Eli Manning retires after 16 seasons, 2 Super Bowls

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Eli Manning, who led the New York Giants to two Super Bowls in a 16-year career that saw him set almost every team passing record, has retired.
The Giants said Wednesday that Manning would formally announce his retirement on Friday.
The recently turned 39-year-old’s future had been in doubt since the end of the season. Manning’s contract with the Giants expired after the 4-12 season and there was little chance he would be returning after losing his long-time starting job to rookie Daniel Jones.
Manning said he wanted to think about his future after the season and roughly three weeks after the season ended he decided his career was over.
“For 16 seasons, Eli Manning defined what it is to be a New York Giant both on and off the field,” John Mara, the Giants’ president and chief executive officer said in a statement.
“Eli is our only two-time Super Bowl MVP and one of the very best players in our franchise’s history. He represented our franchise as a consummate professional with dignity and accountability. It meant something to Eli to be the Giants quarterback, and it meant even more to us. We are beyond grateful for his contributions to our organization and look forward to celebrating his induction into the Giants Ring of Honor in the near future.”

Ugly brawl breaks out at end of Kansas State-Kansas game

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Third-ranked Kansas and Kansas State ended their bitter showdown Tuesday night with a wild melee behind the basket that included punches, shoving and at least one player picking up a stool, moments after the Jayhawks tried to dribble out the time on their 81-60 victory.
Silvio De Sousa was stripped by the Wildcats’ DaJuan Gordon near midcourt and Gordon tried to go in for a layup. The Jayhawks’ big man recovered and blocked his shot, sending Gordon to the floor, then stood over him barking. That triggered benches to empty and punches to be thrown in what amounted to a rugby scrum. At one point, De Souza picked up a stool and held it above his head before assistant coach Jerrance Howard grabbed it from him.
It took both coaching staffs and security to separate the teams. Then, adding to the bizarre finish, both teams were summoned back from the locker rooms by officials and one-tenth of a second was put on the clock. Kansas State shot technical free throws to booing from a few thousand fans left — necessitating a change to the final score.

“Well, obviously it’s an embarrassment,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “It’s not something to be proud of. What happened showed zero signs of toughness. It’s a sign of immaturity and selfishness more so than toughness.”
Christian Braun scored a career-high 20 points, Devon Dotson added 18 and Udoka Azubuike finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds for Kansas, which beat the Wildcats for the 14th straight time at Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks, who lost to Baylor 10 days ago, also avoided back-to-back home defeats for the first time since 1988-89.
Xavier Sneed had 16 points and David Sloan had 14 for the Wildcats (8-10, 1-5), who continue to struggle on the road. They have lost all three league contests away from Bramlage Coliseum after going 7-2 in those games a year ago, when they tied Texas Tech for the Big 12 title — ending the Jayhawks’ record-setting run of 14 consecutive championships.
The Jayhawks built a comfortable 39-23 lead by the break, and all of it — and then some — came during that soul-crushing 19-2 run midway through the first half that torpedoed just about any chance of an upset.
It began when Braun hit the first of what would become three 3-pointers by the freshman during the charge. It continued when the Jayhawks forced the Wildcats into a series of blown layups and easy misses, a pair of missed free throws, a shot clock violation and five turnovers that left coach Bruce Weber stamping his feet in frustration.
The run ended — fittingly — with Braun hitting another 3, giving the Jayhawks a 26-9 lead with less than 10 minutes left.
Braun, who played a mere 4 minutes last weekend at Texas, hit another from beyond the arc as the shot clock wound down to star the second half, and Kansas more than doubled up its biggest rival at 47-23 before the Wildcats showed some life.
Sloan started their own run with an easy basket, then he followed one by Sneed with two more. Cartier Diarra answered the fans that’d been heckling him all night from an early air-ball by adding a layup, and Gordon’s 3-pointer capped a 13-2 run that got Kansas State withing 49-36 with about 14 minutes left in the game.
Braun answered with another 3 during another big run that allowed the Jayhawks to put the game away.
BIG PICTURE
Kansas State was playing its third consecutive ranked opponent, and should have come in with some momentum after an easy win over then-No. 12 West Virginia. But after hanging with the Jayhawks the first few minutes, sloppy play and their inability to convert layups at the rim allowed Kansas to go on the run that defined the game.
Kansas didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but the Jayhawks dominated the glass, kept turnovers to a minimum and played one of their better defensive games all season.
UP NEXT
Kansas State heads to Alabama on Saturday for the Big 12-SEC Challenge.
Kansas welcomes back ex-Texas coach Rick Barnes with Tennessee on Saturday.

