WNBA: Tears streamed down the face of Seimone Augustus. Lindsay Whalen limped off the floor with a badly sprained ankle. Maya Moore couldn’t hit a shot.
The third championship for the Minnesota Lynx was by far their most difficult. And that made the party that much sweeter.
With a suffocating defense and a yearning to celebrate in front of their loyal fans, the Lynx turned a tense WNBA Finals into a runaway.
Sylvia Fowles had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and the Lynx captured their third title in five years with a 69-52 victory over the Indiana Fever in Game 5 on Wednesday night at Minneapolis.
Augustus added 16 points and Rebekkah Brunson grabbed 14 rebounds for the Lynx, who also won it all in 2011 and 2013. Moore scored just five points on 1-for-8 shooting, but the Lynx forced 21 turnovers and held Indiana to 35.7 percent shooting in the league’s first Game 5 since 2009.
“This never gets old,” champagne-soaked Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said.
Tamika Catchings had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Fever, who were looking for their second championship.
Finally, the Lynx got to celebrate on their home court.
They won their first two titles on the road in Atlanta, forcing the success-starved Twin Cities sports fans to revel from afar. When the final buzzer sounded, a franchise-record 18,933 fans waved white towels while singer Prince watched from a suite above Target Center’s lower bowl.
And celebrate they did.
Augustus shed tears of joy after a throwback performance. Owner Glen Taylor hugged Reeve, and Moore leaped on to the scorer’s table and pumped her fists toward the crowd.
“We kept grinding and working despite everything that we’ve been through,” Augustus said.
It was a stunning collapse for the previously unflappable Fever, who had staved off elimination five straight times in these playoffs leading into Game 5.
In the second and third quarters, the Fever scored 12 points total and turned the ball over 17 times.
Star guard Briann January scored six points in the first quarter for Indiana, but didn’t get her next bucket until six minutes were gone in the third. She finished with 13 points on 6-for-15 shooting.
“They just outplayed us in every single way,” Fever coach Stephanie White said. “They looked like a team that was on a mission and they played like it.”
The game got off to an ugly start, with the Lynx slugging out a 27-21 lead at halftime in the lowest-scoring first half in finals history. Neither team could hit a shot or hold on to the ball, and Moore was held to just three points on 1-for-5 shooting.
The Lynx kept the defense set to stifling in the second half, but finally started to generate a little offense in the third to gradually pull away.
Fowles, who was named series MVP, had her way inside as she did for much of the finals and finally got some help from Augustus, who chipped in a vintage jumper and drive before Renee Montgomery turned the 20th turnover of the game into a layup just before the third-quarter buzzer that pushed Minnesota’s lead to 19 points.
In a community that has suffered through so much sports heartache over the last two decades, the Lynx have cemented themselves as a welcome respite. The record crowd that turned out for Game 5 got to watch a star-studded team that has become the league’s gold standard finish off one of the most impressive five-year runs in WNBA history.
Michal Neuvirth stops 30 shots to lead Philadelphia past Chicago
NHL: Michal Neuvirth stopped 30 shots in his second straight shutout, leading the Philadelphia Flyers to a 3-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Sam Gagner, Claude Giroux and Matt Read scored to lead the Flyers to their 12th straight regular-season home victory over Chicago. The Flyers have not lost to the Blackhawks in Philly during the regular season since Nov. 9, 1996.
The Blackhawks beat the Flyers in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final and clinched with a Game 6 win in Philly.
Filling in for Steve Mason, Neuvirth was sensational in his ninth career shutout. Mason missed a second straight game because of unspecified family reasons and there was no word when he would return.
Kentucky has another top-flight recruiting class
College men’s basketball: Kentucky coach John Calipari took longer than usual to assemble another top-flight recruiting class good enough to raise national championship expectations.
Of course, those lofty projections don’t ever change in Lexington.
But expecting these Wildcats to duplicate last year’s school-record 38-0 start is probably unrealistic, especially with Calipari taking his usual long-term view that his team will look better in March than right now.
