Baylor states its case: Greatest women's team ever?

722610.jpg

Baylor states its case: Greatest women's team ever?

From Comcast SportsNet
DENVER (AP) -- Brittney Griner took the Baylor Lady Bears to new heights. Blocking layups, snagging rebounds, hitting shots over two and three helpless defenders, all season long she towered over the competition. That left Griner with just one more task Tuesday night -- cutting down the nets. Griner had 26 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks to lead Baylor to a dominating 80-61 victory over Notre Dame in the NCAA women's basketball championship, capping an unparalleled 40-0 season for the Lady Bears. "She'll go down as one of the greatest post players in the history of the game," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "I'm so glad she got that ring." When the buzzer sounded, Griner finally celebrated, hamming it up as she helped take down the nets and dancing with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. Then she lifted coach Mulkey up on her shoulders briefly, just the way she has done for the Lady Bears during this long season. "It meant everything for us to get it for coach," said Griner, referring to Mulkey's struggle with Bell's palsy during the tournament. "She felt like she wasn't there for us, but we told her every second that we could hear here loud and clear, everything she was saying." Baylor became the seventh women's team to run through a season unbeaten and the first in NCAA history to win 40 games. It was the second national championship for Baylor, which also won a title in 2005. "Looking back when we get older, I'm always going to remember this moment, always going to remember confetti falling and being here with my team," Griner said. Baylor did it in a nearly wire-to-wire victory, finishing with a flourish when anything less than bringing a title back to Waco would have been a huge disappointment. The 6-foot-8 Griner was right at the center of the action as the Lady Bears took control. Every time Notre Dame made a run in the second half to cut into the deficit, Griner had an answer. She showed a wide array of post moves, hitting turnaround jumpers and hooks that the Irish had no way to stop -- even when they collapsed around her. "Brittney Griner comes to work every day," Mulkey said. "A lot of great players think they're all that and they half go through drills and they come to practice and they dog it. That child comes to work and brings her work pail every day." Notre Dame fell short in the title game for the second straight season. The Irish lost to Texas A&M by six points last year. Coach Muffet McGraw's senior-heavy crew did finish the season with a decided edge over rival Connecticut -- the Irish won the Big East regular season title and defeated the Huskies in three of four meetings, including the national semifinal. But like every other team this year, Notre Dame couldn't solve Baylor and its superstar. "I think she's one of a kind," McGraw said. "There's so many things she can do. There have been some guards that have had some skill like that. But as a post player, she's the best I've seen." Griner, selected The Associated Press player of the year, also was named most outstanding player of the tournament. "We wouldn't be here without my team," the junior said. "All the awards -- none of that means anything. If I don't have my team here, we can't get this." All-American point guard Skylar Diggins did all she could to keep the Irish (36-4) in the game, scoring 20 points. But senior Natalie Novosel had just five points, going 0-for-11 from the field. Devereaux Peters, also playing in her final game, was saddled with foul trouble because of Griner. She scored seven points. Diggins "played a great game," McGraw said. "She's just a big-time player and she didn't get a lot of help today." Like Griner, Diggins has pledged to return for her senior year -- both could join the WNBA draft -- and will try to make a third run at the title. Notre Dame had an early 9-8 lead before Baylor took over with a 12-2 run. The Irish were down by 14 in the first half before cutting their deficit to 34-28 at the break. They got as close as 42-39 and had the ball, but Griner asserted herself, scoring nine of the next 19 points for Baylor to seal the victory. "They went on a run there," Diggins said. "I just remember we cut it down to three and they went on a run. I saw 10, 12, 14, 16, 19. We couldn't get rebounds when they missed shots." Odyssey Sims added 19 points and Destiny Williams had 12 for the Lady Bears, who outrebounded Notre Dame 46-27 and now have the third unbeaten season in women's basketball in the last four years. UConn, which has gone undefeated four times, did it in back-to-back years in 2009 and 2010. Texas and Tennessee also have unbeaten seasons. Baylor's victory also gave President Barack Obama some bragging rights. He correctly picked Baylor to beat Notre Dame in the title game. With 1:04 left and the game well in hand, Mulkey took out Griner and the two shared a long hug. The fiery coach then went down the bench and hugged each of her players while holding back tears. "I'm just so happy," Mulkey said. "That old saying, you're so happy you cry.' I can't quit crying.'" Mulkey, who did her net cutting with daughter Mackenzie -- who is a freshman on the team -- and son Kramer, has now won a title as a player (at Louisiana Tech), an Olympic gold medal (in 1984) and two titles as a coach. Only five women's coaches have more than one championship at the top level of NCAA competition. Mulkey has downplayed the 40 wins, noting that her former coach and mentor at Louisiana Tech Leon Barmore won 40 games in 1980. That was before women's basketball was governed by the NCAA, which didn't begin keeping records until the 1982 season. It was the second meeting between the teams this season. Baylor also won the first one, by 13 in Waco on Nov. 17. That win gave the Lady Bears the preseason WNIT title. As usual, Griner put on a show in warmups, thrilling the crowd with a series of impressive dunks -- including a one-handed throw down, a double-pump slam and another in which she hung on rim. She dunked twice in the tournament, matching Candace Parker for most dunks by a woman in NCAA tournament play and during a college career (seven). She couldn't catch one against the Irish. The Lady Bears had a strong cheering section that included Griffin -- dancing in his seat at the end of the game -- and country music star Trace Adkins. He was a freshman walk-on football player at Louisiana Tech in the early 1980s when Mulkey was a senior there. Notre Dame had its own star fan in former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who earned a graduate degree at the school. The Irish were wearing their green uniforms for the first time since last season's title loss. It didn't help. But on this night, nothing else could stop Griner, either.

