February 27, 2006

Dennis Weaver, 'Gunsmoke' sidekick and detective in 'McCloud,' dies

9:52 a.m. February 27, 2006

LOS ANGELES – Dennis Weaver, the slow-witted deputy Chester Goode in the TV classic western “Gunsmoke” and the New Mexico deputy solving New York crime in “McCloud,” has died. The actor was 81.

Weaver died of complications from cancer Friday at his home in Ridgway, in southwestern Colorado, his publicist Julian Myers said.

Weaver was a struggling actor in Hollywood in 1955, earning $60 a week delivering flowers when he was offered $300 a week for a role in a new CBS television series, “Gunsmoke.” By the end of his nine years with “Gunsmoke,” he was earning $9,000 a week.

When Weaver first auditioned for the series, he found the character of Chester “inane.” He wrote in his 2001 autobiography, “All the World's a Stage,” that he said to himself: “With all my Actors Studio training, I'll correct this character by using my own experiences and drawing from myself.”

The result was a well-rounded character that appealed to audiences, especially with his drawling, “Mis-ter Dil-lon.”

At the end of seven hit seasons, Weaver sought other horizons. He announced his departure, but the failures of pilots for his own series caused him to return to “Gunsmoke” on a limited basis for two more years. The role brought him an Emmy in the 1958-59 season.

In 1966, Weaver starred with a 600-pound black bear in “Gentle Ben,” about a family that adopts a bear as a pet. The series was well-received, but after two seasons, CBS decided it needed more adult entertainment and cancelled it.

Next came the character Sam McCloud, which Weaver called “the most satisfying role of my career.”

The “McCloud” series, 1970-1977, juxtaposed a no-nonsense lawman from Taos, N.M., onto the crime-ridden streets of New York City. His wild-west tactics, such as riding his horse through Manhattan traffic, drove local policemen crazy, but he always solved the case.

He appeared in several movies, including “Touch of Evil,” “Ten Wanted Men,” “Gentle Giant,” “Seven Angry Men,” “Dragnet,” “Way ... Way Out” and “The Bridges at Toko-Ri.”

Weaver also was an activist for protecting the environment and combating world hunger.

He served as president of Love Is Feeding Everyone (LIFE), which fed 150,000 needy people a week in Los Angeles County. He founded the Institute of Ecolonomics, which sought solutions to economic and environmental problems. He spoke at the United Nations and Congress, as well as to college students and school children about fighting pollution and starvation.

“Earthship” was the most visible of Weaver's crusades. He and his wife Gerry built a solar-powered Colorado home out of recycled tires and cans. The thick walls helped keep the inside temperature even year around.

“When the garbage man comes,” Jay Leno once quipped, “how does he know where the garbage begins and the house ends?”

Weaver responded: “If we get into the mindset of saving rather than wasting and utilizing other materials, we can save the Earth.”

The tall, slender actor came by his Midwestern twang naturally. He was born June 4, 1924, in Joplin, Mo., where he excelled in high school drama and athletics. After Navy service in World War II, he enrolled at the University of Oklahoma and qualified for the Olympic decathlon.

He studied at the Actors Studio in New York and appeared in “A Streetcar Named Desire” opposite Shelley Winters and toured in “Come Back, Little Sheba” with Shirley Booth.

Universal Studio signed Weaver to a contract in 1952 but found little work for him. He freelanced in features and television until he landed “Gunsmoke.”

Weaver appeared in dozens of TV movies, the most notable being the 1971 “Duel.” It was a bravura performance for both fledgling director Steven Spielberg and Weaver, who played a driver menaced by a large truck that followed him down a mountain road. The film was released in theaters in 1983, after Spielberg had become director of huge moneymakers.

Weaver's other TV series include “Kentucky Jones,” “Emerald Point N.A.S.,” “Stone,” “Buck James” and “Wildfire.” From 1973 to 1975, he served as president of the Screen Actors Guild.

Weaver is survived by his wife; sons Rick, Robby and Rusty; and three grandchildren.

February 25, 2006

Don Knotts, star of 'The Andy Griffith Show,' dead at 81

Knotts died Friday night of pulmonary and respiratory complications at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills.

Don Knotts, the saucer-eyed, scarecrow-thin comic actor best known for his roles as the high-strung small-town deputy Barney Fife on the 1960s CBS series "The Andy Griffith Show" and the leisure-suit-clad landlord Ralph Furley on ABC's '70s sitcom "Three's Company," has died. He was 81.

Knotts, who lived in West Los Angeles, died Friday night of lung cancer at UCLA Medical Center, according to Sherwin Bash, his longtime manager.

Family members said that his longtime friend Griffth was one of his last visitors at Cedars on Friday night.

