Friday, January 31, 2014

Sportslog: Longtime Ranger Michael Young, 37, to retire

Infielder Michael Young is retiring after a 13-year major league career, nearly all of it with the Texas Rangers. The Rangers have scheduled a Friday afternoon news conference where the 37-year-old Young is to formally announce his retirement. The seven-time All-Star retires with a .300 career average and as Texas’s leader with 2,230 hits. He was the 2008 AL Gold Glove at shortstop. In 12 seasons as a Rangers infielder and designated hitter, Young batted .301 with 415 doubles and 55 triples in 1,823 games and 7,399 at-bats, all franchise records. He also had 177 home runs and 984 RBI. Young was traded to Philadelphia during the 2012 season, and split last year with the Phillies and Dodgers.

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New Zealand seal series 4-0 after 87-run win over India in fifth ODI

Press Trust of India | Wellington
New Zealand cricket players celebrate their series' victory over India during the fifth one day International cricket match at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand (AP)
New Zealand cricket players celebrate their series' victory over India during the fifth one day International cricket match at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand (AP)

New Zealand hammered India by 87 runs in the inconsequential fifth and final one-dayer.

A listless Indian cricket team slumped to its worst ODI series defeat in New Zealand, going down 0-4, after the Black Caps hammered them by 87 runs in the inconsequential fifth and final one-dayer.
Going into the match trailing 0-3 in the five-match series, the famed India batting came a cropper once again, bundled out for 216 in 49.4 overs by New Zealand, while chasing 304 at Westpac stadium.
Virat Kohli’s 82 was the only saving grace as the visitors failed to put up a fight against the New Zealand bowlers, led superbly by debutant Matt Henry (4/38).
Earlier, Ross Taylor slammed his second successive hundred to power the hosts to an imposing 303 for five.
Besides the tie in the third ODI in Auckland, India had suffered defeats in Napier and Hamilton (twice) and today’s defeat continued their disastrous overseas performance as they had lost the ODI series against South Africa before coming here.
India had lost 2-5 to New Zealand in a seven-match ODI series in 2002-03. The last time the Indians failed to win even a single match in New Zealand was in 1975-76 and 1980-81, losing 0-2 in both the two-match series.
Put into bat, Taylor (102) shared a 152-run partnership with Kane Williamson (88), who scored his fifth consecutive half-century, for the third wicket to rescue New Zealand from a precarious 41-2 at one stage.
Taylor’s 106-ball innings was studded with 10 hits to the fence and one six, while Williamson blasted eight fours and one six in his 91-ball innings here.
For India, Varun Aaron (2-60) was the most successful bowler, while Bhuvneshwar Kumar (1-48) and Mohammed Shami (1-61) provided decent support. Virat Kohli took the only other wicket to fall, while the spinners, R Ashwin (0-37) and Ravindra Jadeja (0-54) went wicket-less.
Chasing 304 runs for their first win on the tour, the Men in Blue got off to a disastrously slow start as they needed six overs to get to a double-digit score, losing a wicket in the interim.
Rohit Sharma (4) was the first to go, giving slip-catching practice to Taylor in the 5th over bowled by Kyle Mills (2-35).
Shikhar Dhawan (9), coming back into the eleven after spending the last match on sidelines, also looked uncomfortable as Henry finally get rid off him, taking this first international wicket.
The young pacer wounded up the left-handed batsman in the 10th over of the innings, before inducing an edge which was safely pouched in the slips.
Four over later, with the score at 30/2, Ajinkya Rahane (2) missed a straight delivery from Henry, trying to play it off his legs and was out plumb LBW.
India were staring at another massive defeat even as Kohli put up some resistance and finally he found some support in Ambati Rayudu. The latter took his time getting set, hitting two fours off the 40 balls he faced, but he couldn’t get past 20 runs.
Looking to hit Henry over square on the off-side, Rayudu stepped out and made room only to hit it straight to Williamson.
This was a serious blow for India, as the two batsmen had added 48 runs 64 balls, at a decent run-rate of 4.5 per over.
Yet again, India were left relying on Dhoni and Kohli and the duo tried hard, putting up 67

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Super Bowl sex traffic crackdown in US

Denver Broncos will face Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl this Sunday, the National Football League's yearly championship and one of the most watched sporting events in America.

New York and New Jersey are hosting the game for the first time and hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected to travel to the region.

But officials say there is a dark side to the event - sex traffickers who want to exploit the occasion for profit.

Nada Tawfik reports from New York

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

McIlroy shoots 63 to take clubhouse lead in first round in Dubai

Rory McIlroy took another step toward regaining his form Thursday with his lowest score in more than three years, a 9-under 63 while playing with Tiger Woods to take a two-shot lead in the Dubai Desert Classic.

McIlroy played bogey-free in ideal scoring conditions on the Maglis course at Emirates Golf Club, picking up six birdies and an eagle during a 10-hole stretch in the middle of his round. He easily upstaged Woods, who was five shots behind after a 68.

Edoardo Molinari made an eagle on the par-4 second hole on his way to a 65. The group at 66 included Stephen Gallacher, the defending champion who also played in the feature group with Woods and McIlroy.

McIlroy had his best score since a 63 in the Hong Kong Open in November 2010.

The 24-year-old from Northern Ireland was No. 1 in the world at this point a year ago, but went through a troublesome season adjusting to new equipment and coping with his first prolonged slump. He didn't win a tournament until the Australian Open in December. In his 2014 debut two weeks ago, McIlroy finished one shot behind in Abu Dhabi, where he was given a two-shot penalty in the third round for not taking proper relief.

McIlroy said he was ''very close'' to playing his best and that this was ''another step up from Abu Dhabi'' the way he controlled his irons.

''I played the ball really well from tee to green, drove the ball really well again,'' he said. ''You can see how well I am driving it that I am leaving myself a lot of wedges into the green. So that's going to help.''

McIlroy ran off three straight birdies early in his round and made the turn on the back nine in 32. He made eagle on the par-5 third hole with a 5-wood into 8 feet.

Woods managed to hit just half of the fairways in regulation, but taking only 25 putts helped him. The world's No. 1 player also made his first birdie of the year on a par 5, his opening hole at No. 10. Woods did not birdie any of the 12 par 5s he played last week at Torrey Pines, where he missed the 54-hole cut.

''I felt like it was a good day,'' Woods said. ''I could have got a couple more out of it, just by making a couple putts from about ten feet or so but I hit a lot of good putts which was nice. Last week I didn't do it and it was nice to actually play well again.''

Woods is a two-time winner in Dubai, which is celebrating its 25-year anniversary. McIlroy won his first European Tour event at Dubai in 2009. Among the past champions, Fred Couples, Mark O'Meara and Colin Montgomerie each shot 70, as did Race to Dubai winner Henrik Stenson.

Molinari, who took a bogey on the par-5 18th, bounced back on the short second hole when he hit a big drive to just short of the green and then chipped in from about 35 yards for an eagle.

''It was a good day,'' Molinari said. ''I've been hitting the ball very well lately, and especially off the tee.''

But the day belonged to McIlroy, who has a chance this week to build some momentum. He called it his best round since a 66 to beat Adam Scott in Australia at the end of last year, and while McIlroy shot 64 in Boston last September, ''it's definitely the lowest round I've shot in a while.''

Gallacher said he was happy with a 66, especially playing alongside two of the biggest stars in golf. He played an 18-hole exhibition with Woods and Couples earlier this week.

