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No. 1 Georgia eyes perfect season with tightly bonded team

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/college-football-sports-georgia-athens-7c56766e21e117d46436531b63911f0c

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Georgia added another title to its growing collection, yet there wasn’t a whole lot of reason to celebrate.

The Bulldogs, you see, are chasing the loftiest of goals.

Perfection.

Having locked up another trip to the Southeastern Conference championship game as the top dog in the Eastern Division, No. 1 Georgia (10-0) quickly moved on Monday.

“I didn’t really celebrate too much,” receiver Kearis Jackson said. “I know we have bigger goals ahead of us.”

It’s a rather lengthy list, for sure.

The Bulldogs are positioned to make a run at their first SEC title since 2017. They certainly have their sights on a return for the College Football Playoff as the top seed, which would undoubtedly be rewarded with a short trip to Atlanta for the Peach Bowl semifinal. And, of course, they want to become the first team since Alabama in 2011-12 to repeat as national champion.

Last year’s title team had a blemish on its record — an upset loss to the Crimson Tide in the SEC championship game. In fact, only two teams in Georgia’s modern football history have made it through a season unscathed.

The 1946 Bulldogs went 11-0, tied for the SEC title, won the Sugar Bowl, but only finished third in The Associated Press rankings behind Notre Dame and Army, who played to a scoreless tie in what was billed as the “Game of the Century.”

The 1980 Georgia squad, led by freshman star Herschel Walker, finished 12-0 and, until last season, was the only team in the school’s storied history to win a consensus national title.

Can this team complete what is undoubtedly a more difficult undefeated journey, with the longer schedule and additional gauntlet of a conference championship game and four-team playoff to get through?

“That would be great,” Jackson said, his face lighting up. “I’ve never been a part of an undefeated season, besides like rec league or something like that. I’m sure it would be very difficult and very special, but I think this team is special enough to accomplish a goal like that.”

Without question, these Bulldogs are instilled with a passion and desire that often slips away from a reigning champion.

There’s a reason they say it’s harder to remain on the mountaintop than it is to get there.

“The pitfall of every profession, of everything people do in society, is being able to repeat habits,” coach Kirby Smart said. “Can you do what you do better than the people in your profession on a daily basis and not get bored with monotony. It’s hard to sustain anything in life, in your career, whatever it is.”

Smart’s job was made a bit easier, in a way, by losing a record 15 players in the NFL draft. Many of the players on this roster are getting their first crack at a starring role.

But there’s also something more innate going on, a hunger that never ceases even as the Bulldogs have every reason to stumble over their already impressive accomplishments.

“Sometimes people get comfortable.,” Smart said. “When you get comfortable, you’re not always at your best. We’re trying our best to be at our best. That’s our job.”

Don’t overlook the culture that Smart has built in Athens, which makes the sum of the roster greater than it’s individual parts.

“We say we’re at our best when the worst happens,” the coach explained. “It’s hard to be connected when a guy misses you for a touchdown pass and you don’t pout about it. A guy fumbles, a guy throws an interception, a guy gives up a huge pass interference. Where’s your connection now when it’s needed most?”

No worries there. Smart is hard-pressed to recall another group of players who were so invested in each other.

“That’s the muscle that we like to say is the strongest muscle on our team,” he said. “If you’ve got it, why not use it?”

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Source: https://apnews.com/article/college-football-sports-georgia-athens-7c56766e21e117d46436531b63911f0c

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Report: NWSL to expand in Boston, Utah and California

The National Women’s Soccer League is close to expanding by three teams, which will be in Boston, Utah and the San Francisco area, according to a Friday report in the Wall Street Journal.

The women’s pro league previously indicated it would add at least two teams by 2024. The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported that the franchises in northern California and Utah are set to start play next year, with Boston to join at a later date.

The NWSL did not confirm the report in a statement Saturday to The Associated Press, saying: “We remain engaged in our expansion process and are excited about our prospects. When we have news to share, we will do so.”

The NWSL has 12 teams, after Angel City in Los Angeles and the San Diego Wave joined the league last year.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the Boston and Bay Area groups will pay about $50 million in franchise fees. The Utah team will pay a reduced fee because of a previous agreement struck when the Utah Royals folded in the 2020 season.

Before the NWSL draft earlier this month, league commissioner Jessica Berman said it would be “somewhere between days and months, more like weeks, when we’ll be in a position to share information” about an expansion.

“What I can say is that I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities we have in front of us,” she added.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Former MVP Candace Parker to sign with champion Aces

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former two-time MVP Candace Parker announced on social media Saturday that she would sign with the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

Parker spent the past two seasons playing for her hometown Sky, leading Chicago to the WNBA championship in 2021. She also won the 2016 title playing for the Los Angeles Sparks.

She posted on Instagram that Chicago would always be her home, but “my family’s home is on the west coast.

“To play for a championship close to home is the perfect situation for us. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey this summer in Las Vegas.”

The free-agent signing period begins Wednesday, and the Aces can’t comment until then.

