In Sports from United Press International

By United Press International  |  Dec. 16, 2001 at 1:04 AM
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Raiders clinch division title

SAN DIEGO, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- The Oakland Raiders became the first team to clinch a spot in the Super Bowl Derby Saturday and did so thanks to a major miscue by Doug Flutie.

Flutie threw a key interception near the end zone in the fourth quarter, allowing Oakland to escape with a 13-6 victory over the San Diego Chargers.

The Raiders won the AFC West title for the second straight year, improved to 10-3 and now will try to earn a first-round bye.

Rich Gannon had 221 yards passing and a touchdown for the Raiders, who had not won consecutive division titles in 18 seasons.

San Diego was driving for the potential tying touchdown when Jeff Graham dropped a pass inside the 10-yard line with 14 seconds left.

The game featured six turnovers, all in the second half. Oakland's Tim Brown committed one when he muffed a punt and Jerry Rice had a hand in another when a pass by Gannon deflected off his fingertips.

But Flutie made the most costly error. The Chargers faced a 10-6 deficit, but moved to the Raiders' seven with less than six minutes to play. Flutie then threw a pass directly to linebacker William Thomas.

Flutie had three interceptions, completing 19 of 37 passes for 215 yards as the Chargers (5-9) suffered their seventh straight loss and sixth by seven points or fewer this season.

Earlier in the day, Amani Toomer atoned for numerous drops with a four-yard touchdown catch with 25 seconds remaining to lift the New York Giants to a 17-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

The Giants managed to win despite making just nine first downs and punting eight times.

Hoping to end their trend of missing the playoffs a year after reaching the Super Bowl, the Giants (6-7) snapped a three-game losing streak. But they still but trail Tampa Bay and New Orleans by 1 1/2 games for the final NFC wild card spot.

The loss virtually eliminated the Cardinals (5-8) from the postseason race.

Pittsburgh, Chicago, Green Bay and St. Louis can all clinch a playoff spot with a victory as the weekend action concludes.

Pittsburgh plays at Baltimore tonight in the feature attraction, Chicago will host Tampa Bay, Green Bay will be at Tennessee and St. Louis will play in New Orleans Monday night.

Mavericks end Timberwolves streak

DALLAS, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Michael Finley scored 30 points and fueled a long-range barrage Saturday night, leading the Dallas Mavericks to a 125-117 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, who had their six-game winning streak snapped.

Finley came in averaging 20.5 points per game, but has played second banana this season to teammate Dirk Nowitzki, an emerging star averaging 23.3 points. However, it was Finley who made the Western Conference All-Star team last season and led the NBA in minutes while averaging 21.5 points per game.

In this one, it was Finley who took charge in the pivotal third quarter. He scored 14 points in the period, during which the Mavericks turned a seven-point deficit into an eight-point lead.

Steve Nash scored 25 points and Nowitzki added 21 for the Mavericks, who posted a season high in points and won their third straight game.

Wally Szczerbiak scored 29 points and Kevin Garnett added 23 for the Timberwolves, who had won six in a row by double digits but have lost seven of their last 10 meetings with Dallas.

Other NBA results: Boston 106, Charlotte 97; Philadelphia 94, Cleveland 91; Atlanta 80, Chicago 79; Miami 76, Houston 73; Milwaukee 115, Indiana 95; San Antonip 100, Utah 80; Denver 106, Phoenix 98; Portland 117, Orlando 106; Golden State 93, Memphis 84.

Toronto wins fifth straight

TORONTO, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Gary Roberts scored two goals in the second period and assisted on another Saturday night as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens, 6-4, to extend their winning streak to five games.

Roberts had three goals in October before going without one for 16 games. He halted that skid with a hat trick in Toronto's 6-3 victory over the New York Rangers on Dec. 6.

His first goal at 13:10 of the second period extended Toronto's lead to 3-1. It developed after Benoit Gratton committed a turnover deep in Toronto's zone. Roberts fed the puck to Tomas Karbele, who left a drop pass for Dmitry Yushkevich in the low slot. Yushkevich fed it back to Roberts, who beat goaltender Jose Theodore to the stick side.

Montreal cut the deficit to one just over 2 1/2 minutes later on defenseman Stephane Quintal's second goal of the season.

But Roberts lucked out with one second left in the period. He was behind the net, waiting for time to run out when the puck went off Montreal defenseman Sheldon Souray's skate and past Theodore.

After Theodore surrendered the fourth goal, he was pulled for Jeff Hackett.

