New rules likely coming but not to replay

By ARNIE STAPLETON AP Pro Football Writer
DENVER (AP) — In no sport but the NFL do players, fans, coaches and general managers annually debate the rules of the game, advocating ways to make pro football better, safer, fairer.
Officiating is especially a hot topic around the league after a blown call late in the NFC championship game pretty much cost the New Orleans Saints a trip to the Super Bowl.
That capped a season which began with the long-awaited clarification of what constitutes a catch and then was marred by widespread confusion over what exactly is a legal takedown of the quarterback. While defenders learned new ways to tackle to avoid flags for even glancing blows to the helmet, they complained about O-linemen illegally blocking too far downfield in the run-pass option craze that has successfully seeped in from the college game.
Giants owner John Mara hears the cries to change the NFL’s replay review system after officials failed to flag the blatant pass interference penalty and a helmet-first hit by the Rams’ Nickell Robey-Coleman deep in Los Angeles territory in the NFC championship match. The non-calls helped Los Angeles force overtime and eventually win the game to reach the Super Bowl, leading to widespread displeasure with the current system regarding coaches’ challenges.
Mara said last month at the NFL combine that the powerful competition committee isn’t in a rush to change the replay system.
“I just don’t sense a lot of support to use replay to call penalties. I don’t sense a lot of support for the expansion of it, either,” Mara said. “We’re early on, so that might change, but that’s my sense of where we are right now. I’m not saying it won’t change.”
The Canadian Football League has allowed pass interference, either called or uncalled, to be reviewed for the last five years. But the NFL has long been reluctant to expand replays for officiating because it would slow games even further.
Other major moves will be considered by the 32 owners at the league meetings in Phoenix beginning Sunday.
Several teams are proposing big changes to replay and overtime after a season of consistent criticism of officiating and which plays can be challenged or automatically reviewed. Any change requires a 24-vote threshold to pass.
Just like the USFL did with the 2-point conversion and other innovations back in the 1980s, the Alliance of American Football’s debut this spring has brought novel ideas, some of which could find their way into the NFL rule book. Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, a staunch advocate for adding more replay reviews to the NFL, is a big fan of the AAF’s “sky judge,” an official watching from the press box level who can help call penalties from a bird’s-eye view.
“Look how tough it is for these officials, all right. I know as a coach, what’s the worst spot to watch the game from? Sideline. You see the least amount form the sideline. That’s why you put coaches in the box,” Harbaugh said. “OK. So we’ve got all this technology and the fans actually have a better view of the game from an officiating standpoint than the officials do.
“So these clear and obvious mistakes that are inevitably going to get made, it’s not just one play in a championship game; it happens every single week, because the job is so tough and moves so fast and the angles aren’t great,” Harbaugh added. “If we can put somebody up there in the box that has a better angle that can help officiate the game from up there, do that. If we can add more replay, let’s do that.”
Harbaugh said the league would save face by fixing a system everyone knows is flawed.
“Because at the end of the day it’s about the credibility of the sport, and we can’t have the other leagues outpacing us in terms of use of technology to make sure games are fair and well-officiated,” Harbaugh said. “We have great officials. These guys are incredible with what they do. We’ve also put a lot of rules in place that’ve made it really tough on them. They’ve got a lot on their plate.
“So let’s add an official, let’s add two officials, let’s put one up in the box, let’s expand replay if we want. Let’s make sure that at the end of the day the fans walk out of the stadium and walk away from their TV sets knowing that was a good, hard-fought, well-officiated game and the outcome is as it should be and it was correct. The right team won the game.”
Players have their own ideas about ways to make the game better.
Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said the rules already in place need to be enforced, like flagging O-linemen who block too far downfield on the run-pass option plays that have become all the rage, leading to wide-open tight ends as linebackers come up to play the run.
“You can’t have guys 4 or 5 yards downfield and (the quarterback is) still throwing the ball,” Harris said.
“They’ve got to figure out the RPO stuff, but let me suggest a better rule,” teammate Von Miller said. “You know how you can’t hit a defenseless receiver coming across the field? I feel like edge rushers should have the same protection from chippers. I feel like it’s not fair.
“I’m looking right and I’ve got a receiver that shuffles in and blindsides me while I’m focusing on this play. I actually tore my ACL in a play like that in 2013,” Miller said. “I feel like the chips should be gone. I’m dead serious about that. You see guys get blindsided all the time.”
Miller said owners are eager to protect QBs and nowadays great edge rushers are getting paid just like franchise quarterbacks.
“We’ve got a lot of star pass rushers. All it takes is one of those plays and boom, that could be it for one of those guys,” Miller said. “This league is all about protecting the quarterbacks. How come they get protection and we don’t?”
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner and AP Sports Writer Mike Marot contributed.
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Early reveal UConn women not top seed; Baylor No. 1 overall

Everyone got an early look at the women’s NCAA Tournament bracket, revealing that UConn isn’t a No. 1 seed for the first time since 2006.
The accidental early release of the 64-team bracket by ESPN just provided a couple of extra hours for the 11-time national champion Huskies to get fired up about their unusual position.
“If you are going to do that, we’re going to do everything we can to prove everyone wrong,” UConn senior Napheesa Collier said.
The Huskies (31-2) are still playing in the same Albany Regional they would have as a No. 1, and have the same expected potential regional final matchup against Louisville (29-3), the top seed instead.
There was no surprise with perennial Big 12 champion Baylor (31-1) being the No. 1 overall seed. The Lady Bears, who are playing in the Greensboro Regional, have the nation’s longest winning streak at 23 games and were the unanimous No. 1 team in the last Associated Press women’s basketball poll of the season that was released Monday.
The other NCAA No. 1 seeds are defending national champion Notre Dame (30-3) in the Chicago Regional and SEC champion Mississippi State (30-2), the national runner-up each of the past two seasons, in the Portland Regional.
“I feel like for the first time in a long time that every region got as close as it can to the S-curve, and that does my heart good for women’s basketball,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said.