Williams scores twice, leads Hurricanes past Jets 4-1

By The Associated Press
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Justin Williams scored a pair of goals in his second game back in the NHL, leading the Carolina Hurricanes to a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night.
Williams scored the winning goal in a shootout for a 2-1 win over the Islanders in his first game after signing a free-agent contract with the Hurricanes on Sunday. It was Williams’ first game since helping Carolina reach the Eastern Conference final last year. He took an extended offseason and signed with the club Jan. 8.
In his second game Tuesday, the 19th-year veteran scored a power-play goal in the first period and added another goal just as a power play ended in the third period.
Teuvo Teravainen had a goal and two assists, and Martin Necas also scored for the Hurricanes, who reached the All-Star break with two straight wins after a three-game skid. Petr Mrazek stopped 16 shots for Carolina.
Patrik Laine scored for the Jets, who have lost three in a row and five of six. Connor Hellebuyck made 25 saves for Winnipeg.
PANTHERS 4,
BLACKHAWKS 3
CHICAGO (AP) — Florida got Joel Quenneville a win in his return to Chicago, using a hat trick by Frank Vatrano for the Panthers’ sixth consecutive victory.
The 61-year-old Quenneville coached Chicago to three Stanley Cup championships and nine playoff appearances in 10-plus years before he was fired when the team got off to a lackluster start last season. He was hired by Florida in April, and the former NHL defenseman was showered with love in his first game back at the United Center.
Evgenii Dadonov also scored for Florida for the fourth consecutive game. Mike Hoffman had two assists, and Sergei Bobrovsky made 32 saves.
Patrick Kane, Kirby Dach and Drake Caggiula scored for Chicago (24-21-6), which had won a season-high five straight. Robin Lehner made 22 stops.
BRUINS 3, GOLDEN KNIGHTS 2
BOSTON (AP) — David Krejci scored with 7:42 left to rally Boston past Vegas.
Jake DeBrusk had a tying goal for Boston early in the third period, and Krejci also assisted on Jeremy Lauzon’s first goal of the season. Jaroslav Halak stopped 27 shots as Boston entered the All-Star break with a win following a 1-2-1 stretch.
Mark Stone scored 1:24 into the game for Vegas and Nicolas Hague added his first career goal. Nate Schmidt had two assists for the Golden Knights, who fell to 1-1-1 under new coach Peter DeBoer. Marc-Andre Fleury made 34 saves.
ISLANDERS 4,
RANGERS 2
NEW YORK (AP) — Josh Bailey had a goal and two assists, Thomas Greiss stopped 40 shots, and the Islanders held on to beat the rival Rangers.
Anders Lee, Anthony Beauvillier and Brock Nelson also scored, and Mathew Barzal had two assists to help the Islanders head into the All-Star break with their second win in eight games (2-4-2). The Islanders got their first win against the Rangers in the teams’ third meeting in nine days.
Greiss improved to 5-0-1 in eight career games against the Rangers.
Pavel Buchevich and Chris Kreider scored power-play goals 1:47 apart late in the third period for the short-handed Rangers. Alexandar Georgiev, who came in 4-1-0 in five games against the Islanders, finished with 14 saves.
FLYERS 3, PENGUINS 0
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Brian Elliott made 19 saves, Jakub Voracek and James van Riemsdyk scored, and Philadelphia beat Pittsburgh.
It was Elliott’s first shutout of the season and 39th of his career.
Justin Braun added an empty-netter for the Flyers, playing their eighth game in 15 days. They enter a nine-day break having won five of seven.
Pittsburgh, one of three teams with at least 30 wins entering Tuesday, was playing its seventh game in 12 days. The Penguins had won two in a row and six of seven. It is the second time they have been shut out this season.
Both teams head into the All-Star break followed by a bye week. They’ll resume action against each other Jan. 31 in Pittsburgh.

