Richardson out as Arkansas coach
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark., March 2 (UPI) -- The University of Arkansas announced Friday it had bought out the contract of basketball coach Nolan Richardson, who all but assured his departure from the school with a tirade last week against his critics.
The school will pay Richardson $3 million over the next six years, ending a tenure that produced one national championship, three trips to the Final Four and 16 NCAA Tournament appearances.
Assistant head coach Mike Anderson will take over the team for the rest of the season.
At a news conference last Saturday, Richardson, without any questions being asked to provoke it, complained bitterly that he was being unjustly criticized this year for the team's losing record. He said he was being treatened unfairly because he was black and also pointed out that there were no black reporters covering his team.
Although school officials said the following day that Richardson was just frustrated over the team's performance this year, they acknowledged that the school's athletic program had been damaged by the coach's remarks.
After two days of discussions, the buyout was instituted by the school. Richardson's contract contained a clause which gave the school the right to do what it did Friday.
"We are grateful to coach Richardson for his many contributions to the program over his tenure," Athletic Director Frank Broyles said. "We believe it is time for a change in leadership for the best interst of the basketball program."
Arkansas currently has only its second sub-.500 record since Richardson took over the program and will need to win the Southeastern Conference Tournament next week in Atlanta in order to secure a spot in the NCAA tourney this season.
Prior to coming to Arkansas, Richardson coached five years at Tulsa. His career record is 508-206.
NCAA Tournament bids extended today
ORLANDO, March 2 (UPI) -- The field for the NCAA basketball tournament will begin to be filled today with three conference championship games.
In Orlando, Georgia State will take on Florida Atlantic in the final of the Atlantic Sun Conference. Winthrop will take on High Point for the Big South Conference crown in Roanoke, Val. and Tennessee Tech will face Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference tourney final in Louisvlle, Ky.
The Big South Conference's women's champion will also be decided today in Roanoke between Liberty and Coastal Carolina.
Spurs slow down Timberwolves
MINNEAPOLIS, March 2 (UPI) -- Steve Smith made a clutch three-pointer with just under a minute left and rookie Tony Parker scored four of his six points in the final 24 seconds Friday night as the San Antonio Spurs held on for an 85-77 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Timberwolves never led after halftime, but rallied from an 11-point deficit within 78-75 on a basket by Anthony Peeler with 4:23 remaining. Both teams went to their All-Star forwards, who defended each other perfectly.
Minnesota's Wally Szczerbiak also missed three shots during the stretch before Smith hit a three-pointer for an 81-75 cushion with 57 seconds to go.
Garnett finally broke through and made a layup nine seconds later, but Parker responded with an acrobatic layup with 21 seconds left to restore the six-point edge. The 19-year-old point guard added a pair of free throws with 10 seconds remaining to seal the victory.
Other NBA results: Philadelphia 110, New Jersey 102; Portland 91, Toronto 81; Charlotte 100, Boston 87; New York 105, Seattle 93; Detroit 110, Orlando 102; Chicago 90, Washington 81; Denver 96, Memphis 83; Los Angeles Lakers 96, Indiana 84; Sacramento 116, Golden State 109.
Maple Leafs suffer without Joseph
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., March 2 (UPI) -- Scott Gomez, Petr Sykora and Patrik Elias scored in the opening 16 1/2 minutes Friday night and the New Jersey Devils cruised to a 4-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toronto goaltender Curtis Joseph suffered a broken left hand in Tuesday's win over the Carolina Hurricanes and could be sidelined into the first week of the playoffs. It was obvious Friday night that Toronto will miss him.
Former Devil Corey Schwab got the start in his place and allowed three goals on seven shots in the opening period.
Toronto never dug out of the early hole and fell to 0-2-1 against New Jersey this season.
Other NHL results: Buffalo 4, Boston 3; Atlanta 4, New York Islanders 3; Tampa Bay 4, San Jose 2.
NFL free-agent signing begins
NEW YORK, March 1 (UPI) -- After many of the NFL's teams spent the past month getting under the $71.1 million salary cap, bargain shopping might be in order now that the free-agency period has begun.
Running backs Garrison Hearst and Antowain Smith, quarterback Trent Dilfer, receivers Cris Carter and Az-Zahir Hakim, defensive end Leonard Little, linebackers Jessie Armstead and London Fletcher and safeties Tony Parrish and Shaun Williams are among the top free agents available. The signing period began Friday.
But most teams may go the route of the the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, who went hunting for discounts last year and uncovered some one-year gems with the signings of Smith, who rushed for 1,157 yards, and linebacker Roman Phifer, a vital member of the defense.
However, the Patriots failed to lock up Smith and Phifer to long-term deals and both are available again. They will probably not be willing to sign at a lower rate.
Another of the free agents as of Friday is former Baltimore quarterback Elvis Grbac. The Ravens wanted to re-work his contract to help them with their extreme salary cap problems, but when no deal was forthcoming, Grbac became a free agent.
Els leads at Doral
MIAMI, March 2 (UPI) -- Ernie Els fired a 5-under-par 67 and remained bogey-free Friday to open a two-shot lead after two rounds of the Genuity Championship.
Els is the only player who has taken two trips around the Doral Resort and Spa course without a bogey. That vaulted the native of South Africa to an 11-under 133 and a two-stroke advantage on Briny Baird.
Tiger Woods carded a 2-under 70 to finish 36 holes at 137 as he goes after his first victory of the season.
The round was suspended by darkness with three players still on the course.
First-round leader Chris DiMarco, the early season money leader, stumbled to a 79. He was at even-par 144 and in danger of missing the cut.
Unsponsored car wins NASCAR pole
LAS VEGAS, Nev., March 2 (UPI) -- Todd Bodine, whose Ford Taurus is without a sponsor, won the pole Friday for the NASCAR UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Bodine covered the 1 1/2-mile speedway in 31.240 seconds for an average speed of 172.849 miles per hour, breaking the mark of 172.563 mph set two years ago by Ricky Rudd.
Bodine's team is without a sponsor as Kmart, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, has pulled out of its deal after the season's first two races.
That left Haas Carter Motorsports to qualify on its own dime with an unadorned car. But Bodine claimed his fifth pole in 148 career Winston Cup starts.
Joining Bodine on the front row was Ryan Newman, who also eclipsed Rudd's old mark with a speed of 172.838 mph.
Messier has shoulder surgery
NEW YORK, March 1 (UPI) -- New York Rangers center Mark Messier decided Friday to go ahead with surgery on his ailing left shoulder, a procedure that will sideline him indefinitely.
Messier consulted one more doctor Thursday night before deciding to have bone spurs removed.
"We left no stone unturned as to something that would help the situation," the Rangers' captain said after Thursday's 3-0 loss to Ottawa. "We tried everything but magic potions and ointments."
The surgery is designed to ease pain in the rotator cuff.
Messier has been hampered by his shoulder for weeks and missed 15 of 18 games before returing for the final five before the NHL's Olympic break. He had just one assist in those five games and is just seventh on the team in scoring with seven goals and 16 assists in 41 games.