In Sports from United Press International

March 29, 2003 at 12:55 AM
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NCAA Tournament down to eight teams

SAN ANTONIO, March 29 (UPI) -- The NCAA Tournament field was trimmed to eight teams Friday night and three of them come from the Big 12 Conference.

Texas and Oklahoma joined fellow-conference member Kansas in the Elite Eight on an evening that saw the two big surprise teams left in the tournament fall by the wayside.

In the East Region, Oklahoma outbattled Butler, 65-54, and Syracuse barely held off an Auburn comeback to down the Tigers, 79-78. Butler and Auburn had reached the Sweet 16 as double-digit seeds.

Texas survived an entertaining encounter against Connecticut in the South Region, 82-78, and Michigan State let a big lead get away before Paul Davis hit a jump shot with five seconds left to eliminate defending champion Maryland, 60-58.

While the Big 12 has three of the final eight teams in the tournament, no other conference managed more than one. The other five clubs come from the SEC, Conference USA, Pac-10, Big Ten and Big East.

The Atlantic Coast Conference was shut out.

The first two members of the Final Four will be determined Saturday when Kentucky plays Marquette in Minneapolis and Arizona takes on Kansas in Anaheim.

Harrington grabs Players lead

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla., March 29 (UPI) -- Padraig Harrington took advantage of benign conditions Friday to grab the lead at the Players Championship.

His 4-under 68 in the second round moved him two shots in front.

Tiger Woods, meanwhile, endured putting woes and found himself seven shots out of the lead with two rounds to play.

Harrington, among those who had to return to the TPC-Sawgrass Stadium Course early Friday to complete the first round, was at 9-under 135 through 36 holes.

Harrington was two shots in front of Davis Love (67), Skip Kendall (69) and defending champion Craig Perks (69). It was another stroke back to two-time champion Fred Couples, Rocco Mediate, Jay Haas and Adam Scott.

Woods lipped out twice en route to a 70.

Twenty-seven players failed to complete the round Friday. They will finish early Saturday, before the cut is made, almost certainly at even-par 144.

Frenchwoman leads Nabisco

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif., March 29 (UPI) -- Frenchwoman Patricia Meunier-Lebouc passed Annika Sorenstam Friday to seize the lead at the Nabisco Championship.

Meunier-Lebouc carded a 4-under 68 to take a two-stroke lead over the superstar Swede after 36 holes at the Mission Hills Country Club in the first major on the LPGA Tour schedule.

Tied for second two strokes behind Sorenstam at the start of the day, Meunier-Lebouc completed 36 holes at 6-under 138. Last week, the two players tied for third at the Safeway PING.

Lorena Ochoa was alone in the third at 141, one stroke ahead of Dorothy Delasin and Michele Redman.

Sorenstam, who is trying to become the first player in LPGA history to win the same major three years in a row, has gotten off to an unsteady start this year.

Last week in her 2003 debut, she squandered a two-shot lead after the third round, struggling to a 1-under 71 on Sunday.

Nets crush rival Knicks

NEW YORK, March 29 (UPI) -- Richard Jefferson scored a career-high 39 points Friday night, including seven dunks, to lead the New Jersey past New York, 122-101.

rout of the New York Knicks and a sweep of their home-and-home series.

Nets Coach Byron Scott made headlines earlier this season when he claimed the Atlantic Division foes separated by the Hudson River were not rivals because the Knicks were not good enough. He later retreated from that, calling the Knicks a "very good" team.

Jefferson went so far as to call it a "great rivalry" after the Nets earned a hard-fought 101-95 win over the Knicks on Wednesday. But on Friday, it looked like anything but a rivalry as the Nets beat the Knicks for the ninth time in their last 10 meetings.

The Nets took an opportunity to present their version of "Showtime" to a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden. Jefferson hit 16 of 22 shots and used his superior leaping ability to thrill the crowd with an assortment of one-handed and reverse dunks.

Jason Kidd set up most of them and finished with 16 assists, despite sitting for the entire fourth quarter.

Other NBA results: Indiana 140, Chicago 89; Golden State 102, Philadelphia 98; New Orleans 101, Toronto 92; Boston 104, Cleveland 95; Phoenix 94, Detroit 91; Miami 111, Minnesota 84; Utah 103, Milwaukee 90; Seattle 95, Memphis 71.