Lillard scores 61 as Trail Blazers beat Warriors 129-124

By The Associated Press undefined
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Damian Lillard set a franchise record with 61 points, including a career-best 11 3-pointers, and the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers outlasted the equally depleted Golden State Warriors 129-124 in overtime Monday night.
Lillard’s previous career high was 60 points earlier this season against Brooklyn. His 11 3-pointers were also a team record.
It was the seventh regular-season game of Lillard’s career with more than 50 points. He also had 10 rebounds for his 10th double-double of the season.
Hassan Whiteside added 17 points and 21 rebounds for the Blazers, who snapped a two-game skid.
Alec Burks scored a season-high 33 points for Golden State, and rookie Eric Paschall added 22 points and 13 rebounds.
CELTICS 139, LAKERS 107
BOSTON (AP) — Kemba Walker scored 20 points to end a career-long personal losing streak against LeBron James, and Jayson Tatum scored 27 to help Boston send the top team in the Western Conference to its biggest loss of the season.
Jaylen Brown scored 20 points and Enes Kanter had 18 points and 11 rebounds for Boston, which snapped a three-game losing streak.
James had 15 points and 13 assists for the Lakers, who had won 10 of their previous 11 games. But the Celtics made 13 of their first 22 3-point attempts to open 103-75 lead in the third quarter — the biggest against Los Angeles all season until Boston made it a 34-point game in the fourth.
76ERS 117, NETS 111
NEW YORK (AP) — Ben Simmons tied a career high with 34 points and added 12 rebounds and 12 assists, carrying Philadelphia to the victory.
Announced as the Eastern Conference player of the week during the game, Simmons got a good start on winning the next week’s award, too. He shot 12 for 14 from the field in his career-best fifth straight game with 20 or more points, finishing with his fourth triple-double of the season.
Al Horford added 19 points for the 76ers, who won their fourth consecutive game.
Spencer Dinwiddie scored 22 points for the Nets, who played without Kyrie Irving because of hamstring tightness and lost their fourth straight. Caris LeVert had 16 points and rookie Nicolas Claxton added a career-best 15.
BUCKS 111, BULLS 98
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had a triple-double and scored his 10,000th career point, and the Bucks beat the Bulls to sweep the four-game season series.
Antetokounmpo had 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists for his fourth triple-double of the season. He reached 10,000 points on a jump hook with 4:30 remaining in the fourth.
Khris Middleton added 24 points for Milwaukee, which has won 10 consecutive games over the Bulls dating to the 2017-18 season.
The Bucks earned their seventh consecutive win, running their league-best record to 39-6.
Zach LaVine had 24 points for Chicago, which shot just 37% from the field.
THUNDER 112, ROCKETS 107
HOUSTON (AP) — Chris Paul scored 28 points, Danilo Gallinari had 25 and Oklahoma City rallied for the road win.
Paul scored 27 in the first half against his former team. Gallinari and Dennis Schroder, who scored 17 of his 23 points after halftime, carried the Thunder after the break.
Houston star Russell Westbrook had 32 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds against his former team. James Harden scored 29 points but was astonishingly inefficient, making 1 of 17 3-point attempts.
The Rockets have dropped a season-high four in a row.
JAZZ 118, PACERS 88
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Donovan Mitchell scored 25 points and Rudy Gobert had 20 points and 14 rebounds, leading Utah to the runaway victory.
Bojan Bogdanovic added 16 points for the Jazz. Utah never trailed on its way to snapping a three-game losing streak to the Pacers.
The Jazz shot 54% from the field, scored 60 points in the paint and finished with a 53-30 advantage in rebounds.
Myles Turner and Aaron Holiday scored 12 points apiece for Indiana.
NUGGETS 107, TIMBERWOLVES 100
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Michael Porter Jr. posted his second double-double in three games with 20 points and 14 rebounds, helping the short-handed Nuggets to the road win.
Jerami Grant scored 19 points for the Nuggets, who again had three of their top five scorers absent — Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap and Gary Harris Jr. — and were playing on back-to-back nights. Nikola Jokic had 17 points and 13 rebounds.
Karl-Anthony Towns outplayed his rival Jokic with 28 points and eight rebounds and reserve Josh Okogie added 16 points, but Minnesota dropped its sixth straight game.
HEAT 118, KINGS 113, OT
MIAMI (AP) — Kendrick Nunn scored 25 points, James Johnson added 22 on 9-for-11 shooting and Miami improved its NBA-best home record to 19-1.
Goran Dragic scored 18 and Bam Adebayo finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Heat, who also lead the NBA with a 7-0 overtime record this season.
Sacramento had a chance to tie the game after a turnover with about a minute left, but Johnson blocked Bogdan Bogdanovic’s 3-point try and Nunn sealed the win with a pair of free throws.
Nemanja Bjelica scored 22 points for Sacramento, which is 2-16 in its last 18 trips to Miami. Buddy Hield had 20 points.
PELICANS 126, GRIZZLIES 116
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Jrue Holiday matched his season high with 36 points in his return after a seven-game absence, and the Pelicans set a franchise record with 21 3-pointers.
New Orleans ended Memphis’ seven-game winning streak.
Holiday, who hadn’t played since Jan. 4 because of a left elbow strain, went 12 for 18 from the field, including 7 of 10 from 3-point range. Brandon Ingram scored 25 points and Nicolo Melli added 15, including a trio of 3-pointers.
Dillon Brooks led Memphis, matching his season high with 31 points. Jaren Jackson Jr. scored 19 points and Ja Morant had 16 points and nine assists.
SPURS 120, SUNS 118
PHOENIX (AP) — Derrick White scored a season-high 25 points, Bryn Forbes added 24 and the Spurs coughed up a 20-point lead in the second half before rallying for the win.
San Antonio led 78-58 midway through the third quarter and 96-83 going into the fourth, but Phoenix chipped away. Suns center Deandre Ayton made two free throws with 3:55 left that tied it 108-all. Ricky Rubio hit a layup while drawing a foul, adding the free throw to push the Suns ahead for the first time at 113-111 with 2:55 left.
Forbes hit his eighth 3-pointer with 2:33 remaining to put the Spurs back up 114-113.
Devin Booker led the Suns with 37 points. He had 22 during the third quarter in a nearly single-handed effort to keep Phoenix close.
WIZARDS 106, PISTONS 100
WASHINGTON (AP) — Bradley Beal scored 29 points and Ian Mahinmi added 21, helping Washington snap a three-game losing streak.
Beal passed Wes Unseld for fourth place on the team’s career scoring list.
Derrick Rose led Detroit with 21 points, and Andre Drummond had 18 points and 16 rebounds. The Pistons were trying to three games in a row for the first time this season.
Washington scored nine straight points to go up 95-87 with 7:06 to play.
RAPTORS 122, HAWKS 117
ATLANTA (AP) — Norman Powell scored 27 points for Toronto, including 17 in the final period.
Toronto led 112-91 before surviving a late comeback by the Hawks, who pulled within two points at 117-115. Fred VanVleet, who had 20 points, sank three free throws with 14.2 seconds remaining after he was fouled by John Collins, pushing the lead to five points.
Trae Young had 42 points and 15 assists for Atlanta. Young’s four-point play cut Toronto’s lead to 114-107 with 1:39 remaining. Collins’ layup cut the deficit to two points.
Powell has scored 20 or more points in five straight games. Toronto earned its fourth straight win.
KNICKS 106, CAVALIERS 86
CLEVELAND (AP) — Marcus Morris Sr. and Julius Randle each scored 19 points, powering the Knicks to the road win.
New York took over in the third quarter, outscoring Cleveland 30-14. The Knicks led 79-64 going into the fourth and pushed the margin to 21 in the final minutes.
The Cavaliers shot a season-low 34% and scored 36 points in the second half. Cleveland, coming off a six-game trip, has lost five in a row and 10 of 12.
Tristan Thompson had 22 rebounds and 13 points for Cleveland.
MAGIC 106, HORNETS 83
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Evan Fournier scored 26 points and Orlando handed Charlotte its seventh consecutive loss.
Nikola Vucevic had 24 points and 10 rebounds for Orlando, which closed out a six-game trip with a 3-3 record. Terrence Ross added 19 points.
The Magic shot 14 for 28 from 3-point range. Fournier made six 3s and Ross finished with five.
Malik Monk scored 20 points and P.J. Washington had 19 for the Hornets, who have not won since Jan. 4.
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More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