Though far from a rebuilding project after his so-called “one-and-dones” hung around longer than expected, the coach warned that it could “get ugly” early on as the newcomers adjust to the college game and his system.
“We have no habits right now that will win you championships,” Calipari said during Wednesday’s annual day. “My guys returning, they do, but none of these new guys.”
Veteran Kentucky forwards Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee, along with guard Tyler Ulis may indeed be counted on initially to help offset the NBA departures of seven players from a 38-1 Final Four team.
Karl-Anthony Towns went No. 1 overall to Minnesota and led four Wildcats selected in the top 13 and six drafted overall.
The upperclassmen also must acclimate a bunch of new faces including 6-foot-11 forward Skal Labissiere and guards Isaiah Briscoe, Charles Matthews, Mychal Mulder and Jamal Murray – who signed this summer along with 7-foot Australian Isaac Humphries.
The first question Calipari faced Tuesday was whether Labissiere will be playing when the Wildcats open the season Nov. 13 against Albany. Asked repeatedly about reports the NCAA is reviewing the Haiti native’s eligibility, Kentucky athletic officials give the same response: They will confirm a player’s status on game day only.
Calipari and Labissiere, however, don’t seem concerned.
Calipari said of Labissiere’s status: “I’m fine. We’ll see in the first game.”
Added Labissiere, “I expect to play by the first game of the season. I’m not worried.”
Kentucky certainly needs size after losing 7-footers Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson, 6-11 Towns and 6-10 Trey Lyles to the draft. Labissiere certainly brings that and has bulked up to 220 pounds. Humphries meanwhile has been a surprise with an inside presence that Calipari compared to Towns, and a nice jumper to boot.
However, the backcourt might be the Wildcats’ deepest area with Ulis slated to run the point alongside shooters Murray, Briscoe and Matthews. After patiently playing behind Andrew Harrison last season, the 5-9 sophomore is eager to direct things.
Calipari even went as far to declare Ulis the best floor general he’s ever coached. Whether it was rhetoric or the coach was serious, it was hefty praise considering the recently inducted Hall of Famer has developed his share of standout guards including John Wall, who became an eventual No. 1 overall NBA pick and is now an All-Star with Washington.
Ulis smiled but shrugged it off.
“I just had to sit and wait my turn and understand because everybody deserved to play,” Ulis said. “I can play as many minutes as he needs me to, but I feel like I need to lead this team and just do what I need to do to win.”
SMU players want NCAA to reconsider sanctions
SMU athletic director Rick Hart has reiterated the school’s decision to accept a one-year postseason ban in men’s basketball after players released a statement on their own expressing their disappointment over NCAA sanctions.
Hart said Wednesday that he shares that disappointment but that the severity of violations acknowledged by SMU mandates a minimum one-year postseason ban.
In a statement to CBS Sports, the players on Wednesday expressed their “profound disappointment” with the sanctions and claimed the NCAA “exercised questionable judgment in punishing innocent people.” They also asked the NCAA to reconsider the sanctions.
SMU last week announced that it would not appeal the postseason ban or the nine-game suspension for coach Larry Brown. The NCAA ruled that a former men’s basketball administrative assistant completed the online course work for a student to meet NCAA initial eligibility to be admitted to the university.
Villanova unanimous choice in Big East
Villanova is the unanimous pick of the Big East coaches in their preseason poll for the second straight year.
The Wildcats lived up to the billing last season, winning their second straight regular-season title with a 16-2 record, and then won the Big East Tournament. They finished 33-3 and were No. 2 in the final AP poll.
Two starters return – seniors Daniel Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacono, last season’s conference co-player of the year. They will be joined by a recruiting class that includes guard Jalen Brunson, the preseason rookie of the year.
Georgetown is second in the preseason poll, followed by Butler, Xavier, Providence, Marquette, Seton Hall, DePaul, Creighton and St. John’s.
Providence junior guard Kris Dunn is the preseason player of the year. He was the first guard in Big East history to earn player and defensive player of the year awards in the same season. He was a co-winner of both.