“Not just our region, but if you look at the top 6-8 teams that could win this whole thing, below them they tried as best they could to cover geography but also cover the S-curve,” Mulkey said. “Usually when you look at a bracket, you go, ‘Who got the toughest region?’ I don’t know that anybody got one any tougher than any others.”
Here are some things to know about the women’s NCAA Tournament that starts Friday:
The last time UConn had multiple regular-season losses was 2012-13, when the Huskies won the first of four consecutive national titles. After that, they lost only one regular-season game the next five seasons before their two losses this year — both on the road, at NCAA No. 1 seeds Baylor and Louisville.
“We did lose two games, so I’m surprised we’re a number two. I thought we would be a four or five,” coach Geno Auriemma joked. “I mean, we’re not in one of those conferences that perennially wins women’s basketball national basketball championships, so we can’t be expected to lose two games and not be dropped. I’m just happy they kept us at two.”
While Baylor will have to go to North Carolina for the Sweet 16, readily assuming that the Lady Bears win two games at home, there could be some real local flavor in Greensboro with third-seeded North Carolina State and fourth-seeded South Carolina also in that bracket.
Baylor has won 37 consecutive home games.
Notre Dame would go to Chicago, with that regional’s semifinal and final games only about 90 miles from the South Bend campus. Second-seeded Oregon could draw some huge crowds to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in Portland if the Ducks advance.
The selection committee on Sunday announced eight teams being considered for the final at-large berths. Five of those teams got in the field.
Princeton later won the Ivy League tournament championship and an automatic berth.
Tennessee still has perfect attendance in the women’s NCAA Tournament that started in 1982. The Lady Vols got in as a No. 11 seed and joined fellow SEC team Auburn, Indiana and Central Florida as the last four in.
Among the last teams left out were Arkansas, Ohio and TCU. The NCAA said that James Madison was the final team left out.
NCAA Tournament first-timers Abilene Christian, Bethune-Cookman and Towson will make their debuts playing past national champions on their home courts.
Southland Conference tournament champion Abilene Christian (23-9) stays in Texas to play Baylor. Towson (20-12) of the Colonial Athletic Association is a No. 15 seed at UConn. MEAC tournament winner Bethune-Cookman (21-10) is a No. 16 seed headed to play at Notre Dame.
The Summit League was known by a different name the last time the league had an at-large women’s team.
South Dakota State (26-6) got in the NCAA for the ninth time in 11 years with the Summit’s automatic berth after winning the conference tournament.
South Dakota (28-5) is the only the second team from the league to get an at-large bid. The last was Northern Illinois in 1994, when it was the Mid-Continent Conference.
Buffalo and Central Michigan both made it to the Sweet 16 last season as No. 11 seeds out of the Mid-American Conference.
The Bulls and Chippewas are back in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think that us getting in was a fluke in their eyes, and then when we went out and went to the Sweet 16, they said, ‘We’ve got to take these people seriously’,” Buffalo coach Felicia Leggett-Jack said, referring to last year’s MAC run.
MAC tournament champ Buffalo (23-9) is the No. 10 seed in the Albany Regional. Central Michigan (25-7) is the No. 8 in the Chicago Regional.
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Spurs extend streak to 9 straight, beat Warriors 111-105

By RAUL DOMINGUEZ Associated Press
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The San Antonia Spurs aren’t concerned with making statements. They just want to pile up as many victories as they can late in the season.
DeMar DeRozan had 26 points and nine rebounds, LaMarcus Aldridge added 23 points and 13 rebounds and Spurs beat the Golden State Warriors 111-105 on Monday night for their ninth straight win.
“We’re just trying to get wins, man, that’s all,” Spurs forward Rudy Gay said. “We’ve had wins, we’ve had big wins, we’ve had some bad losses, (too). It just feels good to win the games we think we should.”
San Antonio won its 11th straight at home and moved into fifth in the Western Conference following the Thunder’s loss to Miami. The Spurs also clinched a winning record for the 22nd straight season.
Stephen Curry had 25 points after a slow start and Kevin Durant added 24 for the Warriors, who entered the game having won two straight. Golden State dropped into a tie with Denver for first place in the West with matching 47-22 records.
“That’s the hottest team in the league and obviously really well-coached,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They were executing and I thought they outexecuted us, outcoached us. They deserved to win.”
San Antonio’s winning streak is second only to Golden State’s 11 straight wins earlier this season. Remarkably, the Spurs’ longest winning streak since 2016 comes directly after they went 1-7 for their worst Rodeo Road Trip ever.
San Antonio has beaten Golden State, Denver, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Portland and Detroit during its streak. All of those clubs are among the top six teams in their conference.
“Guys are playing better,” Aldridge said of the turnaround. “We’re trying to be better defensively. Communication has been better and it’s just winning time. I think everyone senses that.”
Golden State was without DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Iguodala, who both sat with injuries, but remained within two possessions in the final minute.
The Warriors had to rally in the second half after a sluggish start.
Curry and Klay Thompson opened the game a combined 0 for 11, but the Warriors’ defense allowed them to tie the game at 25 when Curry threw in a 61-footer to close the first quarter.
Curry finished 9 for 25 from the field and Thompson finished with 14 points on 5-for-18 shooting. Thompson said the “Splash Brothers” struggles were their own rather than anything the Spurs did defensively.
“Just missed shots,” Thompson said. “That’s all it is. Shots that we normally hit, too. Yeah, they’re a smart disciplined team but it’s not like we weren’t getting to our spots and getting good looks. Just didn’t go in.”
After trailing by 11 in the third quarter, the Warriors’ offense awoke to silence the sold-out crowd with a 16-5 run to forge a 75-all tie. The run included a shakedown, step-back 3-pointer by Curry and a pair of quick passes from Curry to Draymond Green to Shaun Livingston for an emphatic dunk. Curry had eight points in the run.
“Every time we made a run, they countered and they made a run,” Green said.
DeRozan scored 10 points in the final quarter, including a pair of pull-up jumpers over Thompson, to seal the victory.
Gay added 17 points for San Antonio and Derrick White had 12.
