Cardinal apologizes to man who brought abuse claim in 1988

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A former Roman Catholic bishop of Pittsburgh who now heads the Washington archdiocese has apologized for initially voicing doubts about a seminarian’s claims in 1988 that as a young boy he had been sexually abused by a priest.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl says Tim Bendig, who is now a businessman, “told the truth about a priest who was a terrible danger to children and without his action that priest might have continued in the ministry.”
“Telling that truth helped all of us to become a better church,” Wuerl said in an interview Nov. 23 in the church newspaper in Washington, the Catholic Standard.
Bendig, who lives near Pittsburgh, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he had asked church officials to affirm his account amid continuing efforts by some online to discredit him. The cardinal’s apology also comes as state prosecutors are investigating how the Pittsburgh Diocese and others across Pennsylvania handled abuse claims going back decades.
“I am humbled that Cardinal Wuerl went above and beyond not only to speak out for the many victims but specifically apologizing to me,” Bendig said.
In his 1988 lawsuit, Bendig named the Rev. Anthony Cipolla as his abuser. Despite Wuerl’s initial skepticism, Cipolla was removed from the ministry and Wuerl successfully fought a Vatican court order to have him reinstated.
Cipolla was never charged with a crime and denied wrongdoing. He died this year.
In apologizing, Wuerl said he was among those who were not immediately persuaded by Bendig’s claims.
But “I have since learned to be less hesitant in taking at face value such allegations,” he said. “Innocent people who gain public attention for coming forward should not be slandered because they did the right thing by seeking action against an abuser.”
David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement Wednesday that the group is glad Bendig is pleased with the apology. But, he said, SNAP believes Wuerl is using Bendig to do “damage control” ahead of grand jury disclosures on how Pennsylvania dioceses dealt with abuse claims, including when Wuerl was bishop from 1988 to 2006.

Judge blocks precinct recounts in Montgomery County

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (AP) — A Montgomery County judge is rejecting Green Party-backed requests for recounts of presidential election results in about 78 precincts.
Judge Bernard Moore gave no immediate reason for the rejection Wednesday. Lawyers for the Republican Party and the county argued against the requests during a hearing.
Green Party-inspired voters are seeking similar recounts in scores of precincts in various other counties. Pennsylvania has more than 9,000 precincts.
A Monday hearing is scheduled on a Green Party-backed request for a court-ordered statewide recount of Pennsylvania’s Nov. 8 presidential election, won by Republican Donald Trump.
Failed Green Party candidate Jill Stein is spearheading a recount effort in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, states where Trump won narrowly over Democrat Hillary Clinton. Stein trailed them significantly.
Stein cites concerns that cyberattacks could have altered results tabulated on Pennsylvania’s electronic voting machines.

