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  • 01/27/13--17:06: Sports in brief
  • Times wires
    Sunday, January 27, 2013

    BASEBALL

    MLB, Feds Eye South FLa. as PED hotspot

    MLB security officials, working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, are investigating wellness clinics in South Florida, the area they consider "ground zero" for performance-enhancing drugs that work their way into the game, according to a report on ESPN's website.

    One of the clinics believed to be involved with the sale of human growth hormone and testosterone to players is run by Anthony Bosch, whom New York's Daily News reported had been an adviser to admitted PED user and Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

    Bosch caught the attention of authorities previously because his father, Pedro Publio Bosch, a Coral Gables physician, prescribed a substance that led to the suspension of then-Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez.

    Figure skating

    Youth vaults to U.S. men's title

    Max Aaron, 20, jumped from fourth at the U.S. championships in Omaha, Neb., to win his first title of significance since his U.S. junior title two years ago. Aaron topped Ross Miner and dropped three-time champ Jeremy Abbott to third. Pair Caydee Denney of Wesley Chapel and John Coughlin were selected by U.S. Figure Skating to compete in March's world championships though they weren't able to defend their U.S. title because of Coughlin's hip injury.

    Et cetera

    Soccer: Lionel Messi, 25, scored four goals, the youngest to pass the 200-mark in the Spanish league, and broke his La Liga record with goals in 11 consecutive games, leading host Barcelona to a 5-1 rout of Osasuna.

    Bobsledding: The U.S. team, which included Olympic 100-meter hurdler Lolo Jones, won gold in the combined bobsled-skeleton event at the world championships in Switzerland.

    Sailing: Frenchman Francois Gabart, 29, won the Vendee round-the-world race in record time, arriving in Les Sables d'Olonne, France, in 78 days, 2:16:40, six days ahead of the mark set by countryman Michel Desjoyeaux (84 days, 3:09:08) in 2009.

    Speed skating: Heather Richardson won gold in the 1,000 meters at Kearns, Utah, and, combined with two bronzes, became the first American woman since 2005 to win the World Sprint Championships overall title.

    Winter X Games: Snowmobile rider Caleb Moore, 25, has had a "secondary complication involving his brain" after a crash Thursday during competition in Aspen, Colo., led to bleeding around his heart. The family released a statement but provided no further details." His brother Colten also crashed and was taken to a hospital with a separated pelvis.

    Times wires


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    By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
    Sunday, January 27, 2013

    . TONIGHT

    USF at Marquette

    When/where: 9; Bradley Center, Milwaukee

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

    Records: USF 10-9, 1-6 Big East; Marquette 14-4, 5-1

    Notable: The Bulls, last in the Big East in rebounding margin (minus-13.9), face the Big East's best (plus-5.3). … The Golden Eagles' 6-8, 290-pound Davante Gardner, who had USF in his final two coming out of high school, is averaging 14.7 points and 7.0 rebounds in conference play. … USF's freshmen played some of their best ball in Saturday's loss to Notre Dame, with forward Zach LeDay scoring a season-high 17 and guard JaVontae Hawkins 11. … USF needs Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and Victor Rudd to hit outside shots against the Big East's worst 3-point defense.

    Greg Auman, Times staff writer


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    By Tom Jones, Times Sports Columnist
    Sunday, January 27, 2013

    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

    Favorite comment

    Someday I'll stop writing so much about how good ABC NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy is. Maybe when he stops being so good.

    Each week he is on, he is so compelling that one cannot write a column about the best announcing of the weekend and not go on and on about him.

    Sometimes he rants. Sometimes he raves. On Sunday, he went on a controlled diatribe about the problems of the Lakers, particularly Dwight Howard. Van Gundy has blown up Howard on recent telecasts, and it's no secret that he isn't happy that Howard had much to do with Stan Van Gundy, Jeff's brother, getting fired as the coach in Orlando.

    But Jeff Van Gundy spent much of Sunday's weekly Howard speech talking about just how good Howard is, adding: "I would love to coach a guy with his talent and basketball IQ. … He's the best center in the NBA."

    Van Gundy's larger point was that Howard is spending too much time talking about and fretting over off-the-court comments about team chemistry.

    "Man," Van Gundy said, "just make it easy on yourself and play ball."

    Oh, Van Gundy said he sympathized with Lakers star Pau Gasol, who isn't starting these days, but added, "If Manu Ginobili can come off the bench in San Antonio and not say one word, so can you."

    Best and worst coverage

    Nice touch by Sun Sports to carry Friday night's pregame ceremony in which the Lightning honored captain Vinny Lecavalier, left, for his 1,000th NHL game.

    On the other hand, I'm not a fan of the network's studio show for road games for one reason only: studio location. For Lightning road games, the studio show with host Paul Kennedy and Chris Dingman airs from South Florida. (The Rays' road games also had a studio show from the South Florida location.)

    You might say, what's the difference if Kennedy and Dingman are in a room inside the building where the Lightning is playing or a room 500 miles away? They are still doing the same things: analyzing and showing highlights.

    Fair enough. But it just feels … weird. Feels like they are broadcasting from the moon.

    Biggest jerk

    I didn't need to hear this story to believe that Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini, left, seems like a guy I wouldn't want my son to play for. His hair-trigger temper is legendary, but now it's also classless, if you believe this report from the Orlando Sentinel:

    A top recruit decommitted and at least had the decency to call Pelini and receivers coach Rich Fisher to inform them himself. The recruit said the coaches were "very mad." Pelini, according to the recruit, said: "Best of luck. You're going to need it." Fisher said, "I can't believe you!"

    Really? A teenager changed his mind while trying to make a tough decision that will affect his life and you're going to give him a hard time? Shame on those two.

    Oh, and if it is true, then I think it's only fair that neither of those guys ever leaves Nebraska for another coaching job. Only seems fair, don't you think?

    Best criticism

    My favorite tennis analyst is John McEnroe because of his combination of candor, humor and insight. His brother, Patrick, above, is second on my list.

    During the women's semifinals of the Australian Open on ESPN, Victoria Azarenka got a case of the jitters and could not close out Sloane Stephens despite having five match points in the second set. All of a sudden, Azarenka had a medical issue. She took a 10-minute timeout, and no one is clear what for. It might have been a panic attack. It might have been that she was overheated.

    Or, just maybe, she needed time to settle her nerves. Azarenka calmed down, returned to the court and closed out the match.

    But Patrick McEnroe saw right through it and called her medical leave "bush league." Later, he tweeted: "So let me get this straight. She had a lot of nerves and that's why she left the court. Unbelievable."

    Azarenka's reputation took a huge hit and her opponent in the final, Li Na, was the crowd favorite even as Azarenka won.

    Meantime, the midmatch injury timeout issue now has some tennis followers wondering if such timeouts should be allowed.

