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    By Dave Zalewski, Times Correspondent
    Friday, December 28, 2012

    What's hot: The South County artificial reef, near the "Betty Rose," ledges and hard-bottom areas produced Spanish mackerel, kingfish, gag grouper (catch, photo and release) and enough keeper red grouper and white grunts for several dinners.

    Tactics: We tried many combinations while trolling for gags and settled on two. The first was a No. 3 planer on a 50-pound class outfit and 30 feet of 60-pound leader with a gold broken-backed hard-bodied lure, a large jig head with a shad or a curly tailed soft, plastic tail. Drags must be set at the point where there is just enough pressure to prevent slippage when trolling at 5 to 5½ knots. If set tighter, the line will snap. The second combination, a No. 2 planer with a large spoon, came after we caught several kingfish on the grouper tackle. Mixed in with the kings were large Spanish mackerel.

    Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.

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    By Stephen F. Holder and Rick Stroud, Times Staff Writers
    Friday, December 28, 2012

    TAMPA — The Bucs are on the brink of allowing the most passing yards in a season in NFL history and have not won since their starting cornerback was suspended last month.

    But they have not made a decision on whether to play Eric Wright on Sunday at Atlanta.

    "He'll be with us, and I'll have to make that decision," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said.

    Will it be a game-day decision?

    "Don't know yet. Might be (today)," Schiano said. "I've just got to figure it out. It's really just what do we think is the best thing to do at this point in the year for our team to win."

    The Bucs have allowed 4,545 passing yards (303 per game). That's 251 fewer than the record of 4,796 set by the Packers last season. Atlanta's Matt Ryan averages 286.4 for the season and put up 353 in a 24-23 win against the Bucs on Nov. 25.

    Wright missed that game with an Achilles injury. The next week, he began a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Wright says he took Adderall, a stimulant. Tampa Bay has lost five straight with Wright out of the lineup.

    Wright, signed during the last offseason, said he spent the past four weeks rehabbing the Achilles injury, and he has practiced all three days this week. Yet Schiano remains noncommittal.

    "We're kind of seeing how he runs around out there," defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said. "You sit out for a month or so, it's not like you just jump back in. I don't think it's like riding a bike. But he's an NFL starting corner. That's what we brought him here to do. (Losing him) was a hit for us."

    Something to consider: The Bucs can void $7.5 million in guaranteed salary for 2013 because of the suspension. If they're considering releasing Wright, the collective bargaining agreement guarantees a player a maximum of $1.5 million in future earnings if a contract was in place at the time of any injury that prompts a release.

    Cap maneuvers: Are the Bucs gearing up for another splash in free agency? They certainly positioned themselves by restructuring two of their biggest contracts.

    While it will not affect the amount of money WR Vincent Jackson and LG Carl Nicks are paid, both agreed to convert their 2013 salaries into bonuses that will be counted on the 2012 ledger. That allows the Bucs to prorate about $25 million due to them in 2013 over several years.

    The net result: The Bucs have more salary cap space next season. They have $98 million in cap dollars currently committed in 2013, according to ESPN. The salary cap is projected to be about $121 million.

    That $98 million could be further reduced by offseason moves. And look for the Bucs to roll over unused cap space from this season, about $8 million, to give them even more room.

    MILESTONE watch: WR Mike Williams needs 69 yards for his first 1,000-yard season. He also is poised to set a career high in yards per catch. His 16.3 currently is sixth in the league among starting receivers.

    Williams, in his third season, credits Jackson for much of his success.

    "With that guy on the field, you have to get at least 900 yards on the other side," Williams said.

    Williams also scored eight touchdowns a season after he scored just three.

    "That's one thing I wanted to do was get back in the end zone," he said. "I think I could have gotten back in there a lot more this year and helped us win. But it was a lot better than I did last year."

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    By David Rice, Times Correspondent
    Friday, December 28, 2012

    The J. Ben Harrill Recreation Complex in Holiday is set to play host to a Holiday Wellness Expo that will include about 40 vendors providing everything from wellness education materials to free health screenings. The event will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 19 and is free and open to the public.

    "We have a lot of programs at the recreation center that target specific groups like seniors or kids, but this will encompass everyone," Pasco County park site supervisor Eric Pavlica said. "We'll have just about everything you can imagine to showcase when it comes to health and wellness, so we expect a good turnout."

    Sponsors include Rasmussen College, All Children's Hospital, the Healthy Vision Institute, Home Helpers, Raffle Rescue for Animals, Wellcare, Staywell Kids and more. For more information, call (727) 942-7439.

    VOLLEYBALL: The J. Ben Harrill Recreation Complex has developed a new youth volleyball league for players ages 7 to 9 called Bump-Set-Spike Junior Volleyball.

    The league is designed to help players learn the rules and skills to play the game. Interested participants must register by Jan. 11 as the season starts on Jan. 12. The cost is $25 for the season. For more information, call (727) 942-7439.

    SHOOTING: Tampa Bay Sporting Clays will host the inaugural Suncoast Classic on Jan. 26 and 27. The event is a National Sporting Clays Association sanctioned event and will follow all NSCA rules.

    Both days include a 100-target, 16-station event on both the red and blue courses, but there will also be a two-day, 200-target event called the Ironman 200. Only factory loaded ammunition can be used at all events. Ammunition shall not exceed NSCA limits. Ammunition will be available for sale at the club. For more information, visit mytbsc.com or call (813) 929-6200.

    LACROSSE: The Dick's Sporting Goods Tournament Of Champions Lacrosse Tournament, hosted by Pasco County and Wesley Chapel Athletic Association and run by NDP Lacrosse, will take place this weekend at the Wesley Chapel District Park.

    The tournament includes 88 teams that qualified for the TOC, representing 20 different states and Canada. Gates will open at 8 a.m. each day at the north entrance only of the park. There are no entry or parking fees. All visitors and participants will experience a vendor village as well as three days of lacrosse.

    For more information contact Joe Palermo, WCAA director of lacrosse, at (631) 766-6715, Joe@wcaasports.org or Frank Britton, tournament director, at (813) 997-3365.

    SPIN-A-THON: LifeCycle Fitness Studio seeks participants for its Spin-a-Thon, which will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 5 at 4664 Commercial Way, Spring Hill.