Judge adds $5M to McQueary’s $7M verdict against Penn State

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A judge on Wednesday awarded more than $5 million to a former Penn State assistant football coach over his treatment by the university following Jerry Sandusky’s arrest on child molestation charges five years ago.
Judge Thomas Gavin ruled in favor of Mike McQueary’s whistleblower claim , adding to a jury’s $7.3 million verdict issued last month for defamation and misrepresentation.
“Only when the àSandusky Matter’ became public was Mr. McQueary subjected to disparate treatment and adverse employment consequences,” Gavin wrote. He said the decision to order McQueary to keep out of athletic facilities after placing him on administrative leave with pay “was the equivalent of banishment.”
The judge said McQueary was humiliated in several respects, including “being told to clean out his office in the presence of Penn State personnel, an action that suggests he had done something wrong and was not to be trusted.”
McQueary has testified that in February 2001 he reported to then-head coach Joe Paterno and to two high-ranking administrators that he had just seen Sandusky, at the time retired as the school’s defensive football coach, sexually abusing a boy in a team shower. Those officials did not contact police, but when investigators began looking into new complaints about Sandusky nearly a decade later, someone suggested they interview McQueary.
McQueary has testified he heard sexually suggestive sounds when he went into the locker room late on a Friday night, then saw Sandusky abusing the boy in the shower. He did not physically intervene but said the two separated and he left the athletics facility, highly disturbed by what he had witnessed.
Gavin concluded that Penn State retaliated against McQueary. He said the university has never publicly acknowledged that McQueary’s reports to Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz were done following the school’s policy.
“Such recognition would have gone a long way toward reducing the opprobrium visited upon him and the resulting humiliation he suffered,” Gavin wrote.
McQueary has been a particular target for criticism over the past five years as strong feelings about the Sandusky scandal have divided the university community. He has not been able to find a job, either in the coaching field or even entry-level retail positions. He had been making $140,000 as an assistant football coach.
Sandusky was convicted of several crimes over the shower encounter McQueary witnessed, though he was acquitted of the most serious charge, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse.
A spokeswoman for Penn State said the school was reviewing its options. Messages left for McQueary and his lawyer, Elliot Strokoff, were not immediately returned.
McQueary’s lawsuit included claims for defamation, misrepresentation and violations of legal protections for whistleblowers. Jurors in the trial, held last month in the courthouse near Penn State’s campus, awarded him $7.3 million for defamation and misrepresentation.
Gavin’s ruling, which pertained to the whistleblower part of the case, granted McQueary nearly $4 million in lost wages. The judge also said he felt the jury’s decision was “insufficient and not binding,” so he added $1 million in noneconomic damages.
McQueary will also get a bonus issued to other coaches for the Ticket City Bowl he missed after he was suspended, as well as his legal fees and costs.
Sandusky, 72, is serving 30 to 60 years in state prison and is pursuing appeals.

Irish ground Hawks

By TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Bonzie Colson had season-high 24 points and a career-high 17 rebounds, Steve Vasturia tied a career-high with 22 points and Notre Dame overcame squandering a 15-point lead in the first half to beat Iowa 92-78 Tuesday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Colson made all 12 of his free throws and Vasturia made all seven of his as Notre Dame (7-0) made 30 of 33 free throws while the Iowa was 12 of 16. The Irish also had a 45-32 advantage in rebounds.
Iowa (3-4) had its largest lead of the second half at 52-50 when Notre Dame hit four straight shots and Iowa missed four straight during a 10-0 run capped by Vasturia driving through the lane for a layup to give Notre Dame a 60-52 lead.
The Irish extended the lead to 79-63 on a jumper by Farrell.
Freshman Jordan Bohanon, whose previous season-high was six points, finished with a team-high 23 points. Jok, coming off a career-high 42 points against Memphis, struggled throughout, making 4 of 20 shots for 15 points.
BIG PICTURE
Iowa: The Hawkeyes were without freshman forward Tyler Cook, their second-leading scorer at 13.7 points game, who underwent surgery earlier Tuesday because of a fractured his right index finger and is expected to be out about three weeks. After two straight losses the Hawkeyes tried to shake things up with three new starters but continued to struggle against Power Five opponents.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish, who entered the game averaging 7.5 turnovers and 18.5 assists, had four turnovers in less than six minutes, 11 in the first half. The Irish finished with 14 turnovers and just 11 assists, but won comfortably to improve to 7-0 for the third time in 17 seasons under Mike Brey. The Irish also won their first seven in 2001 and got off to their best start at 8-0 in 2010.
UP NEXT
Iowa: The Hawkeyes return home to play Omaha and Stetson before facing rival Iowa State, which is ranked No. 19.
Notre Dame: The Irish play North Carolina A&T and Fort Wayne at home before neutral-site games against No. 2 Villanova in Newark, New Jersey, and No. 15 Purdue in Indianapolis.
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Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.

No. 1 Kentucky enters December still awaiting a close game

By AARON BEARD, AP Basketball Writer

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — Kentucky spent November romping its way to lopsided wins and leaving little doubt who should be the No. 1-ranked team in the AP Top 25 .

