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Wednesday, 26 March 2014 09:42
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TORONTO (AP) -- David Backes completed a hat trick with an empty-net goal to lead the St. Louis Blues to a 5-3 victory Tuesday night that sent the Toronto Maple Leafs to their sixth straight loss.
 
T.J. Oshie and former Leafs forward Alex Steen also scored for St. Louis, which passed Boston for the most points in the NHL with 105.
 
Ryan Miller made 21 saves to improve to 32-15-3 in his career against Toronto. The Blues have won 10 of 13 games since acquiring Miller and forward Steve Ott from Buffalo before the trade deadline.
 
Joffrey Lupul, Carl Gunnarsson and James van Riemsdyk scored for Toronto, which dropped out of a playoff spot for the first time since Jan. 14, coupled with Washington's shootout loss to Los Angeles.
 
The loss ruined the return of Toronto goalie Jonathan Bernier, who made 44 saves in his first game since reinjuring his groin on March 13
 
Bernier helped withstand an early barrage before the Maple Leafs scored first in a game for the first time since March 10 at Anaheim - seven games and six losses ago.
 
With Brenden Morrow in the box for high-sticking, the Leafs' second power-play unit cashed in. After getting robbed by Miller at the side of the net, Nazem Kadri batted the puck out of the air and right to Lupul at the side of the net at 11:30 of the first period.
 
The Leafs' lead didn't last long, as Oshie tipped a shot from Roman Polak down and dived to knock the puck in at 15:55.
 
Had the Leafs been able to keep the score tied at 1 by the first intermission, they might've been able to make it a game. Instead, van Riemsdyk took an ill-advised interference penalty in the final minute to set up a memorable miscue by Phaneuf.
 
With a chance to send the puck down the ice on the penalty kill, Phaneuf wound up twice and held onto it just long enough for Oshie to poke it away. Seconds after the turnover, Backes beat Bernier clean with 32.3 seconds left.
 
The Blues' 23 first-period shots were the most the Leafs have given up this season.
 
Considering that, their second period was a strong improvement. Unlike the first, when they were hemmed in their own zone and needed Bernier to make big save after big save, the Leafs opened things up on the Blues and traded some chances.
 
They couldn't cash in, but the Blues did, as Backes scored his second of the night at 7:32 after a brilliant pass from Alex Pietrangelo.
 
At 17:35, St. Louis added the dagger when Steen beat Phaneuf in a net-front battle and then flipped a back-hand shot past Bernier for his 31st goal.
 
Down 4-1, Pietrangelo turned the puck over to Gunnarsson, who blasted a shot by Miller to cut the deficit to two.
 
Van Riemsdyk added a goal at 15:54 to make it 4-3, Backes' empty-netter sealed it for St. Louis.
 
NOTES: With Bernier back, the Leafs sent G Drew MacIntyre back to the AHL's Toronto Marlies. ... Defenseman Paul Ranger was scratched for the third straight game with a neck injury.
Tuesday, 25 March 2014 22:18
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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Neil Watson scored 18 points and Aaron Brown added 16 to help Southern Mississippi beat Missouri 71-63 in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament on Sunday.
 
Southern Mississippi (29-6) has won eight of its past nine games and will play at No. 1 seed Minnesota on Tuesday for the right to go to the semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
 
Jeremiah Eason's layup broke a 14-14 tie with 9:34 remaining in the first half and the Golden Eagles led the rest of the way. Missouri cut its deficit to three points on a 3-pointer by Earnest Ross with 14:41 left, but the Tigers could get no closer.
 
Ross scored 22 points while Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson both added 13 for Missouri (23-12), which fell to 2-8 all-time in NIT games.
Sunday, 23 March 2014 18:30
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PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma wants his high-powered team to get used to playing tight-checking playoff hockey before the postseason begins next month.
 
St. Louis doesn't need the lure of the playoffs as an excuse to get stingy. The space-eating Blues have been doing it all year, and it showed in a taut 1-0 road win on Sunday.
 
Frustrating the NHL's best power play during a pivotal two-man disadvantage at the start of the second period, the Blues continued their mastery of the Eastern Conference by beating the Penguins the way they've beaten so many teams this season.
 
The room to maneuver that Pittsburgh stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin usually enjoy disappeared as St. Louis clogged passing lanes and dictated play defensively.
 