Despite health problems, Knotts had kept working in recent months. He lent his distinctive, high-pitched voice as Turkey Mayor in Walt Disney's animated family film "Chicken Little," which was released in November 2005. He also did guest spots in 2005 on NBC's "Las Vegas" and Fox's "That '70s Show." He occasionally co-headlined in live comedy shows with Tim Conway, his sometime co-star in Disney films such as "The Apple Dumpling Gang." Knotts also appeared as the TV repairman in director Gary Ross's whimsical 1998 comedy "Pleasantville," and voiced the part of T.W. Turtle in the 1997 animated feature "Cats Don't Dance."

As he grew older, Knotts became a lodestar for younger comic actors. The new generation came to appreciate his highly physical brand of acting that, at its best, was in the tradition of silent-film greats such as Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel and Harold Lloyd.

Knotts first rose to prominence in the late 1950s, joining Louis Nye and other comedy players on "The Steve Allen Show." In 1961, United Artists Records released a comedy album entitled "Don Knotts: An Evening with Me," which featured various takeoffs on the "nervous man" routine the comic had made famous on Allen's show. One of the bits, "The Weatherman," concerned a TV forecaster forced to wing it after the meteorology report fails to make it to the studio by air time.

During the mid to late 1960s, in a largely unsuccessful bid for major film stardom, Knotts made a series of family films that many connoisseurs now say were critically underappreciated at the time. These include "The Incredible Mr. Limpet" (1964), "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" (1966) and "The Reluctant Astronaut" (1967). The latter two were made as part of a five-picture deal with Universal Pictures.

"Limpet," the tale of a meek man who is transformed into a fish, has particularly won recent acclaim. Its early mix of live action and animation was a forerunner of such later films as "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" and "Space Jam."

At one point, Jim Carrey was said to be considering starring in a "Limpet" remake, although the project has yet to materialize. Once, when Knotts visited the set of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," Carrey paid tribute. "I went to him, and I was just like, 'Thank you so much for "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken,"' Carrey later told an interviewer. " 'I watched it a hundred times when I was a kid.' "

Martin Short has likewise hailed Knotts as a major influence, and at least one of Short's recurring characters, shifty-eyed lawyer Nathan Thurm, owes a debt to Knotts' "nervous man" character, created for "The Steve Allen Show" in the 1950s.

Many TV viewers remember Knotts as Ralph Furley, the ascot-wearing middle-aged landlord who mistakenly viewed himself as a swinger on ABC's hit sex farce "Three's Company." The series starred the late John Ritter as Jack Tripper, a chef who pretended to be gay in order to share an apartment with two attractive young women. The plot of many episodes hinged on Tripper struggling to keep his secret from an ever-suspicious (and homophobic) Furley. Knotts introduced the character in 1979, during the show's fourth season, when the original landlords (Norman Fell and Audra Lindley) had departed for their own spin-off, "The Ropers."

For Knotts, who typically worked in Disney comedies and other family-friendly fare, appearing in a sex comedy — then decried by critics as "jiggle TV" -- constituted a major departure. But he stayed with "Three's Company" until it went off the air in 1984 after eight seasons.

However, it was his portrayal of Barney Fife — a role for which he won five Emmy Awards -- that immortalized Knotts to TV viewers. Deputy Fife, an inveterate bumbler, was not in the series pilot, and was at first intended simply to be part of a large ensemble that would surround Griffith, who played Sheriff Andy Taylor in Mayberry, a fictional North Carolina town near Raleigh.

But not long after the series debuted in October 1960, Knotts stole the show. Griffith, who was meant to be the series' comic focus, shifted to playing straight man. The writers began beefing up Fife's role and creating episodes that depended on the sheriff rescuing Fife from his latest predicament. "Andy Griffith" was the most popular comedy on television during its first season, and never dropped from the Top 10 for the rest of its eight-year run.

In Knotts' hands, Fife was a fully realized stooge, a hick-town Don Quixote who imagined himself braver, more sophisticated and more competent than he actually was. His utter lack of self-control led him into desperate jams that usually culminated with Fife at the end of his rope, bug-eyed and panting with anxiety. Sheriff Taylor allowed his deputy to carry just one bullet, which he was obliged to keep separate from his service revolver due to past trigger mishaps.

Asked how he developed his most famous character, Knotts replied in a 2000 interview: "Mainly, I thought of Barney as a kid. You can always look into the faces of kids and see what they're thinking, if they're happy or sad. That's what I tried to do with Barney. It's very identifiable."

Jesse Donald Knotts was born in Morgantown, W.Va., on July 21, 1924, the youngest of four brothers. His family life was troubled; Knotts' father twice threatened his mother with a knife and later spent time in mental hospitals, while older brother Earl — nicknamed "Shadow" because of his thinness -- died of asthma when Knotts was still a teenager.

Years later, the actor did not recall his childhood fondly.

"I felt like a loser," he recalled in a 1976 interview with the Los Angeles Times. "I was unhappy, I think, most of the time. We were terribly poor and I hated my size."