Capitals close in on first place

OTTAWA, March 29 (UPI) -- Olaf Kolzig made 30 saves and Peter Bondra recorded a goal and an assist Friday night as the Washington Capitals moved closer to reclaiming first place in the Southeast Division with a 3-2 victory over the NHL-leading Ottawa Senators.

Kolzig was at his best in the third period, turning aside 10 shots while the Senators were looking for the game-tying goal.

Bondra opened the scoring at 2:16 of the first period with his 27th goal and assisted on Trent Whitfield's first of the season, which gave the Capitals a 3-1 lead with 3:16 left in the second.

With 35 seconds left in the session, Martin Havlat halved Ottawa's deficit with his second goal of the game and 23rd of the season.

Sergei Berezin also tallied for the Capitals, who improved to 3-2-0 on their six-game Canadian road trip and pulled within two points of idle Tampa Bay for first place in the Southeast.

Vaclav Varada collected two assists and Patrick Lalime stopped 15 shots for Ottawa, which failed to post its franchise record-setting 49th victory.

Other NHL results: Buffalo 4, Montreal 1; Toronto 5, New York Islanders 2; New Jersey 1, Atlanta 1; Minnesota 4, Chicago 3; Edmonton 4, Columbus 0.

Kwan leads short program

WASHINGTON, March 29 (UPI) -- Michelle Kwan turned in a typically sensational performance Friday in the ladies short program at the World Figure Skating Championships.

Kwan won the short program by landing a double Axel-triple Lutz-double toe combination and a triple flip during her "The Feeling Begins" routine.

When she finished, Kwan was given a standing ovation by the crowd at the MCI Center, which chanted, "Six, Six."

One judge gave Kwan a 6.0 for presentation for her fourth perfect score at the World Championships and her first at this event since 1998.

Second place belonged to Elena Sokolova of Russia, who is making her first trip to the World Championships since 1998, when she came in eighth.

Sokolova had to skate after Kwan and responded well to the pressure, easily completing her required elements.

NASCAR confiscates Stewart's car

FORT WORTH, Texas, March 29 (UPI) -- In a move believed to be unprecedented in NASCAR history, Tony Stewart's Chevrolet Monte Carlo was confiscated Friday.

The move came prior to Friday's practice for this weekend's Samsung-RadioShack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Stewart's team was forced to prepare a backup car for this weekend's activity. NASCAR president Mike Helton said the defending Winston Cup champion's car did not come close to fitting the template used in technical inspection, calling Stewart's car "exotic."

The area in question was the rear of the car, which was offset.

Generally, when a car fails technical inspection, the offending team is allowed to take the car back to the garage area and work on the car to get it to meet the requirements.

Helton said the car will be impounded and sent for further investigation at NASCAR's Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C.

In qualifying Friday, Stewart's teammate Bobby Labonte won the pole.

Capriati reaches final

MIAMI, March 29 (UPI) -- Jennifer Capriati advanced to the championship match of the Nasdaq-100 Open Friday with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Chanda Rubin.

To claim the title, Capriati will have to defeat world No. 1 Serena Williams on Saturday.

Capriati started slowly this year, hampered somewhat by an offseason eye operation to remove sun spots. But she is now playing her best tennis of the season, and her first final since Canada last August will come on her 27th birthday.

The former world No. 1 has been undone in the past by Williams. Capriati won four of the first five meetings, but has dropped the last six encounters.

Saturday's final is a rematch of last year's championship match, when Capriati was the world No. 1 and top seed. But Williams captured the title in straight sets.

On the men's side, second seed Andre Agassi of the United States and No. 9 Albert Costa of Spain outlasted their quarterfinal foes.

Agassi overcame No. 19 Younes El Aynaoui of Morocco, 7-6 (8-6), 4-6, 6-1, for his 16th consecutive victory at this event. The winner of the last two titles and five overall, he has not lost her since losing the 2000 semifinal to Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten.

Costa, the French Open champion, got past fourth seed Roger Federer of Switzerland, 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 7-6 (9-7), in a match that started Thursday afternoon but was postponed by rain.

Miami extends Thomas' contract

MIAMI, March 29 (UPI) -- The Miami Dolphins Friday signed four-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Zach Thomas to a five-year extension through the 2008 season.

