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National Sports Archives for 2015-12

SOONERS LOSE TO CLEMSON 37-17 IN ORANGE BOWL SEMIFINAL GAME

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) -- The Oklahoma Sooners were fooled by a fake punt, and stuffed on fourth down when they tried some trickery of their own.

 

And in the second half, Clemson was simply the stronger team.

 

High-scoring Oklahoma and quarterback Baker Mayfield were shut out in the second half Thursday and lost to Clemson in the Orange Bowl national semifinal game, 37-17.

 

For the second year in a row, the Sooners (11-2) ended their season with a loss to Clemson. They were embarrassed 40-6 by the Tigers last year in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

 

Mayfield threw for 311 yards but was sacked five times, and threw two interceptions in Clemson territory in the second half. He left the game after he was shaken up making a tackle following his second interception.

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WARD POWERS HOUSTON PAST FLORIDA STATE 38-24 IN PEACH BOWL

ATLANTA (AP) -- Greg Ward Jr. and the Houston Cougars showed they could thrive in a big-game atmosphere against a big-name opponent.

 

Ward ran for two touchdowns and threw for another, leading Houston past turnover-plagued Florida State 38-24 in the Peach Bowl on Thursday.

 

Florida State, which won the national championship two years ago, was favored by seven points.

 

"It means that we'll play against anybody, anywhere," Ward said. "We won't back down from anyone."

Florida State's Sean Maguire, who was carted off the field with a sprained left ankle late in the first quarter, returned but threw four interceptions.

 

Dalvin Cook was held to 33 yards rushing with a touchdown and a lost fumble. That left the Seminoles with five turnovers - half their total of 10 in 12 regular-season games.

 

Houston scored the most points allowed by Florida State this season. "Our turnovers had a lot to do with it," said coach Jimbo Fisher.

 

The No. 9 Seminoles (10-3), who trailed 21-3 at halftime, tried to rally with two fourth-quarter touchdown passes by Maguire.

 

Fisher said X-rays showed no structural damage to Maguire's ankle.

 

Maguire said the injury "limited some stuff, but it was fine."

 

Ward, the nation's only player to run and throw for 1,000 yards this season, threw for 238 yards and ran for 67 yards for No. 14 Houston (13-1).

 

"To be on this stage and do it with everybody watching, this bowl is huge," said Houston running back Kenneth Farrow. "It means a lot for our program."

Linebacker Matthew Adams said the win "puts our name out there with all the other great programs."

Houston safety Trevon Stewart and cornerback William Jackson III each had two interceptions. Stewart recovered a fumble.

 

Ward, the junior who started at wide receiver early last season before becoming a full-time quarterback, had touchdown runs of 7 and 6 yards. He left the game briefly after taking a hit in the third quarter, and was shaken up again with about 4 minutes remaining.

Ward returned to take the final snaps of the game, raising his arm in celebration before laying on his back, wallowing in the confetti which fell from the Georgia Dome roof. He was named offensive MVP of the game.

"It hasn't hit me yet. It just doesn't seem real," Ward said.

 

Houston backup quarterback Kyle Postma's 29-yard run set up Ryan Jackson's game-clinching 2-yard touchdown run with about 2 minutes left.

Ward completed 25 of 41 passes with one touchdown and one interception.

 

Houston's only loss this season, to Connecticut, came when Ward was out with an injury. He kept the Florida State defense off-balance by leading the Cougars' fast-tempo, no-huddle attack.

 

"We're not going to match player for player with them," said Houston coach Tom Herman. "We're just not. We felt we had to use tempo to our advantage."

 

Maguire's 65-yard scoring pass to Travis Rudolph cut Houston's lead to 24-17 early in the fourth quarter. Ward answered with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Chance Allen, who was left uncovered as Florida State sent a defensive back on a blitz. Maguire added a scoring pass to Jesus Wilson later in the final quarter.

Maguire was hurt in the first quarter when hit by Adams. Maguire couldn't put pressure on his left leg as he was supported by trainers before leaving the field on a cart.

 

When Maguire was out, backup J.J. Cosentino completed only 1 of 4 passes for 5 yards. Maguire returned midway through the second quarter with the ankle wrapped.