    Worst luck

    Poor CBS. Its luck went from really good to simply awful on Saturday.

    CBS was supposed to kick off its 2013 PGA coverage and it caught a huge break when ratings giant Tiger Woods took a two-shot lead going into Saturday's third round of the Farmers Insurance Open, the first time in five years that Woods had the 36-hole lead to himself.

    But the first day of CBS's golf season was wiped out because of dense fog.

    So CBS dusted off the broadcast of a 2011 tournament and aired that instead on Saturday. I don't get it. You're a major network. Golf tournaments frequently have weather delays. Can't you put together original golf programming ahead of time and have it ready to run in case there are weather problems?

    And this isn't to point the finger at CBS. All the networks simply pull out tape from a recent tournament.

    You know, the networks see their ratings dip when the superstars, especially Woods, are not in the running. Why not use these weather delays to introduce viewers to up-and-comers on the PGA Tour and, perhaps, viewership wouldn't fall off the cliff whenever Woods doesn't play or isn't in contention.

    Three things that popped into my head

    1. Not a great time to be a Boston sports fan. The Red Sox are coming off two embarrassing seasons. The Patriots lost the AFC title game at home and now haven't won a Super Bowl since February 2005. And now the Celtics' run appears to be over with the news that point guard Rajon Rondo will miss the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.

    2. It is a great time to be a San Francisco bay area sports fan with the 49ers in the Super Bowl, the Giants winning the World Series and terrific starts by the Warriors and Sharks.

    3. Gregg Williams agreed to become the Titans assistant head coach even though he still is suspended for his role in the Saints' bounty scandal? How does that work?

    Biggest switch

    The big news out of ESPN last week was reporter Rachel Nichols, who has been with the network for nine years, leaving for CNN/Turner Sports. She will cover all sports for CNN, including the Olympics and the upcoming Super Bowl. Most notably, Nichols will anchor a weekend sports program that will debut this year.

    It's definitely a blow to ESPN, which has lost several high-profiled women in recent months. Reporter Erin Andrews left for Fox, show host Michelle Beadle departed for NBC and SportsCenter anchor Cindy Brunson left when her husband, former ESPN anchor Steve Berthiaume, took a job as announcer for the Diamondbacks.

    ESPN still has female voices left — Hannah Storm, Sage Steele and Lindsay Czarniak, among others — but the departing personalities will be missed.

    According to reports, ESPN made a strong offer to keep Nichols, who also attracted attention from other networks.


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    Times wires
    Sunday, January 27, 2013

    SAN DIEGO — Everything became perfectly clear Sunday at Torrey Pines. Tiger Woods was on his game and headed toward another win.

    Woods seized control in the fog-delayed Farmers Insurance Open with a strong driving performance that carried him to 3-under 69 and a four-shot lead after the third round. Even when he got a little wild off the tee late in the chilly afternoon of the fourth round, he still made birdies to stretch his lead to six shots when play was suspended by darkness.

    Woods had 11 holes left to play when the round resumes today.

    "It was a long day … and I played well," Woods said. "Overall, I'm very pleased that I was able to build on my lead."

    Thick fog washed out all of Saturday, forcing players to go from sunrise to sunset Sunday. They finished the third round, took about 30 minutes for lunch and went right back onto the golf course. CBS Sports wants to televise the conclusion — no surprise with Woods in the lead — so the round will resume at 2 p.m. on Golf Channel, with Ch. 10 picking up coverage at 4 p.m.

    Woods was at 17-under 202 for the tournament.

    Defending champion Brandt Snedeker was 4 under through 13 holes of the final round and was not making up much ground. He was at 11 under overall, along with Nick Watney, who was through eight holes.

    Woods finished 54 holes at 14-under 202, four shots ahead of Canadian rookie Brad Fritsch. It was the 16th time in his PGA Tour career that Woods had a 54-hole lead of at least four shots.

    If that wasn't enough to make the outcome look inevitable, everything was going his way in the final hour.

    His tee shot was so far left on No. 2 that the ball finished in the first cut of rough in the sixth fairway. He still saved par. Woods made a birdie putt of about 10 feet on No. 3 then wound up well right of the cart path and blocked by a tree on the fourth hole. He carved a punch shot around the tree, safely in front of the green, and his chip banged into the pin and dropped for birdie.

    Two holes later, from a mangled lie in the right rough, he smashed a 5-wood that ran onto the green and set up a two-putt birdie.

    Snedeker was seven shots behind after three rounds, the same deficit he faced a year ago. Only now he's trying to chase down Woods, already a seven-time winner at Torrey Pines with a daunting record from in front. Woods is 38-2 on the PGA Tour when he has the outright lead going into the last round.

    "I've got to make some more birdies," Snedeker said. "I've got a long way to go."

    U.S. OPEN SITE: The U.S. Open will return to New York's Winged Foot club in 2020, the U.S. Golf Association will announce today. The course will host the tournament for the sixth time.


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    Times wires
    Sunday, January 27, 2013

    CORAL GABLES — Blowout wins in the ACC are becoming routine for the Hurricanes. This time their fans didn't even bother to storm the court.

    Trey McKinney Jones had 15 points Sunday to help the conference leaders win their seventh game in a row by beating Florida State 71-47. The postgame celebration was more subdued than when No. 25-ranked Miami drubbed No. 1 Duke on Wednesday, but the capacity crowd of 7,972 was hardly ho-hum.

    "The Duke game was the best all year as far as atmosphere, but this was a big-time game for us," center Reggie Johnson said. "The fans really kept us going, and we're proud of that."

    The Hurricanes (15-3, 6-0) are assured of a significant jump in today's poll.

    "They played like a mature team that understands what it takes to grind it out," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "They could do great things this year."

    The Seminoles (11-8, 3-3) fell to 0-3 this season against ranked teams. Miami is off to its best start in the conference, alone atop the standings, and improved to 9-0 at home.

    "I'm not very surprised," Miami center Kenny Kadji said. "We have a great team, and we have great chemistry."

    Miami cracked the rankings for the first time in three years Monday and is creating a buzz even in South Florida, where college basketball tends to draw little attention. The sellout was the 11th in the Hurricanes' 10-year-old on-campus arena but the second in a row.

    "We feel good, man," Johnson said. "The team is playing at a high level right now. We've got to enjoy this, but we've got to stay focused."

    Defense was the difference against the Seminoles, who endured repeated long scoring droughts. FSU shot a season-low 31 percent, the fourth time in the past five games it has been under 42 percent.

    FSU's starters went 7-of-26 and totaled 19 points. Miami has not allowed an opponent to shoot better than 50 percent this season.

    McKinney Jones had three 3-pointers for the Hurricanes. Kadji and Durand Scott scored 11 each, and Shane Larkin had eight points, nine rebounds and six assists.

