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Sloppy defense and poor shooting plague UCLA's starting guards in loss to rival USC

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Sloppy defense and poor shooting plague UCLA's starting guards in loss to rival USC

It was only a week ago that UCLA’s starting guards seemed to have fully rewritten the previously unpleasant narratives about their season.

Once derided for lacking point guard skills, Dylan Andrews’ two-way stardom was prompting worries that he might leave early for the NBA.

Long criticized for wild, selfish play, Sebastian Mack was becoming a galvanizing force.

Often condemned by fans as being unworthy of playing for UCLA, Lazar Stefanovic was fully embraced.

Any honest accounting of their play swerved once again Saturday night, and not in a way that would make any of them want to keep reading.

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Andrews was sloppy on defense, missed all seven of his shots and offset his five assists with an equal number of turnovers. Mack made three of 10 shots, burying his only three-pointer with 8.8 seconds left in the game. Stefanovic repeatedly dribbled into the paint and turned the ball over.

It got worse. After the threesome was basically a big zero during the Bruins’ 62-56 loss to USC at Pauley Pavilion, their coach seemed to suggest that he was open to bringing in new players with the grit that his team lacked.

Asked if he could teach fight, UCLA coach Mick Cronin said, “I’d rather recruit fight. I’d rather recruit heart and toughness.”

Cronin went on to list four of his former Bruins who possessed that fight. He acknowledged that his current team had played better lately in winning eight of its last 11 games but had no chance against the Trojans given a week of listless practices that preceded it, playing hard for only about five minutes Saturday.

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Perhaps most troubling was the Bruins’ lack of defensive focus considering what was written on a board in the locker room regarding USC guard Boogie Ellis.

“Do not let him get the ball,” Cronin said of the message. “Do not let him shoot. Make somebody else beat us.”

Ellis wrecked the Bruins almost by himself, scoring 24 points on nine-for-18 shooting in a strong rebuttal to his eight-point effort in the rivalry game last month at the Galen Center. Andrews had capably shadowed Ellis in the first game between the teams but was repeatedly beaten in the rematch.

“I want to say a little bit of lack of concentration, I guess, being aware of where he is,” Stefanovic said of the collectively crummy defense on Ellis. “We knew that we shouldn’t let him shoot, and he is one guy that really needs to score for them to win games and we weren’t able to stop him.”

A sellout crowd that included UCLA basketball luminaries David Greenwood, Norman Powell and Jim Harrick — not to mention highly coveted recruit Khaman Maluach — had little to cheer besides the introduction of new football coach DeShaun Foster during a timeout. Foster announced that his team would hold a spring game April 27 at the Rose Bowl, ending the practice under his predecessor of staging just a glorified practice in front of fans.

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For most of the game, the Bruins played with the urgency of an exhibition. Their perimeter defense was passive and their ball movement was bottled up by the active Trojans.

“I don’t know what was the reason for it,” Stefanovic said of slow starts to each half that led to double-digit deficits, “but obviously, me as one of the veteran guys have to do a better job of having everybody ready, and myself included, to bring in more energy and right away from the start.”

The loss removed some lingering drama in that the Bruins (14-13 overall, 9-7 Pac-12) now have no choice but to win the conference tournament next month to reach the NCAA tournament. But they have no chance if their guards contribute another no-show.

Stefanovic, a junior transfer from Utah who is the most veteran member of the rotation, said he had one message for his teammates afterward, and it might sound familiar to the Trojans: keep fighting.

“When we’re winning, we’re winning for one reason, and that’s because we’re playing harder than our opponent,” Stefanovic said. “Whenever we came down needing a rebound, we would get a rebound, offense or defense. We shut a team down whenever we needed to, and we would get a stop.”

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As Saturday showed, it becomes a tale of woe when the three Bruins guards go 0 for 3.