San Diego State lone unbeaten as No. 4 Aztecs press on

By DAVE SKRETTA AP Basketball Writer
San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher knew that the fourth- and fifth-ranked teams in the Top 25 lost twice last week, but he evidently forgot that the same fate befell then-No. 3 Duke in a brutal week for the nation’s top team teams.
That’s why he doesn’t put much stock into climbing to No. 4 in this week’s poll.
“You know, they’re just numbers,” said Dutcher, whose team is the lone unbeaten left after squeaking out a comeback win over Nevada last Saturday to move to 19-0, and matching the 2010-11 team for the highest ranking in school history.
“As good as you’re playing,” Dutcher said, “you’re only one week from a disaster in this business. A team makes shots and you lose a game, then you might drop another because you’re on the road. That’s just basketball. We’re fortunate where we are but we’re not naive enough to think if we don’t prepare well it can’t happen to us.”
The Aztecs shouldn’t have much trouble keeping their perfect record intact Tuesday night, when they face bottom-dwelling Wyoming at Viejas Arena, where they have been especially tough to hang with this season.
“I can’t imagine a team coming in here and being comfortable, playing in this noise,” Dutcher said. “They’re trying to call timeout, they can’t call timeout. It’s just a huge home-court advantage when this building is rocking the way it is.”
The Aztecs won’t have that luxury later in the week, when they face UNLV. The Runnin’ Rebels got off to a poor start this season but they’re 6-1 in Mountain West, putting them just 1 1/2 games behind San Diego State in the standings.
Two wins and the Aztecs would surpass the 2010-11 team (20-0) for the best start in school history.
TWO ON TOP
The only two teams in last week’s top 5 that took care of business last week were Baylor and Gonzaga, which flip-flopped their rankings to give the AP poll a record-tying seventh No. 1. Now, the Bears (15-1) will spend the week trying to hold onto the ranking when they played Oklahoma on Monday night and Florida next weekend. The Bulldogs (20-1) have only one game this week against Pacific on Saturday night.
BIG 12-SEC CHALLENGE
The Bears’ showdown with the Gators (12-5) has turned into one of the marquee match-ups of the annual inter-conference clash, especially after Florida took down Ole Miss and then-No. 4 Auburn last week. The other big games feature Tennessee heading to Allen Fieldhouse to face No. 3 Kansas, and No. 15 Kentucky visiting No. 18 Texas Tech.
HOOSIER CHANCE
Indiana (14-4), which picked up a few Top 25 votes this week, could make a big statement this week to voters — and to the rest of the Big Ten. The Hoosiers have won three of their last four and take some momentum into home games against No. 11 Michigan State on Thursday and No. 17 Maryland on Sunday. Those are two of the four teams ahead of them in the league.
SEEING SCARLET
Two teams on the rise are No. 19 Iowa and No. 24 Rutgers, both of whom jumped into the poll this week. They’ll face each other on Wednesday in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes (13-5) have beaten then-No. 12 Maryland and then-No. 19 Michigan during a three-game win streak, and the Scarlet Knights (14-4) rolled through Indiana and Minnesota last week.
Asked about being ranked for the first time since the 1978-79 season, Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell replied: “Nope, no thoughts. We were picked 12th in the league and that’s where we were picked.”
POSSIBLE TURBULENCE
Seventh-ranked Dayton (16-2) climbed six more spots this week, but the Flyers have a pair of deceptively tough Atlantic-10 games this week. The Flyers begin Wednesday night by facing St. Bonaventure, a team that has won four of its last five, and then face Richmond — a team just a game back of Dayton and Duquesne in the conference standings.
Both of the Flyers’ losses have come against ranked teams in overtime. They fell to then-No. 6 Kansas 90-84 on Nov. 27 and dropped a 78-76 decision to then-No. 20 Colorado on Dec. 21.
OUT WEST
There are three ranked teams in the Pac-12 in No. 12 Oregon, No. 22 Arizona and No. 23 Colorado, but the hottest team in the league might be Southern California. The Trojans (15-3) have won three straight and nine of their last 10 as they prepare to visit the Ducks on Wednesday night. They return home to face Oregon State two days later.
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More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25