Warriors: Cousins sat the game out with a sore right foot and Iguodala missed the game following dental work. … Andrew Bogut started the game after signing with the team March 6 after playing this season in Australia. Bogut spent four seasons with Golden State before rejoining the team as a free agent. … The Warriors have won at least 23 road games in six straight seasons. They lost for the fifth time in 24 games away from home. … Golden State defeated San Antonio by 39 points in their previous meeting, Feb. 6 at Oracle Arena. It was the largest winning margin over the Spurs in franchise history.
Spurs: Aldridge has 18,854 career points, moving past Glen Rice for 69th all-time in league history. Rice had 18,338 career points over 15 seasons beginning in 1989. … DeRozan is the first Spurs guard to make 300 free throws in a season since Manu Ginobili in 2011. .. The Spurs won 13 straight in 2016.
Bogut picked up a foul on an illegal screen 9 seconds into the game.
“That was a welcome to the league, for sure,” Bogut said. “Just like, we know you set some hard screens so we’re just going to blow one early.”
Bogut finished with seven points and seven rebounds in 19 minutes as he reunited with Curry, Thompson and Green. His points included an alley-oop dunk from Curry.
“It was fun,” Curry said. “It’s been what three years (since he last played with Bogut). I came in transition and besides probably (Damian Jones) early in the year, I haven’t thrown a lob like that to somebody. It just felt like second nature at that point. He went up and finished it.”
Warriors: At Minnesota on Tuesday night.
Spurs: Host Miami on Wednesday night.
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Capitals’ signing of Snively is evidence of Ovechkin effect

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Joe Snively cheered for the Washington Capitals growing up and played his youth hockey at their practice facility as part of the Little Caps program.
Soon, he could be playing for the big Capitals.
Snively on Monday signed a two-year, entry-level deal with his hometown team that begins next season. The 23-year-old college free agent who grew up in Herndon, Virginia, and played at Yale became the latest local product to sign an NHL contract and is more evidence of the Alex Ovechkin effect on the growth of youth hockey in the Washington area.
“It’s pretty cool for this area, for fans and for kids,” Ovechkin said Monday. “They see the progress that hockey did in the United States and, obviously, in D.C., and it’s pretty cool.”
Producing NHL-caliber talent is now becoming the norm in the decade and a half since Ovechkin entered the league in 2005 and ushered in a new generation of Capitals success. Snively joins 2009 Penguins draft pick Nick Petersen, 2010 Canadiens first-rounder Jarred Tinordi and Minnesota’s Sam Anas as Little Caps alumni to sign an NHL contract.
“When the Caps started to become successful, you could just see the amount of people in the local rinks, it started to increase,” Snively said. “More kids wanted to play hockey. It became a hockey city. It’s been really cool to witness and be a local (from) Northern Virginia and just see how the hockey community’s just gotten so much bigger.”
Snively met Ovechkin at the dentist more than a decade ago and got a pair of gloves signed. He could now become the first Washington-area native from the Ovechkin era to play for the Capitals, similarly to how Jeff Halpern was the local product of a previous generation of players.
The skilled, 5-foot-9 forward’s decision came down to five teams expressing serious interest after going undrafted and developing into Yale’s leading scorer in each of the past four seasons. His dream to play for the Capitals weighed in as much as the business and hockey factors.
“Signing with the Capitals, my hometown team, and the possibility of playing in the NHL for them was for sure a big plus for me,” said Snively, who could join Hershey of the American Hockey League for the rest of the season on a tryout agreement. “You grow up watching the Caps, you dream of playing for them. It felt really great to sign a contract with the Capitals, but my goal is to play in an NHL game with them and I’ve still got a lot of work to do before that.”
Snively put in a lot of work to get to this point. Little Caps executive director Doug Plocki said Snively always had a good mix of skill and work ethic to stand out during his four years with the program.
This season, Snively had 15 goals and 21 assists for 36 points in 33 games to become a sought-after prospect. After Ovechkin became one of hockey’s best players and the Capitals won the Stanley Cup last year, Snively’s signing is another milestone for kids in the area.
“It really puts an exclamation point on the dream that a lot of these kids in this area have,” Ploki said. “If you work hard and you do the right things, you could end up playing for the club that’s right in your backyard. It’s a massive, massive thing for players in this area. Kids that come and play for the Little Caps get excited because they get to put on the Capitals jersey and play their games in that jersey. So to see a kid come from that and be able to put it on for real is pretty extraordinary and very exciting.”
Putting on that Little Caps jersey became tougher over the years. While there has been a boom in youth hockey participation in the Washington area, the Little Caps, with their fixed amount of teams and roster spots, became more competitive and the talent level has risen.
Snively is a byproduct of that. After four years with the Little Caps, Snively went on to the United States Hockey League and then Division I college hockey.
And while the Ovechkin effect is a commonly used term around the Capitals, Snively’s favorite player growing up was Nicklas Backstrom, the playmaking Swedish center who also deserves some credit for a burgeoning pipeline of talent coming from the Washington area.
“The overall numbers of players playing youth hockey and number of coaches that want to get involved in it is amazing and that’s what it’s all about,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “(This area is) so fortunate to have such generational talents as a guy like Ovechkin and Backstrom and others. It’s pretty neat to see it all kind of come full-circle.”
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Kang, Gonzalez win starting jobs in Pirates’ infield

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) — Jung Ho Kang and Erik Gonzalez have won starting jobs in the infield with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
General manager Neal Huntington said Monday that Kang has beaten out Colin Moran at third base and Erik Gonzalez has won the shortstop competition over Kevin Newman.
“It was not an easy decision because all four guys, in their own way, had legitimate claims to be the regular,” Huntington said.
Kang is just 5 for 28 (.185) with 13 strikeouts this spring but all five hits have been solo home runs. Moran was 6 for 28 (.214) with a double and a homer through the weekend.
Moran, however, had committed four errors while Kang had two.
“The power has been real,” manager Clint Hurdle said of Kang. “It’s spring training, but it’s five homers. We don’t have anybody else that’s hit five homers.”