''I played alongside Tiger on Tuesday, so I knew what to expect, and it was just a matter of getting on with my own game,'' Gallacher said. ''So Tiger's been fine, but then Rory's been brilliant.''

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Schumacher in 'waking up process'

Michael Schumacher (Source: ONE Sport)
Michael Schumacher's doctors have started trying to wake up the Formula One great from the medically induced coma he's been in since a skiing accident last month, his manager said.

The 45-year-old Schumacher suffered serious head injuries when he fell and hit the right side of his head on a rock in the French resort of Meribel on December 29, 2013.

The seven-time F1 champion has been in an induced coma in Grenoble University Hospital since then, although his condition stabilised following surgery after initially being described as critical.

"Michael's sedation is being reduced in order to allow the start of the waking up process which may take a long time," Schumacher's manager, Sabine Kehm, said in a statement. Schumacher was being kept artificially sedated and his body temperature was lowered to between 34 and 35 degrees Celsius, to reduce swelling in the brain, reduce its energy consumption and allow it to rest.

Michael Schumacher is in a critical condition in a Grenoble hospital in the French Alps (Source: AP)
Mr Kehm said she was only providing an update now on Schumacher's condition to clarify media leaks, and that no further details would be provided.

French newspaper l'Equipe first reported on Wednesday that doctors had started trying to wake up Schumacher.

Experts said it was a good sign that Schumacher's doctors were trying to bring him out of the coma and that the first 24 hours would be critical.

"It means they have probably seen the pressure in his skull reduced," said Dr Clemens Pahl, a brain trauma expert at King's College Hospital in London.

Dr Pahl warned that if Schumacher hasn't recovered enough to wake up on his own, doctors might need to put him back in the coma.

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Lynch brief, but better with media


JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch cooperated Thursday in a compromise deal arranged with the Pro Football Writers of America, answering questions from selected journalists that were football-related only.

He spoke for 7 minutes, 25 seconds before asking if he could leave a designated area at the team hotel. He didn't abruptly leave and answered every question he was asked.

A table was set up with seven chairs facing Lynch and fullback Michael Robinson, where designated reporters asked the questions. Dozens of cameras were behind the chairs

Lynch answered each question briefly, bringing laughs with a couple of his responses. Lynch was asked what his first thoughts were of Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable, the former head coach of the Oakland Raiders.
"I knew he came from Oakland and I knew he punched a guy," said Lynch, who is from Oakland. "So he's my kinda guy."

Cable allegedly had a physical altercation with an assistant coach while he was with the Raiders.

Lynch had become the talk of Super Bowl week with his brief appearance on media day Tuesday, along with another brief interview session Wednesday where he said almost nothing before climbing over a table to leave after a little over six minutes of questions.

He walked into the pre-arranged interview area Thursday with Robinson, his best friend on the team and the person who has spoken for Lynch many times when Lynch didn't speak.

Lynch did not talk to reporters this season until the NFL was going to fine him $50,000 if he didn't do interviews during the playoffs.

As part of Thursday's agreement, the questions centered on football and Sunday's game.

Lynch was asked why some of his best games have come in the playoffs.

"I'm not sure," he said. "It's not like I prepare any different, so I couldn't tell you."

When did he know quarterback Russell Wilson would be a great player?

"It probably was in the preseason [of Wilson's rookie year in 2012]," Lynch said. "He started to show some of the things he can do."

What are his concerns about the Denver defense?

"Pot Roast," he said, referring to the nickname of Broncos nose tackle Terrance Knighton. "He a big boy. But they all rally to the ball. They're a good defense."

That's when Robinson was asked what makes Lynch so good.

"Hey, I got a question," Robinson joked with his arm around Lynch. "What I hear is he's the best in the league and the hardest to bring down. From a physical standpoint, the other guys in the league I talk to tell me there isn't another guy in the league doing it like that"

When Robinson first sat down, he smiled and said, "I'm like a prop here."

Lynch said the biggest asset of the Seahawks' offense is its explosiveness. And what is it that allows him to break big runs?

"The receivers," he said. "They know where they're supposed to be, and be there on time."

Lynch was asked if it's more difficult to get ready for the Super Bowl with all the distractions and media requirements this week.

"I stay ready," he said. "There ain't no getting there."

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Broncos were far better than the Patriots

By Ben Volin |  GLOBE STAFF
Tom Brady has struggled in recent playoff performances, and once again he was less than sharp on Sunday.

Tom Brady has struggled in recent playoff performances, and once again he was less than sharp on Sunday.

The Patriots didn’t belong on the same field as the Broncos in Sunday’s AFC Championship game.

That’s the conclusion that jumps to mind after watching the Broncos trounce the Patriots, 26-16, on the coaches’ tape, a game that was much more one-sided than the final score would suggest.

Peyton Manning was masterful in the win, there’s no doubt about that. In a stretch from the late second quarter to the early fourth quarter, Manning completed 19 of 20 passes, including 12 straight.

But this wasn’t just about Manning getting the better of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. The Broncos were clearly the more talented team, across the board.

Once Aqib Talib went down, undersized New England cornerbacks Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan, and Kyle Arrington were absolutely helpless to cover the Broncos’ all-star cast of receivers in Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker, who combined for 16 catches, 245 yards, and a touchdown.

Young defensive linemen Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga, and Joe Vellano, who were nowhere near the top of the Patriots’ depth chart to start the season, were completely dominated by the Broncos’ interior offensive line, while Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower often looked as if they were out of gas. Jamie Collins couldn’t hang with Julius Thomas, the former basketball player who had eight catches for 85 yards.

The Patriots’ offensive line, surprisingly shaky this year, couldn’t handle the Broncos’ physical, oversized front four, including 335-pound defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, 293-pound defensive end Malik Jackson, and 274-pound end Robert Ayers.

And Brady’s receivers, which often included fullback James Develin and blocking tight end Michael Hoomanawanui split out wide, couldn’t create any separation until the Broncos went to a prevent defense in the fourth quarter.

The Patriots would have had to play a perfect game just to have a chance, but they were physically dominated in almost every facet of the game. There’s no question, the better team won.

A review of the game after watching the coaches’ tape:

When the Patriots had the ball

■ Brady has struggled in recent playoff performances, and once again he was less than sharp on Sunday. He generally had good protection in the pocket, but some of his reads and decision-making were strange.

Why, on third and 3 in the first quarter, did he throw a deep fade to a tightly covered Matthew Slater (of all people) when he had Danny Amendola streaking underneath for a potential first down? Why did he throw a third-down slant to Austin Collie, also tightly covered, and not look at Hoomanawanui streaking wide open down the seam (the Rob Gronkowski special)?

Brady was 24 of 38 for 277 yards and a touchdown, but he went 12 of 17 for 155 yards and a touchdown on the final two drives of the game, when the Broncos were ahead, 23-3, and playing prevent defense.

And of course, Brady’s inaccuracy on deep balls to Julian Edelman and Collie thwarted any chance the Patriots had of being competitive.

■ The offensive woes were hardly all on Brady. The only way Edelman, Amendola, Collie, Aaron Dobson, and Hoomanawanui could create separation was through trickery. The Patriots were liberal with play-action, using it 12 times on 41 dropbacks, with five completions for 86 yards.

On one fake, the Patriots ran a one-man route with Edelman and kept nine players in to block (Brady’s pass was incomplete).