    Reserve Ian Miller had 12 points for the young Seminoles, who made 3 of 17 3-pointers.

    "We're good shooters. I watch them every day," Hamilton said. "If we had a shooting contest in the gym and lined up and played H-O-R-S-E, we'd be okay. But the game is not a H-O-R-S-E game. You've got to execute your offense and have someone deliver the ball and get you in good positions, and right now we're not quite as consistent with that as I think we will be."


    MCTMCT

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    By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
    Sunday, January 27, 2013

    TAMPA — USF picked up oral commitments Sunday from Lamar Robbins, a cornerback from Miami Southridge, as well as Stafon McCray, a running back from Kissimmee Osceola. Both made official visits this weekend.

    Robbins, 6 feet 3, 200 pounds, is a four-star recruit, according to rivals.com and 247Sports.com and a three-star, according to espn.com. He had about 30 offers and also visited Oklahoma, West Virginia, Louisville and Purdue.

    McCray, a 5-11, 196-pound consensus three-star recruit, is a teammate of another USF oral commitment, defensive back Hassan Childs.

    Oral commitments cannot be made binding until Feb. 6.

    The Bulls also lost two commitments.

    Junior college cornerback Howard Wilder decommitted after visiting Cincinnati. He said he is still considering the Bulls but the Bearcats now lead.

    Also decommitting was Jesuit defensive tackle Robby Garcia. Garcia, who committed to fired coach Skip Holtz, said USF told him to "keep my options open." He visited Iowa State this weekend and said he hopes to hear from Boston College this week.

    And don't expect the arrival of former Plant High star Phillip Ely, who has been a backup during Alabama's two national titles.

    Recruiting site Bulls247.com reported this weekend Ely is considering transferring to USF. But Plant coach Robert Weiner said Sunday he spoke to Ely, who told him he was not considering it.

    Mississippi: The school agreed to pay Houston Nutt, fired as coach after the 2011 season, a lump sum of $4.35 million to complete his contract buyout. There was $4.8 million left on a $6 million buyout scheduled to be paid out over five years.

    Virginia Tech: Corner Antone Exum, a second-team all-ACC pick in 2012 who considered declaring for the draft, has a torn right ACL and could miss the start of 2013. The school did not disclose how or when the injury occurred.

    Information from Times wires was used in this report.


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    By Joe Smith and Damian Cristodero, Times Staff Writers
    Sunday, January 27, 2013

    TAMPA — G Anders Lindback said there was no excuse for the goal he gave up Sunday, one he "never should let in."

    In the opening minute, Flyers C Sean Couturier sent a weak, odd-angled shot from the left corner toward the crease, and the puck snuck in between Lindback's right skate and the post.

    "It's a brutal goal," Lindback said. "That's something that happens, and when it happens, you've got to let it go and move on."

    Lindback did that, stopping the Flyers final final 24 shots. That included a key pad save on a three-on-one to help the Lightning kill a four-minute power play early in the first period.

    It's the kind of resilience the Lightning has seen a lot from Lindback in the first five games as he tries to establish himself as a No. 1 goalie. "At some point, he just shuts the door, and that's the mark of a great goaltender," coach Guy Boucher said. "He battles, has got great talent, he's got an amazing attitude and never gets nervous. That's a good mix."

    moving up: With four assists, Marty St. Louis is third in the league in points with 11. His career high five assists also came against the Flyers (Nov. 18, 2010).

    PROGRESS: After being outscored 10-3 in second periods this season, the Lightning played the one against the Flyers 0-0. Boucher did not remind his players before the period about their duties. "I didn't go in the room," he said. "Sometimes no words is a bigger message."

    CARLE'S CALL: When D Matt Carle last summer contemplated signing with the Lightning, the 1-3-1 neutral zone system that caused so much controversy during a Nov. 9, 2011, game between Tampa Bay and the Flyers was on his mind.

    Carle was with Philadelphia then and wasn't sure the system — a fairly stagnant one that waited for the opposition to skate into it — would fit his more aggressive game. So, he asked Lightning GM Steve Yzerman about the future.

    "Yeah, that was some of the conversation, some of the details toward that," Carle said before facing the Flyers for the first time since signing a six-year, $33 million Lightning deal. "Steve made suggestions … they were trying to get away from some of that stuff. That was comforting to hear."

    In the 2011 game, Philadelphia's strategy against the 1-3-1, which set up like a wall through the neutral zone, was to wait for the Lightning to break formation. That led to seven times in the first 20 minutes in which the Flyers just held the puck in their zone, once for 50 seconds.

    This season Tampa Bay uses a more insistent forecheck and challenges puck-carriers to create turnovers and dumpins.

    "His questions were good," Yzerman said. "We're making a commitment, and he's a free agent and has multiple options. (Free agents) want to know they're going into an environment they can enjoy but also will be able to thrive in. I appreciated the conversation."

    ODDS AND ENDS: C Steven Stamkos has a five-game points streak. … LW Cory Conacher's four-game point streak was stopped. … The Lightning is on a 4-0-1 home streak vs. the Flyers. … Former G Daren Puppa attended as part of the team's 20th anniversary celebration. … Defensemen Brendan Mikkelson and Marc-Andre Bergeron, and RW P.C. Labrie were scratched.


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    Times wires
    Sunday, January 27, 2013

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Possible No. 1 ranking? Yeah, that's nice, Michigan's Trey Burke said Sunday outside the locker room at Illinois' Assembly Hall.

    But after the win that should give the No. 2 Wolverines their first top ranking since the 1992-93 season, the sophomore guard wanted to talk defense and what a team does when one of its big defensive rocks goes down.

    If you're Michigan (19-1, 6-1 Big Ten), you plug in a couple of other big guys. And you win — in this case 74-60 over the Illini, most of it without 6-foot-8, 250-pound Jordan Morgan. The starting forward limped to the locker room less than two minutes into the game with a sprained right ankle and didn't come back.

    "Coach (John Beilein) calls him the minister of defense," Burke said, crediting Mitch McGary, John Horford and Max Bielfeldt, the big men who picked up the slack.

    "I say this every game," Burke added, "but it just starts with defense. I think that started in the first half."

    And that No.  1 ranking, which likely will be Michigan's today after Duke's lopsided loss to Miami last week opened the door, doesn't mean much yet, Beilein was quick to say.

    "You compete for a Big Ten championship, then you go on you compete for a national championship," he said. "That's the No. 1 you want down the line."

    Illinois and first-year coach John Groce, whose team has been doomed by cold shooting since mid December and shot 37.1 percent Sunday, could do little but marvel at the Wolverines.

    "I give Michigan a lot of credit," Groce said. "You make one mistake and they exploit it like that."