Kang missed the entire 2017 season and the beginning of 2018 because he was unable to secure a work visa to travel from his native South Korea following a third DUI arrest. He then underwent wrist surgery last year before returning to the Pirates for the final three games of the season.
The Pirates beat the Rays 4-2 on Monday behind a strong start from Nick Kingham, who made his final bid for the fifth starter job. Kingham retired his first 11 batters, struck out five and allowed two hits over five scoreless innings.
Charlie Morton allowed two runs over five innings for Tampa Bay against his former team.
Looking to bolster their ailing rotation, the Yankees signed left-hander Gio Gonzalez to a minor league contract. The two-time All-Star was 10-11 with a 4.21 ERA last season for Washington and Milwaukee, which acquired him on Aug. 31.
Luke Voit, trying to beat out Greg Bird for New York’ first base job, hit his fourth homer of the spring. Aaron Judge hit a two-run triple. Judge has four doubles, a triple, six homers and 14 RBIs.
In his next-to-last tuneup for opening day, Masahiro Tanaka allowed one run and two hits in five innings, giving up a homer to Nick Markakis.
Ross Stripling will begin the season in the starting rotation for Los Angeles, with ace Clayton Kershaw unlikely to be on the active roster.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts announced Kershaw won’t start on opening day because of the left shoulder inflammation that’s slowed him at spring training, ending his streak of pitching eight straight openers. Kershaw is scheduled to throw live batting practice Wednesday, but there are no plans in place after that.
Increasingly, it appears left-hander Rich Hill will get the ball against the Arizona Diamondbacks on opening day.
Rougned Odor had three hits and Shin-Soo Choo added two for Texas. Mike Minor tossed 3 1/3 shutout innings.
Brad Miller homered for Los Angeles, and Stripling gave up two runs and five hits in 4 2/3 innings.
Mitch Haniger hit a tying, two-run homer in the seventh inning and David Freitas homered in the eighth to give the Mariners their second straight exhibition win over the Giants in Tokyo. Dee Gordon and Omar Narvaez each had two hits. Felix Hernandez allowed five runs in four innings in his final regular-season tuneup.
Teoscar Hernandez homered in the first inning and Clayton Richard pitched six solid innings for Toronto. Richard allowed two runs and three hits while striking out six. Dalton Pompey added three hits.
Daniel Norris allowed three runs in three innings for Detroit. Gordon Beckham had a solo homer in the first.
Caleb Smith struck out seven in five innings of one-run ball for Miami. Peter O’Brien had two hits and five RBIs, and Austin Dean had three hits.
Patrick Corbin allowed five runs and nine hits in five innings, striking out five. Ryan Zimmerman singled and scored for Washington, which had just three hits.
Dwight Smith Jr. homered and had three hits to lift Baltimore. Trey Mancini and Jonathan Villar each tripled, and Chance Sisco had two hits. Andrew Cashner opened with five innings of one-run ball.
Nick Castellanos hit a first-inning home run for the Tigers, who were held to just three hits. Jordan Zimmermann pitched 4 1/3 innings, allowing five runs and five hits.
Eddie Rosario hit a two-run home run for the Twins. Jose Berrios pitched 4 2/3 innings and limited the defending World Series champions to a run, three hits, and three walks while striking out four.
Nathan Eovaldi pitched four innings of two-run ball for Boston. J.D. Martinez was 2 for 2.
Dakota Hudson firmed up his bid for a rotation spot by striking out eight over five scoreless innings. The 2016 first-round pick allowed four hits and walked one, dropping his spring ERA to 1.72. Paul Goldschmidt hit his first homer with St. Louis, and Tyler O’Neill went deep for the fifth time.
With Bryce Harper getting a day off, Philadelphia had just six hits.
Spencer Kieboom homered and had two hits and three RBIs for the Nationals, and his brother, Carter Kieboom, also had two hits. Joe Ross allowed two hits in three innings.
Jeurys Familia struck out two during a perfect first inning, and Kyle Dowdy followed with three scoreless innings. Michael Conforto hit a two-run homer. Mets aces Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard squared off in an intrasquad game and combined to strike out 24 batters. New York used them on the back fields instead of against Washington to avoid giving the NL East rivals any extra looks.
Tyler Beede struck out three in two innings, allowing two runs and four hits for San Francisco. Steven Duggar had two hits and Donovan Solano drove in two.
Yonder Alonso hit his fourth home run of the spring and Adam Engel had two hits for the White Sox. Manny Banuelos allowed two runs and three hits over 4 1/3 innings.
San Diego pulled rookie and possible opening day starter Chris Paddack was scratched hours before the game and will instead pitch in a minor league game Tuesday. Robbie Erlin pitched instead and delivered two scoreless innings. Wil Myers hit his first homer of the spring and Josh Naylor hit his second.
Trevor Bauer struck out nine over 5 2/3 innings but also allowed three runs and four hits, including two home runs. Eric Stamets had two of Cleveland’s three hits.
Trevor Story homered and Ryan McMahon had a homer and a double. Kyle Freeland allowed two runs and seven hits over 4 2/3 innings.
Tyler Mahle allowed four runs in four innings for the Reds. He’s expected to take the season-opening roster spot left open by Alex Wood, sidelined with a back ailment. Scott Schebler homered and had two hits to lift his average to .429.
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Trio of top seeds puts ACC in the spotlight

By NOAH TRISTER AP Sports Writer
The Atlantic Coast Conference comes into the NCAA Tournament with three No. 1 seeds.
Putting three teams in the Final Four is a different matter.
The last time one league had three teams in the national semifinals was 1985, the year the field expanded to 64 teams. Georgetown and St. John’s arrived as Big East behemoths, only to be upstaged when conference rival Villanova took the title.
The ACC’s top-seeded trio this year is Duke, North Carolina and Virginia. The last time three No. 1 seeds won their regionals was in 2015, when Kentucky, Duke and Wisconsin did it.
Only one other time has a league gotten three No. 1 seeds. In 2009, Louisville, Connecticut and Pittsburgh did it for the Big East. Connecticut lost in the national semifinals, while Louisville and Pittsburgh went out in the Elite Eight. None of those teams are in the Big East anymore.
