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In Sports from United Press International

  |   Oct. 28, 2002 at 7:54 PM
, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- Notre Dame gains in BCS poll

MORRISTOWN, N.J., Oct. 28 (UPI) -- An impressive victory over Florida State helped Notre Dame close the gap on defending national champion Miami in the latest Bowl Championship Series poll released Monday night.

Oklahoma, currently second to Miami in both the coaches and media polls, again remained the top team in the BCS poll. Miami was second and Notre Dame third for the second straight week.

Oklahoma (7-0) has 3.33 points under a complicated formula in which a lower score ranks first and was the No. 1 team in five of the seven computers used in the poll. Miami (7-0), a 40-23 winner over West Virginia on Saturday, is second with 6.69 points, while Notre Dame is third with 6.99 points.

The Fighting Irish (8-0), who posted their most impressive win of the season, 34-24 at Florida State, trailed Miami by 0.66 points in last week's poll.

Just sixth in the latest coaches' poll and fourth in the media polls, Notre Dame was first in the two remaining computer rankings.

Strength of schedule is a key component in each of the computer rankings and Notre Dame has one of the top-rated schedules in the nation. But that number could slide since the Fighting Irish have games with Navy (1-7) and Rutgers (1-7) next month.

The top two teams in the final BCS poll, to be released Dec. 8, will meet in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3 for at least a share of the national championship.

Georgia (8-0), which defeated Kentucky on Saturday, moved up to fourth in the BCS with 8.24 points, while Virginia Tech (8-0) fell two spots to sixth with 10.88 points after defeating Temple, 20-10.

The Hokies have a chance to move up if they remain unbeaten and knock off Miami on Dec. 7.

Ohio State (9-0) is fifth with 9.49 points. Texas (7-1) is seventh and followed by Washington State (7-1),

North Carolina State (9-0) and Iowa (8-1). Southern California (6-2), Colorado (6-2), Michigan (6-2), Louisiana State (6-2) and Kansas State (6-2) complete the poll.



Mets name Art Howe manager

NEW YORK, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- The New York Mets officially announced Monday they had hired Art Howe to be their new manager. Howe guided the Oakland Athletics to the American League West title this season.

"I might not have been the first choice but I was the right choice," said the unassuming but confident Howe during a news conference at Shea Stadium.

Howe left the Athletics for the big money and bright lights of New York, where he will make $9.4 million over four years as the successor to the fired Bobby Valentine.

Several reports last week had Howe being named manager of the Mets, but Commissioner Bud Selig put a gag order on all teams ready to fill managerial vacancies.

Word of the hiring was greeted unfavorably with many in the New York media who believed that the Mets should have pursued Lou Piniella or other candidates such as Dusty Baker with greater vigor.

Since firing Valentine on Oct. 1, the Mets expressed strong interest in Piniella, who told the Seattle Mariners he would not return because he wanted to work closer to his home in Tampa, Fla.

That gave the inside track on Piniella to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who reached an agreement with the Mariners on a compensation package - something the Mets were unable to do.


Piniella signs rich Tampa contract

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Oct. 28 (UPI) -- The Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Monday named Piniella their new manager and signed him to a four-year, $13 million contract.

The deal makes Piniella the major leagues' second-highest paid manager behind the New York Yankees' Joe Torre, who receives $5 million a season.

"Lou has established himself as one of the finest managers in major league baseball," General Manager Chuck LaMar said. "He has won everywhere he has managed and we believe he will bring the same winning attitude and competitiveness to our organization."

As compensation for signing Piniella, the Devil Rays sent All-Star outfielder Randy Winn to the Seattle Mariners for minor league shortstop Antonio Perez.

Winn, 28, was the Devil Rays' best player in 2002, hitting .298 with 14 homers and 75 RBI in 152 games.

Piniella had announced he was leaving Seattle to move closer to home. Since he had a year remaining on his contract, the Mariners were entitled to compensation if Piniella managed elsewhere in 2003.

The New York Mets also were interested in Piniella but were unable to reach a compensation agreement.


