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No. 1 Georgia romps into playoff with 50-30 SEC win vs LSU

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/college-football-sports-georgia-atlanta-louisiana-state-tigers-04e00a53b38f661338768db74509e464

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia swatted away the field goal attempt, the ball spinning to a stop at its 4-yard line. The LSU players trudged off the field, thinking the play was over.

Christopher Smith knew better. He suddenly scooped it up and took off the other way, sprinting 96 yards for a touchdown that epitomized the Bulldogs program.

They were a step ahead of LSU on Saturday.

They’ve been a step ahead of everyone for two years now.

With all sorts of turmoil behind them in the rankings, Georgia headed to the College Football Playoff as the clear No. 1, dismantling the No. 11 Tigers 50-30 in the Southeastern Conference championship game Saturday.

Stetson Bennett’s threw a season-high four touchdown passes in another stellar postseason performance, while Smith’s heads-up play gave the Bulldogs an early spark.

“I’ve got good players around me. I’m not that bad at football, either,” Bennett said with a smile. “We’ve got a good team.”

Georgia (13-0, No. 1 CFP) also caught a big break when Smith deflected a pass that bounced off an LSU receiver’s helmet and wound up being picked off by the Bulldogs, setting up a score that contributed to a 35-10 lead by halftime.

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels re-injured a sore right ankle late in the second quarter, giving way to Garrett Nussmeier in the second half.

The backup guiding the Tigers (9-4, No. 14 CFP) to three touchdowns, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

Georgia accomplished something that not even last season’s national championship squad could could do — win its first SEC title since 2017. The Bulldogs were denied in this game a year ago by Alabama, before bouncing back to beat the Crimson Tide in the title game.

“I don’t want one kid to walk out of our program without an SEC championship ring in their careers,” coach Kirby Smart said. “That could’ve happened. They said enough is enough and got ’em one tonight.”

Georgia heads into the playoff assured of a return trip to Atlanta for a de facto semifinal home game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, just 75 miles from its Athens campus.

LSU’s outside hopes of crashing the four-team playoff field were wiped out a week ago by a stunning loss at Texas A&M, one of several upsets that will give the selection committee plenty to think about before its announcement Sunday.

Tennessee and Clemson also ruined their playoff hopes with losses late in the regular season, while No. 4 Southern California is presumably out after getting blown out by Utah in the Pac-12 title game Friday night.

Just as the SEC game was kicking off, No. 3 TCU lost to Kansas State in overtime for the Big 12 championship, further clouding a playoff picture that suddenly looks much more favorable for No. 5 Ohio State and No. 6 Alabama.

No matter who makes the elite field, Georgia is firmly focused on becoming the first repeat national champion since Alabama in 2011-12, having won all but one game this season by double-digit margins.

“I’ve tried not to play attention to any of it,” Smart said of all the chaos. “It didn’t matter to me. That’s so far away.”

The Bulldogs showed they are more than just a bunch of talented athletes — this is a smart, well-coached group.

When Nazir Stackhouse burst through the middle of the line to block LSU’s 32-yard field goal attempt late in the first quarter, Smith knew what to do.

“That’s a scenario we go over a lot in practice,” he said.

He looked toward the sideline to see if it was OK to grab it.

“You’re not allowed to pick it up unless you can score with it,” Smart said.

Smith took care of the rest, dashing to the end zone without a Tigers player in sight.

LSU coach Brian Kelly blamed himself and his staff for allowing the play to happen.

“Obviously, we did a poor job if coaching,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to have our guys alert in that situation. They were not alert.”

LSU quickly tied it up on Daniels’ 53-yard touchdown pass to Kayshon Boutte, only to have Bennett take control from there.

The sixth-year senior, a former walk-on who was offensive MVP of both Georgia playoff wins a year ago, struck for four TD passes in a less than 15-minute span: 3 yards to Brock Bowers, 22 yards to Ladd McConkey, 14 yards to Darnell Washington and 3 yards to Dillon Bell.

Just like that, Georgia led 35-7.

“I was in a zone,” Bennett said.

It’s been that way for two years now.

THE TAKEAWAY

LSU: Kelly’s debut season turned a bit ugly the last two weeks, but the Tigers are on the right track. “We want to get back here next year,” Kelly said. “Get back here and win it.”

Georgia: Win or lose in the SEC title game, the Bulldogs were assured of a spot in the playoff. But Smart continues to impress with his ability to keep the team motivated. While there were some huge defensive lapses in the second half, this game was never in doubt.

GOING FOR 2

When Georgia scored its final touchdown early in the fourth quarter for a 48-23 lead, Smart surprisingly called for a 2-point conversion.

The Bulldogs converted it with a trick play, but Smart insisted that he wasn’t trying to run up the score.

“The books says you go for 2 there,” he said.

When asked about the play, Kelly stumbled over his words a bit before finally saying, “I don’t get too caught up in what other teams are doing.”

INJURY REPORT

While Daniels went down for LSU, Georgia also lost a couple of players to injuries in the first half.