    Registration must be completed by Thursday. Members of each team will need to alternate so that one member is on the bike pedaling at all times. There will be food, drinks, demonstrations and door prizes.

    All proceeds will go to the Humane Society of the Nature Coast and St. Jude's Children's Hospital. Call (352) 540-5199.

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    By Antonya English, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 28, 2012

    NEW ORLEANS — It's very possible that several Florida juniors will play their final college game in Wednesday's Sugar Bowl against Louisville.

    Florida's success will likely translate into NFL opportunities for TE Jordan Reed, S Matt Elam, LB Jelani Jenkins and DT Sharrif Floyd. All have filed paperwork with the NFL to get more details on their potential draft status. Jenkins has been active on Twitter trying to sublet his apartment and sell household items. On Friday, DT Dominique Easley said he will decide after the season whether to return.

    DEALING WITH DISTRACTIONS: Louisville coach Charlie Strong became the focus of attention because of a lawsuit filed this month by former Louisville DL Patrick Grant, who alleges he was beaten by two teammates, then coerced into covering up the incident.

    Grant's suit says he was attacked in the locker room on Oct. 24, 2010 and beaten "so badly that he required immediate, urgent care and nearly lost his left eye." He says that, on the way to the hospital, a team trainer told him to lie about teammates causing the injuries. The suit says doctors advised Grant to stop playing football, and Strong promised he could remain on scholarship. Instead, he alleges, after he returned to practice and was injured, Strong revoked his scholarship. Grant wants his scholarship reinstated and seeks compensatory damages.

    A school spokesman said officials do not comment on pending litigation. In July, a grand jury declined to indict Jacob and Isaac Geffrad, whom Grant said attacked him, on first-degree assault charges. They were dismissed from the team in November 2010.

    TO CURFEW OR NOT: With the lure of Bourbon Street and the party life in New Orleans, a primary concern for the coaches this week is keeping players out of trouble. Florida coach Will Muschamp instituted a curfew, though he declined to publicly say what time players must be in. The Cardinals do not have curfew because, Strong says, "I want my players to enjoy the experience. They deserve it as a team because they've worked so hard to get themselves here. They already know it's all about business and we're not trying to see how many hurricanes we can consume or anything. We can stay out at night, but in the end we know it's a business trip for us."

    Information from Times wires was used in this report. Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com.

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    By Stephen F. Holder, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 28, 2012

    I understand you have seven siblings. Did all of you grow up together?

    Half of us did. My dad got remarried, so I have other siblings.

    So you have a real-life Brady Bunch?

    Oh, yeah. There's a lot of us.

    Does the whole group get together a lot?

    Actually, we do. I'm the only one that's not there. Everybody lives in Arizona, well, except one of my sisters. We always go back for the Christmas holidays. In fact, this was my first time not going back for Christmas. It didn't feel right. We do a lot of fun stuff together. Bowling and stuff like that.

    What's a bowling game like with all of you guys?

    It's real competitive. I'm like the second oldest, so me and my older brother will take all the kids bowling together.

    Sounds like a lot of gift-buying at Christmas. How do you manage all that?

    They ask for stuff. Sometimes, I tell them yes. Sometimes, I say no. It depends. I'm in position to get them some things right now. But let's be real: Nobody's getting a car for Christmas.

    On a different note, I hear you changed your number in college from 34 to 20 because you love Barry Sanders. Is that correct?

    My pops showed me a few clips of him years ago, and I decided I wanted to have that same running style. I liked the way he outran people and how he broke away from (defenders). So in college, I was 34 because a veteran had No. 20. As soon as he left, I snatched it. Then I come here to the Bucs, and I'm like, "Oh, man! No. 20 is Ronde Barber?" Never mind, I'm not getting that.

    I was going to ask whether you had the nerve to ask for it because it's not happening.

    Oh, I know. Trust me. So I changed it back to 34. But that's a good number, too. Earl Campbell wore 34. Walter Payton, too.

    Here are my weekly questions: What's playing most often right now on your iPod?

    I'm a big R&B fan. I like Trey Songz's Dive In. I like Usher, too. And Kelly Rowland. I'm not a big rap fan, but I will listen to it.

    What website do you visit the most?

    I'm probably on Facebook more than anything. My friend, Matt, he's always posting something weird. So I'll always check in and see what he is up to.

    What reality show do you watch most regularly?

    I like Family Feud with (host) Steve Harvey. He is funny. He has me rolling on the ground on that show.

    Wait, that's a game show, not a reality show. I guess we can bend the rules for you, though.

    Well, that's what I watch, man.

    Are you one of those people who shouts out the answers?

    I do, and I always feel like my answers are right. But there's always something else up on the board. I don't understand that.

    You're known for having speed. You ran an unofficial 4.25-second 40-yard dash. Do your teammates know about that? And has anyone challenged you to race?

    Nobody really has. Actually, (cornerback) LeQuan Lewis is talking about it. I told him that after the season, we can race. But I don't have any doubts. I might sound cocky, but I have confidence in my speed.

    Were you always the fast kid when you were growing up?

    Believe or not, my brother (Xavier Smith) was faster than me. And he weighs probably 40 or 50 pounds more than me. It's crazy. I would always lose to him. But when I got to college, it was like I got an extra gear and I started beating him. Before that, I raced my brother many times. I would always lose to him.

    Did you guys grow up competing against one another?

    Oh, yes. And he was a running back, too. It was a rough few years for me. We went to the same school. But I always knew I would get my shot.

    So were you, like, his backup?

    Yeah. I returned kickoffs, and I played a little bit of slot receiver. But I was his backup, chilling on the bench. He was a good recruit. He played at Arizona.

    Does he scrutinize you a lot when he watches you play?

    Oh, man, yes. I always tell him, "Look, you're not the coach." I tell him, "Hey, other guys get paid, too."

    You're a long way from home. How are you settling into Florida?

    I like it. Nice weather. I'm finally near the beach. But that humidity kicks in. I'm getting used to it now, but at first, wow. I'm from Tucson. We have dry heat. It's hot here, but when the humidity kicks in, it goes to another level. You sweat like crazy.

    Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@tampabay.com.


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    Times staff
    Friday, December 28, 2012

    Bucs at Falcons

    1 p.m., Georgia Dome, Atlanta

    TV/radio: Ch. 13; 620-AM, 103.5-FM

    The poll

    How would you describe the Bucs' 2012 season?

    No different than last year: 58 percent

    A step forward: 34 percent

    Awful: 4 percent

    Successful: 2 percent

    A step backward: 2 percent

    Total: 988 votes

    Inside the numbers

    19-19 Bucs' record against the Falcons

    2.4 Yards per carry for the Bucs' Doug Martin against the Falcons on Nov. 25, second-lowest this season

    11 Consecutive home wins for Atlanta, which seeks its first perfect season since 1998 (the only time it reached the Super Bowl)

    1,766 Yards from scrimmage for Martin, third in the league

    89 Receiving yards needed by the Bucs' Vincent Jackson to surpass the franchise record of 1,422 set by Mark Carrier in 1989

    What they're saying

    There have been no winks or sly smiles from Falcons coaches or players; no hints that they don't really mean what they say. The Falcons insist they really are "playing to win" their regular-season finale against the Buccaneers as coach Mike Smith said. The game may not matter for their playoff standing. But to the Falcons, that's not the same as saying the game doesn't matter.

    Michael Cunningham Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    The enigma that is Josh Freeman has returned, and solving that particular puzzle will now become one of the Bucs' foremost offseason priorities. He's not exactly a Mark Sanchez-level problem, but he was taken in the same first round of the 2009 draft.

    Don Banks Sports Illustrated

    Optimism ran high a month ago that this was a playoff team. But they faded down the stretch with five straight loses. Coach Greg Schiano has more work to do than he expected.

    Pat Kirwan cbssports.com

    The picks

    Remember when the Bucs were 6-4 and in all those playoff-scenario graphics? Well, they'll finish the season on a six-game losing streak that has everyone at Tony Dungy's barbershop in Tampa wondering: "Was it fool's gold with Greg Schiano in the first two months?" Falcons, 30-13.

    Peter King Sports Illustrated

    The Falcons don't plan to rest their starters, so they will play to win. The Bucs are playing like they've packed it in. Atlanta rolls against a Bucs team that just hasn't played well the past couple of weeks. Falcons, 27-17.

    Pete Prisco cbssports.com

    (The Falcons have) been coy about how much QB Matt Ryan and other stars will or won't play. Still like Falcs to make sure they don't enter the postseason off an upset loss. Remember, this is a team 0-3 in the playoffs under coach Mike Smith and Ryan and sensitive about inviting fresh doubts — internal or external. Falcons, 24-16

    Greg Cote Miami Herald

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    By Don Jensen, Times Correspondent
    Friday, December 28, 2012

    OLDSMAR — When Breeders' Cup winners Drosselmeyer, Fort Larned and Royal Delta made their Tampa Bay Downs debuts, none won. The true winners were area fans.

    "We've been lucky and had some awfully nice horses run here," track racing secretary Allison De Luca said.

    For 11 of the next 12 Saturdays (Jan. 19 being the exception), stakes races will be in the spotlight at the Downs. In all, 16, including an all-time high six graded events, totaling $1.935 million will be con­tested.

    The Minaret Stakes, a $50,000 race for fillies and mares at 6 furlongs, begins the surge today in Race 8 (3:55 p.m.). Cards with Kentucky Derby implications will be Festival Preview Day on Feb. 2, featuring the Grade III $250,000 Sam F. Davis, and Festival Day on March 9, topped by the Grade II $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby.

    "We'll be busy on the bigger days coming up," De Luca said. "In the end, we have Florida Cup Day (April 6). We work hard to get as many horses and the best horses we can."

    Stakes coordinator Gerry Stanislawzyk works the telephone daily and travels to Miami to recruit horse owners.

    "(Tracks) didn't used to have stakes coordinators, but any major program has one now," De Luca said. "It's a huge load off any racing secretary.

    "Our track superintendent (Tom McLaughlin) does such a good job on the turf and the dirt. But it's getting harder and harder (to get good horses) because there are so many stakes around the country. Every track is vying for these horses."

    Besides the Sam F. Davis and Tampa Bay Derby, other graded stakes races are the Endeavour and Florida Oaks on Feb. 2, Tampa Bay Stakes on Feb. 16 and the Hillsborough on March 9, all Grade III events with $150,000 purses. The Florida Oaks, a turf test for 3-year-old fillies, received graded status this year.

    "Tampa Bay Downs has worked hard to develop this stakes program and have a good Derby," De Luca said. "That happened long before I got here."

    GREYHOUNDS: Derby Lane kicks off its 88th season Tuesday at St. Petersburg. A change from January through March has Monday matinee racing. The track will remain open that night for poker and simulcast wagering. There will continue to be eight weekly performances. On New Year's Eve, Derby Lane offers a matinee card with no night racing. … Qualifying for the $8,000 Inaugural Stakes begins Wednesday night. The top four in Races 6 and 10 reach the Jan. 5 final. … Derby Lane lost one of its veteran kennels this week with Lester Raines going to Southland Park in West Memphis, Ark. Replacing Lester Raines will be a kennel from Jacksonville operated by John Lashmet.

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    By Antonya English, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 28, 2012


    A few days before the college football bowl announcements were made, Kamran Joyer contacted his younger brother Hunter to tell him there was a chance that Kamran's Louisville Cardinals might be selected to play Hunter's Florida Gators in a bowl.

    Yeah, right, Hunter thought. After all, the projections he had been seeing had Florida playing Oklahoma. "I really kind of just shot that down, didn't really give it a shot," Hunter Joyer said.

    Turns out, the older Joyer was right.

    When No. 3 Florida and No. 21 Louisville meet in Wednesday's Sugar Bowl, the little boys who grew up participating in "fiercely competitive" backyard football games, then spent two years as teammates at Wesley Chapel High, will for the first time become adversaries on the field. Hunter Joyer is a sophomore starting fullback for the Gators, while Kamran is a redshirt junior offensive lineman.