 

The Seminoles were without quarterback Everett Golson, the Notre Dame transfer who began the season as the starter but was away from the team for the bowl game for personal reasons.

 

Maguire's last interception came with 25 seconds remaining. He completed 22 of 44 passes for 392 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions.

The Cougars won 13 games for the second time in school history, following the 2011 season.

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FIESTA BOWL CHOCKED FULL OF TALENT WITH MARQUEE MATCHUP

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- Ohio State and Notre Dame entered the season with legitimate national championship hopes and were still in the mix for the College Football Playoff late in the year.

 

To have those hopes dashed, particularly after coming so close, was a huge disappointment for both programs.

 

It worked out pretty well for the Fiesta Bowl with a marquee matchup that's as good as any outside of the three playoff games.

 

And, despite falling short of their main objectives, the seventh-ranked Buckeyes and eighth-ranked Fighting Irish insist they're excited to be in the desert.

 

It's going to be a great bowl game," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "Two traditional powers, Notre Dame and Ohio State, that are a couple plays away from playing for a national championship. There is no place better than to play it than in Glendale."

 

Well, the Orange and Cotton bowls might be a little better, but these teams came up just short.

 

Ohio State (11-1) was the defending national champion and spent the season's first 10 weeks at No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 despite inconsistent play by its quarterbacks.

 

The Buckeyes were still in the coveted top four of the CFB rankings despite dropping behind Clemson in the poll, but lost to Michigan State on a last-second field goal in their penultimate game. All the teams ahead of them won on the final weekend, leaving them behind fellow one-loss teams Alabama, Oklahoma and Michigan State in the playoff pecking order.

 

Ohio State finished No. 7 in the final CFB rankings.

Notre Dame (10-2) fell four points short of its playoff bid despite a litany of injuries.

 

The Fighting Irish were still in the playoff picture after a two-point loss to top-ranked Clemson on Oct. 3, but fell out after another two-point loss to Stanford on No. 28. Notre Dame finished No. 8 in the final CFP rankings.

 

One big dream gone, but Notre Dame, like Ohio State, is not taking this game lightly.

 

"I think every bowl game, it's a playoff game now," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "Somebody is going to finish fifth in the final polls. That's a spring board for next year. These are important games."

A few more things to look for when Ohio State meets Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, Friday at University of Phoenix Stadium:

 

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IRISH RETURING: Notre Dame had a long string of injuries, including several to key players. A few of those players are set to return for Friday's game. Nose tackle Jarron Jones and tight end Durham Smythe were both originally expected to be out for the season after suffering knee injuries, but returned to practice this month. Running back C.J. Prosise, out since injuring his ankle Boston College on Nov. 21, is expected to be back, as are linebacker James Onwualu (knee) and junior cornerback Devin Butler (concussion).

 

BUCKEYES QBS: Ohio State went through a season-long quarterback carousel as it tried to find consistency at the position. Cardale Jones opened the season as the starter after rising from third-stringer to guide the Buckeyes to last season's national championship. After seven inconsistent games, he was replaced by J.T. Barrett, who started four games and was suspended for another after a drunken driving charge. Barrett remains the starter heading into the Fiesta Bowl, but don't be surprised if Jones doesn't see plenty of action in his final game before heading to the NFL.

 

KIZER SHINES: Notre Dame suffered what seemed to be a huge blow when starting quarterback Malik Zaire suffered a season-ending ankle injury the second game of the season. Sophomore DeShone Kizer made sure the Irish didn't miss a step, throwing for 2,600 yards and 19 touchdowns - with nine interceptions - while adding 499 yards and nine more touchdowns rushing.

 

TALENT LOAD: The Fiesta Bowl might be the bowl with the most talented players. The game will feature numerous NFL prospects, including seven who could be first-round picks in next year's draft: Ohio State DE Joey Bosa, Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame T Ronnie Stanley, Ohio State T Taylor Decker, Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State WR Michael Thomas, Ohio State LB Darron Lee. Meyer said on Thursday that Bosa and Elliott are leaving school early to declare for the NFL draft.

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OKLAHOMA, CLEMSON TOOK DIFFERENT PATHS TO PLAYOFF

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) -- From a protest in the spring to travel woes in the fall, Oklahoma coped with plenty of distractions on its way to the Orange Bowl.