David Backes deflected a slap shot by Alexander Steen past Marc-Andre Fleury midway through the third period for the game's only goal and Brian Elliott stopped 33 shots to pick up his fourth shutout of the season as the Blues moved three points clear of Chicago in the race for the best record in the Western Conference.
 
"When you're in a tight game like that against a good team, the guys kind of rose up to the challenge and I tried to make a couple saves and get the rebounds out of the zone and they did the rest," Elliott said.
 
Fleury made 26 saves for the Penguins but watched Backes' deflection carom off his glove and into the net just after a penalty against Malkin expired.
 
"I just saw the guy raise his stick for the shot," Fleury said. "There were a bunch of people in front. I tried to cover some net but I didn't see it go in.
 
St. Louis bounced back from a one-sided loss at Philadelphia on Saturday to improve the league's best road record to 23-11-3. Pittsburgh's top-ranked power play went 0-for-5 a day after scoring three times in a win over Tampa Bay.
 
When Elliott wasn't getting a pad on the puck, his teammates were. The Blues blocked 25 shots, with the Penguins' frustration growing at every turn as the Blues improved to 20-5-2 against the Eastern Conference, the best interconference record in the league.
 
Pittsburgh had a 5-on-3 power play at the beginning of the second period for more than 90 seconds without being able to sneak something by Elliott. Most of the time the Penguins struggled generating a shot as the Blues effectively disrupted Pittsburgh's rhythm.
 
"We just kind of cleared lanes and I was able to see the ones they took," Elliott said. "Whenever guys are moving big guys out of the way, it just helps and you saw guys get in front of shots, block them and clear them down."
 
Malkin was called for high-sticking 9:17 into the third and he was barely out of the box and back on the ice when Backes gave St. Louis the lead. The puck cycled to the point and Alexander Steen fired a slap shot that Backes found a way to nick as it sailed by. His 24th goal of the year proved more than enough.
 
Elliott wobbled several times - including at least two saves where it appeared the puck was creeping to the goal line when the whistle blew - but didn't collapse. When the clock expired after one last clear up the zone, the game ended with the unusual sight of Malkin trying to mix it up with Alex Pietrangelo.
 
Bylsma said coming into an important weekend he wanted his team to get used to playing tightly contested, low-scoring games. Pittsburgh survived one on Saturday, rallying for a 4-3 overtime win against the streaking Lightning that featured 40 minutes of clamp-down hockey and 22 minutes of frantic play.
 
The Blues, who have positioned themselves into contenders in the West by sealing off the net, would not be lulled into the kind of end-to-end stretches that allow the Penguins to run free.
 
"We still want to do a better job in these games and win them," Crosby said. "We have done a pretty good job of being patient when we've been in these kinds of games."
 
At times, Bylsma wonders if his club was too patient, particularly in the first period.
 
"The first 20 minutes we backed them off with speed," he said. "We had some opportunities and needed to have more of a drive and shoot mentality."
 
NOTES: The Penguins played with seven defensemen instead of six, a move Bylsma said was needed in a game where he knew open ice would be at a premium. ... St. Louis plays in Toronto on Tuesday while the Penguins host Phoenix on Tuesday.
 
Sunday, 23 March 2014 18:27
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JUPITER, Fla. (AP) -- Joe Kelly was told that he will be the Cardinals' No. 5 starter after taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning Sunday in St. Louis' 6-3 victory over the Houston Astros.
 
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Carlos Martinez will go to the bullpen.
 
"We are just in a spot where we've got to try and figure out what is best for our club," said Matheny, noting that Martinez is a proven commodity in the bullpen.
 
Kelly lost a competition last spring to Shelby Miller, but moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation later in the year. He started 15 games for the Cardinals in the regular season and four more in the postseason and has a 3.08 ERA.
 
Martinez thrived in the setup role late last season, including in the playoffs. He will return to eighth inning duty, setting up closer Trevor Rosenthal, despite allowing only three earned runs and striking out nine in 15 1-3 spring innings.
 
"I believe that he is eventually going to be a starter and I believe he is going to be a very good one, but right now we need him to help our club out of the bullpen," Matheny said.
 
Kelly's control fluctuated in Sunday's start, during which he struck out five but also walked four. He allowed two runs and two hits in the sixth and didn't get an out before being lifted.
 