Dobson also showed tremendous route-running on his 27-yard catch, sprinting upfield and stopping on a dime for the catch. And Shane Vereen caught five screens and swing passes out of the backfield for 59 yards. But on straight dropback passes, Brady’s receivers couldn’t get open, and the offense stalled.

The Broncos played two-deep safeties for most of the game and alternated between zone and man coverage. The speed exhibited by linebacker Danny Trevathan in pass coverage was impressive, particularly in cutting down Edelman for a 1-yard gain before he could turn the corner.

■ The offensive line protected Brady fairly well — the Broncos blitzed Brady just five times on 41 passing plays — although Nate Solder and Logan Mankins picked horrible times to whiff on their blocks. But the run blocking was completely dominated by the Broncos, who often brought an extra defender into the box, even on obvious passing downs.

Center Ryan Wendell had a horrible time with Knighton, Dan Connolly consistently was overpowered by Sylvester Williams, and Marcus Cannon was handled several times by Ayers.

LeGarrette Blount had only five carries for 6 yards and didn’t play a snap in the second half, as the Patriots turned to Vereen and Stevan Ridley.

When the Broncos had the ball

■ Manning was masterful. Not only did he consistently check the Broncos into the right play — their use of the inside handoff out of the shotgun was devastating in the second and third quarters — but he proved that he still can zip the ball into tight windows when necessary.

Dennard’s coverage on Demaryius Thomas wasn’t all that bad, but Thomas, at 6 feet 3 inches and 229 pounds, made some impossible catches on fade routes because of his physical dominance.

Manning also noticed that the Patriots’ two deep safeties were taking several steps back after the snap, and when the Patriots left the middle of the field open, he checked into a perfect draw play, which Knowshon Moreno broke for a 28-yard run.

The Patriots maybe would have had a chance to slow down Denver if Talib had stayed in the game to line up on Thomas one-on-one, allowing Dennard to take Decker, Arrington to cover Welker, and Jamie Collins and Devin McCourty to double-team Julius Thomas. But Talib’s injury was too much to overcome.

The best way to slow down Manning is to jam his receivers and disrupt their timing, but the cornerbacks barely could lay a finger on the Broncos receivers. They opened the game in two-deep man coverage but played a lot of Cover 3 and Cover 4 after Talib went down, and Manning patiently tore them apart underneath.

■ The Broncos used criss-crossing receivers throughout the game, and created easy separation when the Patriots were in man coverage. When the Patriots played zone, Manning attacked the flats, the deep middle, and deep corner. His reads were flawless.

■ Welker’s hit on Talib probably should’ve been flagged for offensive pass interference but didn’t look intentional. The two appeared to accidentally run into the same path, and Welker seemed to lower his shoulder to protect himself at the last minute. And it’s hard to blame Welker: He was absolutely leveled by Hightower when running across the middle early in the first quarter.

■ The Patriots’ tackling was pretty atrocious. Chandler Jones and Collins both whiffed badly in the backfield. Steve Gregory and Duron Harmon both whiffed on Moreno’s 28-yard gain, which should have been 8 or 10 yards. And Ryan gave Julius Thomas the matador treatment in the fourth quarter.

■ The Patriots blitzed only eight times on 43 passing plays: five five-man rushes and three six-man rushes. They also rushed just three defenders six times. But no matter what they did, they couldn’t get in Manning’s face or slow down Demaryius Thomas.

■ Vellano, Chris Jones, and Siliga were manhandled by Zane Beadles, Manny Ramirez, and Louis Vasquez. They didn’t get any penetration and were pushed around all day. And yes, that was Broncos tight end Virgil Green rumbling for 6 yards on a handoff.

Special teams

■ Pretty uneventful game in all phases. All seven Denver kickoffs went for touchbacks, as did two of three New England kickoffs.

Ryan Allen allowed zero return yards on three punts (two downed and a fair catch), and did a nice job of handling a low snap on his first attempt. Denver’s Britton Colquitt punted just once, a touchback.

■ Belichick probably should have attempted a 57-yard field goal in the thin air instead of punting in the second quarter. And he probably should have tried a 46-yard field goal in the third quarter when trailing, 20-3, instead of going for it.

Game balls

■ WR Julian Edelman: Pretty much the only offensive player to show up, with 10 catches for 89 yards and a touchdown.

■ LB Dont’a Hightower: Actually had a solid game, with eight tackles (one for loss) and several nice plays in the run game.

Tom Brady could 'care less' about watching Super Bowl XLVIII

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer
Tom Brady won't be watching SB XLVIII.
Tom Brady won't be watching SB XLVIII. (USATSI)
Super Bowl coverage: XLVIII odds | Expert picks | Super Bowl news

Watching a Super Bowl unfold -- after coming up one game short of playing in it -- can't be easy. It might not happen at all in the case of Tom Brady.

The Patriots quarterback, speaking to WEEI during his weekly appearance, said that he could "care less" about watching the 2014 Super Bowl.

"I don't have much of a rooting interest, truthfully," Brady said. "Those games are hard to watch. I don't really see myself sitting down to enjoy a football game to watch it. Our season's over. Truthfully, I could care less about watching the game. That's pretty much how I feel."

Brady's apathy towards the game comes from a pretty obvious place. He and the Pats were one game shy of making it to New York and getting a shot at Richard Sherman and the Seahawks.

Surely Brady would love a little revenge on "that type of guy," but in this case he won't get it. And though he and Peyton Manning are friendly off the field, it's doubtful he'd enjoy seeing Manning knock down his second Lombardi Trophy since Brady captured his last Super Bowl victory.

Unfortunately for Brady he'll probably have to spend the evening at his tiny little house with his supermodel wife Gisele. Tough break. At least this time she'll be free to criticize Wes Welker's ability to catch the ball.

‘Great tournament for Murray – apart from the fact he lost’

By Eurosport | Tramlines
Andy Murray en route to defeat by Roger Federer

Eurosport experts Greg Rusedski and Virginia Wade are convinced that Andy Murray's efforts at the Australian Open bode well for his season - despite his quarter-final defeat by the ageing Roger Federer.
Murray lost in four sets to the 32-year-old world number six in what was only his second tournament after back surgery last September.
"He's still a work in progress," said Rusedski. "By the time Wimbledon runs around this year, I think he'll be back to 100 per cent. So overall it's been a nine out of ten - an excellent week and a bit for him."
Wade felt that Murray's back was still giving him trouble in what was his first real test against one of the world's finest.
"First he was missing his forehand, then he started missing his backhand," she said. "He began to lose a bit of confidence."

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Baxter plays down Downs clash

Kaizer Chiefs coach Stuart Baxter. <i>Gallo Images</i>

Kaizer Chiefs coach Stuart Baxter. Gallo Images
Kaizer Chiefs' upcoming league clash with Mamelodi Sundowns is not a title decider, Amakhosi coach Stuart Baxter said. 

"I have not heard of a title decided in the middle of the season, but if people like to hype the game it’s okay. That’s what makes it interesting," Baxter said in a Sport24 report. 

"If Sundowns beat us, they will potentially be level with us and if we win then we go a couple of wins clear of them. 

"A title decider? It will not be, but what it can be is a game that gives momentum to us if we win." 

Chiefs resume their league campaign following the break for Christmas and the African Nations Championship. 

Baxter though was looking forward to getting back into action but was unsure as to how his team will react after the break. 

"It's difficult to know until you have played your games," he said. 

"You look at it in two different ways, you look at it as rest and also as a break in your rhythm but only time will tell. 

"It’s a similar situation for all teams in the league, we all have had stop-starts with Telkom Knockout, MTN8, national team and CHAN." 