    Burke scored 19 and Nick Stauskas 14 to lead Michigan.

    NO. 7 INDIANA 75, NO. 13 MICH. ST. 70: Victor Oladipo had 21 points, seven rebounds and six steals for the host Hoosiers (18-2, 6-1 Big Ten), who have won three straight. Oladipo "was a tremendous difference from the start of the game. He had a knowledge base that he put into his game as to how he was going to defend," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "If you're not cerebral like that and at the same time, quick, it's hard to defend like that. But he's been good." The Spartans (17-4, 6-2) were led by Gary Harris, Indiana's 2012 Mr. Basketball, who had 21 points and made five 3-pointers.

    NO. 17 CREIGHTON 81, SIU 51: Doug McDermott had 21 points and 10 rebounds and the visiting Bluejays (18-3, 7-2 MVC) shot 63 percent against Southern Illinois to bounce back from a pair of road losses.

    Women

    NO. 11 UNC 64, MIAMI 62: Danielle Butts hit a winning jumper at the buzzer for the Tar Heels (19-2, 7-1 ACC), who snapped an 11-game home winning streak for the Hurricanes (14-6, 5-4).

    NO. 14 GEORGIA 69, UF 52: Jasmine Hassell had 13 points, and 10 players scored for the host Bulldogs (17-3, 5-2 SEC). Kayla Lewis led the Gators (13-8, 2-5) with eight points and 10 rebounds.

    NO. 22 FSU 70, VA. TECH 56: Chelsea Davis had 19 points to lead the host Seminoles (17-3, 7-2 ACC), who have won eight straight in the rivalry, the past four by an average of 27 points.

    NO. 4 DUKE 80, BC 56: Haley Peters had 15 points and 13 rebounds for the Blue Devils (18-1, 8-0 ACC), who won their 34th straight home game against league competition.

    NO. 5 KENTUCKY 73, LSU 60: Azia Bishop, who went in averaging 3.2 points, scored 17 and had several key baskets to lift the host Wildcats (19-2, 7-1 SEC).

    NO. 6 STANFORD 69, NO. 20 COLORADO 56: Chiney Ogwumike had 20 points and 12 rebounds for the host Cardinal (18-2, 7-1 Pac-12), which swept the two-game series with the Buffaloes (15-4, 4-4).

    NO. 7 CAL 71, UTAH 54: Reshanda Gray had 19 points, including 11 during a 17-4 second-half run, before leaving with a leg injury as the host Bears (17-2, 7-1 Pac-12) beat the Utes for the seventh straight time.

    NO. 8 PENN ST. 71, OHIO ST. 56: Maggie Lucas scored 14 of her 18 in the second half for the visiting Lions (17-2, 7-0 Big Ten), who won their school-record 14th straight conference game.

    NO. 10 MD. 80, CLEMSON 40: Tianna Hawkins had 17 points for the visiting Terps (17-3, 8-1 ACC), who beat the Tigers for the 12th straight time.

    NO. 13 L'VILLE 57, ST. JOHN'S 54: Antonita Slaughter had 22 points for the host Cardinals (17-4, 5-2 Big East), who finished the game with an 8-0 run.

    NO. 15 PURDUE 67, NO. 25 MICH. ST. 62, OT: Drey Mingo had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the visiting Boilermakers (17-3, 6-1 Big Ten), who held the Spartans (16-4, 4-3) to 1-of-11 shooting in the extra period and conference play.

    NO. 16 TEXAS A&M 77, MISSOURI 58: Adrienne Pratcher had 18 points, all on 3-pointers, to lead the host Aggies (16-5, 6-1 SEC), who have won four in a row and eight of nine.

    NO. 17 DAYTON 83, UMASS 44: Amber Deane and Andrea Hoover had 18 points each for the host Flyers (17-1, 5-0 Atlantic 10), who forced a season-high 31 turnovers, leading to 40 points.

    NO. 18 S.C. 43, ARKANSAS 40: Ashley Bruner had 11 points for the visiting Gamecocks (18-3, 6-2 SEC), who won their fourth in a row despite not scoring over the final 3:44 of the game.

    NO. 19 UCLA 54, ARIZ. ST. 50: Nirra Fields had 13 points, and Thea Lemberger hit a go-ahead 3-pointer midway through the second half for the host Bruins (15-4, 6-2 Pac-12).

    IOWA 63, NO. 23 MICH. 57: Bethany Doolittle had 19 points as the visiting Hawkeyes avenged a Jan. 6 loss to the Wolverines (16-4, 5-2 Big Ten).


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    By Gary Shelton, Times Sports Columnist
    Sunday, January 27, 2013

    NEW ORLEANS

    Someone will howl at the moon.

    Someone will attempt to drink their way through Bourbon Street.

    Someone will slip into the wrong bar at the wrong time with the wrong purpose in mind.

    The city that leads the league in tomfoolery is finally hosting another Super Bowl.

    Prediction: weird.

    Here in the Big Easy, the home of voodoo shops and party beads, of street dancers and fortune tellers, why would you expect anything else?

    Take Sunday afternoon in the moments following the first parade of the week. A man stands on top of a light blue float — the word "Hollywood" is on the side — and he smiles at the passers-by, then reaches down … and starts to dump garbage into the street. Armful after armful. And by the way, welcome to town.

    What would you expect. As far as the Super Bowl goes, New Orleans is the home of strange happenings. You might remember Miami for the performance of quarterbacks — Joe Namath's guarantee, Joe Montana's comeback. You might remember Tampa Bay for its close games — Pittsburgh vs. Arizona, New York vs. Buffalo.

    New Orleans?

    Someone is going to turn loony. Just you watch.

    This is the home of loony, remember?

    This is the place where Jim McMahon once dropped his trousers and mooned a helicopter.

    This is where commissioner Pete Rozelle — his smile so fixed, his face must have ached for days — gave the Lombardi Trophy to Raiders owner Al Davis. Charming rogue, my eye.

    This is where Dallas running back Duane Thomas sat through a media session without speaking. Finally, he asked the time. Newspapers everywhere led their sections the following day with "11 a.m."

    And so on.

    Once, New Orleans was the natural home of the Super Bowl. Los Angeles can swallow up an event like this, and Jacksonville was overwhelmed by the size. No one seemed sure of why it ever went to Detroit.

    In New Orleans, however, the gathering place of the French Quarter is perfect for the Super Bowl. Fans mill about, fans drink, fans shout. You can feel the presence of a big game here.

    This is where a Washington television reporter reported that three unnamed quarterbacks had tested positive for drugs and had gone unpunished by the league.

    This is where the FBI came to investigate if Len Dawson was involved in a gambling ring … until President Richard Nixon said there was nothing to it.