"I wouldn't say it was great, by any means," Kelly said before learning he would be in the rotation. "The walks are just something that I absolutely don't like."
 
Shortstop Jhonny Peralta gave the Cardinals the lead in the second with his third homer of the spring. Matt Holliday hit his first in the third and Matt Adams also connected in the third, a two-run shot off Astros starter Jerome Williams.
 
Williams gave up six runs and nine hits in four innings.
 
"It was one of those days where balls were finding the bats and balls were finding the holes," Williams said. "I left about three or four pitches up and they took advantage of them."
 
Closer Trevor Rosenthal took a comebacker off his backside in the ninth. The ball caromed to third baseman Daniel Descalso, who threw to first in time to get Marwin Gonzalez. Rosenthal remained in the game and recorded the save.
 
STARTING TIME
 
Astros: Williams has allowed 10 runs in 7 2-3 innings over his past two Grapefruit League outings.
 
"It's kind of bad that it's happening now at end the of spring," Williams said. "Hopefully I can just turn it around before the season starts."
 
Cardinals: While Matheny named Kelly to the starting rotation, he declined to give the order in which the starters will appear. Adam Wainwright will be the Cardinals opening-day starter. He will be followed, in an order to be announced later by Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller and Kelly.
 
TRAINER'S ROOM
 
Cardinals: Jaime Garcia threw a 25-pitch bullpen session from the mound for the first time since the second week of spring. Garcia had experienced soreness in his surgically-repaired shoulder. He was expected to contend for the Cardinals' fifth starting spot before experiencing the discomfort.
 
Reliever Jason Motte is scheduled to long toss on Monday as he works his way back from ligament replacement surgery.
 
DIAZ DOWN
 
The Cardinals sent five players to the minors - one of whom was 23-year-old Aledmys Diaz. The newly-signed Cuban shortstop went 3 for 5 in two major league games before heading to Double-A Springfield.
 
"He just kind of plays a little more experienced baseball than you would expect him to," Matheny said.
 
DOWN TO THREE
 
St. Louis also optioned reliever Sam Freeman and outfielder Joey Butler to Triple-A Memphis. With Freeman gone, that leaves Jorge Rondon, Keith Butler and Scott McGregor competing for the final spot in the Cardinals' bullpen. The Cardinals also optioned infielder Greg Garcia to Triple-A Memphis and re-assigned infielder Luis Mateo to minor league camp.
 
MORE TO COME
 
Houston manager Bo Porter expects first baseman Chris Carter to produce better offensive statistics than 2013's breakthrough season in which he hit 29 home runs but only posted a .239 average.
 
"I think just the experience of playing everyday last year will help in that regard - lower strikeouts, more contact, more homers," Porter said.
 
Sunday, 23 March 2014 18:25
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Saint Louis did something it hasn't done all season Saturday — and it proved costly against defending national champion Louisville.
 
The Billikens went 0 for 15 from 3-point range in a 66-51 loss in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
 
They shot long, came up short, missed to both sides and even had a couple blocked. It was easily the team's worst long-ranging shooting performance of the season.
 
Saint Louis, a 32-percent shooting team from behind the arc this season, had made at least two 3s in every game and had 190 total. They hit 9 of 18 treys in Thursday's come-from-behind, overtime victory against North Carolina State.
 
"I thought we took a lot of good shots today," said forward Dwayne Evans, who led the way with 16 points but missed his only 3-point attempt. "They weren't falling, but we had the right guys in the right spots."
 
Saint Louis (27-7) shot 40 percent from the field.
 
Mike McCall Jr. missed all six of his 3-pointers. Jake Barnett (0-4), Jordair Jett (0-2), Rob Loe (0-1) and Austin McBroom (0-1) also misfired from that distance.
 
"We're going to keep taking shots if they're good shots," coach Jim Crews said. "We don't have a plan before a game to say, 'OK, we're going to take X number of 3s in this game and that game.' We don't do that because I think that you've got to have a balance to be really good."
 
The champs had a lot to do with Saint Louis' struggles.
 
Louisville (31-5) mixed defenses repeatedly, using man-to-man, the 2-3 zone and even a little 1-1-3 to make sure no Billikens could get open looks from the corners.
 
"We wanted to smother the 3," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "This team reminds me of Colorado State last year: Extremely well coached in all phases of the game. And we felt if we gave up the 3 we could get beat tonight, so we will take that away."
 
