Spartans fall 58-54 to Utah State in WAC semis


Spartans fall 58-54 to Utah State in WAC semis

LAS VEGAS (AP) Tai Wesley had 14 points and 12 rebounds, Brockeith Pane added 16 points and No. 23 Utah State held off San Jose State 58-54 Friday night to reach the Western Athletic Conference tournament championship game.Utah State (29-3) came into the WAC tournament looking for a second title in three years and to boost its NCAA tournament credentials. A fifth trip to the WAC title game in six years certainly helps, but the Aggies want to leave no doubt by beating the New Mexico State-Boise State winner on Saturday to earn the conference's automatic bid.Eighth-seeded San Jose State (17-15) gave Utah State everything it could handle in the semifinals despite playing for the third straight day, just missing the lead in the closing seconds when Adrian Oliver's 30-footer rimmed out.Oliver finished with 16 points and Keith Shamburger added 11 for San Jose State.Utah State won its fourth straight regular-season WAC title handily, going 15-1 to finish five games ahead of second-place Boise State.The Aggies set a school record for regular-season victories by winning 26 of their final 27 games and were ranked the final seven weeks of the regular season for their longest streak in 40 years.The standard-setting season gave Utah State a double bye into the semifinals, while San Jose State had to go through two grueling games to get there.The eighth-seeded Spartans made a surprising run into their first WAC semis, beating higher seeds Hawaii and Idaho behind the strong guard play of Oliver, Shamburger and Justin Graham.San Jose State's road figured to get much harder against Utah State, a team led by six seniors and Wesley, the WAC player of the year.The Aggies swept the two games during the regular season: by seven in Logan behind Pane's stat-sheet-filling game, and again by 19 on the road when reserve guard Brian Green scored a career-high 25 points.In the third matchup, Utah State had hoped San Jose State would have tired legs after playing the previous two days, and coach Stew Morrill freely rotated players in, using nine in the first half.The Spartans didn't seem to mind.With Oliver and Shamburger again leading the way - they had 28 points each against Idaho - San Jose State kept it tight in the first half, trailing by just four after holding the Aggies to 12-of-31 shooting from the field.Utah State tried to pull away early in the second half, building a 44-34 lead, but the Spartans weren't ready to cash in their season just yet.San Jose State, after shooting poorly to open the half, started dropping a few here and there while continuing to play tight defense, pulling to 50-49 with just over 8 minutes left.The Spartans continued to hang around, getting within two on Oliver's hard drive with 51 seconds left.Oliver got San Jose's final chance after Wesley missed a free throw at the other end, holding his dribble until the closing seconds, then launching a long 3-point attempt from straightaway. It just missed, Wesley snared the rebound and made two foul shots this time, sealing the harder-than-expected win.

Rewind: 'Beautiful' night for Kings, Sacramento despite loss to Spurs

Rewind: 'Beautiful' night for Kings, Sacramento despite loss to Spurs

SACRAMENTO -- Basketball was supposed to take a back seat Thursday night at the Golden 1 Center. After countless failed attempts to build a new arena in Sacramento, the Kings were almost allowed to leave twice. But a new building comes another 30-plus year lease, cementing NBA hoops in the capital of California until at least the midway point of the century.

The evening was supposed to be a celebration of an accomplishment that many believed would never happen. And then a basketball game broke out.

No one expected the Kings to compete with the San Antonio Spurs. Gregg Popovich’s club won 67 games last season and were fresh off a smackdown of the Golden State Warriors in the season opener on Tuesday.

But this isn’t the 2015-16 Sacramento Kings that would routinely yield 110 points to their opponents. This is Dave Joerger’s club and they are grinders.

The end result was a loss, but one that you can live with. 102-94 doesn’t tell the whole story. For much of the night, the Kings were the best team on the floor.

“I consider this a good loss,” DeMarcus Cousins said. “I’m ready for the next one.”

There are moral victories when you are two games into an 82 game schedule and you go toe-to-toe with one of the best in the league. The mood in past seasons would have been somber in the Kings locker room, but that is not what it felt like on Thursday evening.

“The scary apart about it is we’ve still got so much more room to improve,” Cousins said. “In the past, you usually walk in here and guys are sulking and pissed off. (Tonight) it’s like okay, let’s get onto the next one. We know we made some mistakes. We know we broke down, but we’re on the right path right now.”

That path is built on a defensive identity and the Kings are building chemistry at a shocking rate. With five new rotational players and three new starters, Sacramento’s roster is still learning how to play together.

“As a group, we were pretty good defensively, we communicate with each other, so we’re always going to have a chance every night,” veteran shooting guard Arron Afflalo said.

When you play the Spurs, your margin for error is almost nill. The game turned on a turnover here and a mistake there and that’s something you can’t have when you’re playing a group that has been together for years in the same system.