    "I think it's crazy," Hunter said. "It's going to be. I don't even really know how to explain it. I've never really experienced anything like this but it seems like one of those special moments, kind of like Tiki and Ronde Barber, Eli and Peyton Manning. I kind of feel like them, going through the same thing they've gone through. It's pretty special. I'm just hoping we come out with the win so I can brag about that."

    The two have been each other's biggest supporters for as long as they can remember. On an off week this year, Kamran, 22, traveled to Gainesville to watch Hunter, the middle of three boys, play. Hunter, 19, tries to catch any Louisville game on TV that doesn't conflict with the Gators' schedule, saying, "I'm so happy to see him get the chance to do what he loves."

    But deep down, they are typical brothers. Case in point — after the bowl selections were announced, Hunter did what any little brother would do: He pulled out his best trash talk.

    "He called me and told me I was Gator bait," Kamran said. "He said he was looking forward to playing. I told him the same thing, then I told him to watch out. As soon as he got word of the game, he started talking crap."

    All in fun, of course. Kamran said his teammates have asked what it feels like to be playing against his brother, and trying to gauge his excitement. Kamran and Hunter said they find it hard to explain the emotions.

    "It's really special," Kamran said. "I'll definitely talk about it for a long time. I'll even tell Hunter's children about it one day. I might even change the story and tell them that we won if we lose, just to make it sound better. It's going to be crazy. I don't know what to expect."

    The brothers and their family understand the unique opportunity the game presents and plan to make it special. About 20 family members are expected to travel to New Orleans. A family friend has designed shirts representing both Louisville and Florida for the family to wear as they battle torn loyalties. It is, the Joyers said, once in a lifetime.

    "The planets just lined up in just the right arrangement," said Kirsten Joyer, Hunter and Kamran's mom, who admits she was both "elated and horrified" when she heard Florida and Louisville would play. "Everything lined up exactly the way it was supposed to. This was intended to happen. It was just serendipity. It was meant to happen.

    "We're going to be in New Orleans with the whole family, and this will be the first time that we've been together as a family in a while. It's going to be a great experience."


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    By Joe Smith, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 28, 2012

    TAMPA — Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has always been one of Roy Miller's biggest fans.

    As an Oklahoma City teenager, McCoy looked up to Miller, the Bucs nose tackle, watching his Killeen (Texas) High highlights from afar. And when the two were recruited by Oklahoma, McCoy dreamed they'd play alongside each other.

    Miller, 25, spurned the Sooners for Texas, but the two remained in touch. And when McCoy was drafted No. 3 overall by Tampa Bay in 2010, Miller welcomed the touted rookie by giving him his No. 93 — free of charge.

    "He just said, 'Here, take it,' " McCoy, 24, said. "That's just the type of guy he is."

    The nature of Miller's position is to be unselfish, drawing double teams and plugging the middle to free up fellow linemen. But while McCoy garners the attention (and first Pro Bowl selection) and end Michael Bennett racks up a team-high nine sacks, it's not lost on the Bucs that the 6-foot-2, 310-pound Miller has helped both by having, arguably, the best season of his four-year career.

    "Roy has been a very integral part of our defense," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said of the 2009 third-round pick. "He's a heck of a run-stopper and plays the position … very well. And he's really custom built to play it."

    Miller has flourished in a scheme that befits his physical and aggressive style. While Miller plays mostly on first and second down, he's a key reason why the Bucs have the No. 1 run defense in the league. And Miller, who like Bennett can become a free agent after this season, hopes to be back.

    "I just hate the feeling I have right now of this is the … last (game) that's guaranteed for me," Miller said. "But the reality is that's the situation I'm in right now. I'm just hoping we can work some things out, and I'd love to come back and be a part of this team next year."

    Miller has not played in the same scheme for two straight seasons. During his rookie season, Miller was asked to gain weight and play a two-gap, read-and-react system. When then-coach Raheem Morris became defensive coordinator, Miller was positioned over the center in a traditional Tampa Two.

    But this season, Miller has lined up on an angle, tilted over the center, which allows him to use his quickness and strength.

    "I think my best attributes are just getting off the ball and playing with my hands," Miller said. "And I think at the point of attack, if I can attack the guy from an angle like that, I don't really think they've got a chance. I really like it, and I feel like it's a perfect fit for me."

    Miller's contributions aren't measured in numbers. He has tallied just 14 tackles in 14 games, and his career high is 32 in 2010.

    "I think how Roy has played and how physical he is being in the run game has given a chance for some of the run-blocking schemes for Gerald to get a single block, get off and make plays," Bucs defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said.

    "I think Roy has had a very good year. He's been very disruptive. He's a guy a lot of times you need to put two blockers on him … or else he's got a chance to really knock the center back and get in the backfield."

    McCoy could sense something clicked during training camp, when Miller played at, he said, "another level." And that carried over into the season, when Miller has been able to stay on the field. He has missed just one game due to a concussion.

    "My dad said, 'You ever think you'd get to play with that guy?' I said, 'No, I didn't,' " McCoy said. "I've watched him develop. His level of play has gone up each year. And this year, he's played very well. He's been very consistent and solid, and I think everything that's coming his way is very deserving."

    Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com.


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    By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 28, 2012


    USF vs. George Mason

    When/where: 7; Sun Dome, Tampa

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

    Records: George Mason 7-4, USF 7-3

    Notable: Three of George Mason's losses are against RPI top 50 teams. … USF could be shorthanded in the post as senior forward Kore White sprained a toe in practice. The Bulls have gone without guards Shaun Noriega and JaVontae Hawkins in the past two weeks as well, with Martino Brock and Jawanza Poland taking on more minutes as a result. … After having no players average double-digit scoring last season, USF now has three, with Toarlyn Fitzpatrick at 12.7 and Victor Rudd (11.6) and Anthony Collins (10) close behind. … Rudd was voted national player of the week by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association after getting 29 points in a triple-overtime win vs. Bowling Green. … Patriots guard Sherrod Wright averages a team-high 16.9 points.