It worked to perfection.
 
Louisville made six treys. Luke Hancock, who finished with 21 points, drained two 3s midway through the second half that helped the Cardinals create some cushion in a tight game.
 
Saint Louis just couldn't answer.
 
The Cardinals have the size and athleticism to close out on the 3-point line, and it showed Saturday.
 
Making matters worse for the Billikens, they had 18 turnovers. Louisville had nine steals to go with five blocks.
 
"They're very good defensively," Crews said. "They change things up. They do press and they play zone and have different shifts and so forth, and they mix it up with man. They keep you a little bit off balance with that, which is a good thing because basketball is a rhythmic game and they keep you out of rhythm with it."
Saturday, 22 March 2014 22:20
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Scott Hartnell and Brayden Schenn each scored in the second period to rally the Philadelphia Flyers to a 4-1 win Saturday over the St. Louis Blues and a fifth straight victory.
 
Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds added goals, and Steve Mason made 32 saves to help Philadelphia improve to 12-2-1 in its last 15 games to maintain its hold on second place in the Metropolitan Division.
 
Jaden Schwartz opened the scoring 6:23 into the game, finishing a 2-on-1 short-handed opportunity after taking a feed from Kevin Shattenkirk. Schwartz's wrist shot from close range went under the glove of Mason.
 
St. Louis needed one point in the game to become the first Western Conference team to clinch a playoff spot.
 
Goaltender Ryan Miller lost for the second time as a member of the Blues since being traded from Buffalo on Feb. 28. Miller had his first setback in Wednesday's 4-0 defeat at Chicago, a game in which he was pulled after allowing four goals on 27 shots. He fell to 7-2-1 with St. Louis.
 
The Flyers dominated the second period when they erased a 1-0 deficit with a pair of goals to enter the final period ahead 2-1. Hartnell tied the game 57 seconds into the period when he finished from right in front of the crease after a cross-ice pass from Voracek.
 
Miller appeared to try to stop the pass and was caught slightly out of position, and Hartnell fired a wrister high into the open side of the net.
 
Schenn put Philadelphia up a goal when he scored on a rebound with 6:36 left in the period.
 
Simmonds took the initial shot after receiving a pass from Schenn. Miller's rebound went right to Schenn, who went top shelf with a backhander over the sprawling Blues goaltender.
 
Mason preserved Philadelphia's one-goal lead with a pair of strong saves on Derek Roy with nine minutes remaining on a power play by St. Louis. Schwartz took the initial shot and the rebound went to Roy, who was stopped by Mason's pads on his first attempt and gloved on the second.
 
Voracek provided a cushion when he beat Miller high to the stick side with 4:19 left. Hartnell stole the puck along the boards, fed to Claude Giroux in the right circle and Giroux passed to wide-open Voracek.
 
Simmonds scored an empty-netter with 2:54 remaining.
 
Flyers winger Steve Downie was lost for the game with an upper body injury after a collision with Patrik Berglund early in the contest. Downie had his head turned when he skated right into Berglund near the boards at center ice. Downie missed four games this season after suffering a concussion during a fight against Washington on Nov. 2.
 
Giroux had four of the 11 Philadelphia penalties. His eight penalty minutes were one-fourth of the total penalty minutes (32) he entered with this season.
 
The Central Division-leading Blues entered the game leading the Western Conference in points and tied with Boston for most points in the NHL with 101.
 
Notes: St. Louis LW Magnus Paajarvi returned after missing the last three games with an upper body injury. The Blues remained without D Jordan Leopold (ankle) and RW Vladimir Tarasenko (hand). .. It was the first meeting between the teams since Oct. 22, 2011 when the Blues won 4-2 in Philadelphia. ... The teams will meet for the second time this season on April 1 in St. Louis. After playing with a plain white mask in his first nine games with St. Louis, Miller unveiled a music-themed goalie mask on Saturday. ... Blues RW T.J. Oshie, who entered with a team-best 54 points, went to the locker room with 11 minutes remaining after blocking a slap shot from Simmonds in the slot but later returned.
Saturday, 22 March 2014 22:17
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KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) -- Matt Adams hit a homered among his two hits and drove in three runs, lead the St. Louis Cardinals past the Houston Astros, 5-2, Saturday.
 
Michael Wacha gave up two runs in seven innings, his longest outing of the spring. He allowed two runs and struck out eight without allowing a walk.
 
