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  1. US NCAA Basketball: Kentucky Leads Final Four Cast

    Two more victories. That’s all the nationally top-ranked and unblemished University of Kentucky Wildcats need to become the first team in U.S. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I men’s basketball history to capture the national championship with a record of 40-0.
    No team has ever gone unbeaten in at least 40 games en route to the NCAA tournament crown.

    In the 2015 NCAA Final Four (national semifinals) to be held on April 4 (April 5, Manila time) at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, it will be the University of Duke Blue Devils (33-4) vs. the Michigan State University Spartans (27-11) and the Kentucky Wildcats (38-0) vs. the University of Wisconsin Badgers (35-3).

    Kentucky, Wisconsin (ranked third nationally) and Duke (rated fourth in the country) were No. 1 seeds in their respective regional competitions while Michigan State is a seven-seed.

    During the regional finals of this one-loss-and-you’re-out tournament, Wisconsin beat No. 2 seed and nationally fifth-ranked University of Arizona, 85-78, in the West to earn back-to-back Final Four berths for the first time in school history; Kentucky squeaked past University of Notre Dame, 68-66, in the Midwest; Michigan State upset the No. 4 seed Louisville Cardinals, 76-70, in overtime in the East; and Duke topped the No. 2 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs, 66-52, in the South to claim the 16th Final Four ticket in school history and allow 68-year-old head coach and Team USA bench boss Mike Krzyzewski (who is seeking his fifth national title) to duplicate the feat of UCLA’s Hall of Famer John Wooden with 12 Final Four appearances.

    It will be a Final Four rematch between Kentucky and Wisconsin. A year ago, the Hall of Fame-bound John Calipari-coached Wildcats, an eighth seed, edged the Badgers, 74-73, but subsequently a 60-54 decision to the seventh-seeded University of Connecticut Huskies in the finals. The Huskies were the highest seed to win it all since Villanova, an eighth seed, upset Patrick Ewing and the heavily favored Georgetown Hoyas, 66-64, in the 1985 finals.

    Michigan State is making its ninth Final Four appearance, and the first since 2010 when the Spartans lost to Butler in the finals.

    The four schools’ NCAA championship hopes rest on the shoulders of their respective All-Americans.

    Making it to the 2014-15 Associated Press All-America First Team are Wisconsin’s 7-foot senior Frank Kaminsky (the lone unanimous selection), Duke’s 6-11 freshman Jahlil Okafor (a distant cousin of former NBA player and UConn standout Emeka Okafor, an American of Nigerian parents), and Kentucky’s defensive-minded 7-foot junior Willie Cauley-Stein (the first first-team All-America pick to average less than 10 points per game at 9.3 ppg).

    On the All-America Second Team is Cauley-Stein’s freshman teammate Karl-Anthony Towns. The Third Team includes Kaminsky’s sidekicks Kyle Wiltjer and Kevin Pangos.

    Michigan State, which along with Wisconsin belongs to the Big Ten Conference, is led by senior guard Travis Trice.

    Kentucky owns the second most number of NCAA Division I men’s basketball championships with eight (most recently in 2012 under Calipari). The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Bruins tops the list at 11.

    Duke has four national titles – most recently in 2010 – all under Krzyzewski. Michigan State (1979 and 2000, the latter under current Spartans head coach Tom Izzo). Wisconsin’s lone NCAA championship came in 1941.
  2. US NCAA Basketball: Remembering Austin Carr

    Austin George Carr never reached legendary status in the professional National Basketball Association but his offensive exploits during his collegiate tenure at the University of Notre Dame were simply amazing and worth recalling.

    Carr, a bull-strong 6-4, 200-pound guard, owns five of the 11 highest individual scoring performances in the history of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, including the all-time top mark of 61 points.

    On March 7, 1970, the Washington, D.C. native, then a sophomore, exploded for 61 points in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s 112-82 victory over Ohio University in a first-round game in Dayton, Ohio. Note that the three-point shot was yet to be invented at the time.

    Carr had 20 points in the first nine minutes and 35 at halftime. Overall, he shot 25-for-44 from the field and 11-for-14 from the free-throw line.

    “It’s a good feeling to have the record,” said Carr recently of his 61-point feat that has withstood various rule changes, tournament expansion, advancements in technology, and more sophisticated defenses for more than four decades. “But at the same time, I always told records are made to be broken so I don’t get caught up in that. But I’m amazed that it has lasted that long.”