    Greg Auman, Times staff writer

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    By Antonya English, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 28, 2012

    . TODAY

    No. 14 Florida vs. Air Force

    When/where: 4:30; BB&T Center, Sunrise

    TV/radio: Sun Sports; 1250-AM

    Records: Air Force 8-2, Florida 8-2

    Notable: This is Florida's 12th appearance in 13 seasons in the Orange Bowl Classic, and the Gators are 9-2 in the event. But Florida is coming off a tough 67-61 road loss to Kansas State and has lost two of its past three. … The Gators continue to rank third in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 51.3 points per game. … Air Force's starters are all seniors, led by G Michael Lyons, who averages 20.5 points and is the team's leading rebounder (5.3). … Florida, which has struggled at times with its 3-point defense, will have to find a way to handle 6-foot-2 G Todd Fletcher, who is hitting 51 percent from 3-point range this season. Air Force averages 9.1 3-pointers, seventh in the nation.

    Antonya English, Times staff writer

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    Times staff
    Friday, December 28, 2012

    . TODAY

    FSU vs. Tulsa

    When/where: 2; BB&T Center, Sunrise

    TV/radio: Sun Sports; 1040-AM

    Records: FSU 7-4, Tulsa 7-5

    Notable: This is the first game of the Orange Bowl Classic doubleheader. … The Seminoles haven't played since slipping past Charlotte 79-76 on Dec. 22. It was their third straight victory following a three-game losing streak. … Former Kansas star Danny Manning is in his first head coaching job leading the Golden Hurricane, which is also coming off a weeklong break. … Tulsa is led by freshman guard James Woodard, who is averaging 14.1 points and 6.1 rebounds.

    Times staff

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    By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 28, 2012

    . TODAY

    USF women vs. Florida A&M

    When/where: 2; Sun Dome, Tampa

    Radio: 1010-AM

    Records: FAMU 3-8, USF 9-2

    Notable: After an 8-0 start, USF has dropped two of three, but the Bulls should have it easy against a Florida A&M team that takes 21 3-pointers a game despite hitting just 24 percent. … FAMU is led by Jasmine Grice's 22.2 ppg, while USF has three solid scorers in twin guards Andrell (16.1) and Andrea (15.7) Smith and guard Inga Orekhova (11.4). … Jose Fernandez needs two wins (with Detroit-Mercy in town Monday) to reach 200 for his career and become the first Bulls basketball coach to reach the milestone.

    Greg Auman, Times staff writer

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  • 12/28/12--18:05: Sports in brief
  • Times wires
    Friday, December 28, 2012


    Virus derails Nadal from Aussie Open

    BARCELONA, Spain — Just when Rafael Nadal had recovered from a knee injury, a stomach virus has delayed his return to tennis by a couple of months.

    Nadal announced Friday that he will miss next month's Australian Open and probably won't play again until the end of February. The Spaniard said he needs time to recover from the virus that already prevented him from coming back this week at Abu Dhabi.

    Nadal has been sidelined since June with a knee injury, which forced him to miss the Olympics and U.S. Open. He had planned to rejoin the ATP tour at the Qatar Open before the Jan. 14-27 Australian Open.

    While he is expected to recover from the virus in time for the year's first Grand Slam event, Nadal said he wouldn't have the proper preparation for a five-set event.

    "I always said that my return to competition will be when I am in the right conditions to play, and after all this time away from the courts I'd rather not accelerate the comeback and prefer to do things well," said the former No. 1, who hopes to return at Acapulco, Mexico on Feb. 27.

    More Tennis: Top-ranked Novak Djokovic routed David Ferrer 6-0, 6-3 to reach the final of the World Tennis Championship exhibition in the United Arab Emirates. He next faces Nicolas Almagro, who beat Janko Tipsarevic 6-2, 7-6 (7-3), 6-2.

    Ice Hockey

    Russia tops U.S. at world juniors

    Lightning defenseman prospect Nikita Nesterov assisted on Russia's first goal and Andrei Makarov made 41 saves in a 2-1 victory over the United States at the world junior championships in Ufa, Russia.

    Vladimir Tkachyov scored the winner four minutes into the third and Russia withstood a late two-man advantage for the Americans, who fell to third in Group B.

    U.S. goalie John Gibson had 28 saves, including a one-on-one against Lightning forward prospect Nikita Kucherov.

    In other games, Group A leader Sweden rallied past Switzerland 3-2 on Victor Rask's winner in a penalty shootout. Also, Canada, the Group B leader, beat Slovakia 6-3, and the Czech Republic topped Finland 2-1.


    Man U. manager defends, volleys

    Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson unleashed a verbal tirade against Newcastle and its coach, Alan Pardew, while defending himself against growing condemnation of his outburst at an English Premier League referee.

    Pardew said he was surprised Ferguson escaped punishment for approaching referee Mike Dean during a 4-3 win over Newcastle.

    Ferguson claims he was "demonstrative but … not out of order" and accused Pardew of hypocrisy, as the Newcastle manager served a two-match ban this season for pushing an assistant referee.

    "Alan Pardew is the worst at haranguing referees," Ferguson said.


    Speed skating: Heather Richardson won the women's 500 meters with the fastest time in the world this year (37.34 seconds) at the U.S. Long Track Championships in Kearns, Utah.

    Times wires

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    By Rick Stroud, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 28, 2012

    Face it. The first season under Greg Schiano was partly cloudy, but there is time to search for silver linings.

    While the 6-9 record might not be enough to get you through the long offseason, there are a few individual performances that shattered club marks, and more records could fall today.

    Start with QB Josh Freeman. Last week, he broke the record for passing yards (3,843) and tied the record for touchdowns (26). He needs only 157 yards to reach 4,000.

    Vincent Jackson (69 catches, 1,334 yards, eight touchdowns) needs 89 yards to break Mark Carrier's record set in 1989. His 19.3-yard average leads the NFL.

    Mike Williams needs 69 receiving yards to reach 1,000 for the first time in his three-year career. It would give the Bucs two 1,000-yard receivers in a season for the first time.

    Doug Martin set the rookie rushing record with 1,312 yards. (He is sitting 232 behind James Wilder's overall record of 1,544 set in 1984.)

    "I think it's very impressive," Schiano said. "You go right down the list, starting with … Jackson; exactly what we thought we were going to get. And what's not in those numbers is his leadership, his work ethic, the example he sets.

