In Sports from United Press International

Nov. 21, 2002 at 4:05 PM
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Report: O'Neal cleared to play again

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Veteran center Shaquille O'Neal of the Los Angeles Lakers, who has not played this season, has been given the OK to get back in action.

O'Neal's agent, Perry Rogers, has told the Los Angeles Times that his client has been cleared to play again, which might happen Friday night, when the Lakers host the Chicago Bulls.

The Lakers have not indicated publicly whether or not O'Neal, 30, will be on the court.

The 7'1", 338-pounder, who underwent surgery to remove painful bone spurs at UCLA's Outpatient Surgery Center on Sept. 11 and suffers from arthritis in the big toe on his right foot, has been suffering from a case of sesamoiditis, a form of tendinitis in the area beneath the toe, ever since the operation.

Without O'Neal, the three-time world champions are off to a miserable start and have not looked like one of the best teams in the league.

When they lost, 95-88 at San Antonio Wednesday night, they sank to 3-9, and are in last place in the NBA West, and are off to the franchise's worst start in 36 years.

They are six games under .500 for the first time since April 6, 1994.

"We would like to think he's going to make a huge difference," said forward Rick Fox. "We've played with him before, we know what he's capable of adding to our team. We do still have to play better, though. It's a great start to have him back out on the floor. I know it's going to lift our spirits, for sure."

In 1996, he was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, and has been named the MVP of the NBA Finals in each of the last three years.

He has career averages of 27.6 points and 12.3 rebounds per contest in 675 games for the Lakers and Orlando.

Hurricanes host improved Panthers

MIAMI, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Top-ranked Miami, looking vulnerable in recent outings, Thursday night tries to extend its winning streak to 32 games when it hosts Pittsburgh in a Big East showdown.

The Hurricanes have been idle since a convincing 26-3 win over Tennessee on Nov. 9. Coach Larry Coker called it the best effort of the season by his Hurricanes, who had been sluggish the previous week against Rutgers and barely escaped with a one-point win over Florida State in October.

Several Miami players complained openly about their complacency in the weeks leading up to the Tennessee contest, but they appear to have regained their focus and will need it against Pitt, which has won seven of its last eight games.

The game has added significance in the wake of the stunning 21-18 upset of No. 12 Virginia Tech Wednesday night by West Virginia.

The Panthers (8-2, 5-0) must find a way to contain tailback Willis McGahee, who ran for 154 yards and a touchdown against the Volunteers, and has seven 100-yard rushing games this season.

Miami (9-0, 4-0) has won all 21 of its games under Coker, and owns the longest home winning streak in the nation at 20 games.

The Hurricanes also have won 21 straight Big East games.

Miami moved ahead of Ohio State and into first in the most recent Bowl Championship Series standings. It likely will play for the national championship in the Fiesta Bowl if this wins its last three games. Miami visits Syracuse on Nov. 30 and hosts Virginia Tech on Dec. 7.

A Pittsburgh victory will throw the BCS selection process into chaos. The Panthers would then be in position to claim the automatic BCS berth as Big East champion, leaving Miami to compete for an at-large berth.

Miami's secondary will be challenged by the passing tandem of Rod Rutherford and Larry Fitzgerald, who hooked up for three scores in an upset of Virginia Tech earlier this month.

Fitzgerald, a freshman, has eight scoring receptions.

Senior linebacker Gerald Hayes has three straight 100-tackle seasons for Pitt, and likely will be busy Thursday chasing down the likes of McGahee and quarterback Ken Dorsey.

Dorsey, who has 21 touchdown passes this season, is 35-1 as a starter, including an 11-1 mark against ranked opponents.

Miami has won the last four meetings against Pittsburgh by a combined score of 149-41. The Hurricanes also have won 12 of the last 13, and lead the series, 19-9-1.

Spurrier changes quarterbacks again

ASHBURN, Va., Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Washington Coach Steve Spurrier, trying to light a spark under his lethargic offense, has decided to bench Shane Matthews in favor of Danny Wuerffel when the Redskins (4-6) host the St. Louis Cardinals (5-5) on Sunday.

Matthews, a former NFC Offensive Player of the Week who has started seven games this season including the last four, is expected to be the team's third quarterback. He has completed less than 50 percent of his passes in each of the past three games.

"Danny's going to play," Spurrier said. "He deserves the chance to play. He had a good practice (Wednesday). He's our quarterback. When you have a group of quarterbacks and there's not much difference in how they play, you have to give them all a chance. Danny really has not had a chance this year."

"Things can change," Wuerffel said. "When you're losing games or winning games, it comes down to a real fine line. You never know what can make a difference. I just think coach wants to give us all an opportunity to play."

Wuerffel started in Week 5 against the Tennessee Titans, but injured his shoulder on the last play of the Redskins' first offensive drive and did not return. Rookie Patrick Ramsey relieved him and led Washington to a 31-14 victory.