"I'm pretty happy with how it's going," Wacha said. I am just stretching myself out. I'll be ready in two weeks."
 
Mark Ellis played three innings at second base for the Cardinals. He is competing with Kolten Wong for the starting job at second base. Ellis is recovering from left knee tendinitis. He was signed as a free agent from the Los Angeles Dodgers during the off season. He had a hit and scored a run in three at-bats.
 
"I feel good and better than ever," said Ellis, who batted .270 in 46 games for the Dodgers last season. "I just want to keep progressing and getting better."
 
Brett Oberholtzer, who was named the No. 3 starter in the Astros' rotation, allowed five runs in five innings as his ERA rose to 11.00.
 
Jose Altuve homered for the Astros.
 
STARTING TIME
 
Cardinals: Manager Mike Matheny said that Wacha is ready to start the season right now. "He had a nice game and he's ready," Matheny said. "He has made some adjustments and when you have no walks in two straight games, that's pretty good."
 
Wacha has a 1.76 ERA this spring and hasn't allowed a walk in 10 2-3 innings.
 
Astros: Oberholtzer said he isn't concerned about his inflated ERA and is ready for opening day. He will follow Scott Feldman and Jarred Cosart in the Astros' rotation. The final two spots haven't been named.
 
Oberholtzer gave up four runs in the first inning, but still went a spring-high five innings.
 
"I had a rough first inning, but I was satisfied after that," Oberholtzer said. "During the course of a season, that is going to happen. I got some pitches up, but I'm still preparing for opening day."
 
WHAT A RELIEF
 
Astros reliever Chad Qualls pitched an inning with one strikeout. He is a candidate to be the Astros closer, but said he has no idea how the scenario will play out.
 
"You have to go two doors down," said Qualls, pointing toward manager Bo Porter's office. "Who knows. I feel good. I am locating my pitches and getting my fastball over."
 
Qualls went 5-2 with a 2.61 ERA for the Miami Marlins last season.
 
BIG IMPRESSION
 
The Cardinals' Keith Butler allowed onoe hit in an inning of relief. His Grapefruit League ERA is 8.64 but Matheny said he was impressed by Butler.
 
"He was really crowding the zone with his fastball," Matheny said. "I haven't seen that from him before. I like what I saw."
 
Saturday, 22 March 2014 22:15
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SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The day started with a bracket-crushing blow. More upsets followed. Four overtime games, a record. A buzzer-beater, a pair of late-night scares.

OK, now breathe.

This was just one day.

There are still 47 games left, 16 of those on Friday.

After one of the wildest opening days in NCAA tournament history, one that cost millions their shot at $1 billion, it's hard to imagine there won't be more chaos to come.

"I've heard this before where there really aren't upsets anymore," Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said after the Crimson pulled off one of Thursday's biggest takedowns. "There may be some surprises, but I just think when you're looking at seeds and if you're playing this time of year, you're probably a pretty good basketball team."

We'll start with the billion.

Warren Buffett offered the unprecedented prize to anyone who could come up with a perfect bracket.

Forty minutes into the first full day of the tournament, roughly 83 percent of the would-be billionaires were done after Dayton, the No. 11 seed in the South Regional, toppled sixth-seeded Ohio State 60-59 in Buffalo, N.Y.

Just the beginning.

No. 12 East seed Harvard started a how-can-that-be run of games in Spokane, Wash., by knocking off fifth-seeded Cincinnati 60-59.

Two upsets, and almost everyone shooting for perfection was eliminated before they got home from work, the number of blemished brackets up to about 95 percent.

The day of dead pools continued in Spokane, where No. 12 West seed North Dakota outlasted fifth-seeded Oklahoma 80-75.

Thanks for playing everyone. Less than 1 percent of you are still in it.

It was a 9.2 quintillion-to-1 pipe dream to begin with, and Buffett has to like his chances even more after a day like this.

Bracketers in contests by ESPN and CBSSports.com suffered similar fates, leaving less than 1 percent unblemished.

"Being bounced from the billion THAT early definitely made me feel some type of way," said Marcus Arman of Portland, Ore. "I can tell you this: I will not be supporting the city of Dayton in any shape, form or fashion so long as my foam finger still points upward."

And that wasn't it.

Not at a point in the college hoops timeline where upsets, seedings and status have little bearing on the bracket.