    "You go to a guy like (LB) Lavonte David. He's put up tremendous numbers and doing everything that he does. So I'm just excited about him. And with Doug Martin, it's the same thing. He's third in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage. So you look at a rookie to do that — anybody to do that — but a rookie especially.

    "So there are a lot of things that I know I lose sight of because the only thing that's really important to me is winning these games. But when I do step away and look at some of the individual efforts, it's encouraging, to say the least."

    WRIGHT OR WRONG? The four-game suspension of CB Eric Wright voided $7.5 million in guarantees he had for 2013. It's a virtual get-out-of-jail-free card for the Bucs and GM Mark Dominik, who made an above-market deal for a below-spectacular defensive back last offseason.

    Wright returned to practice Wednesday, but Schiano has been cagey about whether he will play in today's game at Atlanta. Here's one theory: Wright missed the Falcons game Nov. 25 with a recurring Achilles injury. If he were to play, become injured and not be able to pass a physical, the collective bargaining agreement could provide injury protection of 50 percent of a player's base salary, up to $1.5 million.

    Would the Bucs play Wright, if they intend to release him, and risk an injury and payout? Seems unlikely.

    BENNETT BROTHERS: Giants TE Martellus Bennett and his brother, Bucs DE Michael Bennett, can become free agents after this season.

    Martellus has suggested Michael should sign with the Giants. But is there any reason why the Bucs couldn't use a dominant, complete tight end such as Martellus?

    "The Bucs made me who I am as far as being a player and took a lot of time developing me," said Michael Bennett, claimed off waivers in October 2009.

    "Most of these guys are my family because my family is far away. It's definitely going to be hurtful if this is my last game with the Bucs. But this is a business, and those things happen. So I just look forward to playing this last game and seeing what happens."

    LAST WORD: From DT Roy Mil­ler on DT Gerald McCoy being named to the Pro Bowl:

    "I'm just glad he was able to finish the season and be recognized for the talent he has. That man has been called every name from everybody; from bust to whatever. And now he's in the Pro Bowl. I'm excited for him. He came here as a rookie, and I got to see him progress. And I'm just happy for him. He continued to be resilient, and to see his name on that list did my heart good."

    Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud @tampabay.com and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.

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    By Joey Knight, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 28, 2012

    TAMPA — Michigan QB Denard Robinson insisted again Friday that he'll go into the Outback Bowl capable of providing the one dimension he hasn't shown in two months.

    The forward pass.

    Robinson, who injured his right elbow late in the first half of the Wolverines' loss at Nebraska on Oct. 27, said he threw "a couple of passes" during the team's morning practice Friday at Jesuit High.

    "Oh yeah, I can throw the ball," the Deerfield Beach High alumnus said.

    Robinson missed the two games immediately after the injury but lined up at various spots — quarterback, tailback, receiver — in Michigan's final two games.

    He ran for 220 yards in those contests and even had two receptions. He needs 86 rushing yards in the Outback Bowl to supplant West Virginia's Pat White (4,480 yards) as the NCAA career record-holder among quarterbacks.

    Offensive coordinator Al Borges, clearly guarded on what Robinson's role will be Tuesday, said the senior is "throwing the ball better all the time."

    "We're going to try him in a variety of different roles and we'll see what he's capable of," Borges added. "He's had a month to heal, so we'll see. He's going to be involved, that's for sure."

    NO FEAR: Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has a healthy respect for the speed he'll be challenged to contain in South Carolina's offense.

    Just the same, he has seen what Michigan's team speed can do against an SEC defense first hand.

    "Everybody wants to talk about the SEC as being really fast," Mattison said at the Tampa Convention Center. "I'll give you an example: When I was at Florida, my last year, we played some team from Michigan, and talked about their speed all the time, and I think we got beat."

    Mattison was Florida's defensive coordinator in 2007 when the Gators lost 41-35 to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. The Wolverines scored 10 points in the final five minutes as Chad Henne outdueled Tim Tebow in the year between the Gators' two national championships.

    Mattison left the Gators for three years with the Baltimore Ravens and has spent the past two years building Michigan's defense. He said South Carolina's speed, while impressive, isn't unfamiliar to his players.

    "I think they have very, very good speed, but we see great speed every day in practice," Mattison said. "It's what team comes out and plays. SEC's a great conference. Big Ten is a great conference. You wouldn't be here if you didn't have speed."

    THEY SAID IT: "I didn't even know he played basketball." — Rick Nafe, emcee of Friday's DeBartolo team luncheon, joking about Steve Spurrier twice being named ACC coach of the year while at Duke.


    52 Consecutive starts for South Carolina C T.J. Johnson — a school record — entering the Outback Bowl. Johnson's streak matches Nevada OL Chris Barker for longest among active Division I players.

    Getty ImagesGetty Images

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    By Stephen F. Holder, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 28, 2012

    This is a tricky game to project given the Falcons' noncommittal stance on playing their regulars for the duration. Atlanta has clinched the NFC's top playoff seed, so there is little to gain here beyond more confidence heading into the postseason. The Bucs have lost five straight and need a win badly.

    Falcons' top offensive player

    Matt Ryan, right, has put on a show this season, throwing 31 touchdowns (one off the franchise record) and entering today with the highest rating of his career (100.2). Ryan has thrown multiple touchdowns in 10 games this season.

    Falcons' top defensive player

    Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, left, has become the defensive leader and, in his third season, has 14 tackles-for-loss.

    What the Falcons do best

    The passing game has been in full throttle all season. Roddy White (1,309) and Julio Jones (1,142) are ninth and 11th, respectively, in the league in receiving yards, and tight end Tony Gonzalez is eighth in catches with 88.

    How you beat the Falcons

    In both of their losses (31-27 at New Orleans and 30-20 at Carolina), the Falcons gave up 30 or more points. It suggests it takes a shootout to beat them because their offense has been consistent. Their 402 points (26.8 per game) are fifth in the league.

    The Bucs must avoid …

    An early deficit at the Georgia Dome, where the Falcons are one of the best home teams in the NFL.