Knotts turned to performing in his early teens, doing an Edgar Bergen-inspired ventriloquism act with a dummy he named Danny.

He enlisted in the Army in 1943 and served in the Pacific, receiving the World War II Victory Medal among other decorations. After the war, in 1948, he graduated from West Virginia University with an education degree.

He soon borrowed $100 and moved to New York to pursue an acting career. He auditioned for several radio gigs but was turned down. One of his earliest TV roles was on the CBS soap opera "Search for Tomorrow," where he played Wilbur Peterson — a neurotic young man so troubled he communicated only with his sister -- from 1953-55. It was the only non-comedic role he ever played.

But Knotts did not receive widespread attention until he appeared on Broadway in Ira Levin's 1955 comedy "No Time for Sergeants." Based on Mac Hyman's novel, the play concerned a hillbilly — played by a then-unknown Andy Griffith -- who was drafted into the Air Force. Knotts won plaudits as an overly tense military evaluator.

From 1956-60, Knotts further cemented his reputation on NBC's "The Steve Allen Show," where he would play a character named Mr. Morrison, aka "the nervous man." Interviewed on the street, Morrison was asked whether something was making him nervous and would inevitably offer a terse, anxiety-wracked "No!"

In the meantime, "No Time for Sergeants" was made into a feature film in 1958, with Griffith and Knotts reprising their roles. The two actors kept in touch, and when Griffith signed to do the TV series as a rural sheriff, Knotts half-jokingly suggested that the lawman would need a deputy.

Knotts left "Andy Griffith" in 1965, later explaining that he believed the producers had always intended for the series to last just five seasons. In a 1967 Times interview, he said, "The grind gets to you in television, and that's primarily the reason I'm concentrating on pictures."

Griffith stayed with the program for three years after Knotts' departure, however, and Knotts agreed to revive his role as Fife in a number of guest spots. Even without Knotts, "Andy Griffith" remained popular, and the show was ranked No. 1 in its final season, 1967-68. Episodes remain syndication favorites and still appear in frequent rotation on cable network TV Land.

But many fans now believe "Andy Griffith" fizzled creatively without Knotts' manic energy — a point that even Griffith himself has conceded. On the TV fan site www.jumptheshark.com, one viewer wrote, "When Barney Fife left town, 'The Andy Griffith Show' changed from a television classic to just another 60's TV show."

After "Griffith," Knotts stayed busy, although he never quite matched the success he had seen as Barney Fife. An NBC variety hour, "The Don Knotts Show," premiered in 1970 and lasted just one season. The actor subsequently appeared in several live-action Disney features: as a bumbling bandit in "The Apple Dumpling Gang" (1975), a would-be safecracker in "No Deposit, No Return" (1976) and an auto-racing veteran in "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo" (1977). He also reprised his role as Fife in "Return to Mayberry," a nostalgic TV movie that delivered enormous ratings for CBS in 1986, and had a recurring role in "Matlock," CBS' courtroom drama starring Griffith.

A self-described hypochondriac, Knotts suffered numerous health reversals in recent years. He developed vision problems that made driving and some other tasks difficult. In the fall of 2003, he injured his Achilles tendon while starring in "On Golden Pond" at the New Theatre in Overland Park, Kansas, and had to wear a brace onstage.

Two of Knotts' three marriages ended in divorce. The first, to Kathryn Kay Metz, lasted from 1947 to 1964 and produced two children, Karen, an actress who co-starred with her father in a 1996 stage revival of "You Can't Take It With You," and Thomas, both of whom survive him. From 1974 to 1983, Knotts was married to Loralee Czuchna. He was married to actress Francey Yarborough at the time of his death.

"He saw poignancy in people's pride and pain and he turned it into something endearing and hilarious," Yarborough, who is also an actress, said in a statement Saturday.

Knotts received a star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame in January 2000.

In the foreword to Knotts' 2000 memoir, "Barney Fife and Other Characters I Have Known," Griffith wrote that Knotts personally had little in common with his most famous creation. "Don was not Barney Fife," Griffith wrote. "I know Don to be a bright man and very much in control of himself. As everyone knows, Barney Fife had very little control of himself. In the comedy scenes we did, I was often closer to Don than the camera and I could look at him before we started those scenes, and through his eyes, I could see him become Barney Fife."

Prolific Actor Darren McGavin Dies at 83

Darren McGavin, Who Starred in 'Mike Hammer' and Played the Dad in 'A Christmas Story,' Dies

LOS ANGELES Feb 25, 2006 - Darren McGavin, the husky, tough-talking actor who starred in the TV series "Mike Hammer," played a grouchy dad in the holiday classic "A Christmas Story" and had other strong roles in such films as "The Man with the Golden Arm" and "The Natural," has died. He was 83.

McGavin died of natural causes at a Los Angeles-area hospital with his family at his side, said his son Bogart McGavin.