Other NHL results: Philadelphia 5, Boston 2; Florida 3, New York Islanders 1; New York Rangers 4, Buffalo 2; New Jersey 2, Ottawa 0; Washington 5, Atlanta 2; Nashville 5, Chicago 2; St. Louis 4, Calgary 0; Dallas 6, Phoenix 2; Vancouver 3, Detroit 0; Los Angeles 3, Columbus 2.

Warriors fire Cowens

OAKLAND, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- The Golden State Warriors fired coach Dave Cowens Saturday, one day after he kicked point guard Mookie Blaylock out of practice.

Cowens will be replaced by assistant Brian Winters, who will coach the team for the remainder of the season.

Since beginning the season 5-3, the Warriors dropped 12 of 15 games, with Cowens becoming increasingly frustrated. Golden State suffered a 105-100 home loss to the Orlando Magic on Friday night.

Star forward Antawn Jamison and reserve guard Bob Sura both have publicly questioned Cowens' substitution rotations.

The Times reported Saturday that Cowens kicked Blaylock out of practice Friday because he "wasn't ready" to practice and "didn't respond" to instruction.

After three months as an assistant under St. Jean, Cowens was named coach on April 18, 2000. In parts of two seasons, he posted a 25-80 record, including a 17-65 mark in 2000-01.

The Warriors were ravaged by injuries last season, when they used 23 different lineups and led the NBA with 414 player games lost to injury.

However, the team has been relatively healthy this season and has added first-round picks Jason Richardson and Todd Murphy, both of whom have played well at times.

Missouri blasted by Iowa

COLUMBIA, Mo., Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Luke Recker scored 16 of his career-high 31 points in the first half Saturday night as the 15th-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes avenged an earlier loss to No. 3 Missouri, 83-65.

Iowa (9-3) lost a 73-62 lead with 2:15 remaining on Nov. 21 against Missouri in the championship of the Guardians Classic in Kansas City. Hawkeyes coach Steve Alford complained afterward about the officiating, especially one sequence in which he claimed that Recker was tackled twice.

The Hawkeyes took out their frustration early, jumping out to a 12-4 lead just over six minutes into the contest. Iowa had a 39-28 halftime advantage.

Things did not change in the second half for Missouri (9-1), which suffered its first loss. A basket by Reggie Evans gave Iowa a 45-30 lead with 17:50 remaining and a three-point play by Recker with just over 16 minutes remaining capped the 19-8 run to open the final 20 points for a 54-33 lead.

In other action involving top 10 teams, No. 4 Florida beat Charlotte, 73-52; No. 5 Kansas rolled past South Carolina State, 106-73; No. 7 Arizona fell to Michigan State, 74-60; and No. 10 Kentucky crushed Kentucky State, 118-63.

Ruiz draws with Holyfield

MASHANTUCKET, Conn., Dec. 16 (UPI) -- John Ruiz retained his WBA heavyweight title with a questionable and lackluster 12-round draw against Evander Holyfield Saturday night.

On Aug. 12, 2000, Ruiz lost a questionable 12-round decision to Holyfield, who retained his share of the heavyweight crown. Seven months later, he took the belt from Holyfield, whose camp voiced similar complaints.

This bout was supposed to settle the score, but did nothing in that regard. The only thing it may have proved is that at 39, Holyfield can still fight.

Holyfield won by 116-112 on one judge's scorecard while Ruiz was a 115-113 victor on another. The third was even at 114-114.

Ruiz is 37-4-1 and Holyfield is 37-5-2.

Furman beats defending champ

STATESBORO, Ga., Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Third-seeded Furman ended No. 2 Georgia Southern's bid for a third straight Division 1-AA football title Saturday by rallying for a 24-17 road semifinal victory.

Top seed Montana had no trouble reaching its second straight championship game, routing unseeded Northern Iowa, 38-0.

Furman (12-2) and Montana (14-1) will meet in the title contest Friday night in Chattanooga, Tenn. It will be their first meeting ever.

Furman is 1-1 in championship games, both against Georgia Southern. The Paladins captured their only title with a 17-12 victory over their Southern Conference rival in 1988.

Montana also split its previous title-game appearances. The Grizzlies beat Marshall, 22-20, in 1995 to claim their lone championship and lost to Georgia Southern, 27-25, last season.

On Saturday, Furman won at Georgia Southern (12-2) for the first time in six tries and avenged a 20-10 regular-season loss.

The Paladins held Adrian Peterson, the all-time leading rusher in Division I-AA history, to 68 yards on 18 carries in his final college game. It marked only the third time in 57 career games that Peterson had been held below 100 yards.

