Cal seeks national statement vs. Ducks

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Cal seeks national statement vs. Ducks

EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon and California both had last weekend off.

Not playing seems to be the only way for LaMichael James not to be putting up big numbers again.

The nation's leading rusher will be back in action Thursday night when the ninth-ranked Ducks look for their 19th straight home victory in a Pac-12 matchup with the Golden Bears.

James was considered a Heisman Trophy candidate after leading the nation with 144.3 rushing yards per game in 2010. This campaign got off to a poor start with a 54-yard effort in a season-opening 40-27 loss to then-No. 4 LSU on Sept. 3.

The gifted running back followed that up with 67 yards in a 69-20 rout of Nevada before going over 200 yards in back-to-back efforts.

James rushed for a school-record 288 yards and scored twice to become the Ducks' all-time leader in rushing touchdowns in a 56-31 win at Arizona on Sept. 24. His 43 scoring runs broke Derek Loville's school record of 42.

"I'm just really happy with the way the line blocked, without those guys I wouldn't be anything," James said. "I'm really happy with those guys. I feel like that record should be called the University of Oregon offensive line and LaMichael James record."

James is back on top among FBS rushers with 153.3 yards per game and has begun to quiet critics who felt the 20 pounds he gained in the offseason were slowing him down.

"I love it. I wish more people would write things about me," he said. "Because everybody's on the outside looking in, but who really knows? It's great motivation but that stuff really doesn't matter too much because I have the team, and they have my back."

James could face a stiff challenge Thursday. California (3-1, 0-1) owns the ninth-best rushing defense in the FBS, allowing 78.3 yards per game.

His averages of 104.5 yards and 4.2 per carry in two games against the Golden Bears represent his lowest versus any conference opponent.

"He truly doesn't care if he runs for 280 or 28. It's about the team," coach Chip Kelly said, "and he'll be the first to tell you the only awards he's concerned with are team awards."

The offense has been bolstered by the steady play of Darron Thomas, who has thrown 11 touchdowns and no interceptions during this three-game win streak since the disappointing opener.

The Ducks (3-1, 1-0) have not lost at home since falling 37-32 to Boise State on Sept. 20, 2008.

Oregon has won two straight in this series after losing the previous three meetings. The then-No. 1 Ducks scored their fewest points during their 12-0 regular season in last year's 15-13 road win.

James had a difficult game with a season-worst 3.1 per-carry rushing average, and he failed to reach the end zone for the only time in his last 16 games. It was his first matchup against a defense guided by former NFL coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

Cal, however, allowed All-American Cliff Harris to return a punt 64 yards for the Ducks' only first-half touchdown, and also saw Giorgio Tavecchio miss a 29-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.

Tavecchio has made all five field-goal attempts this year, although he has had three of 20 extra points blocked.

Oregon will get its first look at Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard, who threw for a career-high 349 yards with one touchdown in Cal's 31-23 loss at Washington on Sept. 24 to start Pac-12 play.

The Golden Bears were forced to settle for three short field goals from Tavecchio.

"In tight games against good opponents in conference, you have to come up with more touchdowns than field goals," said coach Jeff Tedford, who was Oregon's offensive coordinator from 1998-2001 before joining Cal.

Tedford's team has dropped eight straight against top-10 opponents.

"We've got to get after it," defensive lineman Trevor Guyton said. "We can't afford to rest up or do anything like that. We've got to go hard."

Stanford rallies to beat Notre Dame, punches ticket to Final Four

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USATSI

Stanford rallies to beat Notre Dame, punches ticket to Final Four

BOX SCORE

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Alanna Smith's jumper with 23 seconds left capped Stanford's rally from a 16-point deficit in the second half, Erica McCall blocked a last-second shot and the Cardinal edged top-seeded Notre Dame 76-75 Sunday to reach its first Final Four since 2014.

Brittany McPhee scored 27 as the second-seeded Cardinal (32-5) won its eighth in a row overall. This was the third straight year Stanford and Notre Dame have met in the NCAA Tournament, with the Cardinal winning twice.

Down 47-31 in the third quarter, Stanford surged to end Notre Dame's 17-game winning streak. The Irish (33-4) had a final shot, but McCall blocked Arike Ogunbowale's drive near the basket.

