No 'chip' this time for Gaels

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No 'chip' this time for Gaels

Its been a quiet day in Omaha, and no, that is not an invitation for you to chime in. The NCAA Tournament is here, and two most interesting developments are that Kansas and Missouri are both here but have no compelling reason to talk about each other.Indeed, there is an odd hollowness to the matchups here not much to sink your teeth into, really, whether it be Missouri-Norfolk State, or Virginia-Florida.It is a location that badly needs Omar Samhan.Samhan is the mildly famous Saint Marys center who stole the tournaments heart two years ago by seizing the first two rounds by the throat with his play and with his own throat. Indeed, until he ran into the noted former Warrior Ekpe Udoh, he was as charming a figure as the 2010 tournament provided.Well, the Gaels are back, as if you didnt already know, but the force of Samhans personality is not. This is a slightly more buttoned-down Saint Marys team, and with Purdue the kind of team that will rattle those buttons, the Gaels have decided that less improv is better for the task at hand.I think we might have needed that chip on our shoulder a couple of years ago, head coach Randy Bennett said after finishing his Purdue prep with a cheery, That hays in the barn on that now.
RELATED: NCAA Tournament scoreboard
Omar did have a chip on his shoulder (in 2010), and he even had T-shirts made with a chip on the shoulder. I think he felt, and they all felt, that we needed that then. But every team is different, and this one is different than the one in 2010. We won the conference, we won the conference tournament, and I think they all sense that people were coming after them more this time.Saint Marys offense was also different because of Samhans upright-minivan presence in the middle.Were more outside-in now, no question, he said. Were not as dependent on getting the ball down low, and we have more ways to go at people. I think in some ways that makes us harder to game-plan for, but in other ways . . . well, its hard to guard a good big man, and it always has been. So really, I dont know whats actually harder, but this is definitely different.As for Samhans personality, while it may be missed, it could not have been recreated, so nobody has bothered to try. The Gaels are still on the quirky side Clint Steindls dad re-invited himself for another extended stay on his sons floor, and people remain fixated on the Australian thing but Samhan was bigger than life. This team isnt, and doesnt need to be.It helps that Purdue, while an excellent perimeter team, is not a pound-it-inside-and-let-the-carnage-speak-for-itself type. They play a lot with a forwards-guards lineup, and as Saint Marys does, they live on the perimeter. With point guard Lewis Jackson creating space with penetration, the Boilermakers have an advantage that Saint Marys does not, but Bennett says they are enough like USF that unfamiliarity shouldn't be an issue.RELATED: Saint Mary's roster Purdue roster
I mean, theyre the handiest comparison point, he said, but we know where we are, and this is the NCAAs, and everybodys better at this level.Only this time, the Gaels dont need to lean so heavily on Samhans chip alone. They have seven players from that 2010 team here, so the load that must be borne to advance will be distributed more evenly.Nevertheless, the load remains the load, and one guy with an elevated level of comedic and rhetorical skills is only one way to carry it.

Local college players turn heads at respective Pro Days

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AP

Local college players turn heads at respective Pro Days

Last week both Stanford and Cal held “Pro Day,” an annual showcase where each school’s departing players audition for NFL scouts. 

To those unfamiliar with Pro Days, these events typically feature lots of men with stopwatches, a few TV news crews, and a group of players running 40-yard dashes, cone drills and 20-yard shuttles. The objective is to give NFL teams an opportunity to evaluate prospects up close and personal.

Since 1982, the top 300 or so prospects in the country have been invited each year to the NFL Scouting Combine, a centralized evaluation for all pro teams. Subsequent Pro Days held by individual schools provide a stage for players who weren’t invited to the combine. They also offer participants a chance to improve their combine performance or give interested teams another look.

At Cal’s Pro Day on Friday, Khalfani Muhammad turned a lot of heads with a 4.35 40-yard dash, faster than any running back recorded at the combine earlier this month. In fact, Muhammad’s time would have tied for fourth best overall. Wide receiver Chad Hansen also impressed with a 4.45 in the driving rain. Quarterback Davis Webb, who had some accuracy issues at the combine, had a good outing despite throwing a wet ball for much of the day. His predecessor, Jared Goff, was the No. 1 pick in last year’s NFL draft.

Stanford’s “Pro Timing Day” on Thursday attracted a lot of attention because of the presence of two projected first round draft picks — running back Christian McCaffrey and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. Over 40 NFL representatives were on hand, including 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and Carolina Panthers head man Ron Rivera. Several sportswriters and local TV anchors covered the proceedings, which were also streamed live on ESPN3.

It was a far cry from the pre-Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw days, when Stanford had few pro prospects and Pro Days drew sparse turnouts. However, 31 Stanford players have been drafted in the last seven years, including four in the first round and six in the second. McCaffrey and Solomon will boost those numbers.

McCaffrey has been the Cardinal’s marquee player for the past two seasons. He set an NCAA record with 3,864 all-purpose yards in 2015, finishing second in the Heisman Trophy balloting, and then rushed for 1,639 yards in ’16. Thomas had 25 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in the last two seasons and was named the Pac-12’s defensive lineman of the year last fall.

Surprisingly, most pundits now believe Thomas will go higher than McCaffrey in the draft. McCaffrey is currently projected to go middle or late first round. Thomas is expected to go in the top five. In fact, NFL draft guru Mel Kiper now has Thomas being taken with the No. 2 pick in the draft by that team down the road in Santa Clara.

NFL teams are split as to whether McCaffrey can be an every down back. Some see him as more of a complimentary, third-down type. At the combine, he excelled in the 40-yard dash (4.48), vertical jump (37.5”), cone drill (6.57) and both 20 and 60-yard shuttles (4.22 and 11.03), but did only 10 reps in the bench press. His overall rating at the combine was 5.99 (out of a possible 8.0). At Pro Day on Thursday, he put on a brilliant display in a number of receiving drills, showing off the versatility that many teams crave.

Thomas was one of the top performers at the combine, registering a 4.69 40, 30 reps in the bench press, a 126” broad jump, 6.95 cone drill and 4.28 shuttle. His overall rating was 6.85. On Pro Day, he did a number of position specific drills.

Unlike McCaffrey, who elected to skip the Cardinal’s post-season game, Thomas played in the Sun Bowl and elevated his pro stock with several game-changing plays. The NFL’s post-combine analysis noted: “Thomas' bowl performance against North Carolina opened a lot of eyes, as he was all over the field in the Cardinal's win in a way that isn't even reflected in an impressive stat line (seven tackles, two for loss, sack).”

According to one NFL observer at Pro Day, “In the bowl game, Thomas went from the second round to maybe the second pick in the draft.”

Stanford coach David Shaw, understandably, is a huge fan of both players. He chafes at the suggestion McCaffrey can’t be an every down back.

“People may not want to talk about it, but race is a component in that discussion,” he told me at Pro Day. “Some teams want to put Christian in a box. ‘He’s a white running back, another Danny Woodhead.’ Well, he’s not. If you look at the film, what he did at the combine, and here today, he’s more of a Reggie Bush or a Ladainian Tomlinson. He’s a difference maker.”

Shaw also marveled at Thomas’s rise up the draft boards since his Sun Bowl performance.

“That’s the beauty of bowl games,” Shaw said. “What might seem meaningless to one guy can make 10 million dollars for another.”

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.