Eberharter wins downhill

VAL GARDENA, Italy, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Austria's Stephan Eberharter regained command over the World Cup speed events Saturday, winning the second of back-to-back downhills to extend his lead atop the overall rankings.

Eberharter, who won the season-opening downhill and super-G in Val d'Isere last weekend but dipped into fourth in Friday's downhill, charged down the classic Saslong course in two minutes, 1.24 seconds, edging compatriot Michael Walchhofer.

The 26-year-old Walchhofer crossed second .22 seconds off the pace to record his best career downhill finish. Norwegian all-rounder Kjetil Andre Aamodt was third in 2:01.50.

Italy's Kristian Ghedina, the winner of Friday's downhill, placed fourth, while Switzerland's Franco Cavegn was fifth. Norway's Lasse Kjus, second on Friday, was sixth.

Eberharter's strong results have placed him solidly atop the overall World Cup standings with 490 points, 165 points ahead of American Bode Miller. The two will clash in Sunday's giant slalom at Alta Badia, Italy. Eberharter also placed second and third in the season's two giant slaloms.

Eberharter also leads the downhill with 250 points, with Ghedina second with 165.

Report: NBA to dump NBC

NEW YORK, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- The NBA reportedly has struck a new television deal with ABC and ESPN that leaves NBC out of the picture.

Newsday, citing unidentified sources, reported in its Sunday editions that the league has awarded its broadcast rights to ABC and the majority of its cable rights to ESPN in a four-year deal beginning next season.

The report did not give financial terms except to say that ABC's bid was substantially higher than NBC's bid of $1.3 billion. A news conference is expected Monday.

NBC and Turner currently hold the rights in the last year of a four-year, $2.64 billion contract. Turner, which doled out $890 million in the last deal, will remain involved, but NBC's run as the NBA's network is over after 12 years.

The report indicated ESPN will assume part of the role played by Turner, televising weeknight games during the season and sharing the postseason coverage with the network rights-holder.

Singh opens lead over Woods

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif., Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Vijay Singh opened a four-shot lead over Tiger Woods Saturday after three rounds of the $3.8 million Williams World Challenge.

Singh carded a 1-under-par 71 to reach 11-under 205 on a cool, blustery day at Sherwood Country Club, where only three of the 18 players entered broke par.

Woods was not one of them. The host of the year's final event of the unofficial season shot a 74 that included a double-bogey at the par-3 17th after he had closed within a shot of Singh.

While the rest of the field struggled, Thomas Bjorn of Denmark mastered the wind, carding a 64. But he is still tied for 12th at 1-over 217.

Singh had the lead for the second straight day, offsetting four bogeys with three birdies and an eagle from the fairway at the par-4 10th hole.

Singh is one round from his third title of the season, although none would have come in an official PGA Tour event. The 2000 Masters champion won in consecutive weeks on the European Tour in February.

Canadian Olympic team made final

TORONTO, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Wayne Gretzky finalized the 2002 Canadian Olympic hockey team Saturday, adding Eric Lindros, Jarome Iginla, Ryan Smyth and 12 others to one of the gold-medal favorites.

Lindros, the rugged 28-year-old center in his first season with the New York Rangers, was captain of the 1998 Olympic team that was held without a medal in Nagano, Japan.

Iginla, the 24-year-old star winger from the Calgary Flames, leads the NHL in scoring and will compete in the Olympics for the first time.

Smyth, 25, was named to the team even though he has a broken ankle. The high-scoring winger is expected to return to the Edmonton Oilers' lineup in mid-January and be ready for his first Olympic Games.

Also making the team were wingers Theo Fleury of the Rangers, 21-year-old Simon Gagne of the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings star Brendan Shanahan.

The center-heavy roster also includes Joe Nieuwendyk of the Dallas Stars and New York Islanders captain Michael Peca.

Curtis Joseph of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils and Dallas' Ed Belfour were named the team's goaltenders. Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche pulled himself from contention last month.

Stanford wins volleyball title

SAN DIEGO, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Led by 25 kills from star senior Logan Tom, Stanford won the NCAA women's volleyball championship Saturday by surprising top-ranked and previously unbeaten Long Beach State, 31-29, 30-28, 30-25.

Long Beach State had won all 33 games coming into the national title contest and had not lost a set in its five tournament appearances. Stanford finished 33-2.

Stanford's John Dunning became the first coach to win national titles with different teams, having claimed one with University of Pacific. It was Stanford's fifth NCAA title.

Toms, a member of the United States 2000 Olympic team, finished the match with a block. It was her fifth of the day and she recorded an ace as well.

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