    Carr also tallied 52 markers vs. Kentucky in 1970 – fourth-highest behind Princeton’s Bill Bradley’s 58 vs. Wichita State in 1965 (the most points in a Final Four game although it was accomplished in the third-place game against Wichita State, a consolation game that has since been discarded), Cincinnati’s Oscar Robertson’s 56 vs. Arkansas in 1958.

    As a junior in 1971, he again scored 52 against Texas Christian University.

    Navy’s David (The Admiral) Robinson was the only other player to reach the 50-point plateau in an NCAA tournament game, collecting exactly 50 against Michigan in 1987.

    There have been seven 45-to-49-point performances and Carr again owns two of them – 47 vs. Houston in 1971 and 45 vs. Iowa in 1970. The others were registered by Houston’s Elvin (The Big E) Hayes, 49 vs. Loyola (Illinois) in 1968, Temple’s Hal Lear, 48 vs. Southern Methodist in 1956, DePaul’s Dave Corzine, 46 vs. Louisville in 1978, Washington’s Bob Houbregs, 45 vs. Seattle in 1953, and Loyola Marymount’s Bo Kimble, 45 vs. New Mexico State in 1990.

    Carr averaged a stunning 52.7 points in the 1970 NCAA tournament. His career tournament scoring clip of 41.3 ppg (in seven games) remains the highest ever until now. Bradley is next at 33.7 ppg.

    Carr hit at a 38.1-point clip in 1969-70 and 38.0 ppg in 1970-71 (when he earned College Player of the year honors). In those two seasons, he made at least 1,000 points each time to join “Pistol” Pete Maravich of Louisiana State University in the select group. For his three-year career, Carr normed 34.6 ppg, totaling 2,560 points in 74 games that ranked him fifth all-time in U.S. college basketball history at the time of his departure.

    Carr gave up his final year of collegiate eligibility to turn professional in 1971. He was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the first pick in the entire NBA draft that year. He played his first nine seasons in Cleveland, averaging at least 20 points in the first three, and finished his 10-year NBA tenure after the 1980-81 wars while splitting time with the Dallas Mavericks and Washington Bullets (now Wizards) in limited minutes.

    Overall, Carr netted 10,473 points in 682 regular appearances for a 15.4-point norm.

    Long before a certain player by the name of LeBron James joined Cleveland, Carr was known by Cleveland cage fans as “Mr. Cavalier.” His No. 34 is among the seven uniform numbers retired by the NBA franchise.

    Today, Carr serves as the Cavaliers’ Director of Community Relations and also works as a color analyst on the team’s television broadcasts.
  3. US NCAA Basketball: Alcindor and the Bruins

    In an era where one-and-done (only one year in college then onto the pros) is the norm, basically influenced by the current collective bargaining agreement struck by the U.S. National Basketball Association and its players union which states that a player must be at least 19 years old and one year out of high school to qualify for the NBA draft, many prominent roundball athletes rarely complete their four-year varsity eligibility.

    Consequently, no NCAA Division I men’s basketball player has ever won four national championships. Add to the fact that freshmen were not allowed to suit up for the varsity prior to the 1972-73 season.

    If not for the rule, it could have easily been four-for-four in title victories for Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr., a gangling but dominant center from the University of California at Los Angeles.

    Alcindor, an aloof 7-2 man-mountain out of New York City, powered the UCLA Bruins to three consecutive NCAA tournament championships in 1967, 1968 and 1969. He is one of only four players to have started on three NCAA championship teams – the others being co-UCLA alumni Henry Bibby, Curtis Rowe and Lynn Shackelford.

    On all three title finishes, Alcindor was named the NCAA Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. It’s a feat that has not been duplicated by any other player in Division I annals until now.

    Had Alcindor been eligible to suit up as a frosh in 1966, he most likely would have secured a fourth ring. Until 1972-73, first-year collegians were barred from competing in the NCAA tournament.

    The 1965-66 UCLA squad also claimed the NCAA diadem when Alcindor apprenticed with the Bruins’ junior varsity squad (freshmen who only played exhibition games).

    In late November 1965, the Alcindor-led freshmen team blasted the school’s varsity contingent, 75-60, in the first game at the Pauley Pavilion, the Bruins’ home arena. Alcindor chalked up 31 points and 21 rebounds in that exhibition contest.

    As a sophomore in 1966-67, the tree-like Alcindor became a dominant figure with his slam-dunking moves. That spurred the NCAA to ban the dunk after the 1967 collegiate wars. It was not allowed again until the 1976-77 season.