Coach John Calipari heads into December wondering how his young, athletic bunch will handle playing in a close game as the schedule gets tougher, starting Saturday against No. 11 UCLA.

“The question becomes now how good can we be,” Calipari said Monday night after a highlight-filled 115-69 win against Arizona State in the Bahamas. “And it may not be every night. One of the things I told them before the game is, look, we need to have a close game.

“We need to have an overtime game. We need to have a team make their first 10 shots and see how we respond. We need to shoot 32 percent and still win a game. We need to be in tough physical battles and know who can respond.”

So far, the Wildcats (7-0) appear to have no shortage of options, from DeAaron Fox posting only the program’s second triple-double against the Sun Devils to Malik Monk scoring a game-high 23 points to Bam Adebayo providing a rugged physical presence inside.

The Wildcats’ closest game this season has been a 69-48 win against Michigan State on Nov. 15.

In addition to Saturday’s visit from the Bruins (7-0), Kentucky’s December schedule also includes a game against No. 3 North Carolina in Las Vegas and a trip to No. 14 Louisville.

LEAGUE THROWDOWN

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge headlines the week ahead for Top 25 teams.

On Tuesday night, No. 22 Syracuse (4-1) visits No. 17 Wisconsin (5-2), while Michigan State — out of this week’s poll after a 4-3 start — visits No. 6 Duke (6-1).

On Wednesday, No. 15 Purdue (5-1) visits No. 14 Louisville (5-1), while No. 3 UNC (7-0) visits No. 13 Indiana (4-1) — which tumbled 10 spots in the poll after a loss at IPFW. No. 6 Virginia (6-0) also hosts Ohio State.

BUSY SATURDAY

In addition to the UCLA-Kentucky game, Saturday’s schedule features a busy day of ranked matchups.

The biggest figures to be No. 9 Baylor’s visit to No. 7 Xavier. The Musketeers (6-0) have been in the top 10 all season, but Baylor (6-0) went from getting zero votes in the first two polls to No. 20 after a win against Oregon and now to No. 9 after beating VCU, Michigan State and Louisville to win the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.

“We’ve got bigger goals,” Bears coach Scott Drew said after rallying from 22 down to beat the Cardinals in the Atlantis title game. “And we’ll be focused on achieving them. As long as everybody listens to the upperclassmen and buys in with that, then we can accomplish those.”

The other marquee matchups that day are No. 25 West Virginia at No. 6 Virginia and No. 8 Gonzaga at No. 16 Arizona.

NEWCOMERS

No. 18 Butler, No. 20 South Carolina and No. 24 Florida are poll newcomers. The Bulldogs won their poll debut at Utah on Monday night. The Gamecocks host Vermont and the Gators visit North Florida, both on Thursday.

FAREWELL (FOR NOW)

Four teams dropped out of what was really a top 26 last week: Texas from No. 22, Michigan State from No. 24, and Michigan and Florida State from a tie at No. 25.

WATCH LIST

Maryland and Cincinnati could find their way into next week’s poll.

The Terrapins (7-0) were six points behind West Virginia for this week’s final spot. They have home games this week against Pittsburgh in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and Oklahoma State.

Cincinnati (5-1) was third among teams in “Others Receiving Votes” and visits No. 19 Iowa State on Thursday.

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Overreactions: Winston, Mariota best 1-2 QB draft ever

By ROB MAADDI, AP Pro Football Writer

Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota already are the best quarterback duo drafted 1-2 in NFL history.

Both players have their teams in playoff contention in only their second season.

Winston led Tampa Bay (6-5) to an upset win over Seattle on Sunday and the Buccaneers are one game behind Atlanta in the NFC South. Mariota had his eighth straight multiple TD game to lead Tennessee (6-6) over Chicago and the Titans are a half-game behind Houston in the AFC South.

In 2015, Winston and Mariota were the sixth set of QBs to be selected first and second overall in the draft since 1967. This year, it happened again when the Rams took Jared Goff at No. 1 and the Eagles selected Carson Wentz at No. 2.