Clemson might ask for a few pointers.

 

The top-ranked Tigers (13-0) were dealing with the suspension of three players for violating unspecified team rules as they prepared to face the No. 4 Sooners (11-1) in the national semifinal game.

 

While none were starters, it was still an unwanted annoyance on the eve of Thursday's contest in balmy south Florida.

 

Oklahoma has dealt with its own issues, actually going all the way back to a meeting between these same teams more than a year ago in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Clemson blew out the Sooners 40-6, raising doubts about the direction of the program under longtime coach Bob Stoops.

 

Well, look where the Sooners are now - two victories away from their first national title since 2000.

 

"We've got a strong program," Stoops said Wednesday. "It wasn't nearly as weak as people wanted to say it was a year ago."

 

Since then, Oklahoma has grown even stronger.

When a racist video shot by members of a campus fraternity went viral during spring practice, the Sooners shut down workouts for several days, held a series of emotionally charged meetings, and wound up marching arm-in-arm in a show of solidarity.

 

Their bond grew even tighter after an upset loss to rival Texas, followed the next week by a plane issue that kept them stranded at the Oklahoma City airport more than eight hours trying to get to a game at Kansas State.

"We had one conference room," Stoops remembered. "The offense had a meeting in there to review practice that day, and then defense took their turn in there to watch practice. Then it became the music room. So there were probably 40 of them in there, blaring music and chanting all the words and jumping up and down. I came in with two buckets of chicken, and it went crazy."

 

The Sooners haven't lost since, averaging 52 points over their last seven games.

 

"It's been fun," said Baker Mayfield, who emerged as one of the nation's top quarterbacks after transferring from Texas Tech. "It's been ups and downs, a lot of adversity throughout the beginning of the year. I've enjoyed the ride."

 

Clemson hasn't lost all season, coming into the College Football Playoff as the nation's only undefeated FBS team.

 

Led by Heisman finalist Deshaun Watkins, the Tigers are playing with a huge amount of confidence. Coach Dabo Swinney doesn't expect that to change, even after the suspension of receiver Deon Cain, kicker Ammon Lakip and tight end Jay Jay McCullough.

 

"It doesn't affect our team. Y'all may think it does, but it doesn't," Swinney told reporters at his final news conference before the game. "There's consequences for your actions, and we just always reinforce that and instill that in our program and always will. It doesn't matter who they are or how big the game is. If you don't do what's right, you ain't playing."

 

Here are some things to watch for when Clemson meets Oklahoma at Sun Life Stadium:

 

QUARTERBACK DUEL: Watkins and Mayfield are putting up video game-like numbers. The Clemson star has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for 3,512 yards and 30 touchdowns, while running for 887 yards and another 11 TDs. Mayfield has passed for 3,389 yards and 35 touchdowns, with just five interceptions, and he's also a threat to run (420 yards, seven TDs). One Clemson defender described him as "Manzielesque," a nod to 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel.

 

SHAKY DEFENSES: Both teams are giving up more than 20 points a game, hardly following the mantra that defense wins championships. Clemson looked especially vulnerable in its last two games, holding off South Carolina 37-32 and beating North Carolina 45-37 in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. Oklahoma is outside the top 20 in all four major defensive categories. The key for both teams is keeping the quarterback confined to the pocket. If Watkins and Mayfield are able to consistently get outside, the scoreboard is going to look like a calculator.

 

RAISING ANOTHER CAIN: The suspension of Cain cost the Tigers one of their best deep threats. He averaged a team-leading 17.1 yards per catch, which won't be easy to replace. Starter Charone Peake will have to take more snaps, while Trevion Thompson steps into the backup role. He's had only 10 catches for 115 yards.

 

OVERLOOKED BACKS: The high-flying quarterbacks get most of the attention, but both teams have strong running games. Samaje Perine (1,291 yards, 15 TDs) and Joe Mixon (749 yards, seven TDs) are quite a 1-2 punch for the Sooners. Clemson counters with Wayne Gallman, who has rushed for 1,332 yards and 10 scores.

