U.S. women rout Angola, 90-38

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U.S. women rout Angola, 90-38

LONDON -- Another game, another blowout for the U.S. women's basketball team -- not that the score matters to them. That sounds like the right thing to say after Candace Parker had 14 points and 12 rebounds to lead the U.S. to a 90-38 rout of Angola on Monday night. But the Americans aren't just being politically correct. They know they are still a work in progress, having only been together training for two weeks, and are going to play some tough games during the tournament. "The goal is to continue to get better every game and I think that was what we did" against Angola, Parker said. "I think we're continuing to work on things that no matter what the scoreboard can help us down the line." The game against Angola was expected to be an easy romp -- and it was -- with the U.S. overwhelming the Olympic newcomer. "It's definitely about ourselves," said U.S. guard Sue Bird. "That's how Coach Geno Auriemma coaches in college. It's his philosophy. Never about how much you win by or lose by, it's how we played. Especially in a game like tonight where going in we kind of had a feeling it might be like this. Not to play to the score, not to relax. "This is an opportunity for us to play together and we need to take advantage of every opportunity we get." Parker finished with her second double-double of the tournament. She is averaging 12.5 points and 12.5 rebounds. The Americans (2-0) have won their last 35 straight games in the Olympics and four consecutive gold medals while Angola is looking for its first victory. The team lost its opener to Turkey by 22 points meaning African nations have only won one of their 25 games in the Olympics since Congo -- formerly known as Zaire -- first qualified in the 1996 Atlanta Games. Nigeria owns the only victory, beating Korea by four points in 2004. The Americans had played African teams twice and routed them both. The U.S. beat Zaire by 60 points in 1996 and then Mali by 56 at the Beijing Games in 2008. Angola (0-2) did fare a little better than its continental neighbors. The team stayed close to the Americans for the first quarter, only trailing by 10 at the end of the period. Then the U.S. put the game away outscoring the African country 19-6 in the second period. Parker hit two reverse lay-ins in the quarter. The Americans continued the rout in the second half. The strong crowd which had witnessed some very competitive games all day, emptied out early in the final period knowing the outcome wasn't in doubt. "We decided we want to enjoy the game, we understood before the difference in the standard," Angola coach Anibal Moreira said. "We feel a lot of pride to be able to play against such a team, who are idols for our players. We hoped to get to 50 points but we didn't succeed." Sonia Guadalupe scored 11 points to lead Angola. Auriemma decided before the game not to play center Sylvia Fowles, who has a sore left foot. "I tweaked it a little bit yesterday in practice and I gave it a go this morning and it didn't feel quite right so we're just resting it and playing it safe," Fowles said. It didn't matter as the 6-foot-4 Parker looked confident on the floor, demanding the ball in the post and running the floor for easy layups. The game was a contrast for the U.S. from its opener when the Americans struggled on offense for the first three quarters before pulling away from Croatia. Despite the lopsided final score, Auriemma has been impressed in the growth of women's basketball that he's seen in Angola and other African countries. "Angola's one of those countries you hope, because of what's happened with the U.S. and some other places in women's basketball, that other African countries pick up and say that could be us," Auriemma said. "Hopefully that's a country that becomes accustomed to playing in the Olympics. Hopefully they devote more energy and resources and they can come back to the Olympics on a regular basis." Next up for the U.S. is Turkey, which improved to 2-0 in pool play with a 61-57 victory over the Czech Republic. The Americans also will face China and the Czech Republic. The U.S. beat the Czechs in the finals of the 2010 world championship to qualify for the London Games. In other games Saturday, France shocked Australia 74-70 in OT. It was the first loss by the Aussies to anyone other than the U.S. in an Olympic game since 1996. China routed Croatia 83-58; Russia beat Brazil 69-59; and Canada edged Britain 73-65.

Mitchell, Hogan reportedly good to go for AFC title game

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Mitchell, Hogan reportedly good to go for AFC title game

FOXBORO -- The Patriots haven't had all of their receivers simultaneously healthy and in uniform since they acquired Michael Floyd on waivers last month. That appears as though it could change Sunday. 