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Rangers' Matt Rempe makes immediate impact in 1st postseason game: 'I think I'm built for the playoffs'

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Rangers' Matt Rempe makes immediate impact in 1st postseason game: 'I think I'm built for the playoffs'

New York Rangers rookie Matt Rempe set the tone early for the team in their 4-1 Game 1 victory over the Washington Capitals on Sunday afternoon.

Rempe scored the team’s first goal of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The score came in the second period. And before anyone knew it, the Rangers were up 3-0 by the time the game was in its second intermission.

New York Rangers’ Matt Rempe is seen during the third period in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against the Washington Capitals, April 21, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The forward, who has become a fan favorite during the year, heard his name chanted across Madison Square Garden. It only amplified his performance even more and appeared to give him the confidence to do it again through the rest of the postseason – as long as the Rangers are in it.

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“I know my game. I know I can skate well and be physical. I think I can be a real pain to play against down low, protecting pucks and going to the net,” Rempe said, per ESPN. “I think I’m built for the playoffs. I think that that’s where you want to play, and I was happy how tonight went.”

Rempe didn’t only turn the heads of fans at the Garden, but he made an even bigger believer of his veteran head coach, Peter Laviolette.

Rangers celebrate

The New York Rangers celebrate after winning Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against the Washington Capitals, April 21, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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“That was a big goal to put energy in the building, maybe because it was him, too, put a little more extra juice in the building,” Laviolette said. “And then be able to get another one right after that. That was a turning point in the game.”

Rempe’s score came off the stick of Jimmy Vesey, who also scored in the second period.

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“(Rempe) scoring sent the fans crazy, and we scored two more goals in the next few minutes,” Vesey said. “He definitely gets the crowd into the game and, as the team with home-ice advantage, you’re going to try to feed off that energy in the crowd.”

Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider also scored for the Rangers.

Jimmy Vesey breaks away

New York Rangers’ Jimmy Vesey, center, races for the puck with Washington Capitals’ T.J. Oshie, left, and Dylan McIlrath during the first period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in New York.  (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Washington’s Martin Fehervary put the Capitals on the board in the second period.

Game 2 is set for Tuesday night in New York.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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The Lakers weren't as good (or as bad) as you thought in Game 1

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The Lakers weren't as good (or as bad) as you thought in Game 1

There was a feeling around the arena and in the media room Saturday night that the Lakers had fired their best punch and that, maybe, it just wasn’t good enough.

But fresh eyes on Game 1 combined with some time gave coach Darvin Ham and the Lakers the ability to properly contextualize what happened in their 114-103 loss to the Denver Nuggets in their first-round Western Conference playoff series.

“We got great looks that we just didn’t knock down. Shots that we’ve been knocking down. And then our pace is off,” Ham said in a call with reporters Sunday. “There’s no question, we just watched with the team, of us walking up and down, walking back toward the offensive end and not getting in and out of our actions quick. We’re a completely different ball club when we’re sprinting up the floor. Even after a made basket, we have to have urgency offensively.

“That has to be a part of our defense as well. How to defend this team is to put more pressure on them on offense. Try to put them on their heels too.”

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The Lakers’ Game 1 offensive woes were overshadowed, in part, by the 59 combined points of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but the two also had nine turnovers (seven by James).

And the Lakers shot eight for29 on three-pointers, scoring only 103 points. During the regular season, the Lakers were held to 103 or fewer only eight times. D’Angelo Russell, in particular, was one-for-nine shooting from three-point range after making 41.5% of his shots from deep in the regular season.

Denver coach Michael Malone even pointed out Sunday the quality of shots the Lakers got — and missed — in Game 1.

Ham said he thought the Lakers’ half-court defense in Game 1 looked better on film — the bigger issues coming in transition.

“They made some tough shots, but we didn’t do a bad job defensively. We forced them into some tough shots,” Ham said. “They made a couple tough shots. But our biggest problem was transition defense, getting back, getting matched up so we weren’t crossmatched.

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“We didn’t do that as well as we should and obviously giving up second-chance points and some untimely turnovers on our part.”