Fox, Christie suspended after brawl

NEW YORK, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- Los Angeles Lakers forward Rick Fox was suspended six games by the NBA on Monday for initiating and resuming a scuffle with Sacramento Kings guard Doug Christie, who was banned two games, in an exhibition game last Friday.

The league, however, did not issue any additional fines or suspensions despite the involvement of members from both teams when Fox attacked Christie in the tunnel near the visitors' bench at Staples Center after both players were ejected.

Lakers injured star center Shaquille O'Neal, who was dressed in street clothes, joined the second scuffle in the tunnel along with most of the players on the Kings' bench. A strict interpretation of NBA rules would have resulted in at least a one-game suspension for anyone who leaves the bench to join an altercation.

"While players left their team benches, we are not imposing any additional fines or suspensions for players leaving the bench because the rule was not intended for highly-charged situations like access to a tunnel," said Stu Jackson, NBA senior vice president of operations.

The incidents in the preseason finale took the bitter rivalry between the teams to another level. Fox instigated the trouble Friday when he threw a vicious right-handed elbow at Christie in the first quarter, knocking the Kings guard to the floor.


Falcons unexpectedly drop Jackson

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga., Oct. 28 (UPI) -- The Atlanta Falcons made a surprising move Monday when they released veteran wide receiver Willie Jackson.

Signed as a free agent in July to upgrade the receiving corps, Jackson was third on the Falcons with 18 receptions for 199 yards in seven games.

Jackson had one catch for 18 yards in Sunday's 37-35 victory over his former team, the New Orleans Saints. He started one game this season, but saw plenty of playing time in three-receiver sets.

Last season, Jackson enjoyed a breakout campaign with the Saints, establishing career highs with 81 receptions for 1,046 yards to go along with five touchdowns. His catches ranked seventh in the NFC.


Kuerten bows out early at Paris

PARIS, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- After beginning the year with an injury, Gustavo Kuerten ended it with a first-round exit Monday at the

$2.95 million BNP Paribas Masters.

Kuerten, a former world No. 1, squandered a one set advantage and lost to Czech qualifier Radek Stepanek, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3), at the final Tennis Masters Series event that concludes the regular ATP season.

In February, the three-time French Open champion underwent hip surgery and spent much of the season trying to play his way back into form.

The local crowd had reason to cheer Monday as Frenchman Arnaud Clement advanced with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Rainer Schuettler of Germany. But Clement never has made it past the second round at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy.

Clement meets No. 15 seed Sjeng Schalken of the Netherlands in the second round.

However, Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador overcame French qualifier Anthony Dupuis, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.

All 16 seeds receive first-round byes.

Six spots remain for the elite eight-man field for the Tennis Masters Cup, which will be held in Shanghai from Nov. 12-17.


Ailing Heat center put on injured list

MIAMI, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning, who is not expected to play this season due to a deteriorating kidney condition, was placed on the injured list Monday.

On Sept. 12, the Heat revealed that Mourning would be out indefinitely because his body chemistry had "fallen below what his doctors feel is an acceptable level to play basketball."

Diagnosed with focal glomerulosclerosis, Mourning missed all but 13 games during the 2000-01 season. The ailment is similar to the one that shortened the career of former San Antonio Spurs forward Sean Elliott, who underwent a transplant in August 1999.

With the disease in remission and his condition bolstered by medication, the 32-year-old Mourning missed just seven games last season and made his seventh All-Star Game appearance. While he averaged 15.7 points and 8.4 rebounds, the Heat finished sixth in the seven-team Atlantic Division at 36-46 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1995.


Carolina defense takes big hit

CHARLOTTE, N.C., Oct. 28 (UPI) -- The Carolina Panthers took some major hits to their defense Monday, losing starting middle linebacker Dan Morgan for at least three weeks and reserve defensive tackle Sean Gilbert for the rest of the season.

Morgan has been bothered by a strained groin and will need to undergo hernia surgery. He is the third Carolina player to require the operation, joining kicker John Kasay and cornerback Dante Wesley.

The Panthers' first-round pick in 2001, Morgan had five tackles in Carolina's 12-9 loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday after missing the previous game with the groin injury. Since being moved by new Coach John Fox from outside linebacker to the middle, Morgan has flourished, leading the Panthers with 58 tackles.

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