McGavin made his film debut in 1945 when he switched from painter of movie sets to bit actor in "A Song to Remember." After a decade of learning his craft in New York, he returned to Hollywood and became one of the busiest actors in television and films.

He starred in five series and became a prolific actor in TV movies. Among his memorable portrayals was Gen. George Patton in the 1979 TV biography "Ike."

Despite his busy career in television, McGavin was awarded only one Emmy: in 1990 for an appearance as Candice Bergen's opinionated father in an episode of "Murphy Brown."
Redick becomes ACC career scoring leader

PHILADELPHIA -- Duke's J.J. Redick set the Atlantic Coast Conference career scoring record in the second half of Saturday's game against Temple, sinking two free throws to set the mark.

Redick, who also holds the NCAA record for career 3-pointers, passed Dickie Hemric, who finished with 2,587 points for Wake Forest. Redick also holds Duke's career scoring mark, passing assistant coach Johnny Dawkins on Sunday.

With flashbulbs popping throughout the Wachovia Center and photographers crammed behind the basket, Redick sank two free throws with 1:28 left to set the mark. The sold-out crowd gave him a standing ovation and his teammates patted him on the head as he went to the huddle for a timeout.

Redick took awhile to get going, scoring his first basket on a layup midway through the first half, then didn't score again until he hit a 3-pointer in the opening minutes of the second half. Another driving layup with 11:07 left gave him seven points and tied the ACC mark.

Redick entered the game second in the nation in scoring with 28.7 points.

(2) North Carolina 77, (1) Duke 65

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina left little doubt Saturday about who is No. 1.

Ivory Latta scored 18 points to help the second-ranked Tar Heels beat top-ranked Duke 77-65, a win that gave North Carolina the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title and a likely return to the top of the national rankings.

Erlana Larkins and La'Tangela Atkinson each added 16 points for the Tar Heels (26-1, 13-1), who led the entire way to earn their fifth straight win in the series. North Carolina earned its second win against a No. 1-ranked team -- both against Duke -- in 21 tries and earned the top seed in next week's ACC tournament for the second straight season.

Wanisha Smith scored 16 points to lead the Blue Devils (25-2, 12-2), whose only losses have come against the Tar Heels this year. The Blue Devils head into the ACC tournament as the second seed.

North Carolina did it with defense and rebounding, two staples of coach Sylvia Hatchell's program. The Tar Heels were outrebounded in seven of their last 10 games, but took a 54-44 edge on the glass and had as many offensive boards (25) as Duke did on the defensive end.

Larkins led North Carolina with 14 rebounds, eight offensive, while Atkinson had 11 rebounds.

That gave the Tar Heels plenty of second-chance scores on a day when they shot just 39 percent, including 2-for-11 from 3-point range. That was enough to help them build a 17-point second-half lead as Duke shot 34 percent, including 3-for-21 from behind the arc.

Duke also committed 23 turnovers.

Duke All-American Monique Currie marked her 23rd birthday with a woeful performance. She managed 13 points on 5-for-18 shooting -- much of it coming when Duke trailed by double figures.

The Blue Devils made a frantic rally to close within five points with 2 minutes left, but could get no closer. Atkinson scored a pair of layups by breaking the press, while the Tar Heels went 6-of-7 at the line in the final 2 minutes to seal it.

The game marked the first advanced sellout for the North Carolina women, requiring the first ticket distribution for students, faculty and staff at Carmichael Auditorium. There was a line of at least 1,000 fans waiting to get in nearly two hours before tipoff.

Both teams looked a little skittish early in front of the rowdy environment, combining to shoot 32 percent in a first half full of missed jumpers and layups rolling off the rim.

But the Tar Heels dominated the second half, driving into the paint for easier shots while continuing to play the aggressive pressure defense that seemed to unnerve the Blue Devils the entire way.

North Carolina scored the game's first six points and led 32-25 at halftime before using a 17-5 spurt to take control. Leading 34-31, the Tar Heels scored on eight straight possessions to take a 51-36 lead with 12:43 left on Larkins' second stickback of the run.

That lead grew to 17 points twice, the last time coming on a layup from Alex Miller off a feed from Atkinson for a 61-44 lead with 6:42 left.

February 19, 2006

(2) Duke 92, Miami (FL) 71

DURHAM, N.C. -- J.J. Redick lost a defender around a screen, took a pass in front of the Duke bench and launched a 3-pointer that had an entire arena holding its breath.

The ball swished through, touching off an earsplitting roar and vaulting Redick to the top of Duke's career scoring list.

The senior sharpshooter scored 30 points to break Johnny Dawkins' school record and help the second-ranked Blue Devils beat Miami 92-71 on Sunday, a win that could push them back to No. 1.