Those problems in the playoffs, especially against a team that’s as good as Denver, are critical.

“So it’s the intangible game and that’s the game you really have to fight with good teams like Denver, championship teams like Denver. The little things matter,” Ham said. “The details and the discipline. It’s more so that than anything else, than the big stuff or the post coverage or pick-and-roll coverage. It’s the intangible things.

“So that’s what’s what really came to light as we went back to the hotel after the game and rewatched the film.”

Regarding Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, a two-time league MVP, Ham said the Lakers have a practically impossible task.

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“It starts with trying to limit his touches, which is damn near impossible,” he said. “But that’s what it takes if you’re trying to win.”

Wood nearing a return?

A report from the Athletic’s Shams Charania said reserve big man Christian Wood is “planning to return to action” for Game 3 on Thursday in Los Angeles. Wood, who has been out since the All-Star break because of a knee injury that required surgery, isn’t with the team in Denver.

“All I say is he’s still going through his recovery process from injuries, rehab process,” Ham said. “…Obviously, he has size, he has length, he has rebounding capabilities, he can stretch the floor. But first and foremost, he has a couple more boxes to check before we even consider that.”

The team is still without forward Jarred Vanderbilt, who is recovering from a foot injury suffered on Feb. 1.

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Patriots looking for 'unprecedented deal' to move out of No 3 pick in 2024 NFL Draft: report

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Patriots looking for 'unprecedented deal' to move out of No 3 pick in 2024 NFL Draft: report

The New England Patriots are “open for business” with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, but they want an “unprecedented deal” to move out of that slot, per ESPN. 

With director of scouting Eliot Wolf saying this past week that the Patriots’ phone is being watched to hear about potential offers at No. 3, the only way they’re going to move is if another team blows them away with a deal. 

The Patriots understand that a top-three selection in the NFL Draft is a franchise-altering pick – for better or for worse – and a “blockbuster” deal is the only way they would want to leave it. And considering the Patriots need a new franchise quarterback after Mac Jones was traded away to the Jacksonville Jaguars, it only makes sense for them to stay put. 

New England Patriots director of scouting Eliot Wolf speaks to the media during the NFL Combine at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis on Feb. 27, 2024. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

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Many evaluators have had the Patriots taking one of three quarterbacks: LSU Heisman winner Jayden Daniels, North Carolina’s Drake Maye, and national championship winner J.J. McCarthy from Michigan. 

Wolf and Jerod Mayo, who is taking over as head coach for Bill Belichick, both understand the importance of the pick, and everyone in the NFL knows that a team is usually as good as their quarterback play. 

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ESPN added that Mayo and “some top decision-makers” acknowledged that this No. 3 pick will be tied with their legacy in New England.

Where the Patriots decide to go with the pick, granted they stay put, will be determined by what the Washington Commanders do at No. 2 overall. The Chicago Bears, owners of the top pick, are expected to go with USC’s Caleb Williams.

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Jerod Mayo smiles

Jerod Mayo of the New England Patriots speaks during a press conference at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on Jan. 17, 2024. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Commanders are expected to also take a quarterback despite going with Sam Howell last season. 

But what if a team like the Minnesota Vikings, desperate for a quarterback but own the No. 11 and No. 23 picks, wants to jump other potential competition like the New York Giants at No. 6 to get the signal-caller they want? Could they come calling the Patriots to give them those first-round picks and more? 

This is what makes the NFL Draft so much fun, especially the week of the draft when general managers and owners take calls left and right to hear what other teams have to offer. 

Teams like the Cincinnati Bengals in 2020 didn’t bother to entertain a trade when they went with Joe Burrow out of LSU at No. 1 overall, but the Patriots are taking a different approach. 

Patriots helmet

(Winslow Townson/Getty Images/File)

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It doesn’t hurt to pick up the phone. We’ll see if Wolf and the Patriots hear an offer they can’t refuse when it’s their time on the clock Thursday night in Detroit.

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