see anyone get hurt; this was the way all games should be, intense. This was great," Mitchell coach Oscar Ubillus said.

    Mitchell's first goal resulted from the Gators' frustration over the injuries. Alexander Hediger's sliding tackle, one that earned him a yellow card, gave the Mustangs a direct kick from 40 yards. Mico Petrovich played the ball in high, intending to find Alex Hernandez for a deflection, but everyone whiffed and the ball went in.

    Compared to four Gators getting dinged only one Mitchell player missed time, but it was costly, as left back Richie Scott departed early in the second half with an illness. Scott's side is where the Gators struck for their lone goal. With 28 minutes left, Young sent a ball over to Jordan Dollbaum, who was unmarked and scored.

    Along with stopping a penalty kick, Koen made another terrific save with 14 minutes left. That led to a breakaway in which Young pushed a Michael Moran cross inches wide. Young had five of the Gators' 16 shots, while the Mustangs recorded nine.

    "I wasn't happy with the first half; we just didn't keep possession like we normally do. Even at that, their goal was a fluke," Gators coach Mark Pearson said. "We created most of the chances in the second half."


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    Times wires
    Friday, December 21, 2012

    Florida State vs. Charlotte

    When/where: 2 p.m today; Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, N.C.

    TV/radio: CBS Sports Network; 1040-AM

    Records: FSU 6-4, Charlotte 11-1

    Notable: This game is downtown, not on Charlotte's campus, so it's technically a neutral-site game. The Seminoles are coming off of a lackluster 63-48 win over a one-win Louisiana-Monroe squad and travels to face a 49ers team that has only lost once, at Miami. "We know that we have to take some shots, and we know that every once in a while we may make a bad play or miss shots, but you've got to live with it because you've got to be aggressive," FSU G Michael Snaer told the Orlando Sentinel. Chris Braswell, a senior forward, leads Charlotte in scoring (12.6 points per game) and rebounding (6.5 rpg). "(Charlotte is) a team that's trying to carve out a little respect for themselves in the backdoor of ACC country," Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton told the Sentinel.

    Times wires


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    By Antonya English, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 21, 2012

    No. 8 Florida vs. Kansas State

    When/where: 8 tonight; Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.

    TV/radio: ESPN2; 620-AM

    Records: Florida 8-1, Kansas State 8-2

    Notable: One week after traveling across country to play Arizona, Florida embarks on another road trip. This is deemed a neutral-site contest but clearly is like a home game for the Wildcats, which is the way UF coach Billy Donovan approaches it. K-State is in its first season under coach Bruce Weber, with its only losses to two ranked teams, Michigan and Gonzaga. UF tops the nation in scoring defense (49.6 ppg) but faces a formidable offensive threat in G and leading scorer Rodney McGruder (13.7 ppg). "McGruder may be the best player individually that we've played against this year," Donovan said. "A preseason player of the year candidate, he's played a lot of games from Day 1. … They run a lot of different screening action for him. … We can't play for 38½ minutes, we have to play for 40."

    Antonya English, Times staff writer


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    By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 21, 2012

    ST. PETERSBURG — Three years ago, UCF saw a bowl game start to slip away at Tropicana Field when Rutgers got a 19-yard interception return for a touchdown in the final two minutes of the first half, sparking the Scarlet Knights to a 45-24 runaway win.

    But in Friday night's Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, UCF didn't hesitate to mount a drive from its 20-yard line with 55 seconds left and a 21-7 lead. The aggressive decision paid off, as Blake Bortles hit freshman WR Breshard Perriman for a 45-yard pass down the Ball State sideline.

    Bortles, clutch on third down all night against the Cardinals, came through again on third and goal with 11 seconds left, hitting RB Latavius Murray for a 5-yard touchdown and a 28-7 lead on the Cardinals.

    RECORD DAY: Bortles threw his third touchdown in the third quarter, matching a career high and tying the most in the bowl's five-year history. USF's Matt Grothe threw for three in the inaugural bowl in St. Petersburg, in 2008 against Memphis.

    ANOTHER BIG CATCH: The result wasn't anything impressive, but the most interesting catch of the opening half came at the UCF 10-yard line, when Ball State's Keith Wenning threw a pass that was tipped and caught by 325-pound offensive lineman Kitt O'Brien for a 2-yard loss. It wound up being one of the better plays of the sequence — Wenning was sacked on third down for an 11-yard loss, then Ball State's 35-yard field goal was missed badly left.

