Pittsburgh, Boston College win bowl games
PHOENIX, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- A 66-yard punt return by Shawn Robinson Thursday night highlighted Pittsburgh's 38-13 victory over Oregon State in the Insight Bowl.
The 23rd-ranked Panthers (9-4) produced their first nine-win season since 1982, Dan Marino's senior year.
With a few breaks, however, the Panthers could have finished with an even better record as they ended the regular season with close losses to top-ranked Miami (31-24) and West Virginia (24-17).
Special teams turned around Thursday night's game as Torrie Cox downed Andy Lee's punt inside the five late in the first half. That led to David Abdul's 45-yard field goal that tied the contest, 10-10, as time expired in the second period.
The Panthers carried the momentum into the second half, taking a 17-10 lead on Rod Rutherford's one-yard keeper with 12:06 left in the third quarter. Robinson's return made it 24-10 with 3:24 remaining in the third.
The Panthers broke it open on touchdown runs by Brandon Miree and Tyler Palko in the final 5 1/2 minutes. Miree rushed for 113 yards on 20 carries.
In Detroit, Brian St. Pierre threw for a career-high 345 yards and three touchdowns to carry Boston College past Toledo in the Motor City Bowl.
St. Pierre completed 25 of 35 passes in his final collegiate appearance.
Making a school-record fourth consecutive bowl appearance, the Eagles scored touchdowns on their first six possessions, putting together drives of 76, 88, 69, 68, 40 and 42 yards to open a 42-18 lead at the intermission.
Boston College (9-4) finally was stopped by the clock as its final drive of the first half ended at the Toledo 38 when time expired.
The onslaught of bowl games continues Friday with Oklahoma State playing Southern Mississippi in the Houston Bowl, Nebraska playing Mississippi in the Independence Bowl and Arizona State challenging Kansas State in the Holiday Bowl.
Dallas wins thriller in New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- Dirk Nowitzki did a little of everything Thursday night to carry Dallas to another impressive road win, 83-81 over New Orleans.
Nowitzki scored 23 points, hit the go-ahead jumper with three minutes left and blocked the game's final shot. Dallas is the only team in the NBA that averages more than 100 points per game and has the league's best road record at 11-3.
The Mavs have road wins over New Jersey and Detroit, which are a combined 26-3 at home, and handed the Hornets their second loss in 13 games at New Orleans Arena.
Dallas shot just 38 percent from the floor but committed only eight turnovers. It held New Orleans to 39 percent shooting and forced 18 turnovers.
Nowitzki sank a fadeaway jumper with 3:05 remaining to give the Mavericks the lead for good at 80-79 -- the game's 19th lead change.
The Mavs were clinging to an 82-81 edge when Shawn Bradley missed a baseline jumper with five seconds left. Dallas' Michael Finley and Steve Nash helped tip the rebound to teammate Nick Van Exel, who was fouled with four-tenths of a second remaining.
Van Exel missed the first free throw but made the second, giving New Orleans a chance for a game-tying shot. Nowitzki blocked Baron Davis' jumper at the buzzer and Dallas held on for its fifth win in six games.
Elsewhere in the NBA, Detroit defeated Washington, 87-82.
St. Louis hands Colorado coach first loss
ST. LOUIS, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- Pavol Demitra scored twice and added an assist Thursday night to boost St. Louis past Colorado, 3-2.
Scott Mellanby also tallied a goal and set up another as the Blues snapped their five-game home losing streak against the Avalanche.
Demitra registered his first multi-goal game since Nov. 29, when he recorded a hat trick against Calgary, and the Blues beat the Avalanche at Savvis Center for the first time since Feb. 25, 2000.
But Demitra recorded a power-play goal 4:11 into the second period and Mellanby scored his 13th of the season just over eight minutes later as the Blues registered back-to-back victories for the first time since winning nine straight from Oct. 15-Nov. 5.
Demitra's goal with just under eight minutes to go in the contest moved him past Brendan Shanahan and into seventh on the Blues' all-time goal-scoring list with 157.