Redick finished 10-for-15 from the field and hit six 3-pointers for the Blue Devils (25-1, 13-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), passing Dawkins, now an assistant coach at Duke, by one point on the career list with 2,557 points. Redick also moved into second place on the ACC career list, 30 points behind Wake Forest's Dickie Hemric.

Redick said he felt blessed to set the record. He also sounded relieved to move forward after weeks of hearing fans count down his pursuit of history or scream for him to shoot practically every time he touched the ball.

"I've tried to stay focused on the team all year, but these last two games as they've approached it's been tough," Redick said. "It is nice to take care of the record and get back to focusing on the team, which is the most important thing."

It was just the latest in a growing list of milestones for Redick. Redick set the NCAA record for career 3-pointers in Tuesday's win against Wake Forest, and followed that with his school-record 13th 30-point game of the season.

Redick was honored at midcourt after the game, receiving a game ball from Dawkins, athletics director Joe Alleva and university president Richard Brodhead. Redick pointed one finger in the air as he walked to midcourt, hugged all three men, then pointed to the fans as camera flashes rolled through Cameron Indoor Stadium.

"When I went out there, it took everything for me not to cry," Redick said.

His teammates joined in the celebration, congratulating him after he was pulled late in the game with Duke up 20, then playfully mobbing him after his midcourt ceremony.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski stood and watched quietly from the sideline.

"When you're that scorer, you're marked, and in our league, you're usually marked by athletes," Krzyzewski said. "And you're not only being played by them, but you're being double-teamed by another athlete. In a league like ours, for him to do what he has done is truly amazing."

Shelden Williams added 17 points and 15 rebounds for Duke, which could move up in the rankings after top-ranked Connecticut's loss to Villanova earlier in the week. The Blue Devils were ranked No. 1 through the first 11 polls before falling to No. 2 with a loss at Georgetown on Jan. 21.

The Blue Devils have won eight straight since. They jumped to a big lead late in the first half against the Hurricanes (14-12, 6-7) and maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way to clinch the top seed in next month's ACC tournament.

Guillermo Diaz scored 23 points to lead Miami, which has lost four straight conference games after a surprising 6-3 start.

Redick scored 22 points on 7-for-9 shooting to help the Blue Devils to a 59-43 lead at the break. Things slowed down for him in the second half, with Miami's zone defense paying him special attention.

"As you can see, it didn't help because he still got 30 points," Miami coach Frank Haith said. "He finds ways. He is smart. It is like anything you do, it will work for a short period of time."

Duke led 40-36 before taking control with a 19-4 run to take a 59-40 lead with 52.4 seconds left in the half. Freshman Josh McRoberts scored eight with six coming on free throws during that spurt, during which Haith became so frustrated at the officiating -- "We can't touch them!" he yelled at one point -- that he was whistled for a technical foul.

Redick's free throws on the technical closed the run, and Miami got no closer than 10 points after the break.

"You don't have the opportunity to play against a guy that good very often, and that's what I told him after the game," Diaz said. "He is just a great player."

February 15, 2006

Duke's Redick Sets Career 3-Point Record

DURHAM, N.C. - J.J. Redick set up the screen perfectly and lost his defender in the process. The short pass was perfect, and he caught it, turned and launched yet another 3-pointer. It swished through, as his jumpers often do, but this one was special. It made Redick the NCAA's new career 3-point leader.

"It's a special night, to set a national record is very neat and I'm proud," he said.

The Duke senior moved to the top of the list with four 3s on his way to 33 points, helping the second-ranked Blue Devils run away from Wake Forest 93-70 Tuesday night to remain undefeated in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"I'll never be able to completely shed the label of just being a shooter, and that's fine with me," Redick said. "It doesn't stop me from working on my game and trying to get better."

Freshman Josh McRoberts had 12 of his 16 points in the first half and Shelden Williams also scored 16 for Duke (24-1, 12-0 ACC), which is in position to reclaim the No. 1 ranking in The Associated Press poll next week following Connecticut's loss to Villanova on Monday night.

"I've tried not to focus on the records, I've tried to focus on what our team's doing," he said. "We're having a heck of a season as a team, and that's been a lot of fun to be a part of."

The Demon Deacons (13-12, 1-10) lost their seventh conference game in a row. Justin Gray led them with 18 points, while Eric Williams finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds.

Redick got two 3-pointers in the first 12 1/2 minutes to pass the mark previously held by Virginia's Curtis Staples, who had 413 from 1994-98. Redick added two more and now has 416.

Staples was in attendance and presented Redick with a game ball in a ceremony following the game.

"It's his confidence level," Gray said. "When he's shooting the ball like that, it's not really technique or none of that stuff. It all has to do with confidence and his confidence is through the roof right now."

Redick totaled at least 30 points for the fourth straight game, setting a new school record.

"I've never had anybody who had so many 30-point games," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We're not always looking for him. We're trying to be balanced. He's just an incredible player."