Here are a few more things to watch in the NCAA Tournament:
—REGIONAL OF CHAMPIONS: If the seeds hold, the Sweet 16 in the Midwest Regional could be quite a spectacle. Top-seeded North Carolina, second-seeded Kentucky and fourth-seeded Kansas would all end up in Kansas City. Even third-seeded Houston has some history to offer, having made the national title game twice during the 1980s.
With UCLA out of the picture this year, Kentucky’s eight titles are the most by any team in the field. North Carolina is second with six. Those teams have met in the regional finals twice in the past eight years, with Kentucky winning in 2011 and North Carolina in 2017.
Kentucky beat Kansas in the national title game in 2012. And of course, if North Carolina faces Kansas in the Sweet 16, that would pit Tar Heels coach Roy Williams against his former team — with plenty of Jayhawks fans in attendance to welcome him back.
—FAMILIAR FOES: Williams vs. Kansas can’t happen until the regional semifinals, but there are some intriguing potential matchups earlier than that. Duke and North Carolina Central, which are both located in the same city, could meet in the round of 64 if N.C. Central wins its First Four matchup with North Dakota State. Michigan will open against Montana, the same team the Wolverines beat to begin the tournament last year.
There are eight Big Ten teams in the field, and three of them are in the bottom half of the East bracket. Second-seeded Michigan State could face 10th-seeded Minnesota in the second round.
Buffalo would face its former coach if Bobby Hurley can guide Arizona State past its First Four matchup with St. John’s. If Duke meets Central Florida in the second round, Mike Krzyzewski would be up against UCF coach Johnny Dawkins. Dawkins was a star for the Blue Devils when they made their first Final Four run under Krzyzewski in 1986.
And of course, there’s the matchup between Minnesota and Louisville in the first round. The Gophers are coached by Richard Pitino, the son of former Louisville coach Rick Pitino.
—FIRST TIMERS: Gardner-Webb and Abilene Christian will make their first appearances in this tournament, and they’ll have their work cut out for them against top-seeded Virginia and No. 2 seed Kentucky. Two other teams snapped droughts dating to last century: Colgate made the field for the first time since 1996, when Adonal Foyle was there. Prairie View is in for the first time since 1998.
None of those four teams have won an NCAA Tournament game, and there are nine others also trying for a first victory: Belmont, Central Florida, Fairleigh Dickinson, Iona, Liberty, N.C. Central, Northern Kentucky, UC Irvine and Wofford. Of that group, Iona has the worst record at 0-12, and the Gaels are up against North Carolina this time.
Whoever wins the First Four matchup between Belmont and Temple could become a feel-good story. Belmont is an at-large selection from the Ohio Valley Conference that is winless in seven NCAA Tournament tries. Temple is coached by Fran Dunphy, who is stepping down at the end of the season. Dunphy has won only three NCAA Tournament games in 16 previous trips.
—IN THE NORTH: The Final Four is in Minneapolis this year, and Duke can hope that’s a good sign. The last two times the Final Four was held there — in 2001 and 1992 — the Blue Devils won it all.
The title game was also in Minneapolis in 1951, when Kentucky beat Kansas State for the championship.
Duke’s three other titles all came in Indianapolis.
—PLENTY OF SKEPTICS: There was some talk that the Pac-12 could be a one-bid league this year, but Oregon won the conference tournament, and Washington and Arizona State made it in off the bubble. The question now is how long that trio will be around.
Arizona State is playing in the First Four, and the other two teams are the lower seeds in their openers: 12th-seeded Oregon against fifth-seeded Wisconsin, and ninth-seeded Washington against eighth-seeded Utah State. The conference hasn’t put a team in the title game since UCLA in 2006 and hasn’t won a title since Arizona in 1997.
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Embiid, 76ers overcome Antetokounmpo’s 52 to beat Bucks

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo scored a career-high 52 points, but Joel Embiid had 40 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Philadelphia 76ers over the Milwaukee Bucks 130-125 on Sunday.
Antetokounmpo was 15 of 26 from the field, including 3 of 8 from 3-point range, and made 19 of 21 free throws to better his previous career best by eight points.
Embiid and the Sixers weathered a late charge by Milwaukee to beat the team with the best overall record in the NBA (52-18) and the top home record (27-6). It was the fifth time this season Embiid scored 40 or more points and came in his fourth game back after missing nine straight with left knee soreness.
Jimmy Butler added 27 points, JJ Redick 19 and Tobias Harris 12 for the Sixers, near the top of the Eastern Conference standings at 45-15.
Milwaukee had a brief scare when Antetokounmpo was fouled on a driving layup and landed awkwardly late in the third. He got up favoring his right leg, but then sank one of two free throws.
NEW YORK (AP) — Mario Hezonja blocked LeBron James’ potential game-winning shot with 2.3 seconds to play, allowing the Knicks to complete a late rally and beat the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers led by 11 with under 3 ½ minutes to play before the Knicks charged back largely because of their defense against James. DeAndre Jordan also blocked one of his shots in the final minute, and James also missed a jumper with the Lakers clinging to a one-point lead.
James finished with 33 points, eight assists and six rebounds in his return after sitting out a game, but the Knicks spoiled it with a closing 13-1 burst.
Emmanuel Mudiay had 28 points and eight assists for the Knicks, who snapped an eight-game losing streak. His two free throws with 22 seconds remaining were the final points of the game.
Kyle Kuzma added 18 points for the Lakers, who have lost three straight and eight of nine.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lou Williams hit the game-winning 3-pointer from the top of the key at the final buzzer to give the Clippers a victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
Los Angeles led 116-106 with 1:02 remaining, only to see Brooklyn score 10 straight points and tie it with 5.3 seconds remaining on DeMarre Carroll’s dunk. The Clippers called a timeout to set up the winning shot for Williams, who finished with 25 points.
Montrezl Harrell and Danilo Gallinari each scored 20 for the Clippers, who have won seven of their last eight. The victory was Doc Rivers’ 300th as Clippers coach, making him the seventh coach in NBA history with 300 or more regular-season wins with two or more teams.