Milan Hejduk scored his 15th goal, increasing his points streak to nine games, and Alex Tanguay pulled the Avalanche within 3-2 with just 26.9 seconds left. But Tony Granato suffered his first loss since taking over as Colorado's coach on Dec. 18.
Other NHL results: Ottawa 3, Buffalo 2; Pittsburgh 6, New York Rangers 1; Detroit 4, Columbus 2; Nashville 3, Dallas 1; Minnesota 2, Chicago 2; Vancouver 4, Edmonton 2.
Hawks, Thrashers fire coaches
ATLANTA, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- Both the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers fired their head coaches Thursday.
The Atlanta Hawks released Lon Kruger and named assistant Terry Stotts to replace him for the remainder of the season.
After 18 years on the college level, the last four at Illinois, Kruger made the jump to the NBA, taking over the Hawks prior to the 2000-01 season.
But Kruger went just 69-122 in his two-plus years in Atlanta, including an 11-16 mark this season.
It has been a disappointing start for the Hawks, who acquired Glenn Robinson in an offseason trade. After winning six of its first 10 games, Atlanta has lost 12 of its last 17.
Pressure was on Hawks management, which guaranteed season ticket holders a rebate on their packages if the team misses the postseason. Kruger urged the rebate idea but failed to turn Atlanta into a playoff-caliber team.
Earlier in the day, the Thrashers dismissed Curt Fraser, the only coach in the 3 1/2-year history of the franchise.
The Thrashers have the worst record in the NHL at 8-20-1-4 and have allowed a league-high 124 goals. That was finally enough for General Manager Don Waddell, who fired Fraser and will take over as coach on an interim basis.
The Thrashers were 64-173-31-15 in Fraser's tenure.
While every expansion team is given a grace period, the Thrashers had higher expectations this season after acquiring left wing Vyacheslav Kozlov in a trade with Buffalo and left wing Shawn McEachern in a deal with Ottawa.
Atlanta, however, is 2-6
Richt gets contract extension
ATHENS, Ga., Dec. 27 (UPI) -- Mark Richt, who guided Georgia to its first Southeastern Conference title in two decades, was rewarded Thursday with an eight-year contract.
The deal will pay Richt $1.5 million per season.
The new deal will tie Richt to the university through the 2010 season. He had four years remaining on a five-year contract that would have paid him $800,000 per season.
Richt earned the hefty raise by posting a 20-5 record in his first two seasons at Georgia. The Bulldogs are 12-1 this season and won their first SEC title since 1982.
The contract reportedly has a provision that will make it more difficult for Richt to leave. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the contract includes a $1.5 million buyout, meaning a school would have to pay Georgia that much more money to hire Richt away.
Fourth-ranked Georgia will play Florida State in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Night.
Bobby Jackson lost for six weeks
SACRAMENTO, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- Sacramento Kings guard Bobby Jackson, who has started 26 games this season, will be out for approximately six weeks with a broken hand.
Jackson was slapped hard on his left hand by Shaquille O'Neal on a layup attempt in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's 105-99 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. It originally was diagnosed as a dislocated left ring finger.
Jackson, who did not return to the game, had surgery Thursday to repair a fracture of the fourth metacarpal bone. He was averaging 19.5 points, second on the team.
The injury came four games after starting point guard Mike Bibby returned for Sacramento after missing the first 27 games due to offseason foot surgery. Jackson has come off the bench since Bibby made his season debut on Dec. 19.
Jeffries out for the season
WASHINGTON, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- Washington Wizards rookie forward Jared Jeffries was placed on the injured list with a torn right ACL Thursday.
He will miss the remainder of the season.
Jeffries, who averaged 4.0 points, 2.9 rebounds and 14.9 minutes per game, suffered the injury during Sunday's practice in Dallas prior to the Wizards' game against the Mavericks on Monday.
Upon returning to Washington, Jeffries had an MRI and consulted with team physician Dr. Steve Haas, who recommended surgery. However, the former Indiana star will seek a second opinion before scheduling the surgery.