Last year's Final Four darling does it again

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Last year's Final Four darling does it again

From Comcast SportsNet
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Shaka Smart and Co. pulled off the first major surprise of the NCAA tournament. Yep, VCU is back again. Bradford Burgess hit a key 3-pointer with 1:33 left and the 12th-seeded Rams held off Wichita State 62-59 on Thursday night. Smart was one of the tournament's biggest stars last year when he coached VCU to victories over Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas, making the Rams just the third No. 11 seed to reach the Final Four. The run ended when they lost to Butler in Houston. This VCU team moves on to a matchup with fourth-seeded Indiana (26-8), which advanced to Saturday's game with a 79-66 victory over New Mexico State at the Rose Garden. "We have different guys doing different things than last year's team," Burgess said. "We want to make our own mark on this year's tournament." Still, there are already similarities to last year's run. Just take a look at the last few frantic minutes of this one. With 12 seconds left and the Rams clinging to a 62-59 lead, Smart was so animated during a timeout that he swooped down on his team at midcourt and started strategizing. The intense huddle was eventually brushed back to near the bench by the referees, but the Rams (29-6) came out of the timeout and buckled down defensively, hurrying Wichita State center Garrett Stutz's errant 3-point attempt before the final buzzer. "Our guys did a good job executing our defensive plan," Smart said of those final seconds. "They didn't get a good look at a 3, and that's what won it for us." The Rams led by as many as 13 in the second half, but Wichita State (26-6) closed to 54-53 on Stutz's layup with 5:39 left. Troy Daniels hit a 3-pointer for the Rams, and Joe Ragland answered with his own for the Shockers. Toure Murry made a 3 that gave Wichita State the lead, but Burgess came back with his big shot to give the Rams a 60-59 edge. Darius Theus then tacked on a runner before Stutz's last-chance attempt was off. "I was kind of the last option on top, and VCU read the play well," Stutz said. "By the time I got the ball I knew there wasn't enough time to go for a two. Couldn't have been more than 2 or 3 seconds left." Said VCU guard Rob Brandenberg: "Everybody was on the same page that last (defensive) play." Burgess finished with 16 points, and Theus and Daniels had 10 points apiece for the Rams, who edged Drexel 59-56 in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament final to make it to the NCAAs. Because of their unexpected run last season, the Rams were expected to give the Shockers trouble. Even President Barack Obama picked them to advance. Ragland finished with 15 points after getting off to a slow start. "They obviously pressured the ball and the first half we didn't handle it as well as we should have," Ragland said. "The second half we handled it pretty well and had a chance to win the game." Wichita State was ranked No. 18 in the final The Associated Press poll. The Shockers won the regular-season title in the Missouri Valley Conference, but lost to Illinois State in the semifinals of the conference tournament. It was the first NCAA tournament appearance for Wichita State since 2006, when it advanced to the regional semifinals. There were lots of missed shots on both sides early, but Rob Brandenberg hit a 3-pointer to put VCU in front 17-13 midway through the first half. Wichita State put together an 11-0 run to make it 24-21 with 5:27 left. Carl Hall capped the surge with a layup. Treveon Graham broke the VCU scoring drought with a jumper and Burgess added a 3-pointer, sparking a 13-1 run that lifted the Rams to a 34-25 lead at the break. Burgess scored 13 points during a dominating first half, except for an errant 3-pointer that fell far short of the basket. Virginia Commonwealth stretched the lead to 41-29 after Brandenberg's layup. His jumper a short time later gave the Rams a 46-33 lead, but Ben Smith had a layup before David Kyles scored five quick points to trim VCU's lead to 46-40. Ragland, who was quiet most of the first half, made a 3-pointer with 7:23 left and Stutz tapped in a shot to get Wichita State within one at 54-53. "They came at us with kind of a dose of our own medicine and pressed us," Smart said. "I thought it gave us troubles for part of the second half but we hung in there and made all the big plays in the end."

Penn's only sack allowed last season got Carr hurt; 'That play sticks with me'

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Penn's only sack allowed last season got Carr hurt; 'That play sticks with me'

Donald Penn was nothing short of awesome last season. The veteran Raiders left tackle proved impenetrable, allowing just one sack and 27 quarterback pressures in 676 pass-blocking snaps.

He ranked high among the NFL’s best left tackles at 33, engulfed a career renaissance that began after joining the Raiders three years ago. Penn made the Pro Bowl. He was a vital piece of a 12-4 team that helped the Raiders reach the playoffs.

He hasn’t reveled much in that. Penn’s driven by opportunities missed, and one mishap that haunts him still.

Penn locked horns with Indianapolis linebacker Trent Cole off the left edge during a Week 16 contest against the Colts, and slipped as he was tracking his man away from the pocket. Penn’s feet got tangled and the big man fell. Cole remained upright, darted in and sacked quarterback Derek Carr.

It was Penn’s only sack allowed all season. And Carr got hurt. He suffered a broken fibula that ended his season and realistic hopes of a Raiders playoff run.

Nearly five months have passed since that fluke play. Carr is healthy and a full participant in the Raiders offseason program. The Raiders offensive line might be better after allowing a league-low 18 sacks last season.

There’s plenty to be excited about as the Raiders enter OTAs and a mandatory minicamp. Penn can’t help but lament that isolated incident when Carr went down.

“You have to be an athlete. You try not to think about it too much,” Penn said Tuesday. “You wish you could go back and get it back. I’ve taken that same set I don’t know how many times, on the same field and never just slipped out of nowhere. I’m not going to put it on myself. I should have been able to do something better. You know me, I’m never going to blame the slip for happening. I should have blocked him and held on to him and taken him down with me. That play sticks with me.”

That isn’t all bad. It fuels Penn to continue growing as a player, even at 34 coming off an excellent Pro Bowl season.

“I’m going to try to do what I can do better and make sure it never happens again,” Penn said. “I’ve never gotten a quarterback hurt in my life since I’ve been playing. That was a first. That’s something I take pride in. I’m going to try my hardest to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Penn wants a different ending to this season. Last year the Raiders lost the AFC West crown and a shot to win the team’s first playoff game. Penn suffered a knee injury the following week that kept him from playing in the postseason.

The goal is to realize vast potential now that the Raiders offense is back healthy again.

“I’m all about karma and stuff like that,” Penn said. “Maybe (God is) trying to tell us that this is our year. We have to put in the work to get it. I know D.C. is happy, I’m dang sure happy to get him back. We’re growing and masterminding this offense trying to make it as explosive as possible.”

Mariners designate former Giants pitcher for assignment

Mariners designate former Giants pitcher for assignment

CHICAGO -- Chris Heston was hopeful a move to a new organization could give his career a jolt. It hasn't worked out that way.

The former Giant was designated for assignment on Wednesday by the Mariners, who earlier acquired an outfielder from the Astros and needed the roster spot. Heston was traded to Seattle at the winter meetings for a player to be named later. The Giants have not yet picked that player off a list the teams agreed to.

Heston had a 3.95 ERA as a starter for the Giants in 2015 and threw a no-hitter at Citi Field, but he had trouble transitioning to relief the next season and dealt with an injury in Triple-A. Needing a roster spot in December, the Giants traded him.

Heston started Sunday for Seattle and gave up six earned runs in three innings. He allowed five earned in two innings in his previous appearance.