“Defensively, I think we took a step in the right direction,” Rudy Gay said. “They’re a great team, I think we played great defense. Had a couple of letdowns, but it’s a basketball game. They’re a veteran team playing together. They have a system and they stuck to their system.”

It will go down as the first loss in the history of the Golden 1 Center, but the Kings are showing signs that they might be better than expected.

As for the opening of the building, it went off without a hitch. Both David Stern and Adam Silver were in attendance to see the event. As was Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett, former Sacramento Kings All-Star Chris Webber, mayor Kevin Johnson and a bevy of local celebrities.

It was an emotional night all around, even for Cousins who has spent the first six-plus seasons of his career in a Kings uniform.

“It was beautiful, man,” the Kings’ big man said from his locker stall. “As much as this city has been through, as much as they fought, they were more than deserving of this night. I wish we could have sealed the deal with a win, but we got 80 more so we can make it up later.”

The Kings face a young and athletic Minnesota Timberwolves team on Saturday that has given them fits in the past. It’s a new challenge that this team looks better prepared to face this season.

Rewind: Power play paces Sharks in strange night at the Tank

Rewind: Power play paces Sharks in strange night at the Tank

SAN JOSE – First, there was a delay in the Sharks-Blue Jackets game when the lights suddenly went out late in the second period. Another interruption occurred in the third, when the referees decided to spend more time on an offside challenge that overturned a Brenden Dillon goal than the Warren Commission did on the Zapruder film.

In a few months, those occurrences may end up being more notable to many in the SAP Center crowd than the actual game result, a 3-1 Sharks win on Thursday night. Inside the home dressing room, though, it was a pair of goals by the second power play unit and a strong performance by goalie Martin Jones that will be how they remember this one.

Joonas Donskoi’s first period goal with Markus Nutivaara in the box staked the Sharks a 1-0 lead, while Tomas Hertl’s marker in the third period with Jack Johnson serving a tripping minor increased it to 2-0. Hertl added a late empty netter to seal it, after Scott Hartnell brought the Blue Jackets to within one with less then three minutes to go.

It was the second straight game the Sharks didn’t get an even strength goal in regulation (other than the empty-netter), yet found a way. They beat Anaheim in three-on-three overtime on Tuesday, 2-1.

“Right now the five-on-five goals are hard to come by,” Pete DeBoer said. “We're creating chances, but the power play won us the game tonight." 

Hertl said: “Exciting night for us, the second [power play unit], because we scored two goals.”

The newest addition to that unit, defenseman David Schlemko, assisted on each of the first two goals. He spotted Donskoi wide open in the circle on the first, and got a secondary helper on Hertl’s first goal.

Although they were his first two points of the season, Schlemko is quickly proving to be the second-most talented offensive defenseman on the team. He’s managed 20 shots on goal through eight games – exactly half of Burns’ 40, but nearly double Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s 11.

“It's nice to get [the points] of the way,” he said. “I feel like I've been getting lots of pucks to the net, so it's nice to see a couple go in finally."

Donskoi figured Schlemko would spot him all alone standing on the faceoff dot.

“He's pretty good with the puck, so I think he just saw me,” Donskoi said. “It's good to have a guy like that."

It’s also good to have a guy like Jones, who made some key saves early on the penalty kill and preserved the lead while Sergei Bobrovsky was making some potentially game-changing stops on the other end. Jones’ 24 saves lowered his goals-against average to 2.32, and upped his save percentage to .908.

“We had quite a few grade-A chances, [Bobrovsky] kept them in it pretty good,” said Joel Ward, who was stopped on an early second period breakaway. “Obviously Jonesy has been there for us since day one. It’s good that he’s feeling the groove, we’ve just got to put some pucks in.”

Neither Jones nor his teammates let the odd circumstances, including Dillon’s apparent goal that was nullified after a seven-minute delay in the third period of a 1-0 game, get to them. 

“There was a couple things there out of our control, but I thought considering that, we stuck with it and found a way,” DeBoer said.

Ward said: “We’ve got a good group and a mature group, and we know how to handle situations.”

The Sharks are also gaining momentum at home with their third win in as many tries, even if their own building doesn’t want to cooperate all the time with pesky details like keeping the ice surface brightened.

“With [the lights going off] and the disallowed goal it felt like a triple overtime type of game,” Ward said. “Haven’t seen that before, but hopefully since we won, maybe it happens again and we can capitalize.”

Schlemko wasn’t here last season, but he heard all about the team’s struggles at SAP Center when it was the only playoff team that didn’t win at least half of its home games (18-20-3).

“I think we wanted to clean up the home record and have teams know it's going to be a tough night coming in here,” he said. “It's been a pretty good start."