The preseason first team is Butler’s Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones, Georgetown’s D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Xavier’s Jalen Reynolds and Arcidiacono.
LSU freshman Ben Simmons draws scouts
The first thing LSU freshman forward Ben Simmons did when he trotted into Pete Maravich Assembly Center for practice was work his way through two rows of NBA scouts at court-side viewing tables, shaking hands with each one.
Mostly because of Simmons, the Tigers have had more preseason hype than perhaps the early 1990s, when Shaquille O’Neal was the star.
Simmons looks perfectly comfortable with that, and coach Johnny Jones wants the whole team to be as well.
“You want to embrace it. It’s exciting,” said Jones, who was an LSU assistant under Dale Brown when O’Neal was there. “You’d much rather be on the side of high expectations and people thinking that you’re going to be very good.”
The 6-foot-10 Simmons, who grew up in Australia and attended high school in Florida, is as much at ease handling the ball on a fast break and delivering crisp, accurate passes as he is soaring to the hoop for a one-handed jam. He will be the marquee attraction this season and scouts believe he has the potential to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft.
But he isn’t the only player that NBA personnel from all but two teams came to see (Memphis and Orlando had scheduling conflicts, an LSU official said). The squad also features 6-4 guard Antonio Blakeney, who was named Florida’s top high school player last season – over Simmons. Then there is 6-6 junior guard Tim Quarterman, whose steady development has made him a bona fide pro prospect as well.
Maryland’s Melo Trimble wins Big Ten preseason award
Maryland’s Melo Trimble is the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year.
The guard was selected by a panel of conference media after a strong freshman season in which he averaged 16.2 points and helped the Terrapins win 28 games.
Trimble was also a unanimous preseason all-conference pick along with Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Purdue’s A.J. Hammons and Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes. Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr., and Yogi Ferrell, Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff, Maryland’s Jake Layman, Michigan’s Caris LeVert and Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig also earned preseason all-Big Ten honors.
Caroline Wozniacki reaches second round
Tennis: Caroline Wozniacki was the only player among the top-five seeded women to reach the second round at the Generali Ladies, rallying to beat Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 at Linz, Austria.
Third-seeded Roberta Vinci of Italy lost her first-round match against Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia 6-1, 6-7 (3), 6-1.
Top-seeded Lucie Safarova and No. 4 Andrea Petkovic both lost on Tuesday, while No. 5 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova withdrew because of illness.
No. 6 Camila Giorgi joined the exodus later Wednesday in the second round as the Italian, who reached the final here last year, was beaten by Margarita Gasparyan of Russia 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.
In other second-round play, Madison Brengle of the United States missed six match points before beating Johanna Konta of Britain 6-3, 7-5.
In her fourth quarterfinal of the season, Brengle will take on Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany, who defeated Andreea Mitu of Romania 7-5, 6-3.
The 11th-ranked Wozniacki, who is seeded second, went up 2-0 in the opening set but won only two points in the next five games against Lucic-Baroni. She missed a set point at 5-4 in the second set but turned the match around in the tiebreaker.
Wozniacki will play Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens for a place in the quarterfinals.
Oregon State picked to defend Pac-12 title
College women’s basketball: Oregon State has been picked to repeat as Pac-12 women’s basketball champion by the league’s coaches.
Reigning Pac-12 Coach of the Year Scott Rueck’s Beavers won the Pac-12 regular-season crown last season for the first time in school history and are bumping perennial power Stanford from the top spot for the first time in 16 years.
Oregon State received the maximum 11 first-place votes for 121 points, while Stanford was picked second with 104 points, the Pac-12 announced during its media day Wednesday. Arizona State was selected third with 102 points.
The last time Stanford wasn’t picked conference champion in the preseason coaches’ poll was 1999-2000, when UCLA was chosen to win.
California and UCLA are tied for fourth, followed by Washington, USC, Oregon, Colorado, Washington State, Utah and Arizona.
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