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, wideouts Malcolm Mitchell (knee) and Chris Hogan (thigh) are expected to play in the AFC title game. Tight end Martellus Bennett (knee) is also expected to play, per Schefter. All three were listed as questionable on the team's injury report. 

Mitchell has not seen game action since injuring his knee mid-way through the third quarter against the Jets in Week 16. Hogan suffered a thigh injury against the Texans last week, left the game in the third quarter and did not return. 

Patriots receiver Danny Amendola was also listed on this week's injury report with an ankle issue. Last week, he played in his first game since Week 13.

If Mitchell, Hogan and Amendola are all healthy enough to play, the Patriots will have their choice of five wideouts against the Steelers since Julian Edelman and Floyd are also physically able to suit up. 

Will they all be in uniform? That remains to be seen. The Patriots haven't taken five receivers on their 46-man game-day roster yet this season. However, because all five bring something different to the Patriots offense, perhaps Bill Belichick and his staff will find it valuable enough to activate all five.

If the Patriots opt to take the receiver-heavy route, they'll have to go lighter elsewhere -- perhaps de-activating a core special teamer -- in order to make room.

Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

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Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

FOXBORO -- There are plenty of damn good running backs in the NFL but there is only one Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers star shuffles, darts and then dashes, often with bodies crashing all around him, many of them intent on doing serious bodily harm . . . but often failing.

“He’s very unique,” said linebacker Shea McClellin. “I don’t think anyone else runs quite like he does, but it’s efficient and it works.”

Defensive end Chris Long concurred: “His style is so unique, his patience, what he’s able to do with his vision. And as far as breaking tackles, being a complete player, catching the ball, he can do all that stuff.”

Now don’t get it twisted. The Pats respect the hell out of Bell, but they’d prefer they weren’t in charge of corralling him Sunday because everyone has failed during Pittsburgh’s nine-game winning streak. Bell, who played in eight of those games, has piled up over 1,500 yards from the line of scrimmage during that stretch -- 1,172 yards rushing, 336 yards receiving -- while scoring 9 touchdowns. 

“He’s really fun to watch unless you’re getting ready to play him,” said Long.

The respect Bell commands in Foxboro is evident when talking to the Pats running backs, who spoke glowingly about the former first-rounder and in LeGarrette Blount’s case, former teammate.

“No one can do what he does,” Blount told me. “They can try, but it won’t work.”

“That’s his style,” added Dion Lewis, himself a shifty fella. “You can’t try to do that. I’m pretty sure he’s the only guy that can do that.”

So how do the Pats accomplish something no one has been able to do over the last two-plus months? How do they slow Bell down, as they did back in Week 7, limiting him to 81 yards rushing (only 3.9 yards per carry)? 

“I think defensively he really forces you to be disciplined,” said Pats coach Bill Belichick. “You jump out of there too quickly then you open up gaps and open up space. Le’Veon has a great burst through the hole. He doesn’t really need long to get through there, runs with good pad level. He’s hard to tackle so if you don’t get a full body on him then he’ll run right through those arm tackles. [He] really forces everybody to be sound in their gaps.”

“If there’s space or if there’s a gap in the defense or if there’s an edge in the defense, he’s quick to take advantage of that,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia told us during a conference call earlier this week. “He’s going to be able to get into that open space pretty quickly so you can’t really -- I don’t think you want to sit there and guess.”

If the Pats defenders, especially at the linebacker level, do that -- guess and attack a gap aggressively in attempt to make a splash play -- they may fill one gap but open two others. And that’s where a four-yard gain can turn into 40.

“Everyone on the field, it’s their job to get to him, gang tackle and be aggressive,” said Rob Ninkovich. “It can’t be just one time but every time you’re on the field.”

“There’s no one guy that can stop him,” added Belichick. “You’re going to have to have everybody doing a good job in a number of different areas all the way across the front and then do a good job of tackling.”

The Pats are a terrific tackling team, and haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season (actually, not since November of 2015), but the red-hot Bell will put recent history to the test.