D’Angelo Russell led the Nets with 32 points, and Carroll added 22.
HOUSTON (AP) — Chris Paul scored 25 points, tied a career high with six 3-pointers and had 10 assists, and the Rockets used a big third quarter to pull away and get a win over Minnesota.
The game was close throughout the first half and the Rockets were up by a point at halftime before using a 43-point third quarter, with from Paul, to extend the lead to 15 to start the fourth.
Houston had a 14-point lead with about nine minutes left before using a 10-2 run, with five points from Clint Capela, to make it 106-84 with 5 1/2 minutes to go.
James Harden added 20 points and 10 assists despite dealing with a strained neck after a fall in Friday’s win over the Suns, and Capela scored 20 with 13 rebounds.
Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who have dropped their last three.
MIAMI (AP) — Goran Dragic scored 19 points off the bench, Dwyane Wade added 17 and came up with big plays late and the Heat found just enough offense to beat the Charlotte Hornets in a game with major Eastern Conference playoff implications.
The win kept Miami (33-36) at the No. 8 spot in the East race — and moved the Heat two games up on No. 10 Charlotte (31-38), with 13 games left for both clubs.
The 168 combined points was the lowest in the NBA this season. Orlando and Chicago combined for 170 on Dec. 21. Charlotte’s 75 points were a season low and tied the third-worst total in the NBA this season.
Bam Adebayo finished with 16 points and nine rebounds for Miami. Dion Waiters added 12 for the Heat.
Jeremy Lamb led Charlotte with 21 points.
DETROIT (AP) — Blake Griffin scored 25 points, Andre Drummond had 15 points and 17 rebounds and the Pistons beat the Toronto Raptors to complete a three-game season series sweep.
Reggie Jackson added 20 points to help the Pistons win for the 14th time in their last 18 games.
Kawhi Leonard had 33 points for Toronto, and Fred VanVleet added 17 points. The Raptors have lost four of seven games.
KINGS 129, BULLS 102
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Marvin Bagley III had 21 points and nine rebounds, Buddy Hield added 16 points and inched closer to Sacramento’s single-season record for 3-pointers, and the Kings beat the Chicago Bulls.
Harrison Barnes scored 15 points, De’Aaron Fox had 17 and Harry Giles added 16 to help Sacramento complete a second straight season sweep of Chicago. The Kings dominated in nearly every statistical category and outscored the Bulls 80-56 in the paint.
Zach LaVine had 18 points for the struggling Bulls (19-52). Chicago has lost five straight.
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Nikola Vucevic had 27 points and 20 rebounds to lead the Magic past the Atlanta Hawks.
Aaron Gordon added 22 points and eight rebounds for the Magic, who remained a game behind Miami in the chase for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Wes Iwundu helped Orlando overcome 38.8 percent shooting with a career-high 14 points and seven rebounds.
Trae Young led the Hawks with 20 points.
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Gonzaga earns No. 1 seed in NCAA West Region

By JOHN MARSHALL AP Basketball Writer
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Gonzaga had its 21-game winning streak end in the West Coast Conference tournament title game.
The loss to Saint Mary’s was not enough to make the NCAA Tournament selection committee move the top-ranked Bulldogs off the No. 1 line.
Gonzaga earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in seven years on Sunday, topping a difficult West Region that includes Michigan, Texas Tech, Florida State, Marquette, Buffalo, Nevada and Syracuse.
The lower seeds include Baylor, Murray State, Vermont, Northern Kentucky and Florida. Arizona State and St. John’s will play in the First Four on Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio. The West Region concludes March 28-30 in Anaheim, California.
Gonzaga (30-3) opens the NCAA Tournament on Thursday against the First Four winner between Farleigh Dickinson and Prairie View A&M.
“Especially the way this year has went, I think everybody started talking, thinking about this quite a while ago,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It’s a great day. It’s an honor to be a No. 1 seed. There’s some very, very good teams out there this year and there were a bunch of them that were definitely deserving of consideration for a 1 seed. I’m sure it was a pretty tough choice.”
The Zags will open the NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City, where they don’t have the fondest of memories.
Gonzaga was a No. 1 seed for the first time six years ago and flopped in Salt Lake City, losing to eventual Final Four team Wichita State.
Should the Zags get past the First Four winner, they could face a tough matchup in the winner of the game between Syracuse and Baylor.
The good news: Gonzaga has everyone healthy.
The Bulldogs have played most of the season without forward Killian Tillie due to foot injuries, yet kept steamrolling opponents. Gonzaga beat Duke in the Maui Invitational title game and had a perfect regular-season run through the WCC, setting a conference record for margin of victory at 27 points per game.
Tillie returned for the WCC tournament semifinals and even though Gonzaga scored a season-low 47 points in the title game, it has one of the nation’s most talented rosters.
Led by All-America candidate Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga was No. 1 in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 16 in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to
“We’ve had pressure the whole season on us,” Gonzaga big man Brandon Clarke said. “It’s something we’re all used to by now. We’re going to take it like it’s any other game, but we have to make sure we’re all focused and we’re all ready.”
The Zags will be tough to beat, even if they do open in Salt Lake City again.
MUST-WATCH GAME: The West Region includes one of the most intriguing first-round matchups in the bracket.
No. 5 seed Marquette and No. 12 Murray State not only are exciting teams to watch, they have two of the nation’s most dynamic players.
Markus Howard, Marquette’s 5-foot-9 shoot-from-anywhere guard, is the nation’s fifth-leading scorer at 25 points per game. He had a Big East-record 53 points against Creighton and scored 45 twice, including a 40-point second half against Buffalo.
Murray State’s Ja Morant may have played himself into being a lottery pick during his sophomore season, dazzling by scoring in bunches and dunking over bigger players with regularity. He led the nation in assists with 10.0 per game and was eighth in scoring at 24.7 points per game.
Block out time on your calendar for this game Thursday in Hartford, Connecticut.
TOUGH BRACKET: Teams in the West Region could make an argument they’re playing in the bracket’s toughest region.