 

WAR OF WORDS: Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard got into some serious jawing with Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander before last year's Russell Athletic Bowl. Alexander wound up getting the last laugh, holding Shepard to one reception. Having toned down his act and in much better health, Shepard said there won't be a repeat of the pre-game foolishness. He's more concerned with catching more passes.

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Ohio State Quarterback Cardale Jones to Leave Early for NFL

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) - Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones has announced he will skip his senior season and declare for the NFL draft.
 

Jones told reporters his decision Wednesday as the seventh-ranked Buckeyes prepare to play No. 8 Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl on Friday.

Jones was Ohio State's third-string quarterback last season before bursting onto the scene, leading the Buckeyes to a national title after injuries to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett.

The junior began this season as Ohio State's starter before being replaced by Barrett after seven games due to inconsistent play. Jones threw for 1,460 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions.
 

Mobile at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Jones could be an intriguing
early-round pick in the draft.

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JOHNNY MANZIEL HAS CONCUSSION SYMPTOMS, COULD MISS FINALE

BEREA, Ohio (AP) -- Johnny Manziel's season may be over because of a concussion.

 

The Browns starting quarterback is being evaluated for a head injury and could miss Sunday's season finale at home against Pittsburgh.

 

Browns coach Mike Pettine said Manziel reported to the team's facility on Wednesday complaining of concussion-like symptoms. Manziel rushed 11 times for 108 yards, but wasn't sacked in Sunday's 17-13 loss to Kansas City.

 

However, Pettine said Manziel took "a bunch" of hits against the Chiefs and remembered one on Cleveland's sideline being especially violent. Pettine said it's not yet known if Manziel has a concussion but it's "looking that way."

 

If Manziel has a concussion, he will have to enter the NFL's protocol on head injuries and will sit out the final game. If Manziel can't play, backup Austin Davis will make his second start this season.

 

The Browns may have to sign a third quarterback and will have wide receiver Terrelle Pryor, a former quarterback with Oakland, take snaps in practice.

 

Manziel has made six starts in his second season with Cleveland. The 23-year-old has shown significant progress on the field, giving the Browns hope the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner can develop into their franchise quarterback.

 

Also, Pettine said he did not have a chance to speak with Manziel about a video that surfaced of him partying in his home last week. Manziel was demoted from starter to third string earlier this season when he defied coaches by becoming a distraction during the team's bye week.

 

Pettine said Manziel will not be disciplined for the latest video.

 

"At some point this week when he is back in the building, I'll get a chance to talk to him about it," Pettine said. "I know he was at home. He was at home on his day off. But as far as the judgment of it getting out there, I question that. But other than that, this is not similar to the circumstances that (led to him being demoted earlier this season). Going back to there, that was more trust and accountability than it was necessarily the act. I'll have a conversation with him at the first time that I can."

 

The Browns also announced that cornerback Tramon Williams has been placed in concussion protocol. The team has had 12 players miss games with concussions this season, and unusually high number.

 

Pettine said the team is exploring the reason for the rash of head injuries.

 

"I don't know where it compares to the rest of the league and where that would put us," he said. "But I would assume near the top. Off the top of my head, it seems like a high number. Hopefully we'll have better answers as to the why as the offseason moves on."

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CLEMSON SENDS 3 PLAYERS HOME FOR UNSPECIFIED VIOLATIONS

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Wednesday that he has sent three players home from the Orange Bowl for violating team rules.

 

Receiver Deon Cain, kicker Ammon Lakip and tight end Jay Jay McCullough were suspended this week.

Swinney didn't say what the players did wrong. He would only say "when you don't do the right thing, there are consequences to pay."

 

All three players are backups, but the loss of Cain is a blow to the passing game. He had 34 catches for 582 yards this season.

 

Lakip handled some extra points for the Tigers. McCullough played sparingly and had yet to make a catch.

 

If the Tigers win Thursday's game against Oklahoma, Swinney says all three players will remain suspended for the national championship game.

 

Swinney says Cain could return the Tigers next season "if he grows up and does what he needs to do. If he doesn't, he won't."

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BROWNS COACH TO TALK WITH MANZIEL ABOUT LATEST VIDEO

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Johnny Manziel's latest video appearance has the Browns concerned.