Parker, a 6-foot-4 forward/center, adds to an already loaded lineup that includes reigning MVP A’ja Wilson, who also won the league’s top award in 2020. Wilson also was last season’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Chelsea Gray was MVP of the WNBA Finals and Kelsey Plum MVP of the All-Star Game. Wilson, Plum and Jackie Young were All-Star starters.

Parker and Gray were teammates on Los Angeles’ 2016 title team.

The Aces traded one of their key pieces, two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, to the Sparks on Jan. 21, creating speculation Las Vegas was creating salary cap room to sign a big-name player.

Parker, the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year and the 2016 Finals MVP, certainly fits that bill. Even at 36 last season, she averaged 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists for the Sky.

“Candace has done so much for our franchise in her time here,” Chicago coach and general manager James Wade said in a statement. “I understand her reasons for wanting to be closer with her immediate family. We wish her nothing but the best. She will always be a part of the Sky family. We will celebrate her time here as she deserves.”

Losing her is a big blow to the Sky, who made the semifinals in last season’s playoffs before losing in five games to the Connecticut Sun. Kahleah Copper is the only starter under contract for next season, so the Sky could head into a rebuild.

“I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to win a championship in my hometown and parade down the same streets I watched the Bulls parade down as a young girl first falling in love with the game of basketball,” Parker posted.

Parker joins the Aces at a time the Women’s National Basketball Players Association said it wanted that organization investigated regarding allegations that Hamby made after being traded. She posted on Instagram she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” because she is pregnant with her second child.

The Aces still have not commented on Hamby’s allegations.

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AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Estrada, Hofstra end No. 18 Charleston’s 20-game win streak

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — This season, Hofstra has been a one-man show. This time, Aaron Estrada had some help as the Pride ended the nation’s longest winning streak.

Estrada scored 25 points, but just two in the second half, while Darlinestone Dubar added 18 as Hofstra had four players in double figures to knock off No. 18 College of Charleston 85-81 on Saturday — ending the Cougars’ 20-game win streak.

“That’s a really big for our program,” Hofstra coach Speedy Claxton said. “To beat a nationally ranked team on their home court when they’ve got it rolling like they do speaks volumes about our kids.”

Claxton saw a team effort to take down the hottest team in the country.

“It wasn’t just Aaron,” Claxton said. “He had a great first half, but we had other guys step up and make baskets or get rebounds when we really needed them.”

The loss ended Charleston’s spotless run that began after losing to then-top-ranked North Carolina on Nov. 11.

Hofstra, the CAA’s leader in field-goal shooting, used that to move past Charleston in the second half as it made 18 of 32 attempts. The Pride led 76-69 with 6:10 to play before the Cougars cut it to two points on Ryan Larson’s foul shots with 2:02 to play.

But Charleston managed just two free throws after that and missed all four 3-pointers they tried.

This is the second straight season the Pride have beaten a Top 25 team. A year ago, Hofstra defeated then No. 24 Arkansas 89-81. The Pride’s only other victory against a Top 25 team came against Southern Illinois in 1976.

Hofstra (15-8, 8-2 Colonial Athletic Association) beat the Cougars (21-2, 9-1) at their own game — 3-point shooting. The Pride were 11 of 22 from 3-point range and overall shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half.

Estrada, who had 23 points in the opening half, shredded the Cougars defense at will. Estrada was 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

“Estrada is a great player, hit a bunch of tough shots, especially in the first half,” Charleston coach Pat Kelsey said. “Hofstra is a very, very talented team. It’s not just Estrada. They were better than us tonight.”

Then Estrada took over. The CAA’s leading scorer at 21.1 points a game scored 16 of the next 24 points for the Pride, including four 3-pointers.

Ante Brzovic’s dunk at the buzzer gave the Cougars a 46-44 advantage at halftime.

Tyler Thomas had 17 points and eight rebounds for Hofstra.

Brzovic finished with 18 points to lead the Cougars.

BIG PICTURE

Hofstra: The Pride are on a roll in 2023. winning seven of their past eight games, including three in a row.

College of Charleston: The Cougars chances of receiving an NCAA Tournament at-large bid took a major blow with the loss to the Pride. Despite having the nation’s longest win streak for three months, Charleston will most likely have to win the CAA Tournament in March to advance to the NCAAs.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

The Cougars’ 20-game win streak wasn’t the only streak to end on Saturday. College of Charleston played 14 of its first 23 games at TD Arena to start the season and were a perfect 13-0 at home before facing the Pride. Charleston’s 13-game home win streak included three wins in the Charleston Classic. The Cougars became the first mid-major program to win the ESPN event, beating Virginia Tech 77-75 in the championship game. Charleston will finish the season playing four of their final eight games on the road.

POLL POSITION

Charleston’s first loss in nearly three months might drop the Cougars from the national rankings. They have been part of the last four rankings, entering at No. 23 before reaching No. 18 this past week.

UP NEXT

Hofstra returns home to play Towson on Thursday night.

College of Charleston starts a two-game road trip at Drexel on Thursday night.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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