Rice on the menu for Patriots defense

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Rice on the menu for Patriots defense

FOXBORO - Ray Rice led the NFL in 2011 in yards from scrimmage with 2,068 (1,364 on the ground). He carried the ball 291 times and caught it 76. So of the 5,419 yards Baltimore gained, he was responsible for 38 percent of them.

So, yeah, the Patriots want to keep tabs on Rice Sunday in the AFC Championship, New England's sixth appearance in that game in Bill Belichick's 12 seasons in New England.

On the first play from scrimmage in the 2009 playoffs against the Patriots, Rice ran virtually untouched for 83 yards and touchdown through the heart of the Patriots defense.

That play is still on their minds.

"2009, yeah it was unfortunate," Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich said Monday. "We didnt start that game off the way we wanted to on defense. A team that potent and tough, you cant give up a big run for a touchdown to start the game off like that. Obviously, thats something that we really need to focus on, is not letting up any big plays like that, especially to start the game off. The momentum they gained from that obviously just snowballed for the rest of the game and they were able to go out there and play well."

The next 59:45 of that game wasn't much fun for the Patriots, either, as they lost 33-14. So overpowering was the Ravens rushing attack that quarterback Joe Flacco only threw 10 times.

Finding Rice is sometimes half the battle. At 5-foot-8, he can duck behind linemen and runs like a field mouse. Except he's a strong field mouse and he runs through arm tackles.

"Hes a little bit different because hes a smaller, compact guy real strong," Ninkovich explained. "Kind of like a Maurice Jones-Drew guy: real strong at hitting the hole and is real fast, but also can catch the ball out of the backfield and make some plays in the passing game. Hes a target for them that really makes a lot of plays for them so you have to make sure that you account for him on the field at all times."

Rice was kept in check this past Sunday by the formidable Houston Texans defense. He ran for 60 yards on 21 carries.

The Patriots defense is not as stout as Houston's. And even if it were, it wouldn't lessen their concerns about him. "Hes different because hes just very explosive," said Ninkovich. "If you give him just a little bit, he can turn that into a real big play. You have to make sure you keep all the holes tight so he doesnt have something just to hit and go. Hes a challenge for us."

A challenge that, if the Patriots are able to limit, will go a long way toward putting them in the Super Bowl.

Nash scores a pair of goals in Bruins 2-1 win over Islanders

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Nash scores a pair of goals in Bruins 2-1 win over Islanders

BROOKLYN, NY – The Bruins knew they needed to find stellar performances somewhere in order to come out of a must-win game vs. the Islanders with two points, and they got exactly that.

Riley Nash had his best game as a member of the Bruins with a pair of goals scored in a 2-1 win over the Islanders at the Barclays Center that snapped a four game losing streak, and pushed them back into the wild card playoff spot.

It wasn’t a perfect game for the Black and Gold by any means and it was nip-and-tuck all the way, but it was important for the Bruins to show they could pull out those kinds of games late in the season.

Things didn’t look all that great early when John Tavares cut through the Bruins defense in the first period, and whistled a wrist shot from the high slot that went through Adam McQuaid’s legs before beating Anton Khudobin. The Bruins responded, however, on the very next shift with Nash stealing the puck from Scott Mayfield in the neutral zone, and beating Thomas Greiss short side for the important game-tying goal.

It looked like the Bruins had their go-ahead score in the first period on a second-effort power play goal by Frank Vatrano, but that was wiped out by a coach’s challenge that ruled David Backes interfered with Greiss in front of the New York net.

So the Bruins needed to wait until the third period when Boston’s fourth line stepped up and won the massively important game for Boston. Dominic Moore fed Riley Nash hustling into the offensive zone, and he weaved through the Islanders defense before snapping a shot past Greiss for his second goal of the game and his seventh on the season for the Bruins. 

NCAA TOURNAMENT: Gonzaga beats Xavier 83-59 to reach first Final Four

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NCAA TOURNAMENT: Gonzaga beats Xavier 83-59 to reach first Final Four

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Nigel Williams-Goss scored 23 points while orchestrating Gonzaga's efficient offense, and the Zags finally shook their overrated tag by routing Xavier 83-59 on Saturday to reach the Final Four for the first time.

Gonzaga (36-1) has been dogged by criticism through the years despite winning consistently, in part for playing in a weak conference but also for never making the Final Four.

On the cusp of history, the Zags took it head on with a superb all-around game to give coach Mark Few the one missing piece of his resume.

Gonzaga found the range from the perimeter after struggling the first three NCAA games, making 12 of 24 from 3-point range. The defense, a soft spot in the past, shut down the underdog and 11th-seeded Musketeers (24-14) to win the West Region.

The Zags will face the winner between South Carolina and Florida in next week's Final Four in Arizona.

J.P Macura led the Musketeers with 18 points.

The Musketeers brought their turn-the-page jar of ashes to the NCAA Tournament, where they burned through a string of upsets to reach their third Elite Eight and first since 2008. They beat Maryland, Florida State and took down No. 2 Arizona in the regional semifinals, setting up a matchup of small Jesuit schools seeking their first Final Four.

The Final Four was the only thing missing on Few's resume, which includes 18 straight NCAA Tournaments, eight trips to the Sweet 16 and a third Elite Eight after surviving West Virginia's constant pressure in the regional semifinals.

The Zags struggled to find an offensive rhythm against the Mountaineers - who doesn't? - but had it flowing against Xavier.

Gonzaga came into the Elite Eight hitting 29 percent of its 3-point shots after making 37 percent during the season. The Zags found the range early against Xavier, hitting 8 of 13 from the arc in the first half, mostly against the Musketeers' zone or on kick-outs from center Przemek Karnowski.

Xavier got off to a good start offensively by working the ball around, but hit a dry spell and made 1 of 5 from 3-point range as Gonzaga stretched to lead to 49-39 by halftime.

Halftime did little to slow the Zags, who pushed the lead to 59-42 on 3-pointers by Williams-Goss and Jordan Mathews. Gonzaga kept the machine rolling in the second half, continuing to make shots while its defense prevented the Musketeers from making any kind of run.