Other QBs going 1-2 were: Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III (2012); Tim Couch and Donovan McNabb (1999); Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf (1998); Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer (1993); Jim Plunkett and Archie Manning (1971).

Injuries derailed Griffin’s career. Couch and Leaf were busts. Mirer was a full-time starter for only three seasons.

The Plunkett-Manning combination was the most successful of them all. Plunkett was a Super Bowl MVP and Manning was a two-time Pro Bowl pick despite playing for the lowly Saints.

So Winston and Mariota have a long way to go.

Here are other overreactions following Week 12:

OVERREACTION: The Browns (0-12) won’t lose next week.

REALISTIC REACTION: They have a bye .

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OVERREACTION: Seattle’s loss to Tampa Bay proves the Seahawks (7-3-1) aren’t on the same level as Dallas (10-1).

REALISTIC REACTION: Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman and Co. still have the best chance to knock off the Cowboys in the playoffs.

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OVERREACTION: The Raiders (9-2) are on course to meet the Patriots (9-2) in the AFC title game.

REALISTIC REACTION: Oakland might not make it out of the AFC West where the Chiefs (8-3) and Broncos (7-4) have superior defenses.

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OVERREACTION: Tom Brady is the best blocking QB in the NFL.

REALISTIC REACTION: The Jets’ defense showed incredible mercy avoiding Brady as he led the way on LeGarrette Blount’s 10-yard run.

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OVERREACTION: Adam Gase is Coach of the Year. His Dolphins (7-4) have won six in a row and are right in the mix for a wild-card berth.

REALISTIC REACTION: Jack Del Rio, Dirk Koetter and Bob McAdoo each make a strong case to win it.

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OVERREACTION: No Andrew Luck means no playoffs for the Colts (5-6).

REALISTIC REACTION: Luck should return from a concussion next week and Indianapolis is only one game out of first place.

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OVERREACTION: Playing for the win instead of a tie will cost the Broncos (7-4) the playoffs.

REALISTIC REACTION: They’re tied in the standings with Miami and have five games left. Too much season left.

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OVERREACTION: The Cardinals (4-6-1) are the biggest busts of the season.

REALISTIC REACTION: They’ve got competition from Green Bay and Carolina (4-7).

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Westbrook with another triple-double as Thunder stop Knicks

By BRIAN MAHONEY, AP Basketball Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Russell Westbrook doesn’t just do triple-doubles in games anymore.

Now he’s got one for the entire season.

Westbrook raised his averages to 30.9 points, 11.3 assists and 10.3 rebounds through more than a month of play with his NBA-leading eighth triple-double as the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the New York Knicks 112-103 on Monday night.

Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson is the only NBA player to average a triple-double for a season, so Westbrook was asked if his current pace is sustainable.

“Winning is sustainable,” he said. “That’s all I know, man, and my job is to make sure we go out and find the best way to win games and right now we’ve won three straight and that’s the most important part for me.”

Westbrook had his third straight triple-double and the 45th of his career and nearly did it by halftime, finishing with 27 points, 18 rebounds and 14 assists. He had 14 points, 10 boards and nine assists at the break.

“He is going to put up numbers because of his ability and just how hard he plays and his gifts, but he’s doing a lot of other things that the stat sheet doesn’t measure,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I know everybody is focused on that right now and rightfully so. It’s historic what he’s doing. But he’s really a complete point guard all the way around.”

Enes Kanter added a season-high 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Steven Adams had 14 points and 10 boards as the Thunder outrebounded the Knicks 53-40.

“We got manhandled. That’s tough,” Knicks center Joakim Noah said. “Russ definitely puts a lot of pressure on the bigs when he’s going downhill like that. At the end of the day it’s always tough knowing that we lost the game on the glass.”

Derrick Rose scored a season-best 30 points, but the Knicks had their six-game home winning streak snapped. Kristaps Porzingis added 21 points and Carmelo Anthony had 18, but shot just 4 for 19.