 

The second-year quarterback is expected to have a conversation with Cleveland coach Mike Pettine after another video surfaced over the weekend on social media of him partying. In the short clip, Manziel, wearing a "Merry Manziel" shirt, is seen singing along as "March Madness" by Future plays in the background. A framed jersey of Tampa Bay's Mike Evans, one of Manziel's Texas A&M teammates, hangs on the wall behind him.

 

Last month, Manziel was demoted from starter to third-string by Pettine after he denied that a video of him partying in Austin, Texas, was taken during Cleveland's bye week. Manziel had promised Pettine and other coaches he wouldn't be a distraction while the team was off.

 

On Monday, Pettine said he had not yet seen the new video of Manziel.

 

"Any time there's something with our players that casts them potentially in a bad light, whether it's Johnny or any of our other guys, it's certainly a concern," Pettine said on a conference call. "I'm sure I'll see it and have a discussion with him about it. These circumstances are different from the incident that occurred before. I'm just not going to go into a ton of detail with it until I get a little bit more information about it, but it's something that I'm sure privately we'll discuss if it needs to be discussed."

 

Pettine had promised there would be "harsh" repercussions if Manziel had another embarrassing issue. The Browns have been supportive of the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, who has shown major progress in his second NFL season following a rough rookie year which was followed by a 73-day stay in a rehab facility for an unspecified condition.

 

When he benched Manziel previously, Pettine said he was doing so because the 23-year-old had violated the team's trust.

 

Manziel was shot holding a champagne bottle in the video last month, and in the new one he appears to be holding an alcoholic beverage. Pettine was asked if he was troubled that Manziel would be so public with his drinking considering his past issues.

 

"It falls back into not micromanaging personal lives, and it's very public unfortunately," said Pettine. "The thing that's disappointing is how public it becomes and it's something with all of our players we're going to sit down with them before they get out of here and talk about where they are personally, where they are professionally, and certainly Johnny will be no exception."

 

Manziel rushed for 108 yards - the most by a quarterback in team history - in Sunday's 17-13 loss at Kansas City. It was his third straight start and the Browns are hoping to get another look at the 23-year-old on Sunday in the season finale against Pittsburgh.

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ST. LOUIS SUBMITS NEW STADIUM PROPOSAL TO NFL

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- A task force commissioned by Missouri's governor has sent to the National Football League its proposal for a billion-dollar stadium along the Mississippi River.

 

 

The nearly 400-page tome submitted by the group a day ahead of the deadline is meant to either retain the Rams or attract a new team if owner Stan Kroenke moves the franchise.

 

The Rams, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers are seeking to move to the Los Angeles area. League owners are expected to consider the matter during meetings Jan. 12-13.

 

The St. Louis proposal calls for $150 million from the city, $300 million from the league, $250 million from the team owner and $160 million in fan seat licenses. The rest of the money comes from the state, either through tax credits or bonds.

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MICHIGAN STATE AGAIN NO. 1, WITH CONFERENCE PLAY COMING UP

JIM O'CONNELL AP  - This is the week conference play begins so it's so long to mismatches and guarantee games. Now it's a neighborhood thing, and that means plenty of games that can affect the Top 25.

 

Five games this week pit two ranked teams from the same conference, and No. 6 Xavier and No. 9 Butler get Big East play off to a grueling start.

 

On Thursday, Xavier is at No. 16 Villanova and Butler hosts No. 12 Providence. Two days later the Musketeers host the Bulldogs in a matchup that will settle who is the early leader in the conference.

 

The other two double-ranked games are Saturday in the Big 12: No. 23 Baylor at No. 2 Kansas and No. 11 Iowa State at No. 3 Oklahoma.

 

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IN AND OUT: UCLA is the lone newcomer to the poll this week. The 25th-ranked Bruins are in the Top 25 for the second time this season. They moved in at No. 22 two weeks ago after beating then-No. 1 Kentucky and then-No. 20 Gonzaga. UCLA was gone after one week following a loss to No. 7 North Carolina.

 

The Bruins (9-4) start Pac-12 play at Washington on Friday and Washington State on Sunday.