    This was where Raiders defensive end John Matuszak left his hotel room and didn't return until 3 a.m. He was fined $1,000, but those who saw him wobbling through the French Quarter felt he got off cheap.

    Dolphins coach Don Shula once brought his team to New Orleans for a Super Bowl, which pleased a great many people in Miami. It did not please Shula's predecessor, George Wilson, who growled that "Joe Doakes could have taken this team to the Super Bowl."

    The next day, Shula showed up for his interviews. "Hi there," he said. "I'm Joe Doakes."

    This is the city where Chiefs coach Hank Stram was mic'd on the sideline, which meant he would cackle "ah-hah" for all eternity.

    This is where players Lance Rentzel and Fred Dryer showed up as reporters. Rentzel was "Scoops Branigan." Dryer was "Cubby O'Switzer." Bud Grant played the role of the Minnesota coach who had no idea they were joking around with their questions.

    This was where Terry Bradshaw, already in broadcasting, suggested it was time the Broncos stopped "babying" John Elway.

    And so on.

    Nicknames don't fare particularly well in New Orleans. The Purple People Eaters starved here. The No-Name Defense was forgettable. The Orange Crush was crushed. The Greatest Show on Turf fizzled.

    One of the oddest things about the Super Bowl, however, is how it seems to have lost its love of New Orleans. Five of the first 15 Super Bowls were played here, and seven of the first 20. Since 1990, however, only two Super Bowls have been played here. It has been 11 years since the Super Bowl last was played here.

    This time? You can already envision the T-shirts about Roger Goodell, whose role in the Saints' bountygate has left him less than popular. Who knows what Terrell Suggs of the Ravens will say? Who knows what Michael Crabtree of the 49ers might do? This city seems to bring out the outlandish in everyone.

    This was where William Perry scored for the Bears but where Walter Payton did not.

    This was where Bill Belichick chided his former boss Bill Parcells for looking around for a new job (with the Jets) during Super Bowl week. The Patriots lost to the Packers.

    This was where Tom Brady established his legacy, leading the 14-point underdog Pats to a victory over the Rams.

    So what happens now?

    Oddness, that's what. Can you wait to see it?

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


    Getty Images (1986)Getty Images (1986)

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    Times wires
    Sunday, January 27, 2013

    NEW ORLEANS — With a team flag waving from an open window of their chartered plane, the 49ers arrived Sunday for their first Super Bowl in 18 years.

    The players walked off the plane in a businesslike manner — no video recorders or cameras, no waves to onlookers. QB Colin Kaepernick mouthed the words to a song on his headphones as he walked on the tarmac.

    "Pressure comes from a lack of preparation," Kaepernick said. "This is not a pressure situation. It's a matter of going out and performing."

    Most veterans disembarked first, including C Jonathan Goodwin. He won a Super Bowl three years ago with the Saints and grew up rooting for the 49ers.

    "You get to go to the Super Bowl with your childhood team," he said. "So that's something special to me."

    The Ravens are scheduled to arrive today.

    How much longer? Ravens S Bernard Pollard, who will play in his first Super Bowl after making the playoffs twice during his first six seasons, said he is worried about the future of the NFL.

    "Thirty years from now, I don't think it will be in existence," he told cbssports.com. "I think with the direction things are going — where (the league) wants to lighten up and they're throwing flags and everything else — there's going to come a point where fans are going to get fed up with it."

    Pollard added he's not sure the league can do anything about it.

    "The league is trying to move in the right direction (with player safety)," he said. "But at the same time, (coaches) want bigger, stronger and faster year in and year out. And that means you're going to keep getting big hits and concussions and blown-out knees.

    "The only thing I'm waiting for — and, Lord, I hope it doesn't happen — is a guy dying on the field. We've had everything else happen there except for a death."

    Just an observer: 49ers QB Alex Smith ran off the field at Candlestick Park two weeks ago to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd, not much different from the reception last January when he took the 49ers to the NFC title game.

    But his trip to the Super Bowl this season is hardly how he envisioned it. Benched for Kaepernick, he will play the role of Ravens QB Joe Flacco on the scout team during practice.

    "I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a little bittersweet," Smith said. "Yes, I want to be out there. That's what you work for. At the same time, it is a team sport, and these are all my teammates. If you can't be happy for them, then something's wrong with you."

    Smith lost his job after sustaining a concussion Nov. 11 against the Rams. Since then, he has stayed out of the spotlight.

    "Alex has been a class act as far as handling everything that is going on," 49ers TE Vernon Davis said. "He's been through a lot. But he also understands that it's the nature of the business. And this is a business."


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  • 01/27/13--20:02: Super Bowl news and notes
  • Times wires
    Sunday, January 27, 2013

    Quotable

    "It's a good idea, but it's going to be a tough sell."

    Adam DeMezza, co-owner of a San Francisco sports bar, on Mayor Ed Lee's suggestion the city restrict hard liquor sales on Super Bowl Sunday

    By the number

    $434 million

    An early estimate from the University of New Orleans on the Super Bowl's economic impact on the region

    eBay item of the day

    Budweiser Super Bowl Collector Series, complete 33-can set. Price: $198.26 or best offer.

    Prop bet

    How many yards will the first touchdown be?

    1-7: 5-48-15: 4-1

    16-25: 9-226-39: 5-1

    40-59: 7-160-79: 18-1

    80-95: 20-196 or more: 20-1

    The list

    Top five halftime shows, according to the blog List of the Day:

    5 U2: XXXVI (Patriots 20-17 over the Rams on Feb. 3, 2002)

    4 Diana Ross: XXX (Cowboys 27-17 over Steelers on Jan. 28, 1996)

    3 Michael Jackson: XXVII (Cowboys over the Bills 52-17 on Jan. 31, 1993)

    2 Paul McCartney: XXXIX (Patriots over the Eagles 24-21 on Feb. 6, 2005)

    1 Prince and the FAMU band: XLI (Colts over the Bears 29-17 on Feb. 4, 2007)

    A big discount

    It seems appropriate given the many tattoos on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaeper­nick. Allied Ink Tattoos & Piercings, located in the San Francisco suburb of Vallejo, is having a sale on Friday only. All 49ers-related tattoos will cost $49. "We're super excited, so we decided, 'Why not?' " shop manager Andrew Moskito said. "Normally, they'd be about $120."

    Times wires


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    Times wires
    Sunday, January 27, 2013

    HONOLULU — Texans defensive end J.J. Watt went out for a pass. The Packers' Jeff Saturday snapped to two Mannings, and the NFC blew past the AFC 62-35 in the Pro Bowl on Sunday.

    Whether the game returns is a question the league plans to determine by April based on the players' effort.

    If players were coasting, it was less obvious. The AFC just played poorly while the NFC was pretty much unstoppable on offense.