    CONFUSED? UCF has twins Jordan and Justin McCray, juniors from Miami Southridge, as its starting offensive guards, and they wear jersey numbers 63 and 64, respectively. Justin's jersey was torn in the second quarter, so for the second half, he wore No. 66.

    THIS AND THAT: Ball State had one bit of history on its side coming in — Cardinal mascots had a 5-2 record at Tropicana Field, with MLB's St. Louis holding a 4-2 record here against the Rays in two interleague series; Louisville won the 2010 bowl game against Southern Miss. … UCF dominated the opening quarter, outgaining Ball State 160-15 and owning the time of possession with nearly 13 minutes out of the opening 15.


    CHRIS ZUPPA   |   TimesCHRIS ZUPPA | Times

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    Bob Putnam, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 21, 2012

    CLEARWATER — Whether he was slashing, leaping or flinging shots from 20 feet, Justin Gray could hardly miss Friday night. The one time he did, the Berkeley Prep junior smiled, which said everything that needed to be said about the Bright House Tournament semifinal against Gainesville.

    Berkeley Prep scored a lot, defended well and rarely saw a stressful moment in a 66-37 rout.

    The Bucs improved to 12-0 and can win their first regular-season tournament title in a decade when they play Strawberry Crest in tonight's championship at 8:15.

    The Chargers advanced with a 73-48 victory over host Clearwater.

    Three Bucs scored in double figures, none with more flair than Gray, the emerging star. He provided the only suspense during the second half as he tried to reach 1,000 points for his career. He hit it right on the mark with 19 points, the final one coming on a free throw to cap a three-point play during the final three minutes.

    "I didn't even know I was close to getting to 1,000 until coach (Bobby Reinhart) told me at halftime," Gray said. "He asked if I wanted to get it, and I said, 'Heck yeah!' "

    Gray scored on driving dunks and runners and made two of Berkeley Prep's four 3-pointers.

    He also inadvertently provided some comic relief with one of his rare misses of the night — an attempted dunk early in the fourth quarter.

    On a night when the Bucs could do little wrong, even that embarrassing moment turned out okay. Gray grabbed the rebound and converted a layup.

    Gray smiled sheepishly after he made it.

    "We figured out how much he needed to get to 1,000 before the game," Reinhart said. "I didn't want to tell him until the half. He needed 14 points in the second half to do it, and he just went, did his thing and got it done."

    Berkeley Prep controlled the game from the start, jumping out to an 11-0 lead. In the second half, the Bucs were up by as many as 32. In all, Berkeley Prep had seven players score.

    Routs were common on the second day of the tournament.

    In the other semifinal, Strawberry Crest led 21-7 after the first quarter and cruised from there. Karel Hamilton had 19 points and Devin Diggs 15 to lead the Chargers.

    The Tornadoes' Rasim Avmet hit a field goal in the fourth quarter to give him 10 points and become the only player from his team to reach double figures in scoring.

    Boca Ciega 74, Nature Coast 50: Dallas Moore again lit up the scoreboard, scoring 33 points to help the Pirates cruise in a consolation game. Moore hit five 3-pointers and now has 58 points in two tournament games. Michael Clark dominated inside for Boca Ciega and had 25. Rohan Blackwood scored a team-high 17 for the Sharks.

    Mitchell 85, Alonso 60: The Mustangs rebounded from a loss Thursday to rout the Ravens. Bernie Conley led Mitchell with 24 points. Alonso's Jahkeal Samuel had 23.

    Bob Putnam can be reached at putnam@tampabay.com.


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  • 12/21/12--20:25: USF women dominate in Mexico
  • Times wires
    Friday, December 21, 2012

    CANCUN, Mexico — Freshmen Alisia Jenkins, Shavontae Naylor and Courtney Williams combined for 32 points off the bench as USF (9-1) defeated Nevada 71-46 Friday at the Caribbean Classic.

    Senior Andrea Smith scored a game-high 19 for USF, which outrebounded Nevada 52-34.

    "It's great to be able to go to your bench and have that capability of guys stepping in and giving you (production)," Bulls coach Jose Fernandez told gousfbulls.com.

    Terilyn Moe led Nevada (5-5) with 15 points.