The win in the Lexington Regional gives Stanford a chance to pursue its third national championship under coach Tara VanDerveer.

Among those in the crowd at Rupp Arena was Jon Samuelson, whose daughter, Karlie, scored 15 for Stanford. A day earlier, he was at the Bridgeport Regional to see another daughter, UConn star Katie Lou Samuelson, help the Huskies win their 110th straight game.

Smith finished with 15 points.

Ogunbowale had 25 and Marina Mabrey 20 for Notre Dame, which had sought its sixth Final Four in seven seasons.

After driving for a basket with 51 seconds left, Smith added her biggest shot for the go-ahead score. Stanford then denied Notre Dame's Lindsay Allen and Ogunbowale on successive attempts in the final 15 seconds to spark a wild celebration.

THE BIG PICTURE:
Stanford once again proved no deficit was too big to overcome. The Cardinal shot 12 of 26 on 3-pointers, Samuelson and McPhee each making five. Not bad, considering Stanford shot 2 of 15 overall in the second quarter while getting outscored 23-7. ... McCall had 15 rebounds.

Notre Dame seemed to do everything right for most of the game but couldn't stop Stanford's perimeter game in the second half. The Irish also made just 11 of 31 shots after halftime and were topped 33-32 on the boards.

UP NEXT:
Stanford faces the South Carolina-Florida State winner in the Final Four in Dallas next weekend.

Three takeaways: Sharks having trouble explaining meltdown

Three takeaways: Sharks having trouble explaining meltdown

NASHVILLE – The Sharks are returning to San Jose on Sunday in a crisis. Nothing good came from Saturday’s 7-2 loss to Nashville, their sixth straight in regulation. Let’s get to the painful three takeaways…

1 – No answers

Neither Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns nor Patrick Marleau – the three players made available to the media after Saturday’s game – offered any kind of in-depth analysis of what’s going wrong. Frankly, I’m not sure anyone really knows. It’s hard to believe that this is the same club that had lost just two games in regulation in its previous 14 before the losing streak began.

“If you’re putting a consistent effort in, battling, competing – it’s tough to lose six in a row,” Pavelski said. “You look at six in a row, and it just seems daunting. Like, how do you get there? So, I think we’ve just got to take a deep breath, really kind of refocus.”

Believe it or not, coach Pete DeBoer thought Saturday’s loss was “a step in the right direction” when asked why Friday night’s 6-1 beat down in Dallas wasn’t enough of a wake-up call. How often do you hear that after a five-goal defeat?

“I liked our game tonight better than I liked [Friday’s game] regardless of the score,” DeBoer said. “I don’t just look at the score. If you want to just judge it on the score than you might not say it’s a wake-up call, but I thought we were much more competitive tonight. 

“It was a step in the right direction. Every team goes through tough parts of the season, and this is ours. We’ve got a lot of character in the room. We’ll get through it.”

2 – Couture injury would spell doom, as Hertl still MIA

Let’s face it – if Logan Couture is out for any extended period of time, this team is DOA once the playoffs begin. Couture has been the Sharks’ best player since the All-Star break, and they don’t have anyone on the current roster or in the system that could replace him. As of Sunday morning, there was still no word as to the severity of his injury after taking a puck to the mouth and going to a local Nashville hospital.

If Couture were to miss time, Tomas Hertl would likely become the team’s second line center. Lately, though, Hertl doesn’t even resemble an effective third line center. He was victimized on Nashville’s first goal, which was similar to one of the Wild goals on Tuesday, when he was just too slow and not strong enough on his skates in getting outworked for a loose puck. He is scoreless in his last 12 games.

3 – Haley shows some emotion that others lack

It’s understandable that Micheal Haley didn’t like getting hit from behind by Calle Jarnkrok in the third period. But, you can’t just make a beeline for a guy and punch him in the face. Haley will almost certainly get suspended for the play.

At least, though, Haley showed a little bit of fire, including his first period fight with Cody McLeod. Perhaps guys like Hertl, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker could take a lesson from the fiery Haley. Those three, in particular, have been virtually useless during this six-game stretch. 

If I’m DeBoer, I’d get on the phone with Doug Wilson and Roy Sommer and ask for a few guys from the Barracuda so I could – depending on the team’s health situation – scratch all three of them for Tuesday against the Rangers. Drastic times call for drastic measures, do they not?