Baxter was unfazed over the match against title rivals Sundowns, saying that his side was just looking to collect maximum points against all teams.

Copyright : sport.iafrica

Roger Federer beats Andy Murray to set up Australian Open semifinal with Rafael Nadal


MELBOURNE: Roger Federer fought back from a mid-match stumble against Andy Murray Wednesday to set up a classic Australian Open semifinal with Rafael Nadal, as women's champion Victoria Azarenka became the latest star to fall.

After Nadal battled through an unexpectedly tough quarterfinal with Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov, Federer showed both his vintage best and his fallibility in beating Murray 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (6/8), 6-3.

The Swiss great was electric in the first two sets but he tightened as he neared the finishing line, and was broken when serving for the win before passing up two match points in the third-set tiebreaker.

However, he extended Murray in a 19-minute hold at the start of the fourth set, then got the crucial break for 5-3 and, after setting up a third match point, he grabbed the opportunity with an ace.

"I thought Andy did well, he kept the ball in play and put the pressure on me and unfortunately I couldn't get it done in the third set, with either the serve or the forehand missing. So I am happy to get the win in four," Federer said.

"I am much higher than I was last year and that's very satisfying just because I have confidence in my movement."

Federer, in his 11th consecutive Australian Open semifinal, will face the man who has become his Grand Slam nemesis, winning their last five encounters at major tournaments.

But a day after Novak Djokovic's three-year Melbourne reign was halted by Stanislas Wawrinka, Nadal also flirted with disaster before getting out of jail against rising Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov.

The 13-time Grand Slam champion, troubled by a huge blister on his racquet hand, went a set down against the exciting young prospect and, facing set points in the third, he was tottering.

But Dimitrov, 22, went just long on the first set point and Nadal saved another before the Bulgarian gave him a one-set lead when, gifted an easy winner off a net cord, he ballooned his forehand out.

"I was so lucky," admitted the Spaniard, who ran out a 3-6, 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (9/7), 6-2 winner to set up a meeting with Federer in his 22nd Grand Slam semifinal.

Djokovic's defeat by Wawrinka, who will play Tomas Berdych in the other semi, ensures that one of them will be able to challenge either Nadal or Federer for their maiden Grand Slam title.

"I'm a bit shattered," said Dimitrov, after his title hopes slipped away. "It's tough losing that match, my first (Grand Slam) quarterfinal. I came out expecting nothing less than to win."

The women's contest has been even more up-ended and there was an air of resignation rather than shock when Azarenka tamely followed Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova out of the tournament.

The Belarusian world number two was unbeaten in two years at Melbourne Park but she was comprehensively dismantled by an inspired Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 5-7, 6-0.

"I'll be fine tomorrow. I'll be working tomorrow. It's not the end of the world. But I'm not happy with what I did today," said Azarenka.

It ends a sometimes unhappy run of 18 wins at the tournament for Azarenka, whose loud grunting and perceived gamesmanship has earned her critics as well as fans in Melbourne.

But it was a major scalp for Radwanska, who had lost all seven previous meetings with the Belarusian, and now goes into a semifinal with Slovak 20th seed Dominika Cibulkova.

"It's hard to play someone I lost (to) so many times before. I knew she's a great player. Especially here, she was playing amazing tennis," said Radwanska.

The upset also ensures the tournament will have a new women's champion with none of the semifinalists -- Radwanska, Cibulkova, Li Na and Eugenie Bouchard -- having won before.

Cibulkova reached only her second Slam semifinal when she also won against a favoured opponent in fast-rising Romanian Simona Halep.

Halep is set to break the top 10 in next week's new rankings, but she froze in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal as the energetic Cibulkova dominated 6-3, 6-0 in one hour exactly.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

NFC Title Game: Why the Seahawks have a tiny edge over the 49ers

I have received dozens of tweets and e-mails for picking the Seahawks to win the NFC title game against the 49ers in Seattle. KNBR’s Larry Krueger blasted me for it Friday morning and said he was going to scratch me from the 49ers pregame show.
Krueger was trying to stir a little controversy on the final day of his show with Gary Radnich before the game. Upshot – I will be on the pregame show at around 1:00
With this recent history, I better put forth my reasoning for why Seattle has the slightest edge in this game.

REASON 1: Fundamentally, the 49ers do not match up well against Seattle. In fact, when the Seahawks beat the 49ers 29-3 in Seattle during the second week of the season, they provided the template for how to beat the 49ers that several other teams followed.
The result was a loss the next week at home against the Colts and this template sent quarterback Colin Kaepernick into a prolong slump that he only now is emerging from, with the help of wide receiver Michael Crabtree.
The template is press coverage with physical cornerbacks, eight men in the box with the addition of a big, run-supporting safety and a fast and instinctual free safety to defend deep passes. The Seahawks play this style of defense possibly better than any team in league history.

REASON 2: Three of the last five 100-yard rushers against the 49ers belong to Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch. Lynch also could have pushed that number to four of the last five, but he didn’t play in the fourth quarter of Seattle’s 29-3 win and finished with 98 yards rushing.
The reason for Lynch’s success is his immense talent but also Seattle’s zone running approach. It’s a scheme designed to not necessarily rip off the big run, but to keep the chains moving by sheering off 3- to 4-yard runs a pop. And it’s rare to see Lynch lose yardage with zone runs.
The scheme is particularly successful in Seattle because the best way to disrupt zone blocking is with penetration, but that’s nearly impossible because of the noise.
The 49ers power, gap running scheme can be explosive, but it can also lose yardage. In the 49ers’ 19-17 win over Seattle last month at Candlestick, Frank Gore cracked Seattle’s nine-man front for a season-high, 51-yard run. It allowed kicker Phil Dawson to boot the winning field goal.
However, gap runs can lead to three-and-outs.
Consequently, with the noise, the zone running scheme and Lynch, Seattle has a better chance to control the clock.

REASON 3: If Seattle is able to lean on the 49ers with their running game, they could fatigue the 49ers defensively in the fourth quarter. One other fatiguing factor? The noise. It has a tendency to wear the visiting team down. That’s why the Seahawks have only lost once in Seattle in two years. However, the 49ers often fatigue quarterback mentally with their complex secondary alignments. Just ask Cam Newton.

CAVEAT: When I made the prediction, I hadn’t watched Seattle’s divisional playoff win over New Orleans for the second time. Russell Wilson was awful in that game. In reviewing more games, it’s clear Wilson is in a slump. He’s tentative, he doesn’t keep his eyes downfield and his passes are all over the place. You wonder if he’s hurt.
Because of this, Seattle’s edge is greatly reduced.

ONE LAST OBSERVATION: NFL Films senior analyst Greg Cosell noticed that Lynch has carried 21 times out of a three receiver formation against the 49ers and is averaging 6 yards per carry.
The 49ers should take notice and use their three receiver formation more often because it puts Quinton Patton on the field more and he is better than second tight end Vance McDonald or any fullback the 49ers have on the roster right now. Also Patton is a willing blocker, and Seattle plays less man-press coverage against three receivers.

STATS TO NOTE: NFL statistics for the season list 17 different offensive and special teams categories, in nine of those categories the 49ers and Seahawks are within four slots of each other. On defense however, Seattle is first in six different categories, including points and yards allowed per game. The highest defensive rank is third for both points allowed per game and points per game differential. … The 49ers have blocked two Seattle punts in the last two games. … Keapernick is listed as 6-4, Wilson at 5-11, yet Kaepernick has 13 batted passes and Wilson has 6.