    UF 81, CENTRAL MICH. 75: Guard Kayla Lewis had game highs with 18 points and 10 rebounds to lead the host Gators (10-3). Another guard, Jaterra Bonds, scored 15 for Florida, which shot 55.4 percent from the field (31-for-56).

    NO. 5 N. DAME 83, NO. 22 TEXAS A&M 74: Skylar Diggins scored 24 and Natalie Achonwa had 22 points and 14 rebounds for the Fighting Irish in the final of the World Vision Classic in Las Vegas. Muffet McGraw earned her 600th win as Notre Dame coach. Kelsey Bone led the Aggies (8-4) with 28 points and 10 rebounds.

    NO. 7 KENTUCKY 66, UC SANTA BARBARA 38: A'dia Mathies scored 19 for the visiting Wildcats (10-1), who extended their winning streak to nine.

    NO. 13 PURDUE 78, IUPUI 53: Courtney Moses scored 18 and Drey Mingo had 13 points and eight rebounds for the host Boilermakers (11-1).

    NO. 14 L'VILLE 106, WAGNER 32: Megan Deines scored 19 and eight of nine players scored in double figures for the host Cardinals (11-2), who recorded their second-largest margin of victory. Louisville beat Coastal Carolina 109-29 on Dec. 18, 1996.

    NO. 21 SOUTH CAROLINA 65, S.C. STATE 45: Tiffany Mitchell had 21 points and 11 rebounds for the host Gamecocks (11-1).

    Men

    NO. 6 INDIANA 88, FAU 52: Cody Zeller had 24 points and six rebounds as the Hoosiers (11-1) cruised to their 29th consecutive nonconference win at home. Florida Atlantic (5-7) was led by Greg Gantt's 25 points; he needs four to break Earnest Crumbley's school record (1,559).

    NO. 22 N. DAME 89, NIAGARA 67: Jack Cooley had 20 points and 10 rebounds in the first half on his way to 24 and 15, both season highs, for the host Fighting Irish. Notre Dame (12-1) shot a season-high 62 percent in its 10th consecutive victory.

    YOUNGSTOWN STATE 67, B-CU 51: Damian Eargle (13 points and 11 rebounds) and Blake Allen (12 and 10) had double doubles for the visiting Penguins. Adrien Coleman scored 17 and Alex Smith had 13 points and 10 rebounds to pace Bethune-Cookman (5-9).

    TEXAS: The NCAA suspended Myck Kabongo for 23 games for accepting impermissible benefits and providing false statements during an investigation. Kabongo also must repay $475 to a charity of his choice. The NCAA will count all 11 games that Kabongo has missed toward the suspension.

    RECRUIT HARASSED: Jabari Parker, the nation's No. 2 senior, said his commitment to Duke has some harassing him on Twitter. "I think I'm getting more tweets," Parker told ESPN 1000 radio in Chicago. "Fans are just now giving me a hard time. They sometimes just forget I'm a kid. Real hateful stuff."


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    By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 21, 2012

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl marked Central Florida's final act as a member of Conference USA, and the Knights made an impressive exit, with quarterback Blake Bortles putting on a show in a 38-17 romp over Ball State at Tropicana Field on Friday night.

    "It's huge," said Bortles, a redshirt sophomore who earned MVP honors and set the bowl's total offense record with 352 yards, throwing for 272 and rushing for 80. "Our main goal was to get a 10-win season and send these seniors out on a good note, but it also gives us a big boost going into the offseason."

    His total offense record broke the 319 yards set by USF's Matt Grothe in 2008. Bortles matched a career high and a record for a St. Petersburg bowl game with three touchdown passes, and he added a fourth score on the ground.

    The Knights (10-4), who join USF in the Big East next year, scored on their first two drives, first on a Bortles pass to Latavius Murray to complete a drive that ate up 7:33, then on a Murray 2-yard run for a 13-0 lead.

    "The message was 'We're going to control the football when we want to,' " coach George O'Leary said. "We did it the first two times we touched the ball. We took off (almost) eight minutes the first time we had the ball. That's a lot for a team that wants to score points on the other side."

    Bortles was at his best on third downs, converting 6-of-7 in the first half, including three on the opening drive, the first a 19-yard scramble to convert on third and 10.

