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    Everything seems to be in place yet again for Kansas. For the second straight year, the Wildcats need just two wins — in a gym its rabid fans can reach in less than half a day's drive — to reach the Final Four. It didn't work for the Jayhawks a year ago, though, and winning this year's Midwest Region could be an even bigger challenge. Top-seeded Kansas (29-7) faces fifth-seeded Clemson (25-9) on Friday night in a Sweet 16 matchup just 200 miles up the interstate from Allen Fieldhouse. A year ago, the top-seeded Jayhawks lost to Oregon in nearby Kansas City in the Elite Eight. In 2016, Jayhawks were eliminated in the regional finals by eventual national champion Villanova in Louisville. 'One of the benefits of being seeded high is (that) you get an opportunity to possibly play close to home. And I don't think it will have much to do with the outcome of this weekend, though,' Kansas coach Bill Self said. 'I really believe that sometimes playing close to home can actually be a little bit more of a distraction or bring a little bit of pressure.' The Jayhawks will face a red-hot Clemson team picked to finish 13th out of 14 teams in the ACC — a team that routed Auburn 84-53 last weekend in the third-biggest blowout by a lower-seeded team since 1979. The Tigers are playing in their first regional semifinal in 21 years, and as such have almost nothing to lose. Kansas, a basketball school if there ever was one, has won 14 consecutive Big 12 titles — but it hasn't reached the Final Four since 2012. Still, Self has been getting the most out of a team without as many sure-fire future pros as he usually has at his disposal. 'I've seen Bill (Self's) teams from afar, because I'm a basketball junkie and I study everything,' Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. 'But to watch him do what he's doing with this group, (it's an) unbelievable coaching job to take a different kind of team and to still win the conference.' The nightcap will feature good friends Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim squaring off when second-seeded Duke faces ACC rival Syracuse, the No. 11 seed that has once again advanced deep into the tournament behind its lockdown defense. The Blue Devils beat a good Rhode Island team 87-62 to reach its 26th regional. And although four of the top five scorers are freshmen, led by likely lottery pick Marvin Bagley III (21.2 points, 11.3 boards a game), they also have perhaps the most experienced player in the tournament in senior Grayson Allen. Syracuse was the last team added to the tournament and has yet to look pretty this March, but that's what the Orange does. The 55-53 victory over Michigan State showed that they might be re-discovering the magic that lifted them to the Final Four in 2016 as a No. 10 seed. Duke easily handled Syracuse 60-44 in their only meeting back on Feb. 24. 'We're expecting to see a completely different team than the last time,' Bagley said. 'Syracuse is going to be a completely different team. Last game we both had pretty bad games as a team, as a whole.' KANSAS vs. CLEMSON The Tigers have reached the Sweet 16 behind a strong defense — and they hit their free throws. Clemson ranked third among ACC teams in allowing just 65.5 points a game and second from the line at 75.5 percent. The Tigers also spread the ball around, with four starters averaging at least 10 points a game led by junior guard Marcquise Reed (15.9 ppg.). The Jayhawks are a guard-oriented bunch led by senior guard Devonte Graham, the Big 12 player of the year, and fellow senior wing Svi Mykhailiuk. Kansas has also gotten a major boost from sophomore Malik Newman, who averaged 24 points while leading the Jayhawks to their league tournament title. Newman leads KU with 19 points a game so far in the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks lost some head scratchers this season, getting swept by Oklahoma State in the regular season and dropping back-to-back games to Arizona State and Washington. 'I think we have moments where we don't play very tough. But I also think we have some moments where our experience and our toughness definitely shows,' Self said. DUKE vs. SYRACUSE The key to beating the Orange is to find ways to get enough open looks against their vaunted 2-3 zone. Syracuse is among the best defensive teams left playing — and arguably the worst offensive one. The Orange can't afford to get behind early against Duke, which is one of the most efficient and explosive scoring teams in America. 