    That included both Bucs. Vincent Jackson caught six passes for 91 yards and two touchdowns. Doug Martin caught three passes for 40 yards and a touchdown and ran three times for 8 yards.

    The AFC, meanwhile, had five turnovers and scored most of its points well after the game was no longer competitive.

    Minnesota tight end Kyle Rudolph was voted the game's MVP after catching five passes for 122 yards and a touchdown.

    "Guys were competing. Guys wanted to win, and guys want to keep the game here," he said. "That was the point before the game. We want to keep this game rolling for future Pro Bowlers."

    Watt, who had 20½ sacks, lined up as a receiver on the AFC's third play but missed a pass from Denver's Peyton Manning. Watt was targeted once more but didn't make a catch. He later showed a TV camera a bloody left pinkie.

    "Hey, Commish, we're playing hard," he said to NBC's Al Michaels during the in-game interview.

    Saturday, who is retiring, snapped to Manning, his longtime teammate with the Colts, as well as Manning's brother, the Giants' Eli. Bucs tackle Gerald McCoy stopped Texans running back Arian Foster for a 2-yard loss on the snap to Peyton. That was McCoy's lone tackle, and he also recovered a fumble.

    But even as the NFC piled up points, the game struggled for memorable moments. During the second quarter, referee Ed Hochuli drew laughs and cheers when announcing pass interference on Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, the game's first flag.

    "Yes, there are penalties in the Pro Bowl," he said.

    The Giants' Victor Cruz broke a Pro Bowl record with 10 catches.

    "We understood exactly what (Roger Goodell) wanted. Guys were making plays all over the field," Cruz said. "There was a little bit more high intensity than in years past, and we were excited to play."

    Peterson confident: The league MVP will be announced Saturday. And the Vikings' Adrian Peterson, whose 2,097 rushing yards were 8 off the NFL record, believes he will beat out the other top candidate, Peyton Manning. "I'm going to win it," Peterson said. "I will get it."


    Getty ImagesGetty Images

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  • 01/27/13--20:29: Lightning beats Flyers 5-1
  • By Damian Cristodero, Times Staff Writer
    Sunday, January 27, 2013

    TAMPA — Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier said his fight Sunday night with Luke Schenn was "no big deal" and "it just kind of happened."

    But teammates saw the scrap 5:09 into the first period at the Tampa Bay Times Forum as the focal point of a 5-1 victory over the Flyers that tied the Lightning, at 4-1-0, with its third-best start in franchise history, before a crowd of 19,204.

    "It charged up the whole rink," center Steven Stamkos said. "It charged up our whole team. Everyone sees Vinny as our leader, and for him to go out there and defend himself and not back down, the whole bench is on its feet."

    Then came one of those bonding moments teams talk so much about. Two minutes later B.J. Crombeen challenged Flyers captain Claude Giroux.

    Crombeen got six minutes in penalties, Philadelphia's Wayne Simmonds got two for helping Giroux, and the Flyers got a four-minute power play that Tampa Bay killed with one shot allowed to keep the Flyers' lead at 1-0.

    After that it was all Lightning, which got goals from Lecavalier, Stamkos, Teddy Purcell, Eric Brewer and Victor Hedman.

    Marty St. Louis had four assists. Purcell had three points, and Sami Salo played 25:36 with two assists.

    Tampa Bay scored twice on the power play, blocked 26 shots and was 6-for-6 on the penalty kill.

    Anders Lindback made it stand with 24 saves. His only blip: Sean Couturier's sharp-angle goal 59 seconds into the game that somehow got between the goalie's right skate and post.

    "Total buy-in from our guys," coach Guy Boucher said.

    Whether Lecavalier wants to admit it, it started with his fight. "I don't want to say that," said the center, who had seven hits. "It was a team effort."

    But as Crombeen said, "To see your leader step up like that, it gets everyone engaged. A great move by a great leader."

    As for going after Giroux, Crombeen said, "If they're going to challenge our leader, we're going to challenge their leader and see if they want to do it that way."

    The four-minute penalty kill solidified the sequence. The Lightning got on pucks quickly and put sticks in passing lanes. The only shot was Matt Read's at the end of a three-on-one, and Lindback made a sprawling left-leg save.

    "Guys wanted to fight for Vinny and Crombeen," Boucher said. "To me it was guys sticking together. We're a very different team. We're big now. We're tough. We're committed to defense. It's something very positive."

    Lightning 3 0 2 5
    Flyers 1 0 0 1
    Lightning 3 0 2 5
    Flyers 1 0 0 1

    First Period1, Philadelphia, Couturier 2 (Talbot), :59. 2, Tampa Bay, Purcell 1 (Stamkos, St. Louis), 14:34 (pp). 3, Tampa Bay, Brewer 3 (Purcell, St. Louis), 16:10. 4, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 2 (St. Louis, Salo), 18:55 (pp). PenaltiesL.Schenn, Phi, major (fighting), 5:09; Lecavalier, TB, major (fighting), 5:09; Simmonds, Phi (roughing), 7:15; Crombeen, TB (holding, interference, roughing), 7:15; Simmonds, Phi (unsportsmanlike conduct), 13:51; Giroux, Phi (hooking), 16:27; Knuble, Phi (tripping), 18:11; Pouliot, TB (tripping), 19:47.

    Second PeriodNone. PenaltiesBrewer, TB (cross-checking), 3:26; Stamkos, TB (cross-checking), 17:35.

    Third Period5, Tampa Bay, Hedman 2 (Hall, Salo), :58. 6, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 3 (Purcell, St. Louis), 12:29. PenaltiesCoburn, Phi (holding), 10:27; Gervais, Phi (interference), 13:16; Simmonds, Phi, misconduct, 16:52; Tyrell, TB (tripping), 17:43. Shots on GoalPhiladelphia 6-11-8—25. Tampa Bay 13-5-8—26. Power-play opportunitiesPhiladelphia 0 of 6; Tampa Bay 2 of 5. GoaliesPhiladelphia, Leighton 0-1-0 (26 shots-21 saves). Tampa Bay, Lindback 3-1-0 (25-24). A19,204 (19,204). T2:34. Referees—Gord Dwyer, Kevin Pollock. LinesmenTim Nowak, Anthony Sericolo.


    DIRK SHADD   |   TimesDIRK SHADD | Times

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    By Antonya English, Times Staff Writer
    Monday, January 28, 2013

    GAINESVILLE — The Florida men's basketball team has played at home just three times in the past 61 days, and a lot has changed in that time — most notably victories and rankings. The Gators (16-2, 6-0) are on an eight-game winning streak and on Monday rose to No. 4 in the Associated Press poll.