    After Ball State cut UCF's lead to 13-7 in the second quarter, Bortles barreled through two defenders on third and goal for a 6-yard touchdown and a 21-7 lead. He came through again on third and goal with a touchdown pass with five seconds left in the half for a 28-7 lead.

    "(Bortles) scared me to death coming in, with his feet and his ability to escape the pocket and keep his eyes downfield and make plays," Ball State coach Pete Lembo said. "He did that basically from the beginning of the game until the end."

    UCF's presence helped the bowl draw an announced crowd of 21,759, its best attendance since 2009, when UCF lost to Rutgers before a bowl-record crowd of 29,763. The past two games drew announced crowds of just more than 20,000.

    Bortles of Oviedo has quietly had a huge season for the Knights. Counting Friday, he threw for 25 touchdowns and ran for eight, and he threw only seven interceptions.

    Murray finished with three touchdowns, catching two scoring passes from Bortles and running for another to go with 73 yards on 21 carries.

    Ball State's two touchdowns came on passes from quarterback Keith Wenning to receiver Willie Snead, the latter coming with 5:26 left in the game and the outcome long decided.

    UCF dominated a team that beat USF and Indiana this season, holding the Cardinals to 10 yards in the opening quarter. The Cardinals (9-4) struggled to put together sustained drives. They got an 82-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter but not much else.

    UCF's 38 points are the third-most in the bowl's short history. Rutgers scored 45 in beating UCF in 2009, USF 41 in routing Memphis in 2008.

    It was the second bowl victory in UCF history, following a win against Georgia in the 2010 Liberty Bowl. Ball State drops to 0-6 all time in bowl games, the most losses without a win for any Division I-A school, ESPN Stats and Info said.

    UCF was facing a one-year postseason ban for major recruiting violations, but it is appealing those sanctions.


    CHRIS ZUPPA   |   TimesCHRIS ZUPPA | Times

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    By Joe Smith, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 21, 2012

    TAMPA — Before Friday, USF coach Stan Heath had never been involved in a triple-overtime game.

    Then again, Heath had never been part of a night like this.

    The Bulls overcame a seven-point deficit with a minute left in regulation — and a 22-minute power outage in the first OT — to win an 87-84 thriller over Bowling Green at the Sun Dome, the second-longest game in USF history.

    "It was incredible, man," Bulls forward Victor Rudd said. "You love being a part of a night like that."

    Rudd hit the tying 3 with three seconds left to force the first overtime, another tying 3 to force a third, and a three-point play with 13 seconds left that gave USF the lead for good before 4,008 in attendance.

    "Terrific," Heath said of Rudd, who scored a game-high 29. "He was very, very special tonight."

    And guard Martino Brock had a game-saving block. With 18 seconds left in triple OT and Bowling Green up two, guard Jordon Crawford threw a long pass over the USF press to Anthony Henderson, who was streaking for a wide-open layup.

    Brock, easily 20 feet behind, somehow sprinted back and swatted Henderson's attempt. "That was the moment," Heath said. "Defensive play of the year."

    Brock was brilliant in the first half, with 13 of his season-high 18 points. Heath thought the Bulls had put it away when they led by 11 with 12 minutes left.

    But Rudd said USF (7-3) let its guard down. Crawford, the top scorer for the Falcons (5-6) who was scoreless in the first half, had 15 points in the final 15 minutes of regulation (27 overall). "He's a dynamic player," Bowling Green coach Louis Orr said.

    But so is Rudd, who played 53 of the 55 minutes. Said Heath: "I shouldn't have took him out the other two." The Bulls controlled the first overtime, leading by four with 21.6 seconds left before the lights went out in the newly revamped Sun Dome.

    "It's like, "What the heck is going on?' " Heath said. "We've got a new building, there's going to be some kinks." After the 22-minute delay, Jawanza Poland and Anthony Collins each missed the front ends of 1-and-1 free throws.

    "That was the ultimate freeze," Heath quipped.

    And, each time, Crawford raced to score a layup, forcing double OT. Rudd, again, came up clutch in the second OT, hitting a 3 with 27 seconds left to tie it. It was USF's longest game since a four-OT game Feb. 8, 1979, against New Orleans, but the Bulls have more than a week to recover on their holiday break.

    "For me," Rudd said, smiling, "It's an extra good Christmas."


    DANIEL WALLACE   |   TimesDANIEL WALLACE | Times

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