Kyle Busch has 2 NASCAR titles and an eye on at least 5 more

JENNA FRYER AP Auto Racing Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The way Kyle Busch sees it, there is a flaw in the championship ring NASCAR awarded him last month.
It lacks any indication that the 2019 title was actually his second championship. Busch wants it fixed so it displays exactly what he’s earned. He has studied the issue and knows the New England Patriots created a ring that showcases their six Super Bowl victories.
When his career is over, Busch wants just one ring to encapsulate his accomplishments. He insists he will close his career alongside greats Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson.
But he doesn’t have seven Cup Series titles.
“Not yet I don’t,” Busch said with a wink.
Busch’s bid for a third championship doesn’t begin until Feb. 16 at the Daytona 500, a race he desperately wants to win. Busch is 0 for 14 in “The Great American Race” with a bitter runner-up finish to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin in last year’s 1-2-3 Gibbs sweep.
He has won at every active NASCAR track except The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway yet his 56 career Cup victories do not include the Daytona 500. His warm-up begins this weekend at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, a twice-round-the-clock endurance race featuring champions from series all over the world.
The event is packed with Indianapolis 500 winners, Le Mans winners and some of the most skilled drivers from global series. Busch is on hand to steal the show.
His longtime partnership with Toyota got him the gig to drive a Lexus for the AIM Vasser Sullivan team, and Busch is the star attraction. He loves it, too, and at a January team dinner he wore that ring. For one night, he seemed as if he was that once-upon-a-time fun Kyle Busch.
He was just 16 when he first came into NASCAR in 2001, right as the series was passing a rule that sidelined him until his 18th birthday. He was brash even then — it’s some chip he and older brother Kurt have just always seemed to have, though he was tame compared with Kurt, the 2004 champion.
Kyle Busch has always done his best to speak the truth as he sees it, one sarcastic eye roll, thumbs-up or one-word answer at a time.
His opinions have not always been popular with NASCAR and it makes no difference whether he was right. The series “Car of Tomorrow” was terrible, he was just the first to say so. Many fans found him arrogant, entitled or whiny or a mix of all three.
His career has been golden: high-profile rides first at Hendrick Motorsports, then JGR, where he has been since 2008. Busch has 208 victories across NASCAR’s three national series, and some argue his tally equals Petty’s record 200 Cup wins. He would undoubtedly have dozens more if NASCAR had not set limits on how much he can compete in the lower series.
The way he wins, his brash celebrations, his disregard for those who boo him and all those wins have made Busch something of a villain, and that doesn’t always put him in the best of moods. Toss in a bad day at the track, plus idle time each weekend because NASCAR only allows him a maximum of five Truck Series races (he went 5 for 5 last season) and seven in the Xfinity Series (4 for 7), and Busch can be a real bear.
So it was a very long summer, and a 21-race losing streak didn’t help. He lashed out in the opening race of the playoffs last September when he ran into the back of a lapped car and accused some in the field of not being qualified to race at NASCAR’s top level.
Busch says that incident is one of the reasons he is running the Rolex this weekend. His Vasser Sullivan entry is in the GT Daytona class, where Busch will be mired in traffic with slower cars and inexperienced drivers with the faster classes closing in on him. It will be chaotic.
“Cody Ware says he can’t drive and watch his mirrors?” Busch said referring to the lapped-car flap in September. “Watch this.”
Busch then flipped his middle finger.
In the Nov. 17 season finale, Busch beat Gibbs teammates Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr., as well as Kevin Harvick, to join Johnson as the only active drivers with multiple titles. Of course, Johnson is tied with Hall of Famers Petty and Earnhardt for the record, but Busch turns just 35 this year, has twice proven he can rise through adversity to finish the job and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
He won his 2015 championship in a season where he missed 11 races because he broke both his legs in a crash the day before the Daytona 500. His 2019 season had its share of personal struggles as Busch and his wife, Samantha, have been very public in their battles with infertility.
Their only child, son Brexton, was conceived through IVF treatments and their quest to give him a sister suffered a heartbreaking setback when Samantha miscarried the day of the 2018 awards ceremony in Las Vegas. The couple tried unsuccessfully again during last season, and Busch used a portion of his championship speech to address their struggles.
“I’m right here with you knowing how hard its been to go through multiple, yes multiple, failed attempts of IVF this year, to walk around and try to face people week to week, always knowing in the back of my mind how helpless I feel in life knowing how much I wanted to answer your prayers in giving you the gift of our baby girl,” Busch told her.
Busch is typically able to separate his personal and professional lives, but when things aren’t going well in either area, his temper can be short and his sarcasm biting.
“Think about his whole life. He’s got Sam and Brexton, but other than that, it’s racing,” said Joe Gibbs. “And when something goes bad in racing for him, think about how important that is, and it upsets him. Normally, the next day he’s a lot better.”
Busch has a legion of fan support from “Rowdy Nation,” the group he bows to with the checkered flag after every victory. Busch appreciates their backing beyond words, especially when he gets exhausted by the politics of a new NASCAR rules package and the grind of the 38-race schedule. Busch has other things to worry about, too: He owns the best truck team in the sport, and this year he will launch “Rowdy Energy” an energy drink Busch says he helped develop.
“Mine’s going to be better, better for you and better tasting,” Busch insisted.
Busch has not been this outwardly happy in ages. Perhaps it comes with being the champion again, and the absolute belief that he can be the best NASCAR has ever seen.
The Daytona 500 is right around the corner, and a poor showing there could just as quickly send Busch scowling through the garage. He is always just one win away from feeling invincible.