Thomas, 29, had a 2003 salary cap charge of $7.064 million, but the extension allowed the Dolphins to reduce that figure.

The 5-11, 235-pound Thomas is coming off his fourth straight Pro Bowl season, recording a career-high 195 tackles. It marked the sixth time in seven years that he had led the team in tackles.

Best known for his ability to stuff the run, Thomas even stays on the field in obvious passing situations.

Packers keep Na'il Diggs

GREEN BAY, Wis., March 29 (UPI) -- The Green Bay Packers announced Friday they had matched a four-year offer sheet Na'il Diggs signed with the Detroit Lions.

A restricted free agent, Diggs, 24, signed an offer sheet at undisclosed financial terms with the Lions on Monday. If the Packers had not matched, they would have been entitled to a fourth-round pick from the Lions.

Instead, they chose to keep Diggs in Green Bay, where both player and coach claim he is happy.

The Lions were looking for Diggs to fortrify their linebacking corps, which lost free agent Chris Claiborne to the Minnesota Vikings.

Jaguars signs Taylor for long term

JACKSONVILLE, Fla., March 29 (UPI) -- The Jacksonville Jaguars Friday signed star running back Fred Taylor to a four-year contract extension.

The contract will be worth at least $16.8 million, including a signing bonus of $8 million.

Taylor, 27, was eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2003 season, but the Jaguars were anxious to negotiate a new deal after he rushed for 1,314 yards and eight touchdowns and caught a career-high 49 passes for 408 yards last season.

Despite the extension, Taylor's salary cap number of $3.6 million in 2003 will remain the same. His base salaries for the first two years of the extension are $1.63 million and $1.55 million and escalate to $2.55 million in each of the last two years.

The contract is heavy in incentives, with Taylor able to earn about $2.6 million extra each year.

Tigers cut Damion Easley

DETROIT, March 29 (UPI) -- Detroit Tigers Manager Alan Trammell released veteran second baseman Damion Easley Friday.

The team severed ties with a player who has been a staple of the team's lineup for more than six years.

On Saturday, Trammell decided to go with the talented but inexperienced double-play combination of second baseman Ramon Santiago and shortstop Omar Infante. Easley promptly questioned the first-year manager's decision and now will not be around to see how it plays out.

The 33-year-old Easley is a career .254 hitter with 119 homers and 506 RBI in 1,191 games. He broke in with the Angels in 1992 but was traded to the Tigers on July 31, 1996 for Greg Gohr. With Detroit, Easley hit .260 with 104 homers and 400 RBI in 841 games.

But in two of the last three years, Easley has battled injuries and with a team certain to struggle, Trammell has an eye on the future.

The Tigers still owe Easley nearly $15 million on a four-year, $26.5 million contract extension signed in 1999.

Georgia's Coach Harrick retires

LOS ANGELES, March 29 (UPI) -- Jim Harrick has not only stepped down as Georgia basketball coach, but he is getting out of the coaching profession altogether.

The embattled Harrick resigned Thursday night, less than three weeks after an academics scandal forced the school into withdrawing from the playoffs.

Harrick ended any additional role in the turmoil by stepping down and afterwards said he will not return to the bench in either college or the NBA.

"I decided it's time that I retired and that's what I did," Harrick told the Los Angeles Times in Friday's editions. "I had that right, after 43 years in coaching."

Harrick had been suspended with pay since March 10.

Yankees still without Cablevision deal

NEW YORK, March 29 (UPI) -- YES Network -- the broadcasting arm of the New York Yankees -- said Friday that Cablevision has pulled out of a proposed contract.

The failure to complete the deal means about three million cable subscribers in the metropolitan area will be without telecasts of the Yankees.

According to a release by the YES Network, Cablevision failed to sign a final version of the draft document that both parties exchanged on March 12.

"We really don't know why Cablevision has walked away from this deal, which reflected compromises on both sides of the table," YES Network chairman Leo Hindery, Jr. said. "After a series of meetings with the facilitators, we thought we had a framework on March 12 for the final agreements, and in good faith we participated in a press conference announcing the tentative deal."

The dispute is the latest between the entities, which have been at odds since the Yankees decided to start their own cable channel in time for the 2002 season. Last year's impass, which stemmed from a rate dispute, kept Yankees games off Cablevision for the entire season and generated bitter feelings.

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