Westbrook fell just shy of his third straight 15-assist game, but had his highest rebound total of the season — and one off his career best — to keep the Thunder rolling after a recent three-game skid.

The Knicks led by 11 in the first quarter and things were coming easily, but the Thunder began to grab control with Westbrook’s hustle and Kanter’s muscle, getting numerous baskets inside to turn around the game.

It happened so quickly that Westbrook nearly had the stat sheet stuffed before the break.

Joffrey Lauvergne missed a 3-pointer that would’ve given Westbrook a 10th assist with 32 seconds left in the half, but the point guard who was MVP of the All-Star Game on this floor two years ago had a shot at the halftime triple-double after grabbing his 10th rebound on the defensive end with a little more than 20 seconds left. He brought the ball up and tried to create, but turned it over on a pass with about 5 seconds to go.

TIP-INS

Thunder: They are 11-5 against the Knicks since moving to Oklahoma City in 2008. … Donovan grew up in New York and played one season for the Knicks in 1987-88.

Knicks: Coach Jeff Hornacek said reserve F Lance Thomas, who hasn’t played since Nov. 12 because of a left ankle injury, has been working on the exercise bike and shooting and could be back at practice soon, though there is no timetable for his return to games.

STRANGE SCHEDULE

The Thunder are in the midst of a five-game stretch in which they won’t play consecutive games in the same time zone. They came to New York for essentially a one-game road trip in between home games Saturday and Wednesday.

HE KNOWS NOAH

Noah hasn’t made a huge impact yet in his first season with the Knicks, but his college coach thinks he will. Donovan, who coached Florida to back-to-back national championships when Noah played there, said the center has “incredible heart” and praised him as a team leader who cares only about winning.

“He’s going to put his work in, but he’s one of those guys in my opinion that’s just truly all about sacrifice, team and winning,” Donovan said. “So I think he’ll bring that to the Knicks throughout the entire season.”

UP NEXT

Thunder: Host Washington on Wednesday, their first game against former Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks.

Knicks: Visit Minnesota on Wednesday to start another home-and-home set, with the return game at Madison Square Garden on Friday.

Big 12 has 3 games left, will leave 1 bowl spot unfilled

By STEPHEN HAWKINS, AP Sports Writer

The winner of the Big 12 Conference’s de facto championship game will get a sweet prize indeed.

While Oklahoma or Oklahoma State will be headed to the Sugar Bowl, the Big 12 overall won’t have enough eligible teams to fill its seven guaranteed bowl spots.

Six Big 12 teams still have their regular-season finales to play Saturday, including the Bedlam rivalry game that will determine the conference champ. All of those teams already have six wins (or more) needed for bowl eligibility.

But none of the four teams that ended last weekend, including Texas and Texas Tech at 5-7, have winning records.

Seventh-ranked Oklahoma (9-2, 8-0 Big 12) and 11th-ranked Oklahoma State (9-2, 7-1) are both without a loss since September. In the other Big 12 regular-season finales, 14th-ranked West Virginia (9-2, 6-2) hosts Baylor (6-5, 3-5); and TCU (6-5, 4-4) is home against Kansas State (7-4, 5-3).

“I think our people would be fired up about the opportunity to be in a New Year’s Day bowl,” coach Mike Gundy said Monday about the possibility of returning to the Sugar Bowl, where the Cowboys lost 48-20 last January.

“We had a great experience. We didn’t play as well as we wanted to,” he said. “We were not a very healthy football team at that time and played a really, really good Ole Miss team.”

Oklahoma beat Alabama 45-31 in the Sugar Bowl three seasons ago, but last year was in the four-team playoff.

The Sooners, with eight wins in a row since losing two non-conference games, were eighth in the CFP ranking last week.

“You always want to have a chance at the national championship and the playoffs, but it doesn’t work every year,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said during the Big 12 coaches teleconference. “You do the best you can.”