Even better, Redick passed Virginia's Bryant Stith for fourth on the ACC career scoring list, and he remained on pace to pass Dickie Hemric at the top of the list. Hemric had 2,587 for Wake Forest, and Redick now trails him by 60 points with five games remaining in the regular season.

The Blue Devils led by 14 at the break before Wake Forest briefly rallied. A tip-in by Kevin Swinton made it 54-43 before Duke responded with a 12-2 run — completed with a layup from Redick — and the Deacons never recovered.

"You know, I've pretty much got through the part of feeling sorry for myself and sorry for the team," Eric Williams said. "The only thing we can do now is keep fighting. We've got to play it game by game. That's all we can do."

February 08, 2006

(8) Rutgers 60, (4) Connecticut 56

STORRS, Conn. -- Cappie Pondexter and her Rutgers teammates had a hostile crowd and history against them at Connecticut.

The Scarlet Knights didn't flinch.

Pondexter scored 18 points, including a pair of game-sealing free throws with 7.8 seconds left, and the eighth-ranked Scarlet Knights beat No. 4 UConn 60-56 on Tuesday night for their first win on the Huskies' homecourt.

"Every possession was crucial," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. "Every point, every missed cut. It was that kind of a game. It's nice to finally win here."

The Scarlet Knights (18-3, 10-0 Big East) hadn't won in 11 games at UConn, a losing streak that spanned a decade. The Huskies (21-3, 10-1) still hold a 18-3 lead in the series, but the five-time national champs have been giving ground to Rutgers of late. The Scarlet Knights won the regular season Big East title last year, snapping UConn's 11-year reign and this year were the preseason pick to win it again.

"I suspect if we continue to work hard, we can continue to hopefully prove ourselves worthy," Stringer said.

Rutgers moved into sole possession of first place in a matchup of the last two Big East unbeatens and did it a venue that's been hard to crack for conference foes. The Huskies were 121-1 in their last 122 Big East home games before Tuesday.

UConn has struggled offensively in the last two games. The Huskies were coming off a sloppy 58-50 win over West Virginia where they shot a season-low 32 percent. They didn't fare much better Tuesday, hitting 19-of-56 for 34 percent as their nine-game winning streak ended. Charde Houston and Mel Thomas, who were averaging a combined 22 points, shot a collective 1-for-16 for just four points.

"We can't run a play. We can't get into any kind of offense," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "For us, it was hard to find people to contribute. (Rutgers) got contributions from a lot of people."

The Scarlet Knights got clutch shots down the stretch from Pondexter and speedy sophomore guard Matee Ajavon.

UConn rallied from a 14-point deficit and was within two points twice in the final four minutes. But Ajavon kept the Huskies at bay with a 3-pointer just as the shot clock expired with 2:28 left for a 58-53 Scarlet Knights' lead.

"It was a clutch play," Ajavon said. "It was a shot that came to me. They were playing tight on Cappie, so I just took the shot."

The Huskies cut the deficit to two again on a driving layup from Barbara Turner with 1:29 remaining.

The sellout crowd of 10,167 stood the rest of the way, but there would be no comeback on this night. Pondexter made sure of that from the foul line.

"It's big to come and win here. It's the first time in history," Pondexter said. "I'm happy for coach Stringer. We look at it as a step toward the Big East title."

Ajavon finished with 16 points and three of Rutgers' eight steals. Michelle Campbell added 12.

Turner led UConn with 17 points and Ann Strother added 15. Crockett had a game-high 13 rebounds. Strother hit two 3-pointers in a 25-15 UConn run to get the Huskies back in it. Pondexter, however, matched her with a 3 each time.

"Cappie Pondexter made some amazing shots, shots that I thought were pretty hard to make," Auriemma said.

Rutgers used an 13-2 run midway through the first half to gain control. Ajavon had two steals in that stretch and converted both into breakaway layups. Pondexter's 3-pointer with 7:45 left in the period gave the Scarlet Knights a 21-10.

UConn stumbled through the much of the half with eight turnovers and poor shooting. The Huskies shot 24 percent (8-for-33) and the Scarlet Knights made the most of those misses.

Sixteen of Rutgers' 23 first-half rebounds were on the defensive glass. The Huskies chipped away at the deficit with a 9-2 run in the closing minutes, fueled by four points from Turner. But the Scarlet Knights scored the next four points to take a 27-21 lead at the break.

In their last meeting, the Huskies beat Rutgers 67-51 for the Big East tournament championship, marred by a controversial he-said, she-said exchange between Pondexter and Auriemma during the post-game handshake. Pondexter pointed at Auriemma after hearing something she felt was objectionable late in the game, and Auriemma insisted he was talking to an official. A league investigation into the incident found nothing improper. Both schools say they've put the incident behind them now.

That spat and Rutgers long losing streak at UConn are now both history.

"We just have to move forward," Turner said. "It does hurt really bad though."