McConkey landed awkwardly making a catch along the sideline, inflaming a knee issue that’s been bothering him all year. Tight offensive tackle Warren McClendon sustained what appears to be a mild MCL sprain.

Neither returned after halftime.

UP NEXT

LSU: The Tigers get their postseason assignment Sunday, with the Citrus Bowl among the possibilities.

Georgia: The only question is who the Bulldogs will meet in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve, with TCU, Ohio State and SEC rival Alabama all in the mix.

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/ap_top25. Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://tinyurl.com/mrxhe6f2

Source: https://apnews.com/article/college-football-sports-georgia-atlanta-louisiana-state-tigers-04e00a53b38f661338768db74509e464

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LeBron’s off-court legacy complements his basketball success

Mya Smiley is a student at the University of Akron thanks to an assist from LeBron James, and she is determined upon graduation to become a social worker that helps foster kids.

Her education and career path would not have been possible, the sophomore says, were it not for a scholarship and counseling that she received from the LeBron James Family Foundation. “He’s life-changing,” Smiley said.

For all his accomplishments on the basketball court — four championships, 19 All-Star Game nominations and an imminent coronation as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer — it is James’ ambitious pursuits off-the-court that may ultimately distinguish his legacy from other superstar athletes’.

James co-founded a successful media and entertainment company, bought stakes in storied professional baseball and soccer franchises and, with a big assist from product endorsements, his net worth is estimated to have grown above $1 billion. The off-court achievement that James is most proud of, he says, is working to uplift the lives of people like Smiley in his hometown of Akron.

Many athletes have excelled in one or more of these areas. But few have done all of them as well as James, who is closing in on passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA’s career scoring record.

“His goal, I believe, is to have 10% of his wealth go to causes and support communities, which is an amazing goal,” said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, a professor of sports management at George Washington University. “I would say he’s maybe above and beyond others, just on that aspiration alone.”

James is, by any measure, an overwhelming success. And he makes Smiley — one of the many people in Akron who have received financial support from his foundation — believe that she can be a success as well.

“If I did not have the LeBron program, I probably wouldn’t have ever gone to college. I would be living in a not-so-positive environment,” said the 19-year-old Smiley.

“His ability to help people’s futures,” she added, “is what makes LeBron a great person.”

James, who entered the NBA straight after high school in 2003, planned early on to use his talents, fame — and, yes, his growing financial resources — to have on impact on the world beyond basketball.

“Even before I got into the NBA, I knew I wanted to find a way to give back to my community,” said James. Although James bounced from home to home during his childhood, and experienced financial insecurity for many of those years, he also was given enormous support from friends, neighbors and educators.

The LeBron James Family Foundation, founded in 2004, at first gained local attention by giving away bikes and backpacks. Then it began looking at after-school programs, with students scattered across several dozen schools, and eventually created a public school currently serving about 575 third through eighth graders. Today the school includes a family resource center that provides a wide-range of services to parents, including mental health, financial literacy, legal aid and GED courses.

Just down the street from the school, the foundation provides rent-free housing to as many as 16 different families — when needed — and it has plans to build 50 units of affordable housing.

“I couldn’t have guessed how much it would grow,” James said in late January. “But we got here by listening and responding to our community and what they need.”

James has made over $400 million in NBA salary during his time with Cleveland, Miami and the Los Angeles Lakers. Another $100 million is on the way in the next 2-1/2 years or so.

James is a pitchman for Nike, GMC, AT&T and many more multinational companies. He owns a piece of the Boston Red Sox and Britain’s Liverpool football club. His entertainment company, SpringHill — named after the modest apartment complex he grew up in — is valued at $725 million and has produced movies for HBO and Netflix.

“He’s been a brilliant example for millions of kids, especially kids with lesser opportunity and haven’t had the same advantages as others,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said in 2018, a sentiment he’s repeated many times since. “They see in this guy somebody who has consistently exhibited excellence in the workplace and gives them a voice and lets them know that you can speak about anything.”

James puts so much focus on giving back to Akron because of the help people there gave to him and his family. “He’s never lost sight of that,” said Michele Campbell, the executive director of James’ foundation. “I think that keeps him grounded.”

Just how down to earth “King James” really was got called into question in 2010. That’s when he went on television to announce that he was leaving Cleveland to play in Miami. Billed as “The Decision” — and broadcast on ESPN — the live event was widely ripped as egotistical. But from James’ perspective, the broadcast raised around $4 million for charity, a fact was largely overlooked.

Just a couple of years later, James would use his star power to help draw attention to a cause bigger than himself.

In the aftermath of the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin — a Black Florida teen who was wearing a hoodie when he was fatally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer — James tweeted a photo of Heat players wearing hoodies and bowing their heads that included the hashtag “WeWantJustice.”

In 2020, James helped lead the “More Than A Vote” movement, which included registration and early-vote drives and stressed the need for people — particularly Black voters — to get to the polls to fight disenfranchisement.

Also in 2020, in the aftermath of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, James was one of the players calling for an end to racial inequality and police brutality.

“Everything I do,” James said late last year, “has to have a purpose.”