Nicklaus turns 80 and remains a part of golf’s conversations

By DOUG FERGUSON AP Golf Writer
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Jack Nicklaus turns 80 on Tuesday, no closer to retirement than when he was at the peak of his golf career.
Never mind that he rarely competes, and when he does play the occasional round of golf, he doesn’t always finish the hole. His shoulder is sore, but that’s more from tennis.
He spends most of his time supporting his wife, Barbara, who has taken charge of the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation. He still has his hands in about 10 golf courses his company is designing.
The real measure of a golfing great who has been around for 80 years are the conversations he keeps.
Everyone wants a piece of Nicklaus, and he is all too happy to oblige. Even though he is more Olden Bear than Golden Bear, Nicklaus remains as relevant now as when he was winning his record 18 majors.
“I’d like to stay involved … keep myself in front of the public, keep myself relevant so when I get to 80 years old, you still want to ask me a question,” Nicklaus said last week in a conference call ahead of his 80th birthday.
“There’s no reason to want to curl up in a corner someplace.”
The only time he considered some form of retirement was long ago.
Nicklaus told a story of always wanting to ski, but not while he was still competing. That seemed smart long before Phil Mickelson broke his leg skiing and missed the 1994 Masters or David Duval injured his shoulder snowboarding.
Nicklaus thought he would wait until he was 35.
“I figured I wasn’t going to take up skiing until I was done playing golf,” Nicklaus said. “We took up skiing at age 35. While we were out there skiing, I was talking about not playing much golf the next year. The kids all said, ‘Dad! What are you doing? You can still beat everybody out there. You need to keep playing. You love it.’ I said, ‘I do, but I want to be part of your life.’ They talked me into going out and keep playing.”
Nicklaus was coming off victories in the 1975 Masters (an epic battle against Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf) and the 1975 PGA Championship at Firestone. So he kept playing, adding another claret jug at St. Andrews in 1978, another double major season in 1980 and his famous 1986 Masters when he was 46.
Imagine if he had quit playing. Nicklaus would have been at 14 majors, and Tiger Woods would have passed him with that memorable Masters victory last April. Now, Woods still has three majors to go to catch Nicklaus.
That also keeps Nicklaus relevant without having played a major in 15 years.
There was a time when it looked as though Woods was running out of time to catch him, especially with recurring leg injuries and then back problems that led to four surgeries. Now that Woods ended 11 years without a major with his Masters victory for major No. 15, the race is on.
History is not on Woods’ side. He turned 44 three weeks ago. When he gets to the Masters, only six players older than Woods will have won majors, no more than one each.
Still, the Nicklaus name is back in the conversation. He will watch. He will answer questions about whether Woods can catch him, as Nicklaus has done for nearly two decades. Nicklaus always said he thought Woods could do it. One year at a charity lunch for his Memorial, Nicklaus got the same question, gave the same answer and then asked what kind of headlines it would make if he had given a different answer.
What makes him feel more relevant are the questions he fields from younger players.
Charl Schwartzel came to talk to him about the Masters in 2011, a short time before the South African birdied his last four holes to claim the green jacket. Patrick Cantlay met with him last year before winning the Memorial, and Cantlay was with him again on a Saturday last fall, watching football and talking majors. Nicklaus told him how he never wanted to feel his game was in perfect shape on Thursday of a major, rather he wanted to play his way into his best golf as the week went on.
Justin Thomas. Jordan Spieth. Dustin Johnson. Rickie Fowler.
It’s a long list. Most of them live in South Florida and are members at his Bear’s Club.
“I don’t go out and seek this, but I’m available,” Nicklaus said. “I might have some knowledge — you might call it wisdom — something to impart to the kids that might help them. It’s very flattering to me as an 80-year-old. You never listened to your dad, why listen to your grandfather? But it’s very nice and I enjoy it. We have 30 pros who are members up at the Bear’s Club. I see them all the time. I’m available, always around. They still want to come talk to me.”
Nicklaus still dispenses advice on the majors, particularly the Masters, which he won a record six times. But the one tip he prefers to share is what he learned long ago from his idol, Bobby Jones, who told him to be responsible for his own game.
“I feel a little sad for the guys today, not that that’s the way everyone does it,” he said. “We have instructors, sports psychologists. I always thought that was the fun of the game, learning to do it yourself. When it comes down to the end of a tournament, you have to finish. The responsibility is on you, not wondering, ‘Can I do what this guy taught me?’ That’s what I learned.”
Nicklaus spoke for 45 minutes with a small group of reporters on the phone, along with a few who had come to his house. His final words were telling.
“Thank you for wanting to be on here and making me relevant.”
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Sharapova can’t say what’s next after Australian Open loss