February 06, 2006

Pittsburgh Steelers MVP Hines Ward kisses the Vince Lombardi trophy after the Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks, 21-10 in Super Bowl XL football game, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2006, in Detroit.
Steelers Win Fifth Super Bowl Title

DETROIT - Paint this Super Bowl black and gold. With a whole lot of satisfaction for Jerome Bettis, Bill Cowher and his Pittsburgh Steelers.

The final Bus stop featured a little trickery starring MVP Hines Ward, a bunch of help from the Seattle Seahawks and a huge boost from the Terrible Towels, a handful of football fortune that added up to One for the Thumb.

The Steelers' 21-10 victory in the Super Bowl on Sunday was their record-tying fifth, but the first since 1980 and the first ever for Bettis and Cowher.

"It's been an incredible ride," Bettis said.

Moments after the Rolling Stones rocked a Ford Field that could easily have been Heinz Field — or Hines' field — Willie Parker broke a record 75-yard touchdown run. The Steelers earned that elusive ring and completed a magic Bus ride that made Bettis' homecoming — and farewell — a success.

"I'm a champion. I think the Bus' last stop is here in Detroit," Bettis said. "It's official, like the referee whistle."

On this night, satisfaction was more than Mick Jagger's signature song that closed the halftime show.

It was sweet validation for Cowher with a title in his 14th season as their coach, the longest tenure in the NFL. The tough guy, who lost his only previous Super Bowl 10 years ago to Dallas, teared up as he walked to midfield to embrace Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren.

"A lot of people tell you you can't do it, but you know what, it doesn't mean you don't go out and try," Cowher said. "History was not going to determine our fate. Our effort today decided this game and that's what's great.

"It's surreal. I'm going to tell you, this is a special group of coaches, a special group of players. I was one small part of this."

Pittsburgh tied San Francisco and Dallas with its five Super Bowl titles.

Perhaps the most special moment for Cowher came when he presented the Vince Lombardi Trophy to 73-year-old owner Dan Rooney.

"I've been waiting a long time to do this," Cowher said. "This is yours, man."

The Steelers certainly got plenty of help from the Seahawks. Seattle was plagued by penalties, drops, poor clock management and a critical fourth-quarter interception of Matt Hasselbeck just when the NFC champions seemed ready to take the lead.

Instead, Pittsburgh (15-5) got the clinching score with the kind of trickery that has carried it through an eight-game winning streak.

Versatile wideout Antwaan Randle El, a quarterback in college, took a handoff from Parker, sprinted right and threw perfectly to Ward for a 43-yard TD with 9:04 remaining. It was the first Super Bowl touchdown pass by a receiver.

Bettis, with 43 yards on 14 carries, had a minimal role in what was the final game for the NFL's No. 5 career rusher.

So did quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The most noteworthy play for the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl was a horrid pass that Kelly Herndon of the Seahawks (15-4) returned a record 76 yards.

That set up the Seahawks' only touchdown, a 16-yard pass to Jerramy Stevens — Joey Porter, his verbal sparring partner all week, was nowhere in sight. Neither was All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu.

But with Parker's burst and Seattle's self-destructive tendencies, the Steelers completed their postseason march through the NFL's top four teams: Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Denver and Seattle, with all the wins coming away from Heinz Field.

"I could've had an even better day," said Ward, who had five receptions for 123 yards and the touchdown.

Seattle, looking nothing like a team that rampaged through its conference, damaged itself all day. It had four penalties for 40 yards in the opening half, one that nullified a touchdown pass.

The second half wasn't much better, and Ike Taylor's 24-yard return with Hasselbeck's poor throw gave Pittsburgh the one last opportunity it needed.

"This is a tough pill to swallow," Holmgren said, "but we accomplished a lot this year. While you don't have a great feeling after a game like this, I want them to remember this feeling, so they can build on it."

The 23-year-old Roethlisberger achieved it more with his legs than his arm. He dived into the end zone from the 1 late in the first half, barely reaching the goal line — if at all — according to a replay, and converted enough second-half first downs to wind down the clock.

Usually, that is Bettis' job. But this Sunday, he was just along for his final ride.

What a journey it has been.

The Steelers were 7-5, then won their final four regular-season games to secure the AFC's last playoff spot. They went to Cincinnati and won a wild-card game. They won at Indianapolis, which had the league's best record. And then they handed Denver its first home loss in the AFC championship game.

And now they have their "One for the Thumb" — the first four came in their Steel Curtain days, won by the likes of Mean Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris.

Early on, the noise seemed to unnerve the Steelers, who had two motion penalties on their first offensive series. Of course, none of their active players Sunday ever played in a Super Bowl.

Seattle forced another three-and-out on Pittsburgh's next possession, keeping Bettis on the sideline, then took the lead.

Josh Brown made a 47-yard field goal with 22 seconds left in the first quarter after the Seahawks lost a touchdown on Darrell Jackson's pass interference in the end zone. Jackson still had 50 yards on five receptions in the quarter.