    For Alcindor, the ban was a blessing in disguise as he started to develop another potent offensive weapon that later patently became known as the “skyhook.” He was adept at shooting the skyhook with either hand, which made him even more difficult to defend against.

    Alcindor said he learned the move in fifth grade after practicing with the Mikan Drill and soon learned to value it, as it was “the only shot I could use that didn’t get smashed in my face,” meaning it was hard for his defender to block the shot without being called for goaltending.

    In three seasons at Westwood, Alcindor was victorious in 86 of his 88 appearances. He missed a pair of games – both UCLA wins – due to an eye injury.

    During Alcindor’s watch, the Bruins registered an 88-2 record overall – 30-0 in 1967, 29-1 in 1968 and 29-1 in 1969.

    UCLA dropped a 71-69 decision to the Elvin Hayes-bannered Houston Cougars at the spacious Houston Astrodome in January 1968 that halted the Bruins’ 47-game win streak.

    Alcindor performed poorly in the loss due to a blurred vision. He had been poked in the eye and suffered a scratched left eyeball in a previous assignment against California and the injury forced him to sit out back-to-back games against Stanford and Portland.

    Hayes, the Cougars center who later earned national College Player of the year honors, netted 39 points and plucked down 15 rebounds while the injured Alcindor was limited to a measly 15 markers in the first-ever nationally televised regular-season college basketball game.

    UCLA’s only other loss in the Alcindor era came during a 46-44 reversal at the hands of the University of Southern California in the Big Fellas’s senior campaign.

    Alcindor, whose 61 points remain the Bruins’ all-time single-game scoring record until now, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in history from UCLA in 1969.

    That same year, he was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks with the first pick in the entire National Basketball Association (NBA) draft.

    A former Catholic, Alcindor officially changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the summer of 1971 after leading the Bucks to their only NBA title so far.

    Kareem, who would subsequently win five more NBA championships (1980-82-85-87-8 with the Los Angeles Lakers, will turn 68 on April 16.
  4. U.S. NCAA: Will the Wildcats Go All the Way?

    “March Madness,” as the U.S National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s basketball tournament is all about, is in full swing.
    From an original 68-school cast, including eight lower-rated teams in the First Four games in the play-in first round, the race to the national championship is down to the Sweet Sixteen to be played from March 26-27 (March 27-28, Manila time).

    Over the weekend (Rounds 2 and 3), 16 teams each won a pair of games in their respective regionals (Midwest, West, East and South) to advance to the Final 16 of the three-week, seven-tier competitions.

    The Sweet 16 matchups feature the following:

    Nationally top-ranked and unblemished No. 1 seed Kentucky vs. No. 5 seed West Virginia and No. 3 seed Notre Dame vs. No. 7 seed Wichita State in the Midwest; No. 1 seed Wisconsin vs. No. 4 seed North Carolina and No. 6 seed Xavier vs. No. 2 seed Arizona in the West; No. 8 seed North Carolina State vs. No. 4 seed Louisville and No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 seed Michigan State in the East; and No. 1 seed Duke vs. No. 5 seed Utah and No. 11 seed UCLA vs. No. 2 seed Gonzaga in the South.

    Kentucky, which lost to Connecticut in last year’s NCAA finals, is 36-0 so far this season and seeks to become the first unbeaten titlist since Indiana accomplished the feat in 1976 with a 32-0 record. At the moment, the Wildcats already own the longest win streak to begin a season in NCAA Division I history.

    Certainly not a bad omen to coach John Calipari’s troops, none of the three schools that previously started at least 33-0 captured the NCAA title.
    Last campaign, Wichita State was 35-0 before losing to Kentucky in the Round of 32. University of Nevada at Las Vegas was 34-0 in 1990-91 but went down in the Final Four (national semifinals) and Indiana State (bannered by Larry Bird) won its first 33 assignments in 1978-79 before being beaten by Michigan State (led by Earvin “Magic” Johnson) in the NCAA championship game.

    Of the four No. 1 seeds in this year’s tournament, three reached the Sweet 16 – Kentucky, nationally third-ranked Wisconsin (33-3) and nationally fourth-rated Duke (31-4).

    The other top seed, nationally No. 2-ranked Villanova (33-3), was upset by North Carolina State, 71-68, in Round 3.

