Athletics

The Wildcats were more than just Anthony Davis

721494.jpg

The Wildcats were more than just Anthony Davis

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- There's so much more to Kentucky than Anthony Davis. These were the collaborative Cats, and that's what made them so tough to beat. Davis' supporting cast made the most of their turns in the spotlight Monday night, picking up the scoring slack for their freshman star and overwhelming Kansas for a 67-59 victory in the NCAA title game that gave the Wildcats their eighth national title. "No one cared who got the accolades," forward Terrence Jones said. "The main goal was getting to this point and winning. That's what we focused on." Michael Kidd-Gilchrist set the tone a minute in, staying in the game after a hard foul that looked as if it might have dislocated his shoulder, and Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb hit clutch shots that held back a late rally by the Jayhawks. "That's why we came here, to finally get it done," forward Kyle Wiltjer said. "We are all just super excited." Jones and Darius Miller also made their marks in the type of team effort coach John Calipari has gotten out of the Wildcats (38-2), who had averaged six players in double figures for most of the season. The Wildcats' other NBA prospects handled things on the offensive end while Davis went 1 for 10 from the field. The AP player of the year remained his dominant self in every other phase of the game with 16 rebounds, six blocks and five assists. Lamb, who finished with 22 points, said his only goal when he returned for a second year at Kentucky was to win a national championship. The sophomore has been a steady force all year for the Wildcats and he was the only Kentucky player who shot well in last year's national semifinal loss in Houston. He brought his shot to the Superdome this weekend, too. "He really carried us," Wiltjer said. "He made some big shots down the stretch and our depth really helped us tonight because no one really knows who's going to step up and he stepped up tonight." After Kansas (32-7) cut it to 10 midway through the second half, Lamb squared up and hit a pair of 3-pointers in a 23-second span to snap the Cats back after they'd been 3 of 14 from the field with six turnovers to start the second half. He finished 7 of 12 from the field. Then it was Teague's turn. The point guard was considered the key to keeping the Wildcats playing together and followed in the shoes of past Calipari prodigies such as John Wall, Brandon Knight, Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans. He finished with 14 points, three assists and two turnovers, making his biggest impact late. With Kansas closing, Teague buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2:50 left that pushed the lead back to double digits, then hit two free throws inside a minute that helped seal the victory and finish Kentucky's eighth title run. "Marquis Teague's 3 and those two free throws were huge," Calipari said. Kentucky also set the tone early. Kidd-Gilchrist, who had 11 points and six rebounds, went down hard after being fouled by Elijah Johnson just over a minute into the game. He stayed down for a few tense moments, then got up, got to the line and made his first free throw even though his right shoulder was clearly bothering him. "We don't stop here," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I want to be great." Jones, who had nine points and seven rebounds, also had an injury scare when he crumpled to the court in the first half, appearing to badly roll his right ankle. He got up with a limp but stared at the bench with a look that said there was no way he was coming out of this game. He was still hobbling at the half, but never asked out because this was the game he wanted to play in when he surprised many by returning for his sophomore year. "Having that meeting with coach," Jones said, "trying to come back and win, getting myself better, rewarding myself and my whole team with having a successful season is just a great way to finish." The Wildcats never had a more serious injury this season than when Jones missed two games in December with a dislocated left pinkie. Miller, the senior leader, set a school record with his 152nd appearance early in the first half, and then quietly provided five points and six rebounds in 25 productive minutes. "I can't really explain it or put it into words. All the hard work that we put in this year, the sacrifices that people have made on this team means a lot," Miller said. "We've grown as brothers. We've had a lot of fun with this."

A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

olson-power-trot.jpg
USATSI

A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

OAKLAND — Matt Olson is aware of the company he’s keeping in the A’s record books.

His reaction is a mix of reverence and a shrug-of-the-shoulders type humbleness.

That’s the personality of the A’s rookie first baseman. Even as the conversation about him and his awe-inspiring home run pace grows louder, he remains the same steady, grounded presence.

“I’m happy for him,” A’s hitting coach Darren Bush said. “The guy’s worked his butt off. He’s the same today as was when he first got called up.”

Olson cleared the fences once again Friday night, his two-run homer off Nick Martinez in the second inning helping the A’s to a 4-1 victory over the Texas Rangers. At this point, it’s much more newsworthy when Olson doesn’t homer than when he does.

He’s crammed 24 homers into just 57 games this season. Taking into account his first call-up last September, and Olson’s 24 homers over the first 68 games of his career are the second-most in the history of major league baseball over that span to open a career. The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger also hit 24 and only the White Sox’s Jose Abreu, with 25, hit more over his first 68.