Patriots release veteran wide receiver Nate Washington

patriots-nate-washington-060816.jpg

Patriots release veteran wide receiver Nate Washington

FOXBORO -- The Patriots cut down on their numbers at the receiver position on Wednesday by releasing veteran Nate Washington, Tom E. Curran has reported.

Washington, who will turn 33 later this month, was signed in the offseason to a one-year deal with $60,000 guaranteed. His presence on the roster provided the Patriots with some veteran depth as an outside receiver, but when he vomitted at the end of the team's first training camp practice and then missed several practices thereafter, he had difficulty making up for lost time. 

Washington did whatever he could in order to stay involved. Oftentimes he walked in and out of the huddle with teammates even though he would not be involved in the play, and during one practice he ran routes alone on an adjacent field while the Patriots offense went through plays nearby.

The former Steelers, Titans and Texans receiver was eager to prove he had more to give at this late stage of his career. Last season in Houston, in an offense similar to the one in New England, he caught 47 passes for 658 yards and four touchdowns. Prior to last season, during which he played 14 games, Washington had not missed a regular-season game since before the start of the 2006 season. 

With Washington no longer a factor in the wide-receiver picture in New England, the Patriots have one less competitor for what appears as though it will be just one or two open roster spots at the position. 

At the top of the depth chart Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell are essentially locks to be included on the final 53-man roster. (Amendola is on the physically unable to perform list at the moment but is progressing toward a return.) Matthew Slater can also be included on that list, though his contributions will come primarily as a special teamer.

That means Keshawn Martin, Aaron Dobson, Chris Harper, DeAndre Carter and Devin Lucien could be competing for just one roster spot.

Washington's release gives that situation a little more clarity, but the overall picture is still a hazy one that may sort itself out over the course of the next two weeks. 

Bryan Stork, starting center in 2014 Super Bowl, released by Patriots

Bryan Stork, starting center in 2014 Super Bowl, released by Patriots

The first mildly-surprising release of training camp is in the books as the Patriots have parted ways with third-year center Bryan Stork, Tom E. Curran has confirmed. 

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media was the first to report the news. 

Stork was involved in one of the most hotly-contested battles of camp, vying for the starting center role along with 2015 undrafted free agent David Andrews. The pair split reps through the spring and into the summer, but Stork suffered what was reported as a concussion, missed a week of practice, and lost ground to Andrews that was never made up. Andrews started each of the team's first two preseason games, and he was consistently the first center on the practice field even after Stork's return. 

