Avalanche changes coaches
DENVER, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- The Colorado Avalanche fired Coach Bob Hartley Wednesday, just 18 months after he guided them to their second Stanley Cup championship.
General Manager Pierre Lacroix announced that he had promoted assistant coach Tony Granato to serve as Hartley's replacement.
"We've been nine years working with the organization and we haven't done anything with emotion in the past, and this is not an emotional decision," Lacroix said. "You talk about timing, there's no good timing for making a decision like that. But I have this responsibility and I had to do it."
Hartley, 42, is the second-winningest coach in franchise history with a 193-109-48-9 record in four-plus seasons. But Colorado is just 10-8-9-4 in 2002-03 and is currently out of a playoff position.
Winners of eight consecutive division titles, the Avalanche are fourth in the Northwest Division with 33 points. Only five Western Conference teams have surrendered more goals than the Avalanche (80), who won the Jennings Trophy last season after yielding an NHL-low and franchise-record 169 goals.
Colorado reached the conference finals in each of Hartley's first four seasons, winning the Stanley Cup in 2001. The Avalanche, however, squandered a three games to two lead in last season's conference finals and were routed by rival Detroit, 7-0, in the decisive seventh game.
Granato, 38, is a coaching neophyte. He ended a 13-year playing career following the 2000-01 campaign and spent last season as a broadcaster before joining Hartley's staff.
UCLA hires former player
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Former UCLA wide receiver Karl Dorrell, a Denver Broncos assistant and former collegiate offensive coordinator, was named Wednesday as the Bruins new head coach.
The announcement came on Dorrell's 39th birthday. Dorrell replaces Bob Toledo, who was fired Dec. 9 after a 7-5 season.
"Obviously, I am privileged and honored to be the new head football coach at UCLA," Dorrell said. "It has always been a dream of mine to someday return to campus as the head coach at this great university. I can't wait to get started."
Dorrell was in his third season as receivers coach with the Broncos, who boast Pro Bowl wideouts Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey.
"I believe that Karl is the man who can build UCLA football to the elite level and we are excited to begin the process," Athletic Director Daniel Guerrero said. "I know our alumni and our fans will rally in support of Karl and our program."
Dorrell was the offensive coordinator at Colorado from 1995-98 and at Washington in 1999. He also has coached at Central Florida, Northern Arizona and Arizona State. He began his coaching career in 1988 as a graduate assistant at UCLA.
Dorrell, who graduated from UCLA in 1986, is tied for ninth on the school's all-time list with 108 receptions and 12th with 1,517 receiving yards. He spent part of 1987 with the Dallas Cowboys before being placed on injured reserve.
In Tuscaloosa, Ala., Mike Price took over as coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide after leaving his job of 14 years at Washington State.
Price replaces Dennis Franchione, who left to become coach at Texas A&M.
Price, who was 83-77 in 14 years as coach at Washington State, guided the seventh-ranked Cougars to a 10-2 record and a share of the Pac-10 Conference championship.
Washington State moved quickly to find a replacement, promoting long-time defensive coordinator Bill Doba, who has been an assistant under Price the last 14 seasons.
Yao Ming stars in Houston win
HOUSTON, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Yao Ming collected 29 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks while taking a hard hit from Brad Miller Wednesday, boosting Houston past Indiana, 95-83.
The 7-5 sensation continues to dominate with his size and skill as he made 10 of 15 shots and nine of 10 free throws. He scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, including five in a row that gave the Rockets some breathing room.
After a driving dunk by Ron Artest pulled the Pacers within 78-76 with 3:21 to play, Yao headfaked and went under a defender for a scoop bank shot.
On the next possession, Yao took a pass in the deep low post as Miller's knee banged into that of All-Star teammate Jermaine O'Neal. As O'Neal went down, Miller stepped around him and hacked Yao across the head and neck, knocking him to the floor.
Yao remained down for several seconds before slowly getting up. O'Neal was in much worse condition, suffering an apparent knee injury, and had to be carried to the locker room.