"Wuerffel, who has a team-low 34.5 passer's rating, now believes his shoulder is healthy enough not to be an issue," Wuerffel said. "I'm as healthy as I can be. I feel good about it. I practiced last week and made most of my throws, so I'm excited. I'm going to proceed as though it's not an issue."

Ramsey, who started two games after the Titans victory, is slated to be the team's backup quarterback against the Rams. Spurrier had indicated Monday that both Wuerffel and Ramsey could see time in the Rams game, but decided on Wuerffel after Wednesday's practice.

"We have to try to do something to get some life in us," Spurrier said. "I don't know what it is, but we have to do something.

Knee surgery for Hartings

PITTSBURGH, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Pittsburgh Steelers center Jeff Hartings is expected to be sidelined up to a month after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery this week.

Hartings, who has become one of the best centers in the NFL since making the move from guard two years ago, had cartilage removed by the renowned Dr. James Andrews in Atlanta.

"The initial prognosis is it could be anywhere from two to four weeks," said Steelers Coach Bill Cowher. "It really is as good as could be expected, considering the circumstances. They cleaned it out a little bit, there was a little bit catching in there. We're cautiously optimistic between the two- and four-week time frame."

Hartings signed with the Steelers following the 2000 season and moved from right guard to center, replacing future Hall of Famer Dermontti Dawson. He was one of two first-round picks by the Detroit Lions in 1996.

Chukky Okobi is expected to start in Harting's absence when the Steelers host the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

Lions claim Hitchcock

ALLEN PARK, Mich., Nov. 21 (UPI) -- The injury-plagued Detroit Lions have signed veteran defensive Jimmy Hitchcock, who was waived this week by the New England Patriots.

The 5-10, 187-pounder, who originally was chosen by Patriots in the third round of the 1995 draft out of North Carolina, was active for one game this season, Oct. 27 against Denver, when he was used on special teams.

Hitchcock has played in 101 games, including 61 starts, throughout his eight year career, recording 313 tackles, two sacks, 69 passes defensed, and 19 interceptions, five of which he returned for touchdowns.

Hitchcock, 31, spent his first three seasons with the New England, then two with both Minnesota (98-99) and Carolina (00-01) before returning to New England as unrestricted free agent on Aug. 15, 2002.

He joins a defense that has a number of walking wounded, including ends Robert Porcher (knee) and Jared DeVries (foot), and tackle Luther Elliss (ankle), all of whom are on crutches. Their playing status for Sunday against Chicago all are at least questionable.

Woods has poor start in Japan event

MIYAZAKI, Japan, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Tiger Woods, playing a very poor first round Thursday, warned the competition at the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament in Miyazaki, Japan, that he would be a factor the rest of the way after finishing seven shots behind leader Darren Clarke.

The world No. 1 struggled throughout his round before two birdies on the back nine got him to even-par 71.

Clarke carded a sparkling 7-under 64 to take a two-shot lead, but Woods, who will attempt to push his latest round to the back of his mind, insists this is an event he wants to win.

"To shoot even par (here) is a mini-miracle," he said. "I didn't hit it well and didn't putt well, but managed to salvage the round with a couple of birdies near the end."

Woods had four birdies and four bogeys at the 6,917-yard Dunlop Phoenix Country Club.

"I didn't put myself out of the tournament," he said. "There were a lot of guys who didn't make par and I still have a chance to win this."

Clarke, competing in his fifth Dunlop Phoenix, fired eight birdies and one-putted on nine holes to take a two-shot advantage over England's Justin Rose and local duo Kaname Yokoo and Tsukasa Watanabe.

Clarke, a native of Northern Ireland, had six birdies to make the turn in 30. After his only bogey of the day on the 16th, he closed with two more birdies.

"The changes they've made to this course make it a lot more tricky," Clarke said. "But I putted as well as I have in years and got a couple of breaks that I made the most of."

Sergio Garcia was three shots back with a 67 while defending champion David Duval ran up two bogeys and a double-bogey but still managed a 69 to lie five off the pace.

Chase Open for women relocated

CARSON, Calif., Nov. 21 (UPI) -- The JP Morgan Chase Open tennis tournament for women will move from Los Angeles to the $130 million Home Depot Center in nearby Carson, Calif.

The sponsor made the announcement Thursday.

The 33-year-old event, which has been held at the Manhattan Country Club the past 21 years, will be played at the new state-of-the-art 8,000-seat arena from Aug. 4-10 next season, and will be will the second sponsored by Chase.

A multi-year commitment to hold the tournament at the Home Depot Center is in its final stages, according to Chase.

Past champions in Los Angeles include Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Billie Jean King and, more recently, Serena Williams, Lindsay Davenport, and Monica Seles.

The JP Morgan Chase Open is a WTA Tour Tier II tournament with a 48-player singles draw and a 16-team doubles draw. Prize money in 2002 was a record $585,000.

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