A new CFP ranking comes out Tuesday night, but the Sooners were already behind undefeated Alabama and one-loss Ohio State, which beat Oklahoma in September. The defending national champion Crimson Tide and the Buckeyes, even without going to the Big Ten title game, appear to be locked into playoff spots.

The winner of the Big Ten championship game — Wisconsin or Penn State — will have two losses, but both were also ahead of the Sooners. So were the potential ACC and Pac-12 champions.

With the Big 12 champion headed to the Sugar Bowl, or the runner-up if the champion somehow gets into the playoff, these are the league’s other bowl spots to be filled:

The Alamo Bowl (vs. Pac-12) gets the second pick from Big 12 teams, followed by the Russell Athletic Bowl (vs. ACC), the Texas Bowl (vs. SEC), the Liberty Bowl (vs. SEC) and the Cactus Bowl (vs. Pac-12). That would leave the Armed Forces Bowl, with the smallest payout, without a Big 12 team for its game in TCU’s home stadium.

Some other notes from the final Big 12 coaches teleconference of the season:

UNSELFISH MOUNTAINEERS

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen has often talked about how unselfish his team is this season. The latest example is freshman running back Martell Pettaway, who had his redshirt pulled in the 11th game because of injuries, then ran 30 times for 180 yards and a touchdown. “We had no choice,” Holgorsen said. “If he was a selfish guy, he wouldn’t have been on board with that. … He took advantage of his opportunity.”

NOT EVERYBODY

Only the six coaches with games left took part in Monday’s call. The leadoff spot held the past three seasons by Texas coach Charlie Strong, who was fired and replaced by Tom Herman, was silent, as were the usual slots for David Beaty of Kansas (2-10), Matt Campbell of Iowa State (3-9) and Kliff Kingsbury of Texas Tech (5-7) .

COMING BACK

TCU, which got bowl eligible with its 31-9 win at Texas, also had two double-overtime losses and lost at home to Big 12-leading Oklahoma by six points. Coach Gary Patterson said many players will be back next year, along with some that missed this season with injuries. “We’re going to see how much this group grows up,” he said.

LIKE THE MULLET

“Heck, it’s grown on me through the season. Maybe I wasn’t such a fan early on, but I’ve come to really like it,” Stoops said, chuckling, about Gundy’s mullet haircut.

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Mariners acquire right-handers Whalen, Povse from Braves

By CHARLES ODUM, AP Sports Writer

ATLANTA (AP) — The Seattle Mariners acquired right-handers Rob Whalen and Max Povse from the Atlanta Braves on Monday night for outfield prospect Alex Jackson and a player to be named.

The 20-year-old Jackson was the sixth pick in the 2014 amateur draft. He has hit .233 in three minor league seasons, including .243 with 11 homers and 55 RBIs for Class A Clinton of the Midwest League this year.

“We value upside, and we believe Alex has a lot of it,” Braves general manager John Coppolella told The Associated Press. “We believe in the potential and the person, and we are excited for his future with our organization.”

Jackson was a catcher at Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego. Adding depth at catcher is an offseason priority for Atlanta. Coppolella would not say if Jackson might be given a look behind the plate in 2017.

Whalen, 22, was 1-2 with a 6.57 ERA in five starts for Atlanta this season and was Double-A Mississippi’s pitcher of the year. Povse, 23, had a 3.36 ERA at Mississippi and Class A Carolina.

Whalen was placed on the disabled list Aug. 25 with right shoulder fatigue. He was a 12th-round pick by the Mets in 2012 and was traded to the Braves with right-hander John Gant on July 24, 2015, for Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe and cash.

“This move gives us two young, polished pitchers who immediately bolster our starting pitching depth, while adding to our roster flexibility,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a statement.

Right-hander Ryan Weber was designated for assignment to clear a spot on Seattle’s 40-man roster. He was claimed off waivers from Atlanta on Nov. 2.