    Projected starters



    WR: Vincent Jackson

    LT: Donald Penn

    LG: Jeremy Zuttah

    C: Ted Larsen

    RG: Jamon Meredith

    RT: Demar Dotson

    TE: Dallas Clark

    WR: Mike Williams

    QB: Josh Freeman

    RB: Doug Martin

    FB: Erik Lorig


    LDE: Michael Bennett

    DT: Gerald McCoy

    DT: Roy Miller

    RDE: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim

    SLB: Adam Hayward

    MLB: Mason Foster

    WLB: Lavonte David

    CB: E.J. Biggers

    CB: Leonard Johnson

    SS: Mark Barron

    FS: Ronde Barber

    special teams

    PR: Roscoe Parrish

    KR: Tiquan Underwood

    PK: Connor Barth

    P/KO: Michael Koenen



    WR: Julio Jones

    LT: Sam Baker

    LG: Justin Blalock

    C: Robert McClure

    RG: Peter Konz

    RT: Tyson Clabo

    TE: Tony Gonzalez

    WR: Roddy White

    QB: Matt Ryan

    RB: Michael Turner

    WR: Hugh Douglas


    LDE: John Abraham

    DT: Corey Peters

    DT: Jonathan Babineaux

    RDE: Peria Jerry

    OLB: Mike Peterson

    MLB: Sean Weatherspoon

    OLB: Stephen Nicholas

    CB: Dunta Robinson

    CB: Asante Samuel

    SS: Chris Hope

    FS: Thomas DeCoud

    special teams

    PR: Dominique Franks

    KR: Jacquizz Rodgers

    PK/KO: Matt Bryant

    P: Matt Bosher

    Stat pack

    1 p.m., Georgia Dome, Atlanta | TV/radio: Ch. 13; 620-AM, 103.5-FMInjury report

    BUCS Doubtful: G Roger Allen (groin). Probable: CB E.J. Biggers (hip), DE Da'Quan Bowers (hamstring), TE Nate Byham (illness), TE Dallas Clark (illness), CB LeQuan Lewis (knee), T Donald Penn (not injury related), G Jeremy Zuttah (ankle).

    FALCONS Out: S William Moore (hamstring), CB Christopher Owens (hamstring). Questionable: DT Jonathan Babineaux (ribs), DE Cliff Matthews (hamstring), DT Corey Peters (knee), WR Roddy White (knee)


    Falcons 26, Bucs 23

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    South Florida Sun Sentinel
    Friday, December 28, 2012

    FORT LAUDERDALE — A subtle smile formed in the corner of Florida State assistant James Coley's mouth when he was asked Friday morning to take a trip down memory lane.

    As he smiled, images of his younger self — part free-spirited, football-starved teen, part amateur parking attendant — flashed through his mind.

    Coley, who grew up less than two blocks from the site of the old Orange Bowl in Miami, which was demolished in 2008, chuckled when asked about his fondest recollections of his hometown and what football once was like in the region where his current team will soon play.

    "As kids in that community, that was our playground," he said. "Hide and seek, and running out onto the field and throwing the football and being chased by the security guards. … And parking cars. You might have parked at my house if you went to one of those games."

    Serving as FSU's lead South Florida area recruiter, Coley still finds himself in familiar territory somewhat regularly, but the nostalgia on this trip is different. For the first time since becoming a college assistant six seasons ago, the Seminoles' offensive coordinator and tight ends coach will be part of the Orange Bowl game.

    When the Seminoles face Northern Illinois on Tuesday, Coley will be coaching in his first BCS bowl game. He said FSU faces a great challenge.

    "This is probably the hardest-playing — with regards to morale, rallying to the ball — (defense) that we've seen. It's one of the top we've seen this year," Coley said.

    RECRUITING EDGE: One advantage FSU enjoys by playing a postseason game in South Florida comes in the form of recruiting.

    In recent seasons, the Seminoles have tried to tap back into that talent-rich area. And this week, the Seminoles have a rare opportunity to market themselves. Recruits can not only take in practices but see the police escorts, heightened media attention and other trappings of a BCS bowl experience.

    The Seminoles have seen about 15-20 recruits since their arrival here, coach Jimbo Fisher said.

    NEW LOOK: Northern Illinois will debut an upgraded look next week with newly designed uniforms from Adidas. The Huskies will wear white jerseys that will feature more stylized trims, bigger and bolder lettering, and bright red pants.

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    By Tom Jones, Times Sports Columnist
    Friday, December 28, 2012

    What was the best network for sports in 2012? Who was the best broadcaster? What was the worst show?

    Every Monday in the Tampa Bay Times sports section, I offer my "Shooting from the Lip'' — the best and worst over the weekend in televised sports. As 2012 draws to a close, it's time now to look back.

    Here is the 2012, year-in-review "Shooting from the Lip.''

    Best network

    ESPN takes a lot of abuse from media critics and fans. Some of it is fair because of their shameless self-promotion. But once you accept that they are in the entertainment business, you become less bothered by some of the things they do. There is certainly no question they cover sports better than anyone.

    For a split second, I considered the great year NBC had, especially with superb coverage of the Summer Olympics, but ESPN dominates the sports landscape. No one covers breaking news better and they have their hand in just about everything — MLB, NFL, NBA, college football and basketball, NASCAR, tennis and golf. They really are the World Wide Leader and showed it again in 2012.

    A special nod to the MLB Network, by far the best of the "league'' networks.

    Best announcing team

    It's hard to pick against the Sunday Night Football duo of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, who are just about perfect in their broadcasts. But the tandem I'm most consistently entertained by are Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy, who call ABC's NBA coverage. No one is better at mixing humor, insight, sarcasm and brutal honesty than Van Gundy.

    Best studio analyst

    Charles Barkley (NBA on TNT) is great. So is Barkley's fellow analyst, Kenny Smith. So is Tony Dungy (NBC's Football Night in America). Boomer Esiason (CBS's NFL Today) is growing on me more and more and I never thought that would happen. But I'll stick with ESPN College GameDay's Kirk Herbstreit. He seems to have more of a handle on his sport than any analyst and that's not easy when you consider he's talking about more than 100 football teams.

