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Florida had not been to the Final Four since all those future first-round draft picks were in Gainesville. Wisconsin and coach Bo Ryan had never been.

Connecticut wasn't allowed to play in the NCAA tournament a year ago, and Kentucky supposedly had no shot at getting to North Texas after a midseason swoon.

Unlike the past few years, there will be no upstarts or Cinderella in the Final Four.

These are the big boys all right, but each one has a big chip on their shoulders.

"In down times, what you do is you bond together as brothers," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "And you hold that fist up."

Billy Donovan won a pair of national titles at Florida with Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Al Horford, all top-10 NBA picks in the 2007 NBA draft. After that second title, he accepted the head coaching job with the NBA's Orlando Magic, then changed his mind after the introductory news conference.

Donovan continued to produce winning teams in Gainesville, but the biggest wins eluded the Gators. They lost in the regional final each of the past three seasons.

That changed when the ferocious Gators (36-2) rode their chomping defense through a 30-game winning streak capped by Saturday's 62-52 win over bracket darling Dayton.

"We didn't start off the exact way that we should have, but coach Donovan continued to remind us and humble us and help us see that, in order to get where we want to get to, the end goal, we have to continue to chase greatness every single day and stay in the moment," Florida forward Patric Young said.

To win another title, the Gators will have to go through the last two teams to beat them this season (UConn and Wisconsin) or their biggest SEC rival (Kentucky).

The Huskies won the 2011 national title with coach Jim Calhoun and one-man show Kemba Walker.

Things went sour in Storrs after that. Calhoun retired in 2012 and UConn was barred from the NCAA tournament last season for failing to meet the NCAA's academic progress measure.

UConn's upperclassmen decided to stick it out instead of transferring and put together another magical bracket run behind another do-it-all-player, former Walker understudy Shabazz Napier. With their 60-54 win over Michigan State on Sunday, the Huskies (30-8) became the first No. 7 seed to reach the Final Four since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

UConn beat Florida 65-64 way back on Dec. 2, the Gators' last loss this season.

"We play a great Florida team and we're going to be well prepared, because I know about these guys' heart, and that's what got us through," Ollie said.

Then there's Bo.

Wisconsin's tell-it-like-it-is coach had been a regular at the Final Four, taking his father, Butch, to every one since 1976 as a birthday gift.

Bo had a hard time getting there with his team, though, winning over 700 games, playing in the NCAA tournament 13 straight years and reaching the Sweet 16 six times - and not one trip to the Final Four.

Bo and the Badgers (30-7) get their chance now after pulling out an emotional 64-63 win over top-seeded Arizona in the West Regional final on Saturday, which would have been Butch Ryan's 90th birthday.

"I can remember some of the great teams that he had of kids and their first championships and how they acted and just the joy," Ryan said. "These guys have had some others, but that's all I wanted to see."

Rounding out this foursome could be the most fearsome bunch of the bracket.

Kentucky won the 2012 national championship behind coach John Calipari's get-the-best-players-no-matter-how-long-they-stay philosophy. Cal brought in another heralded group of one-and-doners and they were touted as the team to beat, ranked No. 1 in the preseason.

After a string of losses, including three in five games, the kid Cats were out of the polls and supposedly out of contention.

Well, look at them now.

Showcasing their talent and depth, the Wildcats (28-10) are playing with a cohesiveness and confidence that wasn't there earlier in the season, racing into the Final Four after pulling out a last-second victory over Michigan.

"I can't believe it; we went through so much," said Kentucky's Aaron Harrison, who hit a 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds left in the 75-72 win over the Wolverines. "We went through a lot of ups and downs, and we're blessed to be going to the Final Four."

They are not alone.

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

Monday, 31 March 2014 07:30
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After a brutal winter of arctic blasts and blustery snowstorms, baseball is ready to heat up Monday with its first full slate of games this season.