The trade was the latest move for the Braves during a busy offseason.

Atlanta has agreed to one-year deals with veteran right-handers R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon. Coppolella has said he hopes to add another starting pitcher.

The Braves also agreed to an $11.5 million, two-year contract with former Pirates utilityman Sean Rodriguez. That deal is pending Rodriguez passing a physical.

As losses mount, Towns puts more pressure on himself

By JON KRAWCZYNSKI, AP Basketball Writer

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — After the latest loss in a season that has been full of them for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Karl-Anthony Towns sat at his locker with his face buried in his hands.

For at least the third time this season, the 21-year-old NBA sophomore put the entire blame on himself and his perceived inability to lead a young and promising roster out of the abyss.

“The more losses we keep accumulating, the more it feels like it’s my fault,” Towns said after the massively disappointing Wolves fell to 5-12 with a 112-103 home loss to the Utah Jazz on Monday night. “I’ve got to look myself in the mirror and I’ve got to play better. I’ve got to play a level where we can’t lose and help my teammates out the best I can. I didn’t do that tonight. I haven’t done it recently.”

That kind of accountability can be admirable on its face. It shows that Towns is invested in turning one of the league’s perennial losers into a playoff team for the first time in 13 years. But that pressure can also be crushing, and the team that many observers pegged for a breakout season after adding coach Tom Thibodeau last summer appears to be playing with a weight on its shoulders that has been too heavy to carry as the season nears the quarter pole.

With Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn, the Timberwolves have one of the most athletic and exciting young rosters in the league. But the enthusiasm and ebullience that so often comes with youth is nowhere to be found on the faces of these Wolves during games. They play with a joylessness that belies their billing as the league’s Next Big Thing, as if 12 years of failure that this core has had little to do with is serving as cement around their shoes.

They went into the locker room at halftime on Monday night down just five points. By the looks on their faces and the slumps in their shoulders, one would have thought the deficit was 20.

Towns — the reigning rookie of the year — is right in one respect. He has struggled mightily on the defensive end after showing so much potential there as a rookie. He must play better and give more consistent effort in that area if the Wolves are going to pull themselves out of the doldrums they reside in at the moment.

“All these losses fall on my shoulders,” Towns said. “None of the coaching staff. None of my teammates. This is my fault. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault but myself. It’s something I’ve got to fix. I’ve got to change for the better for us. I guess it’s back to the drawing board tomorrow.”

Clearly, the responsibility lies more than just with Towns. Their point guard play has been subpar, their bench almost nonexistent and Thibodeau has not yet parlayed his mastery of strategy and Xs and Os into a workable formula for this particular group.

He seethed in his postgame remarks after the Jazz loss, calling the second and fourth quarters a “disaster” and vowing to get to the bottom of the issues that plague them.

“It’s very concerning from the standpoint of you want to be making progress,” Thibodeau said. “That’s the important thing. Every day make progress, make progress. We didn’t make progress today. That’s something that has to be corrected.”

Players collectively appear to be at a loss.

“The messages are getting through, but there’s a difference between saying something and actually doing it,” Wiggins said.

Three starters are 21 and the only true veteran playing significant minutes is Rubio, who missed time earlier in the season with a sprained elbow and has not played in three straight fourth quarters. Brandon Rush and Cole Aldrich, the two veterans the Wolves signed in the summer to buttress the young core, are playing scant minutes. That has forced the youngsters to have to grow up even faster from a leadership perspective, which may be an even bigger challenge than rising up against Rudy Gobert at the rim.

“It’s something I know I can carry,” Towns said. “I never said it was going to be easy. But it’s something I know I can deal with.”

It all adds up to a player, and a team, that is too tight. The competitive fire that drives so many of them right now threatens to burn down their own house and has led, Towns said, to many a sleepless night as they search for answers.

“It’s been long, long nights,” Towns said. “Again, it’s going to be one of those nights, I guess. You’re just trying to find ways to win.”

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Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter: http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski