Super Bowl berths on the line
PITTSBURGH, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- The teams that will participate in the 36th Super Bowl will be determined today in the NFL's two conference championship games.
Pittsburgh will host New England with the AFC title on the line and St. Louis will entertain Philadelphia in the NFC title contest.
An unseasonably mild afternoon is forecast in Pittsburgh for a game that brings together teams that did not reach the playoffs a year ago and combined during the 1999 and 2000 seasons to produce a record of 28-38.
Pittsburgh, however, wound up with the best record in the conference this season thanks to a defense that ranked No. 1 in the league and a quarterback who finally blossomed into the star he was expected to be years ago.
New England, meanwhile, surged to the top of the AFC East behind a quarterback who came from nowhere to become of the best stories in the league.
Pittsburgh comes into today's game as a tribute to continuity. While coaching changes are commonplace around the NFL, Steelers Coach Bill Cowher was allowed to battle through tough times and the patience has been rewarded.
The reward has also come to quarterback Kordell Stewart, who in his seventh season has finally emerged as one of the best at his position. Stewart completed 60 percent of his passes this season and stayed away from the critical mistakes that have haunted him in the past.
In St. Louis, the Rams will be trying for their second Super Bowl trip in three seasons. Already possessing the NFL's most explosive offense, the Rams entered the season with an overhauled defense that featured eight new starters after the club allowed an astounding 471 points last season.
The Rams made an early statement that this season would be different when they were able to control Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia offense for the first three quarters in the opener.
But McNabb was able to rally the Eagles in the fourth quarter, engineering scoring drives of 98 and 68 yards that he capped each time with short touchdown passes to fullback Cecil Martin that sent the game into overtime.
In overtime, the Rams lost the toss but their defense stopped Philadelphia on its first possession, getting the ball back for star quarterback Kurt Warner, who quickly worked St. Louis in position for the win.
Today's game figures to revolve around how well St. Louis will handle what is expected to be a day-long blitzing effort from the Eagles.
Jordan scores 41 in Wizards win
WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Michael Jordan scored 41 points and finished in strong fashion for the second straight game Saturday night as the Washington Wizards climbed back above .500 with a 112-102 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
Elected as an All-Star starter in fan balloting released earlier in the day, Jordan showed he was a worthy choice, making 17 of 30 shots and handing out seven assists. It was his fifth 40-point game of the season and second in succession.
Jordan is averaging 35 points over his last four games. But the 38-year-old superstar was limited to nine points on three-of-23 shooting after halftime in the first two of those contests, raising questions about his durability over the remainder of the season.
Some of those questions were answered in Thursday night's win over Cleveland, when Jordan scored 16 of his 40 points after halftime and said opposing defenses were what had slowed him down.
In this one, he had 20 points before intermission and 21 after, helping the Wizards (21-20) move above .500 at the midway point of the season. Washington won just 19 games last season.
Other NBA results: Miami 80, New Jersey 77; New York 129, Milwaukee 127 in double overtime; Sacramento 114, Utah 90; Minnesota 103, Atlanta 80; Boston 108, Cleveland 101; Houston 111, Charlotte 104 in overtime; Seattle 95, Indiana 86; Chicago 95, Memphis 92; San Antonio 90, Golden State 82; Dallas 133, Los Angeles Clippers 112.
Hull produces hat trick
ST. LOUIS, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Brett Hull has not scored many empty-net goals in his productive career, but he used one against his former team to complete his 31st career hat trick Saturday night and give the Detroit Red Wings a 5-2 win over the St. Louis Blues.
Hull had a hand in all five goals, helping the Red Wings snap a four-game road winless streak as well as the Blues' seven-game home winning streak.
After scoring twice in a 17-second span early in the first period, Hull tracked down an outlet pass from Brendan Shanahan, another former Blue, and scored his 21st goal into a vacant net before he was undercut by a backchecker.
Defenseman Chris Pronger set up both goals for the Blues, who had their team-record 10-game winning streak snapped on Friday night in Chicago. They have not beaten the Red Wings since Feb. 8, 2000.
Other NHL results: Pittsburgh 3, Atlanta 2 in overtime; Montreal 1, Ottawa 1; New York Rangers 6, Washington 3; Colorado 4, Los Angeles 2; Minnesota 2, New Jersey 2; Philadelphia 4, Carolina 2; Boston 4, Florida 2; Phoenix 3, Columbus 2; New York Islanders 6, Tampa Bay 2; Edmonto 4, Toronto 1; Anaheim 3, Nashville 1; Vancouver 2, Calgary 0.
Kansas avoids upset bug
COLLEGE STATION, Texas, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Drew Gooden produced his 15th double-double of the season Saturday with 22 points and 13 rebounds, carrying No. 2 Kansas past Texas A&M, 86-74.
The Jayhawks avoided the upset bug as four members of the top 10 lost Saturday.
Gooden's 22 points gave him 1,184 in his career and moved him past Milt Newton into 26th place on the school's all-time list. His 13 rebounds gave him 707, a plateau just 10 other Jayhawks have reached.
Nick Collison added 19 points and eight rebounds for Kansas (17-2, 6-0 Big 12). The Jayhawks have won four straight games and are off to a 17-2 start for the second consecutive season.
Bernard King had 22 points for Texas A&M (8-12, 2-4), which fell to 0-7 all time against Kansas.
No. 3 Maryland cruised past Florida State, 84-63; No. 5 Cincinnati whipped South Florida, 78-68; and No. 10 Syracuse bested Virginia Tech, 81-69.
But fourth-ranked Florida fell to Arkansas in overtime, 94-92; No. 6 Oklahoma lost to Texas Tech, 92-79; No. 8 Illinois was crushed by Indiana, 88-57; and No. 9 Kentucky was nipped by 14th-ranked Alabama, 64-61.
Waldorf keeps Phoenix Open lead
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Second-round leader Duffy Waldorf birdied two of the final four holes Saturday to maintain a one-stroke advantage after 54 holes of the Phoenix Open.
Waldorf fired a 4-under 67 that gave him a 17-under total of 196, a shot in front of Kenny Perry and Chris DiMarco. John Daly, who won a European Tour event last year for his first title since capturing the British Open in 1995, moved into fourth place at 198.
The final groups barely beat sundown after play was delayed early in the day while the second round was completed. The opening two rounds of the tournament were hampered by morning frost that pushed back starting times.
Among those who finished the second round early Saturday was 17-year-old Ty Tryon, who completed the final three holes of his first appearance as a PGA Tour member. Tryon added an even-par 71 at the TPC-Scottsdale course, but he had dug himself in a hole with an opening-round 77 and missed the cut.
South wins Senior Bowl
MOBILE, Ala., Jan. 27 (UPI) -- After the defense gave him a short field to work with, Rohan Davey of Louisiana State threw two second-quarter touchdowns Saturday to lead the South to a 41-26 victory over the North in the highest-scoring Senior Bowl in history.
Davey, who was the MVP of the Sugar Bowl, started the first half and completed just three of six passes. But he capitalized on his team's defense, which forced five turnovers leading to three touchdowns and a field goal.
The South collected three interceptions, including its second on the first play of the second quarter that gave the ball to the offense on the North's 33. Davey threw a touchdown to Georgia Tech's Kelly Campbell on the next play to give the South a 17-7 lead.
After Michigan's Hayden Epstein kicked a field goal to bring the North within a touchdown, the South recovered a fumble with 2:55 left in the first half. Davey capped a 13-yard drive with a one-yard toss to Auburn's Tim Carter for a 24-10 cushion.
Patrick Ramsey of Tulane completed nine of 13 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown in the second half and was named the South's offensive MVP.
Florida's Andra Davis was the defensive MVP of the South, collecting six tackles and an interception.
Canada, Costa Rica reach Gold Cup semis
MIAMI, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Defending champion Canada survived a penalty kick shootout and World Cup qualifier Costa Rica needed overtime Saturday at the Orange Bowl, but both made it to the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals.
The Canadians eliminated tiny Martinique, 6-5, on penalties after the teams played a 1-1 draw in their quarterfinal match. Canada will face the winner of Sunday's match between the United States and El Salvador on Wednesday at the Rose Bowl.
Costa Rica knocked out Haiti, 2-1, on Ronald Gomez's goal seven minutes into the first 15-minute sudden-death period. The Ticos will play the winner of Sunday's Mexico-South Korea match in Wednesday's other semifinal.
Canada, which gained the quarterfinal round on a drawing of lots, continued to ride its Gold Cup good fortune, although an own goal by Mark Rogers put them behind the Caribbean side in the 63rd minute.
Kevin McKenna's goal in the 73rd minute produced the 1-1 draw and overtime did not resolve the issue. Canada won the tiebreaker to advance.
Costa Rica grabbed a quick lead over Haiti when Walter Centeno scored in the second minute. But Golman Pierre leveled things in the 62nd minute, setting the stage for Gomez's overtime winner.
Carter leads All-Star voting
NEW YORK, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- For the third consecutive season, Vince Carter finished as the top vote-getter for next month's NBA All-Star Game as final returns were announced Saturday.
The high-flying forward of the Toronto Raptors received 1,470,176 votes, joining Michael Jordan (four times) and Julius Erving (nine times) as the only players in league history to lead the voting on three or more occasions.
Carter was joined in the Eastern Conference starting lineup by forward Antoine Walker of the Boston Celtics, center Dikembe Mutombo of the Philadelphia 76ers, Jordan of the Washington Wizards and NBA reigning Most Valuable Player Allen Iverson of Philadelphia.
Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal was second in the balloting with 1,247,438 votes and headed the Western Conference team. He was joined by teammate Kobe Bryant and Steve Francis of the Houston Rockets in the backcourt while Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs are the forwards.
One of the most electrifying players in the league, Carter has seen his popularity soar even though he plays north of the border. He is fifth in the league in scoring, averaging 25.5 points per game.
Jordan, who returned to play with the Wizards after a three-year retirement, received 985,448 votes en route to his 13th All-Star selection.