 

George Washington (10-2) fell out from No, 20 following its 82-61 loss to DePaul. The Colonials had won four straight since their other loss, to No. 22 Cincinnati. Their biggest win was an early victory over No. 5 Virginia.

 

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GOOD WINS: There are 13 teams that have beaten two ranked teams so far this season and four of them are not in the Top 25.

 

Alabama, Northern Iowa, Syracuse and UNLV all have two wins over ranked teams, but except for Syracuse none has been ranked at all this season.

 

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SPARTY ON TOP: This is Michigan State's fourth consecutive week at No. 1 and the Spartans' 11th week all-time, tying them with Houston at 24th on the list of top-ranked schools.

 

Next up for the Spartans would be Arkansas, Georgetown and Virginia, which all have spent a total of 12 weeks at No. 1.

 

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STILL PERFECT: There are five teams that enter conference play without a loss and all of them are in the Top 25. No. 1 Michigan State, No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 6 Xavier, No. 17 SMU and No. 24 South Carolina entered the week with a '0' on the right-hand side of the record.

 

On the other side of the ledger, only Mississippi Valley State has yet to win. The Delta Devils are at Hawaii on Tuesday, the final game of their season-opening 14-game road trip. They will play their first home game on Jan. 4, hosting Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

 

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CONFERENCE CALL: The Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference remained tied at the top with five teams each in the Top 25. The Big East is third with four followed by the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference with three each. The American Athletic Conference has the other two teams.

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NBA MVP STEPHEN CURRY SHOOTS WAY TO AP MALE ATHLETE OF YEAR

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Stephen Curry's greatness as a basketball player can be measured by his record-setting shooting numbers that are changing the game.

His immense popularity derives from something less tangible.

 

Stephen Curry

 

While many NBA greats rely on uncommon height and athletic ability that average fans can only dream of having, Curry's game relies on the traits that every casual player can work on: shoot, dribble and pass.

The difference is, perhaps nobody ever has put those three skills together the same way Curry has the past year as he has dominated on the court and made the once downtrodden Golden State Warriors the NBA's must-watch team.

 

"The way that I play has a lot of skill but is stuff that if you go to the YMCA or rec leagues or church leagues around the country, everybody wants to shoot, everybody wants to handle the ball, make creative passes and stuff like that," he said. "You can work on that stuff. Not everybody has the vertical, or the physical gifts to be able to go out and do a windmill dunk and stuff like that. I can't even do it."

 

That's about all Curry is unable to do on the basketball court. His amazing year, in which he won an MVP, led Golden State to its first title in 40 years and helped the Warriors get off to a record-setting start this season, earned him The Associated Press 2015 Male Athlete of the Year.

 

Curry finished first in a vote by U.S. editors and news directors, with the results released Saturday. He joined LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird as the only basketball players to win the honor in the 85 years of the award. Curry beat out golfer Jordan Spieth, who won two majors, and American Pharoah, who became the first horse since 1978 to win the Triple Crown.

 

While American Pharoah got three more first-place votes than Curry's 24, Curry appeared on 86 percent of the 82 ballots that ranked the top five candidates. More than one-third of the voters left American Pharoah off their list.

 

"That's a real honor," Curry said. "I'm appreciative of that acknowledgement because it's across all different sports. ... It's pretty cool."

 

Curry has become the face of the NBA this past year. His jersey is the best-seller in the league, his team's games get record television ratings at home and in opposing markets and even his 3-year-old daughter Riley became a star by overshadowing her dad at playoff news conferences.

 

Even his intricate warmup routine has become a show for fans who get out early or even sometimes on TV pregame shows. He does an elaborate two-ball dribbling routine, works on passes and shots with both hands, takes jump shots from just inside half court and then caps it with a long-range shot from the tunnel on the way back to the locker room.

 

"Steph actually looks different," ESPN analyst Jalen Rose said. "Like the best player in the league usually is also physically opposing - 6-6 plus, scowl on his face, menacing. With the attitude that we appreciated because like a Michael Jordan or Shaquille O'Neal, or Kobe Bryant, you know, just a cutthroat nature. Steph allows us into his living room. We see him on a national stage be a son, a dad, a husband, a father, a brother. And he does all of it while continuing to improve."