Gonzaga may have more talent than the team that went to the national title game two years ago. Michigan opened its season with 17 straight wins after playing for a national championship last season and made it to the Big Ten title game.
Florida State is long, athletic and finished fourth in the ACC, arguably the nation’s toughest conference. Marquette and Murray State each have players who can carry a team deep into the bracket in Howard and Morant. Buffalo has a veteran team that knocked off Arizona in the NCAA Tournament last year and swept the Mid-American Conference regular-season and tournament titles.
Syracuse and its difficult-to-decipher zone are almost always a problem in the NCAA Tournament, Nevada and Baylor have the talent to compete with anyone.
Whatever team gets through the West will have earned it.
FIRST FOUR SWEAT OUT: Arizona State and St. John’s had some anxious moments on Selection Sunday.
Both were considered bubble teams and both had to wait until near the end of the reveal show to find out if they were in.
Bobby Hurley’s Sun Devils will be making consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 1979-81, despite losing in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals.
St. John’s appeared to be in trouble after being stomped by Marquette in the Big East tournament, but had two previous wins over the Golden Eagles and knocked off another NCAA Tournament team in Villanova to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015.
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McIlroy emerges from wild day to win Players Championship

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — His best swing was followed by his biggest drive, both setting up birdies, and from there Rory McIlroy knew how to finish.
Suddenly staked to a one-shot lead, McIlroy had a 125-yard walk along the water to the 17th hole to face an island that never looks smaller than on Sunday at The Players Championship, followed by the toughest hole on the TPC Sawgrass with water down the entire left side.
“Just make three more good swings … and this thing is yours,” McIlroy kept telling himself.
He delivered in a major way to win the next best thing to major.
McIlroy made two late birdies to regain the lead, was at his best when the pressure was the highest, and he closed with a 2-under 70 for a one-shot victory over Jim Furyk in his 10th appearance at The Players Championship.
“To step up and make those three good swings, it’s very satisfying knowing that it’s in there when it needs to be,” McIlroy said.
McIlroy could not afford a mistake over the final hour because of Furyk, the 48-year-old former Ryder Cup captain who nearly pulled off a stunner. Furyk, one of the last players to qualify for the strongest field in golf, capped off a 67 with a 7-iron into the 18th so good that he started walking when he hit it. The ball plopped down 3 feet from the hole for a birdie to take the lead.
But not for long.
Coming off a careless bogey on the 14th, McIlroy thought he was in trouble when his tee shot went well to the right toward a clump of native grass. He was lucky it came down into the bunker, and from there he drilled a 6-iron from 180 yards.
“Some golf shot there,” Harry Diamond, his caddie and best friend, said as the ball was in the air.
McIlroy called it “the best shot of the day, by far,” and it settled 15 feet behind the hole for a birdie to tie. Then, he blasted a 347-yard drive — the longest of the day on the par-5 16th — into a good lie in the rough that left him a 9-iron to 20 feet for a two-putt birdie and the lead.
Most important, he found dry land on the 17th with a 9-iron, and relied on a memory from 10 years ago in Hong Kong — pick a target and swing hard — to hammer a tee shot down the 18th fairway to set up the win.
He finished at 16-under 272 and earned $2.25 million, to date the biggest winner’s check in golf.
The timing was ideal. McIlroy had not finished worse than a tie for sixth in his five previous starts this year — three of them playing in the final group — with no trophy to show for it. And one month away is the Masters, the final piece for McIlroy to get the career Grand Slam.
It wasn’t easy. Eight players had at least a share of the lead at some point, and a dozen players were separated by two shots at various times.
“I think the toughest part is seeing yourself up there, whatever score you’re on, and seeing 10 or 11 guys with a chance,” McIlroy said. “I guess that was the hardest thing was just getting yourself to the point mentally where you say, ‘Well, why not me? This is my tournament. I’m going to finish it off.'”
Furyk didn’t know he was in The Players until one week ago, and he was on the verge of winning until McIlroy came through in the end. Furyk started the back nine with two birdies to get in the mix and finished strong. His only regret was a 3-foot par putt on the 15th.
Even so, it showed he has plenty of game left after devoting two years as Ryder Cup captain. The runner-up finish moves him high enough in the world ranking (No. 57) to qualify for the Match Play in two weeks.
“A shot here, a shot there, maybe could have been a little different,” Furyk said. “But ultimately, left it all out there. It was also nice to get in contention, to get under the heat, to have to hit shots under a lot of pressure, and then to respond well to that and hit some good golf shots. It’ll be a confidence boost going forward.
Some of the most entertaining moments came from everyone else.
Eddie Pepperell of England, in his Sawgrass debut, ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch to briefly share the lead, none bigger than a putt from just inside 50 feet on the 17th. One group later, Jhonattan Vegas holed a putt from the bottom left to the top right pin position, just under 70 feet, the longest putt made on the island green since the PGA Tour had lasers to measure them. That gave him a share of the lead, too.
“Magic,” Vegas said. “If I tried it a thousand times I wouldn’t even come close to making it.”
Both shot 66 and tied for third.
Jon Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood lost their way early, and then late.
Rahm, who had a one-shot lead, started with three bogeys in four holes and recovered until a curious decision. Tied for the lead, he was 220 yards away in a bunker, partially blocked by trees on the par-5 11, when he went for the green and hit into the water, making bogey. He was still in the game until failing to birdie the 16th and hitting into the water on the 17th. Rahm shot 76.
Fleetwood opened with a three-putt bogey and made all pars until hitting into the water on the 11th for bogey. He made eagle on the 16th to have a fleeting chance until coming up short of the island. He shot 73 and tied for fifth with Brandt Snedeker (69) and Dustin Johnson (69).

The West will be wild, but in the end, Duke will win title

By TIM REYNOLDS AP Basketball Writer
Think of the greatest rivalries in college sports. Michigan vs. Ohio State. Alabama vs. Auburn. Miami vs. Florida State. Everybody vs. Notre Dame.
Duke vs. North Carolina is as good as any, if not better.
They have met in basketball 251 times. They now have a combined 93 NCAA Tournament appearances. They’ve played a combined 318 NCAA Tournament games.