Olson’s 13 homers in September are the most by any rookie in major league history for the month, and there’s still eight games left in it. But Olson’s hot streak dates back to Aug. 27. He’s hit a major league-best 16 homers in 23 games since then.

Among rookies in A’s history, only Mark McGwire (49) in 1987 and Jose Canseco (33) in 1986 have hit more than Olson’s 24. But neither Bash Brother, nor any other player in Oakland history, ever hit 15 homers in a 21-game span as Olson recently did.

“It’s definitely an honor,” Olson said before Friday’s game. “I grew up with a Mark McGwire poster on my wall. It’s a little surreal.”

Who saw this coming?

Olson went 2-for-21 without a single RBI in his first taste of the bigs last September. Then he shuttled five times between Triple-A and the majors this season before getting called up once again Aug. 8 and being told he’d get a shot as the A’s regular first baseman with Yonder Alonso having been traded. The constant shuttling took its toll, though Olson never let on about that publicly to reporters.

“You could see (the frustration),” said Ryan Christenson, his manager at Triple-A. “When he walks in and you tell him ‘You’re getting sent up,’ and he’s like, ‘Well, how many days is it for this time?’ He wouldn’t voice it necessarily, but you could sense it.”

Olson, with help from Bush and others, made an adjustment coming into this season. He began holding his hands out farther away from his body to begin his swing. With his 6-foot-5 frame, Olson had found himself getting jammed inside. Then in trying to adjust to that, he couldn’t square up pitches on the outer half.

“Now, his hands are firing from where he wants them to,” Bush said. “He doesn’t have to fight. You want your hands to have a clean path. Now he can stay in there, stay behind the ball, let his hands work for him.”

Olson, a 23-year-old from Lilburn, Ga., takes this sudden burst of success — and attention — in stride.

“I’ve been hit with so many stats here in the past week, I can’t even keep track of who’s done what, and honestly what I’ve done,” he said. “I kind of try to ignore all that.”

That’s OK. Others are taking plenty of notice.

 

As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

dodgers_clinch.jpg
USATSI

As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

LOS ANGELES — The Giants left their dugout quickly after Friday’s loss, escaping a celebration on the mound and a fireworks show in the sky. As Dodger Stadium shook with cheers, Bruce Bochy sat in the visiting clubhouse and smiled. He nodded at his laptop, which earlier had been used to pull up highlights of Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani. 

“He’s good,” Bochy said, laughing. “I absolutely would play him every day.”

Earlier in the week, when it became known that Bobby Evans and Jeremy Shelley were headed to Japan to scout Otani, Bochy said he couldn’t imagine a player pitching and then moving to the outfield between starts. What changed? 

Perhaps it was the tape Bochy saw. Otani throws 100 mph and hits homers with ease. Or perhaps it was the game he watched Friday. The Giants lost for the 94th time, with the big blow coming from a 22-year-old Dodgers star. Cody Bellinger’s blast was the difference in a 4-2 win, and the Giants don’t have a Bellinger, or anything close. Otani, 23, is a long shot for a team that very well could finish with the worst record in baseball. Still, he’s the kind of talent that could help pull the Giants closer in a hurry. He’s the  kind of talent they haven’t developed in years, and Bochy certainly sounded a bit wistful as he talked of the power Bellinger has put on display. 

“You call up a guy and he does that — that just doesn’t happen,” he said. “It’s a rare deal.”

The ninth inning of the Dodgers’ clincher reinforced that point for the Giants. They got a homer from Pablo Sandoval, but he’s playing only because Christian Arroyo — the Giants’ best prospect bet this year — is hurt. Ryder Jones, their 23-year-old prospect, struck out to end the night, dropping his average to .180. 

That set off a celebration for Bellinger and the Dodgers. They have won five straight NL West titles, with three of the last four clinched against the Giants. 

“Congrats to them,” Bochy said. “They’ve had a tremendous year across the board, and they’ve played great baseball. They brought some guys up that really did a great job for them. It’s well deserved.”

Bochy said it was not difficult to watch this one. The division has been wrapped up for months, with only a September slide keeping the Dodgers from clinching earlier. 

“We knew what we were facing here,” Bochy said. 

The Giants have two more against the Dodgers and then six more before a long winter. The Dodgers, on the other hand, will host an NLDS series here at Dodger Stadium. Both Bochy and starter Jeff Samardzija made the same observation, that the Dodgers will have a hard time cutting their deep roster down to 25 postseason players. 

That’s a nice problem to have. It’s a foreign one right now for the Giants, who have a serious talent gap and no clear solutions internally. It’s no wonder, then, that Bochy has all of a sudden become so intrigued by a wondrous talent overseas.