 

Curry has improved his scoring from 23.8 points per game to 30.8 - the biggest one-year jump ever by an MVP - prompting Rose to say that Curry could be the most improved player and repeat as MVP this season in a remarkable tribute to the offseason work he put in even after winning a title.

 

He has become much more efficient scoring on drives and has amazingly added range to his already record-setting 3-point shooting. Curry can consistently make shots from 28 feet out as he is on pace to shatter his own record of 3-pointers made in a season.

 

The drive to succeed is fueled by the fact that Curry got no major scholarship offers coming out of high school, he was the third point guard taken in the 2009 draft and he settled for a below-market contract extension three years ago because people questioned his durability following ankle injuries.

 

"The thing I would say about Steph, what makes him who he is, is that nobody has to challenge him to get to the next level because he does it on his own," coach Steve Kerr said. "I didn't think he could get that much better from last year but I do think he's gotten considerably better, which is quite a feat when you're the reigning MVP."

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WARRIORS BEAT CAVALIERS 89-83 IN NBA FINALS REMATCH

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Even when all those long-range shots aren't falling like usual, the defending-champion Golden State Warriors showed they are quite comfortable grinding out wins.

 

Draymond Green had 22 points and 15 rebounds and the Warriors got defensive in their NBA Finals rematch against Cleveland, beating the Cavaliers 89-83 on Friday.

 

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"It's good to have one of those every so often," guard Stephen Curry said. "If our defense shows up, we're in pretty good shape to win games. We just show our versatility and try to win different ways."

 

Curry added 19 points, Klay Thompson had 18, and the Warriors improved to 28-1 by winning their 32nd straight regular-season home game. Instead of doing it with 3-pointers, defending champion Golden State maintained its edge over Cleveland by limiting the Cavaliers to 32 percent shooting.

 

The Warriors were held under 100 points at home for the first time in more than a year in the regular season, however it happened five times in the playoffs.

 

"It's good to practice and get experience in that type of game as well where it's low scoring, getting stops, knocking down free throws and executing in the half court," interim coach Luke Walton said. "It's great experience for us."

 

LeBron James scored 25 points to lead the Cavaliers. They had their six-game winning streak snapped.

 

"We gave ourselves a chance," James said. "If we play like that defensively, we're going to be a very tough team to beat. Offensively, we just didn't have it. No one had it."

 

The Cavaliers were short-handed when they lost the final to the Warriors in six games, missing power forward Kevin Love the entire series with a shoulder injury and losing point guard Kyrie Irving to a knee injury late in the first game.

 

Having both those players healthy for the rematch did little to help Cleveland. Love scored just 10 points on 5-for-16 shooting, and Irving missed 11 of 15 shots in a 13-point game.

 

With those two struggling, the Warriors built a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter following a jumper by Thompson and a layup from Green.

 

But James responded with a pair of dunks and a blocked shot on Thompson before Love's tip-in made it 81-77 with just over 2 minutes to play.

 

James missed two free throws after Cleveland got another stop and Curry responded with a pair of layups around J.R. Smith's 3-pointer to make it 85-80 with 57.6 seconds to play.

 

James shot an air ball from 3 with 12.7 seconds to play to end Cleveland's comeback attempt.

 

"Tonight our defense was absolutely unbelievable for all 48 minutes," Warriors center Andrew Bogut said. "To keep them to the 80s, they never really got in a flow where they could really attack us."

 

There was an increased intensity at the start of the seventh Christmas Day rematch of the previous season's finals with fans on edge far more than for most regular season games.

 

The officials let both teams play through contact early and the Warriors led 45-42 at the half.

 

TIP-INS

 

Cavaliers: Cleveland started a stretch of 10 road games in 12 contests. ... C Timofey Mozgov had zero points on 0-for-5 shooting.

 

Warriors: Golden State got its first home win with fewer than 90 points since beating Sacramento 87-83 on march 6, 2013. ... G Shaun Livingston scored a season-high 16 points off the bench. ... G Leandro Barbosa left the game with a sprained left shoulder.

 

OFF TARGET

 

The Cavaliers struggled from long range, making just 5 of 30 3-pointers. Smith was 4 for 8, while the rest of the team hit just one in 22 attempts. Love and Irving combined to miss all 11 attempts.