Copyright : Kevin Lynch

The Injuries That Made Peyton Manning and Tom Brady

Sunday’s battle between the Michelangelo and Picasso of football is happening thanks to luck and 21st century medicine.

In his 16-year career, Peyton Manning has never suffered a concussion. Tom Brady has only ever suffered one, according to his father.

So it’s not surprising that the media has mainly focused on the football field and trophy case as we prepare for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game duel between Manning’s Denver Broncos and Brady’s New England Patriots. There’s plenty to discuss between Manning’s record-breaking season (55 touchdown passes, 5,477 yards) and Brady’s unflinching year (his top five receivers from 2012 were either injured, in jail, or on another team); Manning’s four MVP awards (two more than Tom) and Brady’s three Super Bowl rings (two more than Peyton); Manning’s cold weather struggles and Brady’s cold-as-ice reputation; the men’s head-to-head record (10-4 Brady) and their refusal to publicly admit to the rivalry.

In a year in which the conversation has centered as much on concussions as read-option offenses, this might be a welcome respite from the increasingly unsettling and pervasive understanding that America’s real pastime seems to be ruining ex-players’ lives, if not killing them.

These days, we’re constantly trying to reconcile the duality of fandom, Jiminy Cricket sitting on one shoulder while Terry Tate Office Linebacker tries to tackle him from the other. As Grantland’s Brian Phillips wrote in a brilliant piece on “un-innocence” in sports: “Fully aware that we couldn’t love sports with an entirely clear conscience, and fully aware that we still loved sports, we somehow decided that those awarenesses just… didn’t need to be resolved. They were like two bubbles that would pop if they touched each other, only they didn’t touch each other, because we figured out a way to keep them apart.”

Manning-Brady XV, as the contest is being called, seems to be the perfect chance to float away inside that happy sports bubble. We can celebrate pinpoint passing and preternatural feel for the game, debate history and legacy, laugh about “Omaha” and literally cheesy commercials, and enjoy watching two master craftsmen go about their work.

Just ask receiver Wes Welker, who spent six seasons catching passes from Brady before joining the Broncos last offseason. “They’re both spectacular,” Welker said over the summer. “It’s like comparing Picasso and Michelangelo.”

But as beautiful as we expect this game to be—and as important as we know it is—we just can’t forget the serious stuff. Maybe we can for an hour or three on Sunday, but not now, not yet.

The two quarterbacks are obviously products of talent and dedication and hard work, but they’re also products of luck and 21st century medical science. Despite the one concussion combined, their careers have been consistently and irrevocably influenced by injury. You can’t really talk about the two of them without thinking about that.

For the first 13 years of his career, 227 consecutive games, Manning was invincible. He never missed a start and seemed to get hit about as often as Muhammad Ali did. Still, it’s impossible to completely avoid collisions playing professional football, and by 2010 Manning was coping with severe neck pain. First there was the pinched nerve and then the herniated disc, which led Manning to undergo four surgeries, including a major spinal fusion procedure. (Read this if you want to spend the rest of your life cautiously rubbing your neck.)

Manning sat out the entire 2011 season, and there were doubts as to whether he’d ever step on the field again. The Indianapolis Colts, the team that drafted him first overall in 1998, released him during that offseason. When he signed with Denver in March 2012, he admitted he had to “relearn” how to throw and said his first attempt “nose-dived after about five yards.” Now it’s clear that he relearned pretty good.

Brady, meanwhile, got his first opportunity to play due to someone else’s injury. He was a backup, firmly planted behind strong-armed Pro Bowler Drew Bledsoe until the second week of 2001, when Bledsoe received a brutal hit from New York Jets linebacker Mo Lewis that practically exploded his chest. While Bledsoe recuperated from internal bleeding, Brady took the reins of the Patriots offense and never relinquished them, promptly reeling off his own consecutive-games streak of 128. (Fun fact: Brady’s first career start was against, you guessed it, Manning, and the Patriots dominated 44-13.)

In 2007, Brady lead New England to a perfect 16-0 regular season record only to suffer an agonizing Super Bowl loss to Peyton’s little brother Eli and the New York Giants. The next year, Brady attempted a mere 11 passes before tearing his ACL and missing the rest of the season, essentially sidelining the Patriots’ title aspirations. Fortunately, Brady would also return to peak form, earning the Most Valuable Player award in 2010.

But what if Manning’s neck hadn’t recovered? What if he had tried to come back, only to play a couple middling seasons and then grudgingly retire or, worse, become a backup? What if Bledsoe had stepped out of bounds a yard earlier? What if it had taken Brady several more years to get a crack at a starting role?

There’s no real use dealing in hypotheticals, but thinking about the injury history of Manning and Brady is a reminder of just how fickle football can be. When you hear them talk about much they love playing football and how grateful they are for their long careers, you realize just how rare that is.

On Sunday, when we settle into our EZ Chairs and become mesmerized by an exhilarating game, we might find ourselves watching Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and forgetting that they’re not immortal, that they’re not football automatons.

But then we’ll notice Welker, the shifty slot receiver who suffered two concussions this season and missed the final three games before the playoffs. We’ll notice his cartoonish helmet, designed to better protect his fragile brain. We may initially laugh, just like we did last week, before checking ourselves and asking, “Wait, if he has to wear that monstrosity, should he really be playing?”

Who knows what Welker’s head will feel like in ten or 20 years? Who knows whether Manning will wake up daily with a burning neck, or whether Brady will be walking with a limp?

When we tune in for Manning-Brady XV, let’s talk audibles and out routes, history and legacy and destiny. Let’s try to escape, however briefly, into that happy sports bubble. But even with Manning and Brady, we can’t live there forever.

Copyright : thedailybeast

Virat Kohli sparkles with ton but India humbled by New Zealand in Napier ODI

Agency: PTI
Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli - IANS

Virat Kohli's exhilarating hundred went in vain as New Zealand staged a dramatic turnaround to pull off a thrilling 24-run win in the first cricket one-dayer against India to take a 1-0 lead in the five-match series here today.

Set a formidable target of 293, India seemed on track for a facile win with Kohli (123 off 110 balls) anchoring the chase with his 18th ODI century before pacer Mitchell McClenaghan's three-wicket burst 11 balls changed the complexion of the game completely.

From a comfortable 224 for five, the Indians were all out for 268 in 48.4 overs with McClenaghan being the wrecker-in-chief with a match haul of 4/68.

Earlier, electing to bowl after winning the toss, India's inconsistent bowling effort helped New Zealand pile up 292 for seven.

For the Kiwis, apart McClenaghan, Corey Anderson shone bright with an all-round effort, scoring 68 runs off 40 deliveries before knocking off two wickets in his 10 overs of medium pace bowling.

Tim Southee (1-43 in 9.4 overs) and Adam Milne (1-40 in 7.3 overs) gave Anderson good support, even as the latter walked off mid-way in the 41st over with a side-strain.

After being put in to bat, half-centuries from Anderson, Kane Williamson (71) and Ross Taylor (55) helped the hosts reach 292/7 in their allotted 50 overs.

However, the brightest star of the match ended up in the losing side.

Kohli, who scored his a first hundred in a losing cause while chasing, found no support from other batsmen, none of who managed to reach even the 50-run mark.

Openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan started with great caution. Southee bowled two maiden overs first up as the batsmen took time settling down.