    Two No. 2 seeds – nationally 10th-ranked Kansas (27-9) and nationally sixth-ranked Virginia (30-4) – both lost in Round 3. The Jayhawks surrendered a 78-65 decision to Wichita State and the Cavaliers fell to Michigan State, 60-54.

    Note that the top two seeds in the East Regional failed to advance to the Sweet 16.

    Aside from Kentucky, Wisconsin and Duke, other Sweet 16 teams with a national top-10 rankings are Arizona (fifth, 33-3), Gonzaga (seventh, 34-2), and Notre Dame (eighth, 31-5). Iowa State (25-9), which was ranked ninth nationally, fell to No. 14 seed Alabama-Birmingham, 60-59, in first-round action as a No. 3 seed in the South Regional.

    The 2015 NCAA Final Four will be held on April 4 (Apr. 5, Manila time) at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana with semifinal matchups featuring the Midwest champion vs. the West champion and the East champion vs. the South champion.

    Two days later (April 7, Manila), the semifinal victors will duke it out for the NCAA crown, also in Indianapolis.

    For sure, a new champion will be crowned as the 2014 winners, the Connecticut Huskies, failed to earn a ticket to the Big Dance and were instead exiled to the also-ran 32-team National Invitation Tournament. The Huskies finished their season with a 20-15 card after losing to Arizona State, 68-61, in first-round NIT play.
  5. NBA's Highest-Salaried Athletes

    Despite accepting a paycut of nearly $7 million, the Los Angeles Lakers’ battle-scarred, injury-plagued superstar Kobe Bryant remains the highest-salaried player in the U.S. National Basketball Association during the 2014-15 season.
    The third all-time leading scorer in NBA regular-season history, the 6-7, 36-year-old Bryant’s 19th pro season out his right shoulder he suffered during a January 21, 2015 road game against the New Orleans Pelicans. of high school came to an abrupt halt following surgery to repair a rotator cuff tear in his right shoulder that he suffered during a January 21, 2015 road game against the New Orleans Pelicans.
    For the season, he posted averages of 22.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists in 35 games.
    Bryant missed the entire 2013 playoffs after sustaining a torn left Achilles tendon against Golden State in a regular contest in April that year. He was held to six assignments in 2013-14 (all in December) due to a fractured bone in his left knee he suffered against Memphis on December 17, 2013.
    Last campaign, Bryant bankrolled S30,453,805 to become only the second player in league annals (after Michael Jordan in 1996-97 and 1997-98, both with the Chicago Bulls) to be paid S30 million or more in a single season.
    On November 25, 2013, Bryant inked a two-year, $48.5-million contract extension (effective 2014-15) with the Lakers that could make him the first player ever to suit up for 20 seasons with a single team in 2015-16 (granting he does not decide to hang up his jersey this summer).
    Bryant was eligible to receive an extension starting at $32 million annually but opted to take a salary reduction instead.
    Aside from Bryant, six other players are earning at least $20 million this season. They are the Brooklyn Nets’ Joe Johnson ($23,180,790), the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony (out for the season since the All-Star break, S22,458,401), the Houston Rockets’ Dwight Howard (S21,436,271), the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James (S20,644,400), the Miami Heat’s Chris Bosh (out for the season, S20,644,400), and the LA Clippers’ Chris Paul (S20,068,563)
    Rounding out the top 10 on the NBA salary list are 8-Brooklyn’s Deron Williams (S19,754,465), 9-Sacramento’s Rudy Gay (S19,317,326) and 10-Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (S18,995,624).
    The Second Ten is composed of Chicago’s Derrick Rose (S18,862,876), the LA Clippers’ Blake Griffin (S17,674,613), Memphis’ Zach Randolph (S16,500,000), Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge (S16,256,000), Indiana’s Paul George (out since Day One, S15,925,680), Memphis’ Marc Gasol (S15,829,68, Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez (S15,719,062), Cleveland’s Kevin Love (S15,719,062), Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (S15,719,062) and Golden State’s David Lee (S15,012,000).
    Completing the list of the 30 highest-paid players in the NBA season are Miami’s Dwyane Wade (S15,000,000), Indiana’s Roy Hibbert (S14,898,93, New Orleans’ Eric Gordon (S14,898,93, Dallas’ Tyson Chandler (S14,846,887), Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins (S14,746,000), Utah’s Gordon Hayward (S14,746,000), Washington’s John Wall (S14,746,000), Houston’s James Harden (S14,728,844), Dallas’ Chandler Parsons (S14,700,000), and Charlotte’s Al Jefferson (S13,500,000).
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