'The key really for us against Duke is we have to play better than we've played down there and than we've played in this tournament,' Boeheim said. 'I think we're perfectly capable of playing better even though the record doesn't look like that.' The Blue Devils can kill teams from the perimeter, where they shoot 38.3 percent on 3s, or dump it in to Bagley for an easy bucket. Despite its familiarity with Duke, Syracuse is the biggest underdog of the Sweet 16 for a reason. 'We're healthy, excited and playing very good basketball right now,' Krzyzewski said. ___ More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org ; https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 and https://www.podcastone.com/ap-sports-special-events
  • Kolten Wong has six steals during in spring training — two shy of his total during the 2017 season. 'I figure if I can get into that rhythm now. I won't be able to lose it too fast when the season starts,' the St. Louis Cardinals second baseman said. 'Obviously things kind of get drawn back a little bit.' Wong has 53 regular-season stolen bases, including 20 in 2014. At one point projected a leadoff hitter, he likely will bat eighth when the season starts. 'I think I can still be aggressive — balls in the dirt, going first to third, different situations,' Wong said. He knows he needs to get on base more. He's hitting .176 in spring training after going 1 for 2 with a walk in Thursday's 8-2 victory over Atlanta. 'Just an understanding of who I am as a player kind of brings that sense of calmness,' Wong said. 'Now I'm not trying to figure out what I want to be or what type of player I need to be now. I know what I can be - what makes me the most successful - and I'm sticking to it.' Manager Mike Matheny notices the difference. 'I think he's handling things better, and to me that's maturity,' Matheny said. Wong hit a career-high .285 last year but had four homers — his lowest total for a full season — and his eight stolen bases. 'Whenever I get my time to steal, where ever I am in the lineup, I'm going to go,' he said. 'I'm not going to be afraid or anything — just be aggressive and play the game.' ___ More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball
  • Aaron Judge's spring training average is up to .278 after he homered twice in a 9-4 win over the Baltimore Orioles. Judge was brought along slowly at the start of spring training following left shoulder surgery Nov. 20 for loose-body removal and cartilage clean up. He didn't play in his first exhibition game until Feb. 28 and started 1 for 10. 'Just want to make sure I'm peaking opening day,' Judge said. Judge did not play in Wednesday's game against Minnesota. When he reported for spring training last year, he was not sure he would be on the opening-day roster. 'It seems like just yesterday, really,' Judge said. 'I can't forget that — reminded every day. You never forget that.' He was the unanimous AL Rookie of the Year after hitting a league-high 52 homers with 114 RBIs. 'It doesn't carry over,' Judge said. 'I wish they carried over. I wouldn't mind starting out with 52 homers. But that's the thing, nobody cares about last year now. Once it's opening day, everybody starts the same. So I've got to go out there and do better, put the work in and just do my job.' Yankees rookie manager Aaron Boone likes what he sees from the 25-year old right fielder. 'I actually feel like he's been really good now for, actually, a couple weeks,' Boone said. 'I think he's been getting really close. I think he's seeing the ball well. I think he's starting to find his timing.' Judge will be joined in the batting order by NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, who led the major leagues with 59 homers for Miami, then was acquired by the Yankees from the payroll-paring Marlins. 'He's not satisfied with last year, you can tell that,' Stanton said. 'He wants more and more, and to get better, which is exactly what you need after a season like that.' Stanton says Judge will be able to handle the increased expectations. 'He'll be fine,' Stanton said. 'He's got a good grip on the outside noise.' Notes: The Yankees will open gates three hours before game time, rather than two, for the April 2 home opener, for all Friday night home games and for Saturday home starts at 4:05 p.m. and 7:05 p.m., allowing fans to watch New York batting practice. For 6:35 p.m. home games in April, gates will open 90 minutes before the scheduled first pitch. ___ More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball
  • The Latest on the NCAA Tournament (all times Eastern): 6:50 p.m. All four games in the NCAA Tournament to be played Thursday night involve at least one team seeded seventh or lower. The night opens with No. 7 seed Nevada playing No. 11 seed Loyola Chicago in the South Region. In the West, No. 7 seed Texas A&M, fresh off a blowout of 2017 national champion North Carolina, faces No. 3 seed Michigan. Later, No. 5 seed Kentucky faces No. 9 seed Kansas State in the South and No. 4 seed Gonzaga faces No. 9 seed Florida State in the West. Florida State advanced by topping No. 1 seed Xavier. ___ 6 p.m. It's back to the madness of March and the Sweet 16, starring Loyola-Chicago, Kansas State, Syracuse and whatever other underdog you might want to throw in there — maybe Florida State or Texas A&M. There's plenty of drama in the South Region, where the top four seeds are done and watching the NCAA Tournament on TV. Play resumes Thursday night with tournament darling Loyola-Chicago (30-5), an 11th seed, facing No. 7 seed Nevada (29-7), and Kansas State (24-11) playing No. 5 seed Kentucky (26-10) in Atlanta, The other two matchups are in the West, where No. 7 Texas A&M (22-12) meets No. 3 Michigan (30-7), and No. 9 Florida State (22-11) takes on No. 4 Gonzaga (32-4) in Los Angeles. ___ More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org ; https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 and https://www.podcastone.com/ap-sports-special-events
  • Tony Romo settled down after a nervous start, only to come undone on the back nine in his PGA Tour debut. The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback played a four-hole stretch in a 5 over on the back nine that led to a 5-over 77 in the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship. He was 14 shots behind Brice Garnett, who had a 63 to lead by one shot. 'Over 18 holes and 72, your flaws start to show at some point,' Romo said. 'I really hit some good shots close and I had a chance to be under par pretty easily. Then two or three shots on the back nine cost me. But that's golf.' Romo, who now works as an NFL analyst for CBS Sports, received a sponsor's exemption to the tournament, which has one of the weaker fields of the year because it is held opposite the World Golf Championships event in Texas. He is playing as an amateur. Garnett played bogey-free, opening with a 30 on the back nine and building a one-shot lead over Corey Conners of Canada. Romo played with Denny McCarthy, who was among those at 66, and Dru Love. The son of Davis Love III shot a 73. 'I was nervous,' said Romo, who opened with two bogeys before getting back to even par on the front nine. 'I think I knew going in that I was going to be trying to rely on the mechanics and the fundamentals of the swing. I hit it fine, but three-putted three times, twice early in the round. That's just nerves, and hopefully you can get that out of the way and get a couple of swings that you aren't used to doing and come back and play better tomorrow.' Friday most likely will be his last day. Only two players had a higher score than Romo — D.A. Points and Guy Boros at 79. The 53-year-old Boros was playing on the PGA Tour for the first time in three years. Romo joined a short list of athletes who have tried to compete against those who play for a living. Mark Rypien, the former Washington Redskins quarterback, played the Kemper Open in 1992. He shot rounds of 80-91 and missed the cut by 27 shots. Ken Harrelson, an All-Star outfielder for the Boston Red Sox in 1968, qualified for the 1972 British Open at Muirfield and missed the cut by one shot. John Brodie qualified for the U.S. Open while playing for the San Francisco 49ers and later won on the PGA Tour Champions circuit. Most recently, Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry played a Web.com Tour event outside San Francisco. He shot 74-74 and missed the cut by 11 shots. 'I had it going for a little bit,' Romo said. 'I had it close.' Garnett was 10 shots better than his opening round at Punta Cana last year, when it was a Web.com Tour event. He shot 73-67 and missed the cut. 'I think last year I just kind of approached the golf course wrong,' Garnett said of the generous fairways on the resort course. 'To me, this is a second shot golf course. Everybody's in play off the tee and it comes down to a putting competition.' Jonathan Byrd was in a large group at 66, while former Puerto Rico Open winner George McNeill was among those at 67.