In fact, the first wicket came before the first boundary in this innings, as Rohit failed to rotate the strike and came under pressure to score, holing out to Southee off a short ball from McClenaghan in the sixth over. He scored only 3 runs off 23 balls.

Kohli came to the crease and got off the mark with a signature cover drive, the first four for India on the 29th ball of the innings.

England captain Alastair Cook expects changes following tough tour to Australia

Alastair Cook has suggested he may stand down as England one-day captain after losing the series to Australia with two games to spare.

The hosts cruised past England's total of 243-9 with seven wickets and 10 overs to spare in Sydney on Sunday, meaning they now hold an unassailable 3-0 lead following previous victories in Melbourne and Brisbane.

Cook - English cricket needs changes
It means the tourists have now lost eight international games in a row on the tour, including a 5-0 whitewash in the Ashes series Down Under.

Speaking after the third one-dayer, Cook said management would need to talk over "a lot of things" at the end of the trip, but stated that "English cricket needs a little bit of a change" following the horrific run of results.

"I think I'm going to have to make a decision on that after you take stock of the next two games (to end the series)," he said.

"We'll sit down and talk over a lot of things. I think there will be some changes.

"I think English cricket needs a little bit of a change as well.

"The last few months we haven't played the cricket we are capable of. We have to look at the reasons why."

Long two weeks

Cook to step down?
The opening batsman was given the backing to remain in charge by the England and Wales Cricket board during the fifth Test at the same venue.

Asked if he felt his position has been undermined since, Cook added: "I don't really want to get dragged into my position. I think it's been two weeks since someone asked me that question - it's been a long two weeks.

"We have kept losing games of cricket and I haven't been able to turn it around."

As for the game itself, Cook lamented the failure of his batsmen to kick on after making starts. All of the top six for the tourists made it into double figures, the skipper himself making 35 while Eoin Morgan top-scored with 54.

Clarke praises perfect performance
"In the first 10 overs we played alright," Cook said. "Then we did what you can't afford to do - we kept losing wickets. It's very had to build momentum.

"I think everyone got 20 or 30 - you need to go on. In the last game we managed to do it, then you get a big score. If someone gets a hundred you get 300+, and that's what we needed.

"They've won a lot of cricket against us over the past couple of months; obviously it's tough to stop that. We've got two games to try and do that."

Cook is due to meet team director Andy Flower and new managing director Paul Downton when he returns home to conduct a review of the Australia tour. He is not part of the squad for the three-match Twenty20 series that is still to come, with Stuart Broad in charge for those matches.

Copyright : skysports

Ivanovic ends Serena Williams' long winning streak

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - Moments before she started pounding the first of her many winners past Serena Williams at the Australian Open, Ana Ivanovic listened intently to the announcer on Rod Laver Arena outlining the extraordinary accomplishments of the woman soon to be across the net from her.
Williams, a five-time champion at Melbourne Park, won 78 of her 82 matches in 2013, and was coming into the fourth round on the second-longest winning streak of her career - 25 matches.
It was her 70th match at the Australian Open, a record in the Open Era. And then, of course, there's the 17 major singles championships.
''When we were starting the match and they were talking about all her Grand Slam titles, it was quite impressive,'' Ivanovic said, recalling the pre-match introductions. ''But I didn't think much about the occasion and who I was playing, because it can get overwhelming.''
True to her word, Ivanovic, who had never won a set against Williams in four previous meetings, took on the biggest serve in women's tennis without fear. And she hit pinpoint forehands - 20 of 33 winners were on that side - to all areas of the court. Williams, who later revealed she was carrying a back injury, didn't even bother trying to chase some of them down.
Just under two hours later, it was game, set and match: 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 and an upset victory to put Ivanovic into the quarterfinals of the Australian Open for the first time since her run to the final in 2008.
''It's not easy playing such a champion ... but she is also just a human,'' said Ivanovic. ''I just went out there swinging.''
Williams never got into the swing of things, at least not to way Ivanovic expected. She noticed from the outset that Williams' serve seemed to lack its usual zip. Williams also made some very uncharacteristic errors on her backhand, a telltale sign of back pain.
''It wasn't the best,'' Williams admitted later, sounding surprised when asked about the back injury. Her coach had let it slip after the players walked off the court that Williams had been experiencing back pain for days.
''Again, I don't want to blame anything. I feel like Ana deserves all the credit,'' Williams added. ''I feel she played unbelievable today. I think she went for her shots. It's not like I gave her the match.''
Ivanovic will next play 19-year-old Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, who had a 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-0 win over local hope Casey Dellacqua.
The other quarterfinal in Ivanovic's half will feature two-time finalist Li Na, who beat No. 22 Ekaterina Makarova 6-2, 6-0, and No. 28 Flavia Pennetta, who defeated No. 9 Angelique Kerber 6-1, 4-6, 7-5.
The men's draw progressed more according to rankings when three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic and No. 3 David Ferrer advanced to the quarterfinals, along with No. 7 Tomas Berdych and No. 8 Stanislas Wawrinka.
Djokovic continued his bid for a fourth straight Australian title with a 6-3, 6-0, 6-2 win over Fabio Fognini. Ferrer beat Florian Mayer 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-2, 6-1 and will next play Berdych, the 2010 Wimbledon finalist.
Djokovic will play Wawrinka, who finished off the Sunday night program at Rod Laver with a 6-3, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) win over Tommy Robredo.
''I've been elevating my game as the tournament is going on,'' said Djokovic, who later entertained the crowd with an impersonation of his new coach, Boris Becker. ''The general feeling on the court, all the shots, using the court position really well, being aggressive, playing my style of the game.''
On Monday, Djokovic's major threats to the title - top-seeded Rafael Nadal, Wimbledon champion Andy Murray and 17-time Grand Slam singles winner Roger Federer - will play their fourth-round matches. Two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka and No. 3 Maria Sharapova are in action on the women's side.
Ivanovic will have the day off - she's planning a celebratory dinner with some of her Serbian relatives who live in Melbourne.
Asked if having Williams out of any Grand Slam makes a difference, Ivanovic said it ''definitely'' did, then explained why in effusive terms.
''I think she's done so much for the sport, and she's still doing it,'' Ivanovic said. ''She's such a great athlete and a great person to have on tour. We want her, because it pushes us.''
With the challenge met on Sunday, Ivanovic, at the urging of several fans, attempted to throw a souvenir towel into the stands. The breeze blew it back at her.
She was plainly off the mark, perhaps for the only time all day.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A-Rod attorney denies attacking Ortiz

Red Sox slugger David Ortiz is one of the few major league players to voice support for Alex Rodriguez in recent months.

Ortiz took Rodriguez out for dinner in Boston late last season after the controversial Yankees third baseman was mercilessly booed at Fenway Park. Ortiz even criticized teammate Ryan Dempster for throwing at Rodriguez.

In December, Ortiz invited Rodriguez to his charity event in the Dominican Republic.

So much for that goodwill. On Tuesday, Rodriguez's lead attorney seemed to cast aspersions on Ortiz during an interview with ESPN Radio.

Joe Tacopina said he would not name other players accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, "but some of them are God-like in Boston right now."

The host, Colin Cowherd, did not challenge Tacopina's accusation.

In 2009, the New York Times reported that Ortiz tested positive for an unnamed substance during a 2003 survey test.

Rodriguez was suspended for the entire 2014 season for using PEDs and obstructing an investigation into his use. On Monday, he sued Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association in federal court in an attempt to overturn the ban.