The opening day of the 64-team bracket included four overtime games, a record.

Connecticut had the first, beating Saint Joseph's 89-81 in coach Kevin Ollie's NCAA tournament debut. North Dakota's win over Oklahoma came in overtime after Lawrence Alexander hit a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left in regulation.

Saint Louis rallied late to force overtime and beat North Carolina State 83-80 in Orlando, Fla., and San Diego State needed an extra 5 minutes to outlast New Mexico 73-69.

Including Tennessee's win over Iowa in the First Four, that's five overtimes in the opening 20 games.

Now that's madness in March.

"We didn't want to end on that kind of note. We didn't want to bow out of the tournament this early," said Saint Louis' Rob Loe, who had 22 points and 15 rebounds. "We're here to win, and we're here to put our mark on basketball."

Of course the day included a buzzer-beater.

It came in Milwaukee, where Texas' Cameron Ridley gathered an offensive rebound and put it up just out of the reach of Arizona State's 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski and into the basket, sending the Longhorns to an 87-85 victory over the Sun Devils.

"We were fortunate," Texas coach Rick Barnes.

So many weren't, especially those who had hoped to win some coin with a perfect bracket.

With Dayton's opening win, about 83 percent of the brackets in Yahoo's Tourney Pick `Em game were one and done, perfection flushed in 40 minutes. The wins by Harvard and North Dakota State only figured to add to the number of disappointed billionaires-in-waiting once the official numbers were released.

"Yesssssssssss HARVARD!!!!!!! Messing up a lot of peoples chances at $1 billion lol," former Harvard and current Houston Rockets guard Jeremy Lin said on Twitter.

At CBSSports.com, Dayton took out 81 percent of the poolers in the bracket challenge. By the time the Bison roamed over the Sooners in the evening, 0.4 percent of the brackets were still perfect.

Of the 11 million brackets in ESPN's Tournament Challenge, over 80 percent had Ohio State advancing to the next round. That's about 8.8 million brackets with a blemish after one game.

And to the 2.2 percent that had the Buckeyes going all the way to the Final Four: Oops!

Through 12 games, there were 41,315 perfect brackets out of the original 11 million - or about 0.3 percent.

This, of course, is nothing new.

A year ago, not a single person of the 11 million who entered on ESPN's website was perfect after a first day filled with upsets. Just four got 15 out of 16 right.

By now, we've learned that Cinderella's carriage doesn't turn into a pumpkin once the NCAA tournament starts. It becomes a Formula One car racing through the bracket - and it may be moving at an even faster pace this year.

---

AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this story.

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Friday, 21 March 2014 07:23
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- For Florida, Louisville and Saint Louis, the home of "the happiest place on earth" was nearly dreadful.

The top-seeded Gators, the fourth-seeded Cardinals and the fifth-seeded Billikens survived significant scares in their opening games of the NCAA tournament Thursday. All three avoided becoming huge upset victims in the second round.

"That's what makes March Madness so fun," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.

Florida, the tournament's overall No. 1 seed, sleepwalked early and looked vulnerable late in a 67-55 win over No. 16 seed Albany.

Louisville and Saint Louis needed some late breaks. The Cardinals trailed 58-55 with about 4 minutes remaining before edging Manhattan 71-64, and the Billikens had to overcome a 16-point deficit in the second half before beating North Carolina State 83-80 in overtime.

The near-chaos started with Florida, which got a big boost from its bench in a tight game against what was supposed to be an overmatched opponent.

Sixth man Dorian Finney-Smith scored 16 points, most of them on dunks, and Florida used a second-half surge to beat Albany in the South Region.

Florida's locker room was a solemn place afterward, with coach Billy Donovan telling players "this isn't going to be enough to keep our season going."

The Gators (33-2), who won a school-record 27th consecutive game, vowed to play better against ninth-seeded Pittsburgh on Saturday. The Panthers (26-9) were the only team in Orlando that had an easy time Thursday. Pitt led 13-0 early and 46-18 at the break en route to beating No. 8 seed Colorado 77-48.

Louisville and Saint Louis had to work much harder.

The Cardinals staved off elimination against Manhattan, which showed everyone why Pitino wanted nothing to do with the Jaspers.

Luke Hancock hit two huge 3-pointers in the final 1:19 to help Louisville finally shake free from the tenacious Jaspers.