David Ortiz and the World Series champion Boston Red Sox begin their title defense in Baltimore against home run king Chris Davis and the AL East rival Orioles. Robinson Cano makes his Seattle Mariners debut, looking to live up to a huge contract - just like Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout.

Behind the scenes, umpires at all six replay stations in New York will be at the ready for the first time in baseball history.

"We recognize fully that last year is behind us, and everyone is looking forward to (Monday) and beyond," Red Sox manager John Farrell said.

The start of Derek Jeter's retirement tour will wait one more day. The New York Yankees, with baseball's oldest roster, will face the youngest on Tuesday night in Houston.

By the time Detroit's Justin Verlander throws a pitch at 1:08 p.m. EDT in the first of 13 games Monday, the Dodgers will already have played openers on two continents and put $215 million ace Clayton Kershaw on the disabled list.

Los Angeles swept a pair Down Under from the Diamondbacks on March 22-23, with Kershaw winning the first regular-season major league game in Australia before an upper back muscle acted up. The Dodgers then played at San Diego in the North American opener Sunday night.

Still, ballparks around country will be buzzing with optimistic fans and, other than in Oakland, sunny skies and seasonably warm temperatures are expected to provide a wonderful backdrop - what a relief! - for the days' festivities.

"Should be a pretty good day for a ballgame," said Richard Bann, a meteorologist at the Weather Prediction Center.

The Pittsburgh Pirates certainly will be celebrating their first winning season and trip to the playoffs since 1992, and they'll have help handing out some hardware from two key members of that team: Barry Bonds and Jim Leyland.

Bonds, the `92 NL MVP, will be on hand to honor 2013 MVP Andrew McCutchen. The recently retired Leyland, a two-time Manager of the Year with Pittsburgh, is going to present Clint Hurdle with his Manager of the Year award for guiding the Pirates to a 94-68 record and wild-card berth.

The son of Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner, who died in February, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Kiner will be honored in New York, too, where the Mets host Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals, a World Series favorite once again. Dillon Gee will make his first opening day start after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio throws out the ceremonial first pitch.

In Texas, Tanner Scheppers, a converted setup man, will be the first pitcher to make his first major league start in a season opener since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981 for the Dodgers. Scheppers will have new slugger Prince Fielder at first base when the Rangers host Cliff Lee and the Philadelphia Phillies in an interleague game.

Scheppers got the nod because major league strikeout leader Yu Darvish is on the disabled list with a sore neck.

Atlanta's Kris Medlen, Oakland's Jarrod Parker and Arizona's Patrick Corbin are out, too. While Darvish may miss only one start, Medlen, Parker and Corbin are out for the season after having Tommy John surgery.

One pitcher who escaped serious injury is Reds closer Aroldis Chapman. He's sidelined at least a month more after being hit in the forehead by a line drive during spring training.

Not only will Cincinnati be without Chapman when it opens against NL Central rival St. Louis for just the second time in 20 years, the Reds have eight players on the DL - a major league high heading into the season. Texas is right behind with seven.

The Milwaukee Brewers get back star slugger Ryan Braun for their home opener against the Braves. Braun is returning from a 65-game suspension he accepted last season for his involvement in the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal.

Braun will take his position on the lush new grass at Miller Park, a field grown under heat lamps imported from Europe because the winter temperatures in Wisconsin were too cold - even with the roof closed.

"But regardless of what Mother Nature gave us here, we're going to have it ready for opening day," said Michael Boettcher, the team's director of grounds.

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

Monday, 31 March 2014 07:29
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North and South Korea fired hundreds of artillery shells into each other's waters Monday in a flare-up of animosity that forced residents of five front-line South Korean islands to evacuate to shelters for several hours, South Korean officials said.

The exchange of fire into the Yellow Sea followed Pyongyang's sudden announcement that it would conduct live-fire drills in seven areas north of the Koreas' disputed maritime boundary. North Korea routinely test-fires artillery and missiles into the ocean but rarely discloses those plans in advance. The announcement was seen as an expression of Pyongyang's frustration at making little progress in its recent push to win outside aid.

North Korea fired 500 rounds of artillery shells over more than three hours, about 100 of which fell south of the sea boundary, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said. South Korea responded by firing 300 shells into North Korean waters, he said.

No shells from either side were fired at any land or military installations, but Kim called the North's artillery firing a provocation aimed at testing Seoul's security posture. There was no immediate comment from North Korea.

Monday's exchange was relatively mild in the history of animosity and violence between the Koreas, but there is worry in Seoul that an increasingly dissatisfied North Korea could repeat the near-daily barrage of war rhetoric it carried out last spring, when tensions soared as Pyongyang threatened nuclear strikes on Washington and Seoul in response to condemnation of its third nuclear test.

Residents on front-line South Korean islands spent several hours in shelters during the firing, and officials temporarily halted ferry service linking the islands to the mainland. Kang Myeong-sung, speaking from a shelter on Yeonpyeong island, which is in sight of North Korean territory, said he didn't hear any fighter jets but heard the boom of artillery fire.

The poorly marked western sea boundary has been the scene of several bloody naval skirmishes between the Koreas in recent years. In March 2010, a South Korean warship sank in the area following a torpedo attack blamed on Pyongyang that left 46 sailors dead. North Korea denies responsibility for the sinking. In November 2010, a North Korean artillery bombardment killed four South Koreans on Yeonpyeong.

The North has gradually dialed down its threats since last year's tirade and has sought improved ties with South Korea in what foreign analysts say is an attempt to lure investment and aid. There has been no major breakthrough, however, with Washington and Seoul calling on the North to first take disarmament steps to prove its sincerity about improving ties.

Recent weeks have seen an increase in threatening rhetoric and a series of North Korean rocket and ballistic missile launches considered acts of protest by Pyongyang against annual ongoing springtime military exercises by Seoul and Washington. The North calls the South Korea-U.S. drills a rehearsal for invasion; the allies say they're routine and defensive.

"The boneheads appear to have completely forgotten the fact that Yeonpyeong island was smashed by our military's bolt of lightning a few years ago," a North Korean military official, Yun Jong Bum, said Monday, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

Pyongyang also threatened Sunday to conduct a fourth nuclear test, though Seoul sees no signs it's imminent. Wee Yong-sub, a deputy spokesman at the South Korean Defense Ministry, said the North Korean warning about the live-fire drills Monday was a "hostile" attempt to heighten tension on the Korean Peninsula.

Recent threats are an expression of anger and frustration over what the North sees as little improvement in progress in its ties with South Korea and the U.S., said Lim Eul Chul, a North Korea expert at South Korea's Kyungnam University. Lim said the North might conduct a fourth nuclear test and launch other provocations to try to wrest the outside concessions it wants.

The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 American troops are deployed in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea.

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration's health care website is stumbling on deadline day for sign-ups.

Visitors to HealthCare.gov on Monday morning saw messages that the site was down for maintenance. At times the visitors were also directed to a virtual waiting room - a feature designed to ease the strain on the site during periods of heavy use.

Administration spokesman Aaron Albright said the website undergoes "regular nightly maintenance" during off-peak hours and that period was extended because of a "technical problem." He did not say what the problem was, but a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services called it "a software bug" unrelated to application volume.

Albright said consumers seeking to sign up will be able to leave their email and "will be invited back when the system is available." Consumers can also call 1-800-318-2596 to complete the application process.

Albright said the website is typically down for maintenance during the period from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. EDT, and that as a result of the technical problems the site was down for at least three additional hours on Monday morning.

The sign-up website had been taken down briefly Friday, with consumer interest surging. Lately the site has been getting about 1.5 million visits a day.

A recent analysis for The Associated Press by the performance-measurement firm Compuware found that the government site runs slow compared with health insurance industry peers.

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

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