They have zero NCAA Tournament games against each other.
We devote this space every year to telling you how to win your NCAA bracket pool, and in each of the last two years we’ve made the pockets of millions, or thousands, or dozens, or possibly just three random people feel stuffed with all those well-earned $5 bills from the others in your office whose brackets were wrecked by roughly 2:51 p.m. on Day 1 of the tournament.
Two years ago, we gave you North Carolina.
Last year, we gave you Villanova. (We also gave you Virginia in the final. That was a misprint. We totally meant UMBC and strongly considered picking them again this year even though they’re not in the field.)
When you get to the end of this story, you will know this year’s NCAA champion. Do not scroll down yet. You must read the method to March Madness, though by teasing you with Duke vs. North Carolina you probably have a good idea where this is going. (If you don’t, perhaps you should save your money and not enter any pools this year, including swimming ones.)
But before we begin, a few guidelines …
UNDERDOG WATCH: If you have every 1-2-3-4 seed making the Sweet 16 on your bracket, you’re doing it wrong. At least one double-digit seed has made it to the tournament’s second weekend 37 times in the last 40 seasons. More specifically, a No. 11 seed has reached the round of 16 in each of the last five seasons (with three of those No. 11s making it to the regional final, and with Loyola Chicago getting to the Final Four last year).
THINK 11 OVER 12: It used to be that the No. 12 over No. 5 upsets were all the rage. It’s more like the No. 11 vs. No. 6 now. There have been 10 upsets in a 6-11 game over the last four years, and only three in 5-12 games.
7 OR BETTER: A team seeded No. 7 or higher has made the Final Four in each of the last six seasons. Before that, it happened only three times in the previous 25 seasons.
THERE WILL BE A NO. 1 SEED: At least one No. 1 seed has made the Final Four in 37 of the last 40 seasons.
BUT THERE WON’T BE FOUR: In those same 40 seasons, most No. 1 seeds — 59 percent of them — lose before the national semifinals. The only year where all four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four was 2008.
So now that we’ve covered some of the basics, let’s whittle this thing down to a manageable size.
Since a seeding structure went into place for the 1979 tournament, no team seeded No. 9 or higher has ever won the national championship. Same goes for every No. 5 seed. Florida in 2000, Indiana in 2002 and Butler in 2010 all reached the title game as No. 5 seeds and they all lost. (Apologies, then, to Mississippi State, Auburn, Wisconsin and Marquette. They’re this year’s 5 seeds and are obviously cursed.)
That means, through the process of elimination, we can safely delete all the 5 seeds and all the 9 through 16 seeds. Just like that, our 68-team bracket is down to a tidy 28-team list of contenders.
Out of those 28, 17 have never won a national title. There hasn’t been a first-time champion since Florida in 2006. Don’t expect that to change this year. So now we’re down to 11.
With the exception of Arizona in 1997, every champion for the last 30 years has entered the tournament with at least 24 wins. That eliminates Maryland, Louisville and Syracuse.
Down to eight.
Duke and Michigan State in the East. Michigan in the West. North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky in the Midwest. Villanova and Cincinnati in the South.
Obviously, one of those eight will win the title. And it won’t be Kansas, Cincinnati, or Michigan. None of them are going deeper than the Sweet 16.
Perhaps it’s time to make the actual picks.
EAST FIRST ROUND: Duke, UCF, Mississippi State, Virginia Tech, Belmont, Yale, Minnesota (Richard Pitino is not going to lose to Rick Pitino’s most recent school) and the excellent brand that is Michigan State.
EAST SECOND ROUND: Duke (though alum Johnny Dawkins, the UCF coach, will scare his alma mater), Mississippi State, Belmont and Michigan State. Yes, Belmont is the official No. 11 seed pick to go deep this year.
EAST SEMIS/FINAL: Duke and Michigan State get to the final. Duke wins.
WEST FIRST ROUND: Gonzaga, Syracuse, Murray State, Florida State, Buffalo, Northern Kentucky, Nevada, Michigan.
WEST SECOND ROUND: Syracuse (sorry, Zips), Florida State, Buffalo, Nevada.
WEST SEMIS/FINAL: It would be so neat to say Syracuse and Buffalo so two schools that are a two-hour drive apart have to fly 3,000 miles to play each other. But it’ll be Florida State and Nevada. Here’s your upset: Nevada wins.
SOUTH FIRST ROUND: Virginia, Oklahoma, Oregon, UC Irvine, Villanova, Purdue, Cincinnati and Tennessee.
SOUTH SECOND ROUND: Virginia, Oregon, Villanova and Tennessee — though this will be a ridiculously tough game for the Vols since Cincinnati will be playing in Ohio.
SOUTH SEMIS/FINAL: Virginia and Villanova meet, in what many people thought would be the title game last season. Virginia wins.
MIDWEST FIRST ROUND: North Carolina, Washington, New Mexico State, Kansas, Ohio State, Houston, Wofford and Kentucky.
MIDWEST SECOND ROUND: North Carolina (barely), Kansas (barely), Houston, Kentucky.
MIDWEST SEMIS/FINAL: Patently unfair to North Carolina that they’ll have to face Kansas in Kansas City, but the Heels will prevail anyway. They’ll face Kentucky. Carolina wins.
This takes us to the Final Four.
We’ve got the three No. 1 seeds from the Atlantic Coast Conference and a No. 7 seed in Nevada.
Duke vs. Nevada, go with Duke.
Virginia vs. North Carolina, go with North Carolina.
Voila! Finally, we get our UNC-Duke matchup in the tourney.
We could have saved a whole bunch of space and simply said this: This is the third time that Minneapolis has hosted the Final Four. (1951 doesn’t count, since the last four teams went there but only for a title game and a third-place game, not a true Final Four.)
The other years Minneapolis played host to the Final Four were 1992 and 2001.
Duke won in 1992.
Duke won in 2001.
Duke wins again in 2019. Zion Williamson will make sure his one-year mark on college basketball is indelible, and Mike Krzyzewski will get his sixth national championship.
Unless we’re wrong, of course.
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