By HOWARD FENDRICH AP Tennis Writer
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Her Grand Slam losing streak up to four matches, Maria Sharapova surely was aware questions about her future would be coming.
She wasn’t able to provide answers.
Might this have been her last trip to the Australian Open, a tournament she won in 2008 as part of a career Grand Slam?
“I don’t know,” Sharapova said, her head shaking and eyes looking down. “I don’t know. … It’s tough for me to tell what’s going to happen in 12 months’ time.”
Might she enter low-level tournaments to try to raise a WTA ranking that once was No. 1, all those years ago, already was only 145th entering play at Melbourne Park and now will tumble outside of the top 350 following a 6-3, 6-4 loss to Donna Vekic on Tuesday?
“I just don’t know,” Sharapova said. “I haven’t thought of my schedule moving forward from here yet.”
After a rainy Day 1 filled up Tuesday’s schedule so much that at least eight matches needed to be postponed until Wednesday, the sun was out and there was plenty of action around the grounds at the first Grand Slam tournament of the decade. Joining Sharapova on the way out were three-time major semifinalist Johanna Konta, 2019 French Open semifinalist Amanda Anisimova and the 20th-seeded man, Felix Auger-Aliassime.
Seeded winners included two-time major champion Simona Halep and No. 1 Rafael Nadal, who began his bid to equal Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam singles titles with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 victory over Hugo Dellien.
The man Nadal beat in last year’s U.S. Open final, No. 4 Daniil Medvedev, eliminated 2019 Australian Open quarterfinalist Frances Tiafoe of the U.S. in four sets. Also advancing: three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka, two-time French Open runner-up Dominic Thiem, No. 12 Fabio Fognini, No. 16 Karen Khachanov and No. 23 Nick Kyrgios, an Australian who spurred tennis players to contribute funds for wildfire relief efforts — and inspired TV analyst John McEnroe to pony up $1,000 per set Kyrgios wins the rest of the way in the tournament.
This is the only time in Sharapova’s long career that the 32-year-old Russian has lost in the first round at three consecutive major tournaments.
Indeed, there only was one other instance of Sharapova dropping opening matches at Slams twice in a row: All the way back in 2003, when she was a teen and made immediate exits at the very first two major appearances of her career.
Hampered by right shoulder problems that have been an off-and-on issue for more than a decade, Sharapova is no longer the player she once was. One difficulty is simply that shoulder itself; another is the lack of match play because of her health. And since serving a 15-month ban after failing a drug test at the 2016 Australian Open, Sharapova has only reached one major quarterfinal.
She played a total of 15 matches last season, going 8-7. After a promising run to the fourth round in Melbourne a year ago, including a victory over reigning champion Caroline Wozniacki that was her most recent win against a top-20 opponent, Sharapova went 5-6 the rest of 2019.
“It’s tough to say I’m on the right track right now, 45 minutes after the match,” she said Tuesday. “But, I mean, there is no way to get out of it except to keep believing in yourself, because if you do do all the right things and you don’t believe in yourself, then that’s probably a bad formula.”
Against the 19th-seeded Vekic, who’s never been past the second round at the Australian Open, Sharapova appeared to be righting herself at the outset of the second set, grabbing a 4-1 lead, before ceding the final five games.
“She’s still hitting it as hard as I can remember,” Vekic said.
Perhaps. But Sharapova was not putting the ball where she wanted, especially on her forehand side, which produced 18 miscues alone — more than Vekic’s full unforced error total of 17.
“She had some amazing results in her career. You know, her work ethic is pretty amazing. I saw her training in the offseason and she’s really working hard,” said Vekic, who practiced with Sharapova before the start of the season. “So I think her results will come.”
Maybe they will.
Maybe not.
No one can know, of course. That includes Sharapova herself.
“As far as the work that I did, yeah, I did all the right things. I put in all the right work. There is no guarantee that even when you do all of those things, that you’re guaranteed victory in a first round or in the third round or in the final. That’s the name of this game,” she said. “That’s why it’s so special to be a champion, even for one time.”
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Rodgers says ‘window’s open’ on another title run

By Keith Jenkins
AP Sports Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The 2019 season for the Green Bay Packers marked the dawn of a new era.
Matt LaFleur took over and won more games than any first-year coach in franchise history.
The final result again fell short of the Packers’ goal of winning it all, but this time it had a different feeling, according to Aaron Rodgers.
The two-time MVP was on the losing end of the NFC championship game in his third consecutive appearance.
There was the overtime loss at Seattle in the title game in the 2014 season, the 23-point rout at Atlanta in the conference championship in the 2016 season and Sunday’s 37-20 defeat to the Super Bowl-bound 49ers.
But the 36-year-old Rodgers said the latest loss isn’t like the others.
“It’s a lot different feel,” he said Sunday night. “I remember in those moments the emotion compared to this. I feel really confident in (general manager) Brian (Gutekunst) and the job that he’s done and his staff. They did go all-in — as much as they could — this year and the pieces that they brought in. I’m confident that he’s going to continue to add to this squad. So, that part is very exciting. It is a lot different feel than three years ago.”
Gutekunst spent big on the defense in free agency last March. The second-year general manager acquired pass rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith and veteran safety Adrian Amos. The Packers also used both of their 2019 first-round picks on defenders (outside linebacker Rashan Gary at No. 12 and safety Darnell Savage at No. 21).
Both Smiths invigorated the defense and revitalized themselves, as each had a career high in sacks (Za’Darius, 13 1/2; Preston, 12)
But after being a large reason why Green Bay was 13-3 this season, swept its division and finished as the No. 2 seed in the NFC, that same re-tooled unit was largely to blame for Sunday’s loss because of its inability to stop the run.
The Packers’ leaky run defense, which was in the bottom third of the league for most of the season, allowed 220 yards and four touchdowns to Raheem Mostert, a running back who had been cut seven times in his career.
NEW OFFENSE
LaFleur brought with him an entirely new offense that showed flashes of brilliance but struggled to find consistency all season. However, it did uncover a gem in Aaron Jones, who had the most productive season of his young career.
The third-year running back had career highs in carries (236), rushing yards (1,084) and total touchdowns (19). Jones also had 49 catches, second on the team behind only Davante Adams’ 83, and was Green Bay’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Eddie Lacy in 2014.
But outside of Jones and Adams, there wasn’t much offensive production, which begs the question: After reshaping the defense last offseason, will Gutekunst have to spend this offseason finding a dynamic playmaker or two to add to LaFleur’s offense?
“The scheme is there. The scheme and what Matt and his staff put together every week was fantastic,” Rodgers said. “The execution and the moving pieces will continue to improve. Like I said, the window’s open and I think we’re going to be on the right side of one of these real soon.”
Green Bay has the 30th pick in this year’s draft.
PLENTY OF QUESTIONS
The Packers have a number of unrestricted free agents they will have to make difficult decisions regarding, including defensive back Tramon Williams and veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who has protected Rodgers’ right side since 2010.
“This is my last year and we’ll see what happens,” Bulaga said. “I don’t have any predictions or anything like that. I don’t know what’s going to happen. So, we’ll see.”
Balaga, 30, and Williams, 36, are two of only four players remaining from Green Bay’s Super Bowl-winning team in the 2010 season.
Other notable unrestricted free agents include outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell (10 1/2 sacks in 2018), inside linebacker Blake Martinez (team-high 155 tackles in 2019, second in the NFL behind Bobby Wagner’s 159), wide receiver Geronimo Allison, 35-year-old tight end Marcedes Lewis and 35-year-old kicker Mason Crosby.