  • Dylan Bundy has been picked to start the Baltimore Orioles' opener against Minnesota on March 29. The 24-year-old right-hander led the Orioles in wins last season, when he was 13-9 with a 4.24 ERA. Bundy beat out Kevin Gausman, who started last year's opener, and Chris Tillman, the starter of the previous three. Last year was Bundy's first season in the rotation. 'I wasn't even expecting it or thinking it,' Bundy said Thursday. 'I was trying to get through spring training and work on the stuff I need to work on, and let things play out however they may be.' Baltimore's other starters are Andrew Cashner, who was signed last month and Alex Cobb, added Wednesday. ___ More MLB baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball
  • Three pitchers were ejected along with Philadelphia manager Gabe Kapler and bench coach Rob Thomson as three batters were hit by pitches during the Phillies' 6-2 exhibition loss to Detroit on Thursday. Detroit starter Matthew Boyd and Philadelphia relievers Parker Frazier and Pedro Beato also were tossed by plate umpire Tom Hallion. Boyd was ejected in the fifth inning following a two-pitch sequence to Odubel Herrera. 'The first one that went over his head, I looked up as I was making the delivery and he was bailing out of the box,' Boyd said. 'It was like he wasn't ready or something, and it slipped. The next one, I was just throwing a two-seamer in, and it really wasn't that in. Wasn't trying to hit him. You don't want to harm somebody.' Herrera appeared to get out of the way of the second pitch. Hallion determined the ball hit him on the hand. 'It was crazy,' Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. 'I guess once the precedent was decided that he thought we threw intentionally at him, I guess decided he had to set the tone. It was nothing intentional about anything.' Frazier and Kapler were tossed after the minor leaguer hit Derek Hill with a 76 mph pitch in the eighth. Beato and Thomson were ejected after Dylan Rosa was hit in the ninth. 'We had a young minor leaguer in the game, he's just trying to make a good impression,' Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said of Frazier. 'Threw a slider and it backed up and hit somebody. Beato is trying to make the club and make the best possible impression on everybody. Balls are going to get away from guys. It's part of the game.' ___ More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball
  • Prosecutors will not bring criminal charges against Buffalo Bills receiver Zay Jones after a naked, bloody argument with his brother in Los Angeles earlier this week. Los Angeles prosecutors declined the case because of 'insufficient evidence,' district attorney's office spokesman Paul Eakins told The Associated Press on Thursday. The 22-year-old Jones was arrested after officers were called to a disturbance in downtown Los Angeles, said police spokesman Luis Garcia. Jones was found 'breaking glass doors and windows' and arrested on suspicion of felony vandalism, Garcia said. The arrest was first reported by TMZ, which posted a video showing a nude Zay Jones pushing his brother, Cayleb, in what appeared to be the hallway of an apartment building. His agent, Zeke Sandhu, did not reply to text and voicemail messages. Sandhu also represents Cayleb Jones. Cayleb Jones, a Minnesota Vikings receiver, on Wednesday also posted a note on his Twitter account, which read: 'I am my brothers keeper.' His father, Robert Jones, posted a note on his Twitter account on Wednesday saying his son 'is with me and his mom,' while adding 'he's going to be fine!' The Bills had no immediate comment. ___ Associated Press writer John Wawrow in Buffalo, New York, contributed to this report. ___ For more AP NFL coverage: http://pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL .
  • Eight days before opening day, Jake Arrieta made his first appearance for the Philadelphia Phillies. 'I had a ton of nervous energy,' Arrieta said Thursday after allowing two runs that included Miguel Cabrera's solo homer during a 6-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers. Arrieta struck out two and walked none, throwing 31 pitches over two innings. He gave up three hits. 'Very anxious to get out there,' the 32-year-old right-hander said. 'I was in here at 8, and I couldn't stop moving. But now that's over, I can kind of take a deep breath and remember what it feels like to be in a game situation. Umpires, crowd, and it felt great.' Arrieta and the Phillies finalized a $75 million, three-year contract on March 12, a deal that could be worth up to $135 million over five seasons. Aaron Nola will start the March 29 opener at Atlanta, and it is not clear whether Arrieta will take a turn in the first time through the rotation. 'Do I think I can handle going out there? Of course,' he said. 'But is it the smartest thing to do? Maybe not. I'm onboard with what these guys intend to do. I know they have my health and the teams' success over the long haul in mind, and that's the most important thing moving forward.' Arrieta struck out JaCoby Jones and Jeimer Candelario leading off the game, the allowed Cabrera's opposite-field homer to right on a 2-1 pitch. After a pair of flyouts starting the second, Christin Stewart singled, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Jose Iglesias' double. 'We just wanted health and strength, and we saw both of those things,' Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. 'I thought it was a really, really positive outing for Jake. He touched 95 (mph), demonstrated a heavy sinker, demonstrated his typical cross-body delivery and his ability to be deceptive and throw strikes.' Arrieta won the 2015 NL Cy Young Award with the Chicago Cubs and helped them win the World Series the next season, going 2-0 in a seven-game series against Cleveland. He was 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA last year. He went 68-31 with a 2.73 ERA in five seasons in Chicago after going 20-25 with a 5.46 ERA for the Orioles. Notes: INF Ryan Flaherty was released from his minor league contract. If he had been added to the 40-man roster, he would have received a one-year deal calling for a $1.9 million salary in the major leagues and $180,000 in the minors. ___ More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball
  • Sporting the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament's chalkiest region doesn't give Villanova coach Jay Wright any special confidence heading into Friday night's game against West Virginia. The Wildcats were together in a Pittsburgh hotel room last weekend when they watched top overall seed Virginia's unprecedented first-round loss to No. 16 seed University of Maryland-Baltimore County. When it was over, there was no need for Wright to harp on the lesson. 'It was so impactful that you didn't have to say it,' he said Thursday as Villanova hoped to avoid joining the slew of deposed favorites when it plays the fifth-seeded Mountaineers for the East Region's spot in the national quarterfinals. 'I had talked about it so many times, saying: 'This is going to happen. You've got to respect these guys,'' said Wright, who since 2010 has lost in the round of 32 twice as a No. 1 seed and twice as a No. 2 seed. 'It wasn't a matter of fear like, 'Don't let it happen to us.' It's just: You just have to respect these teams.' Along with Kansas in the Midwest, Villanova is one of two No. 1 seeds remaining in this year's bracket. Joining the Wildcats and Mountaineers in Boston are second-seeded Purdue and third-seeded Texas Tech. Each of the other three regions has at least one team seeded ninth or higher; none of the top four in the South is still playing. 'I don't think we need a wake-up call at all,' said Purdue's Vincent Edwards. 'We're not overlooking any opponent that we have, and we're not going to overlook the game. It can show you from the start of this tournament it doesn't even matter.' Villanova (32-4) and West Virginia (26-10) will meet in the early game in Boston, where both teams were frequent visitors in the original Big East. Purdue (30-6) and Texas Tech (26-9) will play in the nightcap. Here is a look at the regional semifinal games: VILLANOVA VS. WEST VIRGINIA With all those low seeds in the tournament, West Virginia doesn't seem like much of an underdog. But the Mountaineers are hitting that angle hard, saying they don't get the respect they deserve as a senior class that has reached the Sweet 16 three times in four years. 'I felt like ever since our freshman year, we've always been underrated,' guard Jevon Carter said 'We've always been the underdogs coming into any game we've played. So we've always had an extra chip on our shoulder.' Coach Bob Huggins, who is seventh on the NCAA's all-time victory list, said the lack of hype goes back to when his players were recruited. Rather than guys with the potential to go to the NBA after one year, he has to pick the ones who might otherwise attend a mid-major school. 'I told my athletic director that really he had two choices: Either fire me for recruiting the guys I recruited, or give me a raise for being able to win with them,' Huggins said. 'We got a bunch of guys that really were looking for an opportunity to play at the highest level.' Villanova isn't buying it. 'If you're at this point, you're just as good as the team in front of you,' Villanova guard Phil Booth said. 'West Virginia is playing as good as anybody else or any other team.' The Mountaineers rely on a stifling full-court defense that has earned them the nickname 'Press Virginia.' Villanova's ability to pull up for 3-pointers in transition is seen as the key to breaking the West Virginia pressure. 'I don't think we're going to change our defense. We're going to press,' Mountaineers forward Esa Ahmad said. 'We're going to try to take them out of what they do well and just try to take everything away from them.' PURDUE VS. TEXAS TECH Texas Tech's Chris Beard made it a point to watch the video of the last time he faced Purdue, when he was coaching Arkansas-Little Rock and it upset the Boilermakers in the opening round of the 2016 tournament. Purdue's Matt Painter doesn't need a reminder, thank you. 'Sometimes you don't like to live those bad dreams,' he said, adding that he left that up to his assistants. 'It was definitely one of those moments that you'll never forget as a coach. He'll never forget it on a positive side, and I'll never forget it on a negative side.' Purdue is expected to be without Isaac Haas, who broke his elbow in the second half of the first-round game against Cal State-Fullerton. The 7-foot-2, 290-pound center has been trying to get back onto the court, but Painter said it's unlikely he will play. 'It's very difficult in those situations, but you also have to be a truth-teller. That's your job as a coach,' he said. 'You've got to be diplomatic about it because it's really hard. You play 130 games to get to your senior year for this moment, but as a coach, you've got to do what's best for your team.' ___ More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org ; https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 and https://www.podcastone.com/ap-sports-special-events