James has all the money and all the fame that he ever wanted or needed. His NBA records, including the scoring title, are going to last for a very long time.

As will his off-court endeavors.

“His ability to help others and put others first is what makes him a great person,” Smiley said. “Not the baskets he shot.”

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

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Kyrgios pleads guilty to assault, has no conviction recorded

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Nick Kyrgios had suffered severe depression, suicidal ideation and insomnia in the past, a psychologist told a court on Friday when the Australian tennis star pleaded guilty to pushing a former girlfriend to the ground two years ago.

The 2022 Wimbledon runner-up pleaded guilty in the Australian Capital Territory Magistrates Court to assaulting Chiara Passari during an argument in his hometown of Canberra in January 2021.

Magistrate Jane Campbell didn’t record a conviction against Kyrgios for reasons including that the offense was at the low end of seriousness for a common assault, and was not premeditated.

Campbell described it as an act of “stupidity” and “frustration.”

Kyrgios, who was using crutches following recent surgery on his left knee, didn’t speak to reporters as he left court but issued a statement through a management company.

“I respect today’s ruling and am grateful to the court for dismissing the charges without conviction,” Kyrgios said. “I was not in a good place when this took place and I reacted to a difficult situation in a way I deeply regret. I know it wasn’t OK and I’m sincerely sorry for the hurt I caused.

“Mental health is tough. Life can seem overwhelming. But I’ve found that getting help and working on myself has helped me to feel better and to be better.”

Kyrgios’ psychologist, Sam Borenstein, said in a written report and testimony by phone that Kyrgios had suffered major depressive episodes in the past and had used alcohol and drugs to cope. Kyrgios’ mental health led to impulsive and reckless behavior.

His recent knee injury had resulted in mild to moderate symptoms of depression, but his mental health was improving, Borenstein said.

“He’s doing very well,” Borenstein said. “His mental health has improved significantly.”

Lawyers for Kyrgios had sought to have an assault charge stemming from events two years ago dismissed on mental health grounds but the application was unsuccessful.

Kyrgios had been attempting to leave Passari during an argument at 10 p.m. on Jan. 10, 2021, outside her apartment in the inner-Canberra suburb of Kingston. He called an Uber but Passari stood in the way of him closing the front passenger side door. The driver wouldn’t leave with the door open.

Kyrgios eventually pushed Passari’s shoulders backward with open palms, causing her to fall to the pavement and graze her knee, according to agreed facts read to the court.

Passari signed a police statement alleging the assault 11 months later, after her relationship with Kyrgios had ended.

His current partner, Costeen Hatzi, wrote in a character reference that she had no concerns of violence in her relationship. Hatzi was among Kyrgios’ supporters who sat behind him in court.

Kyrgios, wearing a dark suit and using the crutches for support, first spoke in court when the magistrate asked him if he could stand to enter a plea.

Kyrgios replied: “Yep, no worries, Your Honor,” as he rose to plead guilty.

In February last year, Kyrgios opened up about his performance at the 2019 Australian Open, saying what appeared to be a positive time in his life had been “one of my darkest periods.”

“I was lonely, depressed, negative, abusing alcohol, drugs, pushed away family and friends,” he wrote on Instagram. “I felt as if I couldn’t talk or trust anyone. This was a result of not opening up and refusing to lean on my loved ones and simply just push myself little by little to be positive.”

Kyrgios made further references to his mental health struggles during his runs last year to the final at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open.

After ending Daniil Medvedev’s U.S. Open title defense last September to reach the quarterfinals, Kyrgios expressed pride at lifting himself out of “some really tough situations, mentally” and “some really scary places” off the court.

The 27-year-old Kyrgios had a career setback last month when he withdrew from the Australian Open because the knee injury which later required arthroscopic surgery.

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

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Bengals’ Joe Mixon charged with pointing gun at woman

CINCINNATI (AP) — Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon has been charged in a warrant with pointing a gun at a woman and threatening her, according to court documents.

Mixon faces a misdemeanor charge of aggravated menacing, according to the documents, which were filed Thursday in Hamilton County Municipal Court and obtained by The Associated Press. No attorney is listed for him in court records.

According to the warrant, Mixon pointed the gun at the woman and told her, “You should be popped in the face. I should shoot you, the police (can’t) get me.”

The incident occurred on Jan. 21, the day before the Bengals beat the Buffalo Bills in a divisional-round playoff game.

The 26-year-old Mixon rushed for 814 yards and seven touchdowns this season, his sixth. He also had 60 receptions for 441 yards, both career highs, and two touchdowns.

A second-round draft pick out of Oklahoma in 2017, Mixon has spent his entire career with Cincinnati and rushed for career highs of 1,205 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2021.

In 2014, when he was 18, Mixon punched a female Oklahoma student in the face, an attack captured on surveillance video. He was suspended from the football team for a year and entered an Alford plea, in which a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges there is sufficient evidence for a conviction. He received a deferred sentence and was ordered to perform community service and undergo counseling.

The incident hurt his standing in the draft, with several teams saying they passed on him because of concerns about his character.

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