Miller was called for a flagrant-1 foul, and Yao made one of two free throws. On the ensuing possession, he hit a turnaround jumper for an 83-76 lead with 2:06 to go. The Pacers got no closer than five points thereafter.
Other NBA results: Miami 91, Boston 81; Detroit 111, Cleveland 106 in overtime; Philadelphia 99, Minnesota 94; Washington 118, Memphis 100; Chicago 96, Toronto 83; Dallas 80, Denver 75; Orlando 97, Utah 90.
Bruins suffer fourth straight loss
BUFFALO, N.Y., Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Chris Gratton had a goal and three assists Wednesday night to help Buffalo hand Boston its fourth straight loss, 4-2.
Gratton's performance equaled his career best while J.P. Dumont added a power-play goal and two assists.
All four Boston defeats have come against opponents in the Northeast Division, where the Bruins' lead has been sliced to two points.
Gratton started the scoring 4:50 into the opening period, then set up goals by Taylor Pyatt, Dumont and Stu Barnes as the Sabres ended a three-game winless streak. His other four-point night came in Buffalo while with Tampa Bay on March 19, 1995
Martin Biron made 27 saves to help Buffalo defeat Boston for just the second time in the last nine meetings (2-6-1).
Joe Thornton set up both goals for the Bruins, who had not dropped four in a row since last Feb. 28-March 6.
Other NHL results: Carolina 1, Tampa Bay 1; Florida 2, Toronto 2; Ottawa 3, New Jersey 0; Philadelphia 3, Atlanta 1.
Marshall wins GMAC Bowl
MOBILE, Ala., Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Byron Leftwich threw for 249 yards and four touchdowns Wednesday night, giving 24th-ranked Marshall a 38-15 victory over Louisville in the GMAC Bowl.
The game was billed as a showdown between Leftwich and Louisville's Dave Ragone, two of the nation's best passers. Leftwich, still plagued by shin problems that caused him to limp throughout the game, had the upper hand with his strong right arm. He gave way to backup Stan Hill in the first half, but was out for just one series.
Marshall (11-2) took the lead on an eight-play, 76-yard drive that Leftwich capped with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Denero Mitchell.
Mitchell had 10 catches for 137 yards and a pair of scores.
A 24-yard field goal made it 10-0 and a fumble by Louisville running back Lionel Gates was recovered by defensive back Yancey Satterwhite at the Cardinals' 24-yard line. Leftwich took advantage with a nine-yard touchdown toss to Demetrius Doss.
Ragone struggled for Louisville (7-6), completing 20 of 45 passes for a touchdown with an interception. His lone touchdown was an 11-yard pass to Tiger Jones with 13 seconds left.
The Thundering Herd won a bowl game for the fifth straight season. Last year, Leftwich threw for 576 yards and four touchdowns as Marshall rallied from a 30-point halftime deficit to a 64-61, double-overtime victory over East Carolina in the GMAC Bowl.
Panthers improve to 7-0
PITTSBURGH, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Julius Page scored 18 points and Brandin Knight added 17 Wednesday night to give the third-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers a 69-49 decision over Ohio State.
The Panthers have won seven straight games to open the season.
Pittsburgh was not threatened in its first six games, winning each contest by at least 15 points. However, those games were against teams that entered Wednesday's games with a 7-33 record.
Ohio State (3-3) stayed close for the first 10 minutes and Sean Connolly's three-pointer cut the deficit to 17-15. Donatas Zavackas answered with a three-pointer, Toree Morris made a pair from the line and Page added a three-pointer for a 10-point lead.
The Panthers scored the final seven points of the half and opened a 35-21 lead on Chevon Troutman's basket off a feed from Ontario Lett. Jaron Brown's dunk on the fast break made it 42-24 early in the second half and the lead did not dip below 13 points again.
Ohio State's Brent Darby, who had been averaging 21.0 points per game, scored just three.
In the only other game involving a top 25 team, No. 17 Mississippi State defeated Georgia State, 78-54.