    It is Florida's highest regular-season ranking since No.  3 on March 12, 2007. The Gators went on to win their second straight national championship that season. Florida was ranked No. 5 this season before a 65-64 loss to then-No. 8 Arizona, which is one of the many reasons the Gators said they won't get caught up in the hype surrounding their ascension into the nation's Top 5.

    "Pretty much try not to worry about it," senior G Kenny Boynton said when asked how the Gators will handle the ranking. "The rankings change every week as we see. We just got to try to keep trying to play the right way as we've been playing."

    The problem with keeping things in perspective for the Gators is that things have been so out of whack in their SEC games. Florida has outscored its six SEC opponents by an average of 26.5 points, and three times the margin has been more than 30. But the Gators say they understand there's a lot of basketball left to be played, and they are counting on coach Billy Donovan to make sure they don't let the growing national attention become a distraction.

    "Well, I know Coach Donovan's going to humble us," junior C Patric Young said. "He's going to find something to make sure we don't get too lifted up on this attention that we're getting now. We want to be recognized as a good team, but we want to make it all the way. We want to win it all. Then we'll finally be satisfied with what we've got."

    NO MORE CHALLENGE: With the impending changes to the Big East coinciding with the end of the current contract, the SEC/Big East basketball challenge is ending. The collaboration was supposed to help the SEC boost its RPI by playing tougher teams outside of the conference, but of the 40 games played in the series, only seven involved two ranked teams, including Florida-Syracuse in 2009 and 2011.

    WILBEKIN HONORED: Junior G Scottie Wilbekin was named SEC player of the week. Wilbekin averaged 15 points, six assists and two rebounds in wins at Georgia and Mississippi State. At Georgia, Wilbekin had a team-high 17 points, matching a career best, and shot 7-of-9 from the field. Against Mississippi State, he had his third straight game scoring in double figures, finishing with 13, and was one assist shy of his second career double double. This marks the second straight week that Wilbekin has recorded at least nine assists in a game.

    QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I almost liken it to driving a car. You go out and drive in a country field and there's nothing to look at. You're looking at the road, then all of a sudden, you get into the city and there's a bunch of sights and sounds and things you start looking at. You're not paying attention to what's in front of you. You drive the car right off the road into a pole. … I think it's very, very easy when there's distractions around you, and things around you, to take your eyes off the road. We can't do that, and our guys have got to understand that." — Donovan on the Gators handling success.

    Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com. Follow her on Twitter at @TBTimes_Gators.


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    By Damian Cristodero, Times Staff Writer
    Monday, January 28, 2013

    TAMPA — When it comes to blocking shots, Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer said it is better not to think about the danger.

    Especially when a slap shot zips past your head, or as Brewer put it, "buzzes the tower."

    "Sometimes," Brewer said, "you have to turn your brain off and make a play."

    Perhaps nothing in hockey takes as much courage as blocking shots. Think about it. Players with plenty of unprotected body parts — like their faces — stepping or sliding in front of a six-ounce projectile going 100 mph.

    So, it is worth noting the Lightning entered Monday tied for second in the league with 86 blocks. In its past three games — all victories — it blocked 26, 19 and 23 shots, respectively.

    Yes, the team, with 24 goals, has the league's top offense. But blocked shots, coach Guy Boucher said, are "the No. 1 criteria to see people paying the price to win."

    "It's one of those things," defenseman Matt Carle said. "As much as it hurts, you feel good."

    Brewer and Carle lead the Lightning with 11 blocks each, tied for 16th in the league entering Monday. Defensemen Victor Hedman and Sami Salo have 10.

    During Sunday's 5-1 win over the Flyers, 12 players blocked at least one shot, and Tampa Bay's 26 blocks were one more than Philadelphia's shots on goal.

    That said, if a player commits to blocking a shot, he must succeed. Otherwise, all he does is screen the goalie.

    "That's what we always say, if they're not sure they can make the block, stay out of it, " Lightning goaltender Anders Lindback said. "It's a timing thing for the players, but we don't create a lot of those situations."

    It is inevitable players will get hurt blocking shots as the backs of legs, sides of knees, ankles and feet are so lightly padded.

    Right wing B.J. Crombeen, though expected to play tonight against the Panthers at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, had a walking boot on his left foot Monday because of a bruise sustained blocking a shot.

    Ways to avoid injury? Don't slide head first into a slap shot, forward Adam Hall said with a laugh. Position hands with palms closed with the padding on the back of gloves facing the shooter.

    "And keep your feet on the ground," Carle said. "The more weight you have on your feet the better. If you pick a foot up (Carle called the move The Flamingo) and get hit, there's no weight on it and the pressure in your boot is off. That's how you break a foot."

    Not to say getting hit in, say, the shin pads still won't leave a mark.

    "But you're not in this sport because you don't want to get hurt," Hall said. "You're at this level because you're a competitive guy who knows how to win. That's one of the sacrifices guys have to make."

    Indeed, during the Lightning's 2004 Stanley Cup run, the team's 363 blocked shots led the playoffs and were 36 more than the second-place Flames, who played three more games.

    Still, the idea of willingly placing one's body in harm's way makes even Boucher shudder.

    "It's unbelievable because guys shoot so hard and so quick," he said. "I have all the respect in the world for players who do that."

    "And they say goalies are crazy," Lindback said. "I don't know."

    ST. LOUIS HONORED: Lightning right wing Marty St. Louis, with 11 points on three goals and eight assists, was the NHL's third star of the week ending Sunday. San Jose's Patrick Marleau, with a league-best nine goals, was first star. Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, who was 5-0-0, was second.

    Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@tampabay.com.


    DIRK SHADD   |   TimesDIRK SHADD | Times

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    By Dave Zalewski, Times Correspondent
    Monday, January 28, 2013

    What's hot: Gag grouper have been catch and release since November and red grouper will join them Friday when that closure goes into effect until April 1. But there are still plenty of fish available for delicious meals. White grunts, gray snapper, saltwater crappie and a host of others are our predominant reef fish, and when tackle is downsized, provide drag pulling action just like larger reef fish. In addition to the grunts, mangrove snapper, triggerfish, silver trout and sea bass are all in gulf waters.

    Tackle: Bring light spinning or bait casting tackle to a rocky area normally targeted for grouper. Rig with a No. 2 hook "chicken rig" 2/0 hooks, three-quarters ounce sinker and let the action begin. The activity of the smaller reef fish feeding will bring in larger grouper.

    Tip: We have been pleasantly surprised by the number of kingfish and large mackerel in 50- to 60-foot depths. We have gone back to deploying frozen sardines on a stinger-rigged flatline. Keep the flatline rigged and ready when traveling offshore. We have been encountering small pods of kingfish smashing into schools of bait and have had great success casting a frozen sardine and using a "walk the dog" method of retrieval to trigger a strike.

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


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    Times wires
    Monday, January 28, 2013

    SAN DIEGO — Tiger Woods was so good for so long at Torrey Pines that it didn't matter how bad it looked at the end.