The suit went so far as to criticize MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner, who died in November after a long battle with cancer. Now Ortiz is an apparent target of his legal team.

During the ESPN Radio interview, Tacopina referred to Rodriguez as an "outstanding human being."

Copyright: Peter Abraham, Globe Staff - boston

South Australian teen tyro Thanasi Kokkinakis ready to face champion Rafael Nadal

Emerging tennis star Thanasi Kokkinakis, centre, with his family, from left, sister Christina, mum Voula, father Trevor, and ...
Emerging tennis star Thanasi Kokkinakis, centre, with his family, from left, sister Christina, mum Voula, father Trevor, and brother Pan. Picture: David Caird. Source: News Limited

TREVOR Kokkinakis took some convincing a decade ago when local tennis coach Todd Langman told him his son, Thanasi, was a natural.

The father of three from Adelaide's southern suburbs was already paying coaching fees for his oldest son Pan, and questioned whether seven-year-old Thanasi needed private tutelage.

"He tagged along with me one day to watch, and as soon as Pan stopped to have a drink, Thanasi tried to get on the court,'' Trevor recalls.

"I warned Todd that we'd never get the racquet back off him, but Thanasi had a hit and straight away Todd said 'I think he's got something'."

"I thought he was just trying to get another set of coaching fees out of me."

Tonight, Trevor Kokkinakis will watch from the player's box at Rod Laver Arena as his son, arguably the hottest prospect in Australian men's tennis, takes on World No. 1 Rafael Nadal.

Sitting not too far away from Trevor, will be Langman.

The former baseballer is still Thanasi's coach, and he's more convinced than ever that Thanasi has "got something".

Trevor is also convinced. In fact he became a convert to Langman's theory not long after he reluctantly began handing over an extra set of private coaching cheques 10 years ago.

"He was always a very determined kid,'' Trevor recalls of the teenager who has taken Australian tennis by storm this summer.

"As soon as he wanted to do something, there was no way you could tell him he wasn't going to be able to do it.

"He had to get his own way, so when he put his mind to tennis we started to see some progress."

The progress happened fast.

What started as one coaching session a week with Langam at the local club near the Kokkinakis family home in Seacombe Gardens quickly became two. Then three.

With Pan also an accomplished player, the Kokkinakis boys became well known in Adelaide's pennant circles before they could shave.

By age 15, Thanasi was so good tennis began taking him all over the world and his parents were forced to withdraw him from private Adelaide school Scotch College.

"His grades were pretty good and the school was very co-operative but once he started touring it became too difficult," Trevor recalls.

"We knew we had to give this tennis thing an absolute shot."

The teenager will likely to continue globetrotting for the next decade or more.

Tennis Australia boss Craig Tilley has predicted Kokkinakis' will be a world top 10 player over the coming years, the youngster's feats already backing up the prediction.

Kokkinakis has beaten four top world 100 ranked players this summer, two in ATP events.

His most recent scalp, World No. 73 ranked Dutchman Igor Sijsling, came in 40C heat on Tuesday and set up today's second round Australian Open duel with Nadal.

Regardless of the result, Trevor Kokkinakis says he, wife Voula, daughter Christina and son Pan will be the proudest people in the stadium.

"It's been amazing what he's achieved so far and we're all very proud of him,'' Trevor said.

"The whole family is very proud."

And, win or lose tonight, Trevor will also make sure Thanasi eventually finishes his schooling.

His parents both labourers, Trevor migrated to Adelaide as part of the city's Greek migration boom aged five in the 1960s and he says his working-class upbringing made him appreciate the importance of education.

A civil engineer, Trevor co-directs TMK Consulting Engineers in Adelaide. Thanasi is now doing his schooling externally through Marden Open Access College.

"The intention is for him to still complete Year 12,'' Trevor says.

"He's got one and a bit subjects to go. Hopefully, he'll complete that this year.

"It's important for him to have an education even if he doesn't use it because it helps him become a well-rounded individual."

For now, Kokkinakis will focus on Nadal.

Notes: Sheehey hobbled, as Wisconsin test arrives

Zach Osterman, IndyStar
BLOOMINGTON Tom Crean didn't need to let anyone know Will Sheehey played injured against Penn State. His performance, Crean said, wouldn't have given it away.

Sheehey took a hard fall in practice last Thursday, one that left him so hobbled that he would not be 100 percent the rest of the week. Crean said Sheehey could only participate in the Hoosiers' walkthrough Friday, and he was a gametime decision Saturday in State College.

Neither Crean nor associate head coach Steve McClain specified the nature of the injury on Monday.

PREVIEW: Crean tries for first win at IU vs. Wisconsin

INSIDER: Hollowell benched, as Vonleh enjoys career day

Whatever it was, Crean said he saw little evidence that it held Sheehey back against the Nittany Lions. He only confirmed that his senior forward was suffering after Sheehey's nine-point, five-rebound performance.

"If I wouldn't have said anything about it, you could have never been able to tell (Sheehey was injured)," Crean said.

Speaking Monday night on his radio show, Crean acknowledged all of the extra responsibilities Indiana has heaped onto its only returning senior. He pointed to tough assignments, like defending stud Michigan State forward Adreian Payne.

Sheehey, Crean said, hasn't backed down from those demands.

"He's working every day at being an even better leader," Crean said. "He brings such a spirit, such a toughness."

BADGERS MOVING THE BALL WELL: Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan has guided his team to a 16-0 start at least in part via an offense that's more productive than the norm in Madison.

Ryan's teams have often been typecast as methodical, even plodding, and they rarely work themselves into the top quarter of the Big Ten in scoring offense. But this season, the Badgers are scoring more than 10 points per game more than they averaged in 2012-13, with four players averaging double-figure scoring.

While the point totals have ticked up, the methods that create those points have not, according to Crean.

"They're not an above-average passing team," Crean said. "They're a great passing team."

Crean said Indiana's rotations will have to be crisp, because Ryan's swing offense is designed to exploit even the slightest defensive mistakes. Disciplined teams can fall victim to the Badgers' ability to free up scorers in their offense, according to Crean.

"They take conventional defensive wisdom and throw it right back in your face," he said.

THE FLIP SIDE – WISCONSIN REBOUNDING CONCERNS: Indiana has leaned hard on its rebounding ability this season. Though young, the Hoosiers' athleticism has helped them become one of the country's best teams on the boards, at both ends of the floor.

Wisconsin, conversely, has allowed 41 offensive rebounds in its last two games. The Hoosiers might pin their upset hopes on second chances offensively.

If they do, freshman forward Noah Vonleh appears poised to lead the way.

Vonleh pulls in 2.6 offensive rebounds per game and 9.3 rebounds per game overall. The freshman sits atop the Big Ten in rebounds per game.

"Size and agility usually have a lot to do with that, and he's got both," Ryan said on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference. "He's got a knack for the ball."
Northwestern head coach Chris Collins yells after his team beat Illinois 49-43 during an NCAA college basketball game in Evanston, Ill., on Jan. 12, 2014.(Photo: Matt Marton AP)

COLLINS, WILDCATS GRAB UPSET: Northwestern waits for Indiana this weekend, marking first-year coach Chris Collins' first trip to Assembly Hall.

The Wildcats will come to Bloomington with a win against a ranked team – something Indiana still hasn't accomplished – already in their pocket. Northwestern defeated then-No. 23 Illinois 49-43 at home Sunday for Collins' first conference win.