Bettis made his Super Bowl debut 2:47 into the second quarter with the Pittsburgh offense in dire need of a boost. The Steelers got it, but from an 8-yard completion to Randle El for their initial first down — 19 minutes into the game.

Ward followed with an 18-yard run on an end-around, but Roethlisberger's ill-advised lob on the next play was picked off by safety Michael Boulware at the Seattle 25.

With Seattle's other safety, Marquand Manuel, sidelined in the second quarter with a right ankle injury, Roethlisberger began finding open receivers. Ward gained 12 yards, Cedrick Wilson got 20 and, moments after Ward dropped a pass in the corner of the end zone, he outwrestled Boulware for a 37-yard completion.

The Bus couldn't roll in on two tries, then the 6-foot-5 Roethlisberger dived left and barely squeezed the ball over the goal line. A replay review upheld the touchdown with 1:55 remaining in the half.

Perhaps unnerved themselves by the ruling, the Seahawks squandered much of that time before Brown missed a 54-yard field goal wide right. Holmgren argued as he walked off the field that the ball never crossed the goal line, but referee Bill Leavy told him it did.

Seattle also could bemoan a holding call on Peter Warrick's 32-yard punt return to open the second quarter, and a goal-line completion to Jackson on which he barely was out of bounds.

It didn't get a lot better in the second half for Seattle, and Holmgren failed to become the first coach to win Super Bowls with two franchises. In 1997, his Green Bay Packers beat New England.

But his Seahawks didn't give themselves much of a chance. By the end, the crowd was singing "Here We Go Steelers, Here We Go."

Who knows, maybe Jagger was singing along.

February 05, 2006

Penn State Rallies Past No. 6 Illinois

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Rich McBride thought he had saved Illinois' home-winning streak. He was just a split-second too late. McBride's shot came just after the buzzer and Penn State held off No. 6 Illinois 66-65 on Saturday night, ending the Illini's home winning streak at 33 games.

His shot went up as the horn sounded and officials spent several moments reviewing video replays to determine whether he got it off in time. All the while, the hometown crowd chanted "I-L-L-I-N-I," but when referee Gene Crawford waived off the basket, the arena fell into a stunned silence.

"I thought I released it and then the shot clock went off," McBride said. "Obviously, I was wrong."

Crawford said the initial ruling on the floor was a good shot, but the rules require the video review.

"We had to play it back a couple of times because the monitor flickered," he said. "It was finally determined that the ball was still in his hand when the red light went on."

The last time Illinois (20-3, 6-3) lost at Assembly Hall was 58-54 to Purdue on Jan. 10, 2004. This defeat kept the Illini from a first-place tie with Iowa in the Big Ten race, leaving the Hawkeyes alone at the top after beating Michigan 94-66 earlier in the day.

"I'm disappointed that the streak is over, but I'm more disappointed in the race," Weber said. "We gained one at Wisconsin and lost one here."

Travis Parker had given the Nittany Lions a 66-65 lead when he grabbed a missed 3-pointer, took a bounce and let the shot fly from the right of the free-throw circle.

The ball fell through the net with 8.5 seconds to go and gave Penn State its first lead of the night.

"I saw the ball come off and I think (Rich) McBride tried to box me out," Parker said. "I think I just tried to push him under a little bit, grab the rebound, score, and thats what I did."

Parker scored 21 points and Geary Claxton had 20 as the Nittany Lions (11-9, 3-6 Big Ten) fought back from a 16-point second-half deficit to snap their four-game losing streak. Mike Walker came off the bench and hit two critical 3-pointers down the stretch.

"They didn't quit. They kept battling," said Illinois coach Bruce Weber. "Every time we would change matchups, they would exploit our matchups."

And finally, the Illini started missing their shots over Penn State's zone defense.

"It made them shoot long-range shots, and they were hitting them in the beginning of the game and later on they were missing," Claxton said.

McBride scored 17 points for the Illini, who led 13-0 early and 39-25 at halftime. James Augustine's layup gave Illinois its biggest lead, 43-27, with 18:43 to go.

Illinois appeared ready to coast to a win after Augustine's basket. But rather than demoralize the Nittany Lions, the shot seemed to invigorate them.

"Sometimes as a coach, you get a gut feeling," said Nittany Lions coach Ed DeChellis. "I really never felt like we were out of things."

Parker and Ben Luber hit 3-pointers and Claxton scored twice from underneath to close the gap to 47-37 with 14:38 to go.

And then Augustine picked up his fourth foul for Illinois.

"They scored a 7-0 run when James gets his fourth foul," Weber said. "It changes the whole game."

Penn State outscored the Illini 22-18 the rest of the way.

Augustine had 13 points for Illinois, Dee Brown added 11 and Shaun Pruitt scored 10.