 

"It's one of those nights," Love said. "I don't know if you'll ever see Kyrie and myself go 0 for 11 from 3 again."

 

GETTING TREATMENT

 

Curry went back to the locker room in the second quarter to get his strained right calf re-taped. He came back and played the rest of the way with no complaints. Walton said he is always concerned when his star has any injury but Curry said this will not be a long-term issue.

 

"I just needed a little tape adjustment," Curry said. "I was able to get through it. With two days off and a couple of practices. I'll hopefully be able to get back to 100 percent."

 

UP NEXT

 

Cavaliers: Visit Portland on Saturday.

 

Warriors: Host Sacramento on Monday.

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SERENA WILLIAMS WINS AP FEMALE ATHLETE OF YEAR FOR 4TH TIME

AP TENNIS WRITER - Serena Williams spent a good portion of 2015 deflecting questions about whether she could complete the Grand Slam. After coming oh-so-close, she can acknowledge how much she cared about the rare feat.

 

Serena Williams

 

"I wanted it. But ... winning one (major title) is not easy. And then, (when) you have a 'bounty' on your head, it's even harder," she said with a laugh. "If you know anything about me, I hate to lose. I've always said I hate losing more than I like winning, so that drives me to be the best that I can be."

 

Williams' will was on display time and again, along with her best-in-the-game serve and other skills, fashioning comeback after comeback to nearly become the first tennis player in more than a quarter-century to win all four Grand Slam tournaments in a season. In a vote by U.S. editors and news directors, Williams was chosen as The Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year for the fourth time.

 

Results were announced Friday.

 

Williams collected 50 first-place votes and 352 points. Carli Lloyd, whose hat trick in the final lifted the U.S. women's soccer team to the World Cup title, was the runner-up, with 14 first-place votes and 243 points. UFC star Ronda Rousey finished third, one spot ahead of the woman she stunningly lost to last month, Holly Holm. UConn basketball player Breanna Stewart was fifth.

 

The AP Male Athlete of the Year will be announced Saturday.

 

Williams, who also won AP awards in 2002, 2009 and 2013, joined Chris Evert as a four-time honoree. The only woman with more AP selections is Babe Didrikson, with six - one for athletics in 1932, and five for golf from 1945-54.

 

"It's not even winning the Grand Slam titles as much as the way she got herself out of the deep holes that she dug, just repeatedly. It's not like she had two or three narrow escapes," Evert said about Williams. "It really was the year of the comeback. It was just unbelievable."

Williams won the Australian Open on hard courts in January, the French Open on red clay in June, and Wimbledon on grass in July, before losing in the U.S. Open semifinals in September in one of the biggest upsets in the sport's history.

 

In all, Williams went 53-3 with a WTA tour-leading five titles and was ranked No. 1 every week. She raised her Grand Slam singles trophy count to 21; only two women have won more.

 

It did not come easily this year for Williams, who grew up in Compton, California, and turned 34 in September.

 

At the French Open, already dealing with a painful right elbow, Williams caught the flu. Four times in Paris, she lost the first set before rallying to win.

"My elbow was killing me. It's about fighting and just never giving up. You hear that and it sounds cliche," Williams said, "but it's really just about, 'OK, I'm going to at least try and see what happens.'"

 

At Wimbledon, she was two points from defeat in the third round but wound up completing a self-styled "Serena Slam" of four major championships in a row, a run that began in 2014. She also became the oldest woman to win a major title in the Open era, which began in 1968.

 

"I retired at 34, and I know that at 32, 33 and 34, I was struggling mentally to get psyched up for matches and to feel motivated," Evert said. "What impresses me even more than the physical prowess of Serena is the fact that she can still conjure up that hunger and that passion for these matches. ... Sometimes, (the motivation is) just not there. And the times when it wasn't there for her, she still created magic."

 

Only at the U.S. Open, with the historic achievement of a calendar-year Grand Slam in the offing, did Williams stumble, losing a three-setter to 43rd-ranked Roberta Vinci of Italy.

 

Williams already is thinking about 2016.

 

"If I could have this year next year," Williams said, "I would be really excited."

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