"Maybe not the prettiest thing to watch," Collins said of the win, "but at the end of the day, we made a lot of tough plays and did the things we need to do to win."

JerShon Cobb scored 11 points for the Wildcats, filling in for Dave Sobolewski at point guard.

Though the point isn't Cobb's natural position, Collins said Northwestern benefited from the switch against Illinois. Having the 6-foot-5 Cobb running its offense gave Northwestern a size advantage that Collins had hoped for.

"It gave a different look," Collins said. "I was interested to see how that would work."

HAWKEYES NOTCH SIGNATURE ROAD WIN: Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey's team let a signature road win slip away a week ago at Wisconsin, when the Hawkeyes led at halftime before eventually stumbling to defeat.

In Columbus on Sunday, Iowa didn't make the same mistake, handing then-No. 3 Ohio State its second loss in as many games.

The No. 14 Hawkeyes trailed by nine midway through the second half, but their methodical rally turned into a late lead, and McCaffrey's team sewed up an 84-74 win by making 10-of-12 free throws down the stretch.

"We had a lot of opportunities to go away, and we just kept coming," McCaffrey said. "I'm very proud of my team."

Australian Open: Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic keep their cool in round two

World No. 1 Serena Williams won two out of four grand slam titles in 2013.
World No. 1 Serena Williams won two out of four grand slam titles in 2013

(CNN) -- Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic might have hit upon a formula to contend with the searing heat at the Australia Open -- beat your opponents as quickly as possible.
A record-equaling nine players retired from their first round matches as temperatures lingered at a stifling 40 degrees Celsius, matching the highest number of withdrawals from a single round of grand slam set at the 2003 U.S. Open and Wimbledon 2013.
Complaining players, vomiting, fainting, melting bottles and burning feet have marred the first few days of competition in Melbourne, but world No. 1 Williams and four-time champion Djokovic were both in a hurry as they registered commanding wins.
Williams, a five-time winner of the year's opening grand slam, beat 104-ranked Vesna Dolonc 6-1 6-2, while men's second seed Novak Djokovic defeated Argentina's Leonardo Mayer 6-0 6-4 6-4.

Title-game tussles: Brady-Manning, 49ers-Seahawks

Dennis Waszak Jr., The Associated Press

Well, well. We meet again.

Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady in the AFC championship game. The San Francisco 49ers vs. the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC title bout.

It'll be a Sunday of rivalry showdowns next weekend, with familiar foes a win away from the Super Bowl.

Manning helped lead the Denver Broncos past the San Diego Chargers 24-17 on Sunday, setting up another meeting with Brady and the New England Patriots.

The Broncos opened as 6½-point favorites for the game at Denver.

BRONCOS: Denver advances after defeating San Diego

49ERS: Colin Kaepernick lifts 49ers over Panthers

"It's the Broncos versus the Patriots and certainly Tom and I have played against each other a lot," Manning said, "but when you get to the AFC championship, it's about two good teams that have been through a lot to get there."

In the NFC, the 49ers and Seahawks are all set to play for the NFC championship in the latest chapter in one of the NFL's budding — and bitter — rivalries.

The Seahawks (14-3) opened as 3-point favorites for the game at Seattle.

The Broncos (14-3) controlled the game against the Chargers (10-8) for 3½ quarters before Philip Rivers capitalized on an injury to cornerback Chris Harris Jr. to stage a comeback reminiscent of Baltimore's shocking win at Denver exactly a year earlier.

But this time, Manning rescued the Broncos from the brink of another crushing collapse and sent them into the title game for the first time in eight seasons.
Peyton Manning (left) and Tom Brady (right) will face off against one another.

Manning and Brady have squared off 14 times throughout their careers, with the Patriots quarterback holding a 10-4 edge in the head-to-head matchup — including a 34-31 overtime victory in November.

"They're a great team, they had a big win last night," Manning said. "We're going to enjoy this one tonight, start to work on them tomorrow and I know it'll be a heck of a game."

Manning was 25 of 36 for 230 yards and two TDs, but the Broncos controlled the clock by largely sticking to the ground game. After gaining just 18 yards against San Diego last month, the Broncos ran for 133 yards, including 82 by Knowshon Moreno, whose 3-yard TD run put them ahead 24-7 with 8:12 left.

The Chargers rallied to get within a score late, but Manning completed a pair of key third-down passes in the final minutes to prevent San Diego from getting a final chance.

At Foxborough, Mass., LeGarrette Blount carried the Patriots (13-4) to their third straight AFC title game with four touchdown runs in a 43-22 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night.

"It's just a great achievement," Brady said. "People have counted us out at times this year, but I think we've got a locker room full of believers."

It's easy to see why after they forced Andrew Luck into throwing four interceptions and ran for six scores against the Colts.

"We just had to keep our foot on the gas pedal," Blount said, "and make sure that they didn't to us what they did to Kansas City."

BOX SCORE: Broncos 24, Chargers 17

BOX SCORE: 49ers 23, Panthers 10

Last weekend, the Colts (12-6) pulled off a stunning 45-44 victory over the Chiefs in which they overcame a 38-10 third-quarter deficit in the wild-card game for the second-biggest comeback victory in NFL playoff history.

This time, there was no such come-from-behind performance for Luck and the Colts.

At Charlotte, N.C., Colin Kaepernick threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score and the 49ers defeated the Carolina Panthers 23-10 on Sunday.

San Francisco, which lost last year to Baltimore, is looking for a return trip to the Super Bowl. And lots of hard hits and plenty of jawing might be expected in this latest matchup with the Seahawks.

"I think we're the two teams everyone was looking at from the beginning," Kaepernick said. "It's going to be a knockdown, drag-out game."

The 49ers have committed seven turnovers and been outscored 71-16 in their past two trips to Seattle, including a 29-3 Week 2 loss in September.

"We're a different team than we were the first time we played them up there," Kaepernick insisted.

The 49ers (14-4) will get a chance to prove that next weekend after Kaepernick completed 15 of 28 passes for 196 yards Sunday, avenging his worst statistical performance of the season two months ago against the Panthers. He was held to 91 yards passing and 16 yards rushing in the first meeting with Carolina, a 10-9 loss at Candlestick Park.

On Saturday, Marshawn Lynch ran for a franchise playoff-record 140 yards and two touchdowns and Seattle's defense flustered Drew Brees and New Orleans in a 23-15 victory. The top-seeded Seahawks advanced to the NFC title game for the second time, and first since the 2005 playoffs.

"We haven't done anything yet," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "That's our goal. We have 60 minutes of football left."

Against a familiar foe.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh have been rivals dating to their days as opponents in the old Pac-10 conference.

In 2009, after Harbaugh's Stanford team ran up the score on Carroll's Southern California squad in a 55-21 rout, the two met at midfield and an annoyed Carroll barked, "What's your deal?"

They've carried that over to the NFL — and it might get ramped up again during the week with a Super Bowl appearance on the line.

"We're healthy, we're a great team and we're willing to do whatever it takes to get that ring," Gore said. "We're playing great ball."

The 49ers held Cam Newton in check, intercepting him twice and sacking him five times while stopping the Panthers (12-5) twice on the 1-yard line in the first half.

At Seattle, Steven Hauschka kicked three field goals in blustery conditions, and Lynch capped the victory with a 31-yard scoring run with 2:40 left that Carroll celebrated by jumping into offensive line coach Tom Cable's arms.

"It feels awesome," fullback Michael Robinson said, "but this doesn't mean anything if we don't win next week."