‘My mission was to win’: Coco tops Venus at Australian Open

By HOWARD FENDRICH AP Tennis Writer
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Everyone had the same question when the Australian Open draw was revealed: What were the odds that Coco Gauff and Venus Williams would face each other again in the first round at a Grand Slam tournament?
“I was a bit shocked,” Gauff said, “I’m sure everyone was a bit shocked.”
Gauff, 15, played Williams, 39, to begin her first appearance in the main draw at Melbourne Park, just like they matched up to start things off at Wimbledon about six months ago. And, just like at the All England Club, the youngest woman in the field got the better of the oldest woman in the field, with Gauff beating Williams 7-6 (5), 6-3 on Monday.
“I definitely was more confident this time. I think I was used to playing on big courts, so the crowd — I guess the size of the crowd didn’t startle me as much as last time,” Gauff said. “Definitely a bit more positive coming into this match.”
It was the most anticipated contest of Day 1 at the first major tennis tournament of the decade, and it did not disappoint. The first set, in particular, was intriguing, with Gauff repeatedly pulling ahead, only to have Williams — who already had won four of her seven Grand Slam singles trophies by the time her foe was born — rebuff her.
It wasn’t until her fourth set point that Gauff finally pulled it out. She quickly grabbed a 3-0 lead in the second and never let that edge go.
Gauff already has demonstrated all sorts of terrific qualities on a tennis court, from her big, gutsy serves to an ability to track down opponents’ shots. Now you can add stick-to-it-iveness to the list.
The match was held in Margaret Court Arena, one of three stadiums with a retractable roof, and that was a good thing. The air quality was fine, but a heavy storm that arrived in the afternoon suspended nine matches on outside courts in progress and postponed more than 20 others entirely, creating a jam-packed schedule for Tuesday. The start will be a half-hour earlier than usual, and three courts have seven-match programs.
Among the players who got a chance to play — and win — were Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, 2019 semifinalist Stefanos Tsitsipas, defending women’s champion Naomi Osaka, 23-time major champion Serena Williams, No. 1 Ash Barty and 2018 Australian Open winner Caroline Wozniacki, who is retiring after this tournament.
Barty got off to a rough start, dropping her opening set, before asserting herself and coming back for a 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 victory over Lesia Tsurenko.
Serena, who is 38, did what her older sister couldn’t: defeat a teen.
Other than a brief second-set blip, Serena had very little trouble getting past 18-year-old Anastasia Potapova of Russia 6-0, 6-3 to begin her latest bid for a 24th Grand Slam singles championship.
Serena took the last three games of the match, then declared with a laugh: “I started out well today. Ended well.”
Her most recent major trophy came in Australia in 2017; that also had been her last title of any sort until this month, when she won a hard-court tuneup in Auckland, New Zealand.
Gauff beamed Monday while discussing a dance routine she did with Serena that went viral on social media.
There were laughs about her love of TikTok and her self-deprecating discussion of a propensity for procrastination when it comes to schoolwork.
She is, after all, still just a 15-year-old.
One with lofty goals, though.
“I mean, my mission is to be the greatest. That’s my goal, to win as many Grand Slams as possible. But for today, my mission was to win,” said Gauff, whose good friend and doubles partner, 18-year-old American qualifier Caty McNally, upset 2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur of Australia 6-1, 6-4 at night.
Another past champion at Flushing Meadows, Sloane Stephens, bowed out, too, beaten by Zhang Shuai 2-6, 7-5, 6-2.
Earlier, Gauff and Venus Williams combined for far more unforced errors, 71, than winners, 42.
One key was that Williams ended up with 41 of those miscues, 11 more than Gauff.
Another was that Williams, long one of the most feared servers on tour, was outdone in that category by her opponent on this day. Not only did Gauff face only two break points, saving one, but she often came up with the goods at the most crucial moments, pounding an ace at 115 mph, say, or hitting a risky second serve at a high velocity to the perfect spot to draw a no-good return.
All the while, Gauff was not shy about celebrating the biggest of points with a loud “Come on!” and a series of fist pumps.
Otherwise, she had her game face on, betraying little emotion, including when she walked out onto the court with earbuds in place after getting a pre-match peck on the cheek from her father, Corey, who also serves as Gauff’s coach.
Gauff is ranked 67th, and Williams, a former No. 1, is 55th. Williams was playing in a Grand Slam tournament’s main draw for the 85th time, a record for the professional era, but this also was her first match of 2020, because of a hip injury that sidelined her at the start of January.
This is Gauff’s third major, but she sure is precocious.
“She clearly wants it and works very hard and is extremely mature for her age,” Williams said. “The sky’s the limit for her.”
Ranked 313th, Gauff became the youngest qualifier in Wimbledon history, then made it all the way to the fourth round, generating a ton of buzz, before losing to eventual champion Simona Halep. She backed that up with a run to the third round at the U.S. Open, then won her first WTA singles title later in the year.
The forehand that might have been the biggest question mark with her game after her breakthrough, seemed improved, yes, but still was a weakness Williams could test.
Another question entering this season had to be how Gauff would handle being someone everyone gears up for, someone everyone knows about, and someone who might need to deal with the pressure to perform and live up to the ever-growing and enormous expectations.
So far, so good.
“I guess I came to the realization that I need to play my game, not worry about what people think of me,” Gauff said.
“I still have a lot more to, I guess, become like one of those ‘big names,'” she continued, making air quotes with her fingers. “I feel like I still have a lot to improve.”
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