    Best documentary

    I've become addicted to NFL Network's A Football Life and pretty much everything that HBO and ESPN, with its 30 for 30 series, does is can't-miss television. NBA TV's The Dream Team, about the 1992 U.S. basketball team with Magic and Bird and Jordan, was the most celebrated sports documentary of the year and it was outstanding. But the choice here is 9.79, a doc about the 1988 Seoul Olympic 100-meters final. Ben Johnson won the event, but tested positive for steroids. Filmmaker Daniel Gordon interviewed every runner from the final in this compelling story.

    Best daily show

    It's continually amazing how much work must go into ESPN's SportsCenter. It really is the most comprehensive show on TV, sports or otherwise. However, the most entertaining show, sports or otherwise, is Pardon the Interruption. It never gets stale because the thoughts of co-hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, as well as their chemistry, never fizzle.

    Worst daily show

    I've always said that ESPN's Around the Horn was the worst show in the history of television. I now have a show that gives ATH a run for its money: ESPN2's First Take. This is arguing for arguing's sake.

    Best reporter

    When ESPN's Tom Rinaldi is cued up, reach for some Kleenex because he's going to tell you a tear-jerker. But he doesn't do it in a sappy way. His recent story on the high school kicker with autism was among the best stories of the year. He also offered the best insight on TV when it came to the Penn State scandal because he worked hard, became close enough that Joe Paterno's son, Jay, often spoke at length with him, and he told a fair and balanced story with no details left out.

    Best event coverage

    Sports coverage gets better and better each year and 2012 offered a slew of impressive event broadcasts. NBC took some heat for using some tape-delay coverage on the London Olympics, but covering an event with those kind of time-zone issues is pretty much impossible.

    My other personal favorites include ABC's Saturday night college football broadcasts, Fox's NASCAR coverage, TBS's NBA coverage and NBC's NHL coverage.

    But, I'm going to go outside the box and into the ring. HBO's boxing coverage is simply outstanding. Even if you don't know the boxers or follow boxing that closely, the coverage is a master class in how to cover a sport.

    Worst event coverage

    Some will call me crazy, but I can barely stomach CBS's coverage of the Masters golf tournament. It's so sugary that I have to spend all day Monday getting my teeth cleaned so I don't get any cavities.

    Best sideline reporter

    Like most of you, I don't have much use for most sideline reporters. There are notable exceptions, however. Doris Burke and Heather Cox (both of ESPN) and Tracy Wolfson (CBS) consistently deliver good information and solid interviews. But, I'm going to count HBO boxing's Harold Lederman as a sideline reporter. Okay, so he's not a true sideline guy. He doesn't interview anyone. In fact, all he does is score the fights unofficially and check in every couple of rounds with his scorecard. But those few seconds are among my favorite moments on television.

    Best NFL pregame

    CBS's NFL Today was on its way to taking this category until they badly bungled the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide story, waiting almost five minutes from the opening to get into one of the biggest sports stories of the year. Because of that, the vote goes to NBC's Football Night in America, which really benefitted from a much-improved Rodney Harrison. Most everyone else on the show — Tony Dungy, Bob Costas, Dan Patrick, Peter King — is outstanding.

    Worst loss

    Last week, NBC golf analyst Dottie Pepper stepped down and NBC golf producer Tommy Roy compared it to when Barry Sanders walked away from football. What a perfect analogy. Pepper isn't just a great golf analyst, she is among the best sports analysts on all of television. She will be sorely missed. Sanders never came back. Here's hoping that Pepper does.

    Three things I loved about local sports TV in 2012

    1. Sun Sports coverage of the Rays and Lightning and it all starts with announcers Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson on the Rays and Rick Peckham and Bobby "The Chief'' Taylor on the Lightning.

    2. Paul Kennedy and Todd Kalas. Do you know how lucky we are to have two men this talented hosting our pre- and postgame shows for Lightning, Magic and Rays?

    3. Channel 13's Bucs postgame show is must-see for avid Bucs fans.

    And finally, our Sports Media Personality of the Year for 2012:

    Bill Simmons. The 43-year-old former writer for Jimmy Kimmel already had an impressive resume. He once authored the widely-read "Sports Guy'' column for ESPN.com then became the brains behind ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary series while writing a best-selling book about the NBA. Last year, he started Grantland.com, which features some of the best sports essays and columns on the Internet. Then this year, he was named a panelist on ESPN's NBA Countdown show.

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    By Mike McCollum, Times Correspondent
    Friday, December 28, 2012

    TAMPA — Host Alonso rode a strong second half to overpower East Lake 65-52 in Friday's nightcap semifinal of the Alonso Holiday Classic.

    The Ravens will face Armwood, a 62-53 winner over Ridgewood, in today's's championship at 5:30.

    East Lake hit six 3-pointers to help build an early lead, but as the buzzer for halftime sounded, Alonso junior guard Adam Belhaj hit a 3-point shot to cut the Eagles' lead to five.

    Turns out that shot also gave the Ravens major momentum heading into the second half.

    Alonso opened with a 12-5 run, taking its first lead of the game midway through the third quarter. From there, Alonso never looked back, outscoring East Lake 20-9 for the quarter to take firm control of the game.

    The Ravens offense benefitted from scoring leader Malachi Christopher getting hot and scoring 16 of his game-high 22 points in the second half.

    But it was also Alonso's defense that provided a big spark and led to easy scoring opportunities at the other end. After allowing East Lake to score 32 in the first half, the Ravens defense allowed only 20 points in the second.

    "Last week, we went to the Bright House tournament and played just about as bad as we possibly could have defensively," Alonso coach Todd Price said. "So all week we spent a lot of time working on that end."

    Price said Alonso will have its hands full with Armwood in today's final, especially because of the Hawks' athletic front line of Vontrey and Marcus Hill. The final should be an interesting matchup between the perimeter strength of Alonso and the frontline prowess of Armwood.

    "Armwood is going to be tough, especially with their big towers inside," Price said. "But we'll continue to play hard and together, and we'll see how we do."

    In the early semifinal, the two Hills combined to score 35 points in Armwood's victory over Ridgewood. The Hawks remained aggressive throughout, constantly attacking the basket and using their size inside to grab offensive rebounds.

    In other event matchups today, East Lake will play Ridgewood in the consolation game at 3:45 while Wesley Chapel faces Gaither at 2.

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