    In a finish that was fitting for a long and exasperating week, Woods built an eight-shot lead with five holes to play Monday until he lost patience with the slow play and started losing shots that only determined the margin of victory.

    Despite two bogeys and double bogey in the final hour, he closed with par-72 for a four-shot victory in the Farmers Insurance Open.

    "I'm excited the way I played all week," said Woods, who finished at 14-under 274. "I hit the ball well; pretty much did everything well and built myself a nice little cushion. I had some mistakes at the end, but all my good play before that allowed me to afford those mistakes."

    He won for the 75th time in his PGA Tour career, seven behind the record held by Sam Snead.

    Woods won this tournament for the seventh time, and he set a PGA Tour record by winning at Torrey Pines for the eighth time, including his 2008 U.S. Open. Woods also has won seven times at Bay Hill and at Firestone.

    Torrey Pines is a public course that he has turned into his private domain.

    "I don't know if anybody would have beaten him this week," said Nick Watney, who got within five shots of Woods when the tournament was still undecided then made three bogeys on his next five holes. "He's definitely on his game."

    Defending champion Brandt Snedeker (69) and Josh Teater (69) tied for the second. Watney had 71 and tied for fourth with Jimmy Walker.

    It was a strong statement for Woods, who was coming off a missed cut last week in Abu Dhabi. That's a distant memory. The question now is what kind of season is shaping up for Woods.

    "I think he wanted to send a message," said Hunter Mahan, who shares a swing coach with Woods. "I think deep down he did. You play some games to try to motivate yourself. There's been so much talk about Rory (McIlroy). Rory is now with Nike. That would be my guess."


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    Times wires
    Monday, January 28, 2013

    ANN ARBOR, Mich. — John Beilein acknowledged Monday afternoon that he had quite a few texts on his phone.

    The Michigan coach just hadn't checked them yet.

    "I've been absorbed in Northwestern tape," Beilein said.

    The Wolverines are No. 1 in the Associated Press' poll for the first time since the Fab Five topped the first three polls of 1992-93, but Beilein is determined not to get carried away with all this recognition.

    Michigan took over the top spot after a 74-60 victory at Illinois on Sunday night. Next up is Northwestern, and there's no reason for the routine to change.

    "Our goal at Michigan is to be No. 1 in the Big Ten. When you achieve that honor, you will have a chance at the national championship," Beilein said. "All through the year polls will spark great interest among college basketball fans everywhere and that is always good. Our coaches and players, however, will remain focused on our goals of improving daily and competing for the championship within our conference."

    Duke, which was No. 1 last week, dropped to fifth after being routed 90-63 by Miami. The Hurricanes jumped 11 places in the poll to 14th.


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    By Damian Cristodero, Times Staff Writer
    Monday, January 28, 2013


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    By Marc Topkin, Times Staff Writer
    Monday, January 28, 2013

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kelly Johnson summed up his decision to sign with the Rays on Monday in one word:

    "Opportunity."

    The left-handed hitting infielder figures to get plenty after agreeing to a one-year major-league contract that will be official after he completes a physical exam today.

    The Rays didn't comment on or confirm the deal, but Johnson looks to be a platoon partner for Ryan Roberts and/or Sean Rodriguez at second base (with Ben Zobrist primarily in rightfield), with the possibility of moving around the infield and into the outfield, where he last played as a rookie in 2005 with Atlanta.

    "I'm open to anything," Johnson said. "I'm excited to be part of it. … It's always a good team. They're fun to watch. They're the type of team when you're on the other side you don't like playing them. … I'm pumped."

    Johnson, 30, has shown the potential for power and a good on-base percentage but also has been prone to strikeouts. Over the past two seasons with Arizona and Toronto, he had 37 home runs and 113 RBIs but a .223 average and 322 strikeouts in 289 games. His best season was 2010 with the Diamondbacks when he hit .284 with a .370 on-base percentage, 26 homers and 71 RBIs.

    In adding Johnson plus reliever Kyle Farnsworth and DH Luke Scott, whose deals are also set to be made official this week, the Rays will have to drop three players off the 40-man roster. Areas of surplus include catcher (Robinson Chirinos, Stephen Vogt), middle infield (Reid Brignac, Elliot Johnson), and reliever (Dane De La Rosa).

    CATCHING ON: Chirinos said all signs and symptoms of the spring training concussion that forced him to miss all of last season are gone and, having played about 30 games in Venezuela during the winter with no issues, he is ready to go. "Thank God everything is fine, it's back to where it was before," he said.

    PITCHING IN: Right-hander Alex Cobb goes into spring training with a legitimate opportunity to win a spot in the rotation following the trade of James Shields, and a determination to do so. "My mind-set is that that's my job and I've got to protect my job and keep it because there are plenty of other options available," he said. "I feel it's my job to lose."

    WORKING OUT: More than a dozen players participated in a Monday workout at the Trop, which was open to reporters, much to the surprise of Cy Young Award winner David Price, who wore a striped tank top (see video, tampabay.com/blogs/rays). "Of course the first day I wear a cutoff shirt there's media here," he laughed.

    Also attending: pitchers Brandon Gomes, Josh Lueke, Jake McGee, Jake Odorizzi; catchers Jose Lobaton and Jose Molina (who is getting ready for the World Baseball Classic); outfielder Matt Joyce; infielder Shawn O'Malley, Elliot Johnson and Rodriguez.

    Around the majors

    JETER'S PROGRESS: Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter worked out on a field for the first time since breaking his left ankle in October, fielding grounders at the minor-league complex in Tampa. "Everything went well," Jeter said. In other Yankees news, outfielder/first baseman Juan Rivera agreed to a minor-league contract.

    PITCHER LOSES SPLEEN: Free-agent right-hander Carl Pavano's spleen was removed last week after he was injured when he fell in the snow. Pavano, 37, was hurt in mid January at his home in Vermont but didn't realize how badly until several days later. He has been in a Connecticut hospital for nearly two weeks. "He lost a lot of blood. It was very, very serious," agent David Pepe said.

    EX-YANKEE RETIRES: First baseman Nick Johnson, 34, who spent 10 injury-plagued seasons with the Yankees, Expos/Nationals, Marlins and Orioles, plans to announce his retirement.

    CARDINALS: Infielder Ronny Cedeno agreed to a $1.15 million, one-year contract.

    PHILLIES: Right-handed reliever Chad Durbin agreed to a one-year contract to return to the team that he helped to the 2008 World Series championship. Also, infielder Yuniesky Betancourt agreed to a minor-league contract.

    RED SOX: Outfielder Ryan Kalish is set to have surgery on his right shoulder today and miss spring training.

    Information from Times wires was used in this report.


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