The Cards were outplayed for most of the second half before coming alive from behind the arc.

Russ Smith, who finished with 18 points, got things going with a game-tying 3 from the wing. Hancock delivered the knockout blows. He stole an inbound pass, got fouled and made both free throws. He hit the first of two daggers with a little more than a minute left and then sank a wide-open look from behind the arc with 28 seconds remaining.

Those shots propelled Louisville (30-5) into the round of 32, where it will face Saint Louis on Saturday in the Midwest Region.

"We needed a couple bounces to go our way," Hancock said. "Nobody wants to go home on the first day. We're trying to build a legacy. This is a first step."

Louisville is trying to become the first school since Florida in 2007 to win back-to-back titles.

While many questioned why the Cardinals were given a No. 4 seed, Pitino criticized the selection committee for pitting his team against 13th-seeded Manhattan, which is coached by Pitino's former assistant, Steve Masiello.

Masiello served as Pitino's ball boy with the NBA's New York Knicks in the 1980s, played for him at Kentucky (1996-1997) and then spent another six years coaching alongside him at Louisville (2005-11). They know each other inside and out, with Masiello molding Manhattan to mirror the Cardinals.

And it showed.

The Jaspers attacked Louisville's weaknesses and gave the Cards fits on the defensive end. Masiello was at times calling out Louisville's plays.

"That's one of the best coaching jobs that I have seen in my 39 years," Pitino said.

Saint Louis needed five extra minutes to avoid joining fellow No. 5's Cincinnati and Oklahoma in falling to 12th seeds in the tournament. The Billikens advanced by wiping out a late double-digit deficit.

Rob Loe led the way with 22 points and 15 rebounds. Jordair Jett overcame a slow start to score 18, doing most of his damage while Saint Louis (27-6) was escaping a 59-45 hole over the last five minutes of regulation.

"We didn't want to end on that kind of note. We didn't want to bow out of the tournament this early," Loe said. "We're here to win, and we're here to put our mark on basketball."

With better free throw shooting, Saint Louis would have won without having to work overtime against a team playing its second game in three nights.

NC State beat Xavier in an opening-round game, and fatigue could have been a factor in the Wolfpack collapsing late and missing 17 attempts from the foul line.

"It's heartbreaking. ... Obviously we're going to always feel like we let one slip away," NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. "It's hard to explain. We're a good foul shooting team."

© 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.

Friday, 21 March 2014 07:38
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Rams to host 2 prime-time games in 2014

Rams to host 2 prime-time games in 2014

   The St. Louis Rams will open the 2014 season at home against the Minnesota Vikings on September 7th.      The 2014 schedule released Wednesday al...

Mets cut down tying run, hold off Cardinals 3-2

Mets cut down tying run, hold off Cardinals 3-2

NEW YORK (AP) -- Lucas Duda hit a long home run and the New York Mets threw out the potential tying run at the plate in the ninth inning to hold off the St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 ...

Wainwright injures knee, Cardinals blank Mets 3-0

Wainwright injures knee, Cardinals blank Mets 3-0

  NEW YORK (AP) -- Adam Wainwright threw seven neat innings before leaving with a knee injury, and Jon Jay hit a two-run single that sent the St. Louis Cardinals to a 3...

Albert Pujols hits 500th HR of major league career

Albert Pujols hits 500th HR of major league career

  WASHINGTON (AP) -- Albert Pujols reached 500 homers in a hurry.   The Los Angeles Angels' first baseman hit a pair of shots off Washington Nationals righ...

Lyons solid in 1st start, Cards blanked by Mets

Lyons solid in 1st start, Cards blanked by Mets

  NEW YORK (AP) -- Tyler Lyons stepped into the St. Louis rotation and looked right at home. Too bad for him, the Cardinals couldn't get anyone home to help him. &n...

Blackhawks blank Blues 2-0 in Game 3

Blackhawks blank Blues 2-0 in Game 3

CHICAGO (AP) -- Corey Crawford made 34 saves in his third career postseason shutout, and the Chicago Blackhawks got back into their playoff series with the St. Louis Blues with ...

Cards defense, bullpen falter in 3-2 loss to Nats

Cards defense, bullpen falter in 3-2 loss to Nats

  WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Cardinals managed to score twice against Stephen Strasburg while starter Shelby Miller kept the Nationals offense quiet. Nine outs away from ta...

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