Robert Johnson awarded new NBA team
NEW YORK, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Robert Johnson, the billionaire founder of Black Entertainment Television, has been awarded the new NBA franchise in Charlotte, N.C.
The Charlotte team will take the court in 2004 with the city's new arena opening the following year.
Johnson was chosen over Boston businessman Steve Belkin, the managing partner of Larry Bird's group. Both groups made presentations this week to the NBA's expansion committee.
"This is a terrific honor," Johnson said. "I'm looking forward to bringing a team that will be competitive on the court and a credit to the community off the court."
Johnson becomes the first black majority owner of a major league team.
Riley fined $50,000
NEW YORK, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Miami Heat coach Pat Riley was fined $50,000 by the NBA Wednesday for saying the league's referees had it in for him and his team.
The fine was handed down by NBA senior vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson, who made his ruling five days after Riley made his caustic comments.
After a 97-92 home loss to the New York Knicks on Friday, Riley was livid that the officials had not seen a play in the final minute in which a ball bounced out of bounds off the hands of Knicks forward Kurt Thomas, who later admitted he touched it last.
"Anybody could see it," Riley said at the time. "Not one official saw that ball off Kurt Thomas' hand. That, to me, was not a coincidence."
Riley said he believed certain officials hold a bias against him and the Heat.
"The officials' hatred for me is absolutely, I think, unjust, for what it's doing to my players," Riley said.
Riley was not suspended and coached Wednesday night in Boston.
Astros sign Jeff Kent
HOUSTON, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- The Houston Astros convinced superstar infielder Jeff Kent to leave the San Francisco Giants Wednesday and signed him to a two-year contract.
"After Nolan Ryan, this is the most significant free-agent signing in the history of the franchise," Astros General Manager Gerry Hunsicker said. "No team will have a more dangerous middle of the lineup than the Houston Astros next year."
Financial terms were not immediately reported, but the agreement calls for an option for a third year.
Kent could be used at third base, allowing Craig Biggio to remain at second. Kent could also stay at second with Biggio moving to the outfield.
"I have too much respect to come into a situation where I would step on anyone's toes," Kent said. "I was very aware of it."
Hunsicker hinted that Biggio, who began his career as a catcher, would be able to make the change.
Roenick suspended two games
Roenick slammed Modano, his United State Olympic hockey teammate, headfirst into the boards in the first period of Tuesday night's 2-2 tie. Modano had trouble making it to the locker room even with the help of a trainer and four teammates.
Roenick was assessed a five-minute major for boarding, but was not ejected.
After the game, Modano complained of headaches, but the Stars ruled out a concussion and he may be able to play in Dallas' next contest against Detroit Thursday night.
Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement, Roenick will forfeit $83,333.34. He will miss games against the Atlanta Thrashers on Wednesday night and the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.
Home run ball to be shared
SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- A San Francisco judge ruled Wednesdat that two men will share the profits from Barry Bonds' record-setting home run ball.
Superior Court Judge Kevin McCarthy ruled that there was no solid evidence that either Patrick Hayashi or Alex Popov caught and had control over Bonds' 73rd home run of the season last year, so he ordered the valuable baseball sold with the proceeds to be split evenly between the two litigants.
"Their legal claims are of equal quality and they are equally entitled to the ball," McCarthy ruled during a brief hearing that was televised and closely watched throughout the Bay Area. "The court therefore declares the plaintiff and defendant have an equal and undivided interest in the ball. The ball must be sold and divided equally between the parties."
Popov and Hayashi were part of a scrum of frenzied fans grabbing and clawing for the ball that Bonds drove into the right field stands Oct. 7, 2001, the last day of the season.
Hayashi emerged with the ball, the sale value of which has been estimated by memorabilia experts as high $1 million.
The litigation over the ownership of the ball relied largely on videotape of the home run and the resulting chaotic mob scene in the stands. Popov was seen for a split second catching the homer ball in his glove. But he was quickly engulfed in the frenzy.