Andrews started and played every snap for the Patriots through the first nine games of last season, helping the team go 9-0 in that stretch. When Stork was activated off of the short-term injured reserve list, he re-gained the center job and Andrews a reserve role. 

Stork made an almost immediate impact with the Patriots after he was drafted out of Florida State in the fourth round in 2014. He made his first start in Week 4 and started 11 games in total. He also started in the Divisional Round against the Ravens that season and in Super Bowl XLIX. 

Stork's release was likely a result of a handful of factors, including Andrews' rise, his own injury history, and perhaps a certain level of on-the-field unpredictability he displayed at times. Stork was removed from two Patriots practices this preseason -- one during OTAs and one during training camp -- for fighting. He also drew an unnecessary roughness penalty during last season's AFC title game. 

The Patriots will move forward under unretired offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia with Andrews, Josh Kline and sixth-round rookie Ted Karras as the players who have taken center snaps in training camp practices. 

Brady: Preseason reps help you adapt to the speed of the game

Brady: Preseason reps help you adapt to the speed of the game

FOXBORO -- It's clear that Tom Brady wants to play at some point this preseason. What's a little less clear is what he thinks he stands to gain from preseason game reps in August when he won't be playing meaningful snaps until October. 

After explaining why he missed Thursday's preseason game with the Bears, which he was scheduled to start, Brady was asked on Tuesday if he feels as though he needs game reps before matching up with the Browns in Week 5.

"I don’t think any of them hurt," he said. "I think just do the best you can do. We’re preparing a lot of guys to get ready to play. I fit into that, but so do a lot of other guys. I’m just taking the advice of coach [Bill Belichick], and whatever he wants to do. I’m going to do everything I can to be ready to go when I am called upon. That’s what my responsibility is so that’s what I’m preparing to do."

If the only benefit of having Brady play against the Panthers in the third preseason game amounts to, "Well, couldn't hurt..." then it would come as some surprise if Belichick opted to play Brady anyway. Because it could hurt. It could hurt quite a bit should something flukey happen and Brady ends up worse off than he was after his recent run-in with a pair of scissors. 

Former assistant to the Patriots coaching staff Mike Lombardi, told WEEI recently that Brady needs to work in a preseason game before serving his four-game suspension. Why? 

"The speed of the game changes," Lombardi said. "You have practices against the Bears, but it’s kind of simulated and controlled. I think Tom wants to get the flow of the game . . . Because it’s the third preseason game, Jimmy [Garoppolo] is probably going to play as much into the third quarter as possible, and then you don’t want to put Tom out there with a lot of other guys that perhaps won’t make the team. The second game was kind of a game where he should have played a little bit to get his feet wet. He’s not going to play the fourth game against the New York Giants. That’s going to be Jacoby Brissett’s game. 

"I think [the Bears game] was the time, and that’s why [Brady] was going to play. Obviously something happened with the injury and that’s why he didn’t play . . . I know Tom needs to play in the preseason. He’s not just going to go waltz onto the field and feel the game is going to come right to him."

It feels as though Brady, after 16 years in the NFL, would be able to adapt to the speed of the game relatively quickly with or without preseason reps. But Brady expressed an opinion similar to that of Lombardi when asked about the difference between preseason snaps and practice snaps. He's seen plenty of the latter against the Bears, Saints and his own teammates.

"Well, I think you’re getting hit so just the space awareness, guys around you and ball security and things like that," Brady said. "For whatever, the last 30 practices, quarterbacks aren’t touched. Just standing there in the pocket, holding the ball knowing that they’re coming to get the ball and knock it out of your hands, hitting the ground, those types of things and so forth are important.

"You just have to feel things out, and the game is really the only place to get it because it’s regular speed. You don’t know what’s coming. We prepare, but we don’t obviously get to walk through the looks that we’re going to get. When you get out there you just have to make good decisions and go play quarterback the way that I’ve always tried to do."

Maybe it's to adapt to the pace of the game. Maybe it's to be faced with the real threat of contact. Maybe it's just because he can't stand not to be on the field when the Patriots are playing. Either way, Brady obviously hopes that he'll play on Friday night in Carolina. 

The question now is are the benefits great enough that Belichick will allow him to?