Ducks to play for Stanley Cup
ANAHEIM, May 17 (UPI) -- The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim completed a sweep of the Western Conference finals Friday night with a 2-1 triumph over the Minnesota Wild.
Adam Oats scored two power-play goals and Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 24 saves.
Anaheim won just one playoff series in its first nine years, but needed just 14 games -- matching the lowest total in the NHL since 1987 -- to capture the Western Conference title.
After disposing of the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in the first round and the top-seeded Dallas Stars in the second, the Ducks made quick work of the Wild. And they will have several days off before coming East to face the New Jersey Devils or Ottawa Senators in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Minnesota finally solved Giguere, ending his shutout streak at 217 minutes, 54 seconds. But Anaheim unveiled a new weapon by scoring more than one power-play goal for the first time in the postseason.
The first playoff appearance in the Wild's three-year history lasted much longer than most expected. They became the first team in NHL annals to overcame three games to one deficits twice in the same postseason but ran into Giguere and scored just once in the series.
Giguere celebrated his 26th birthday in style, stopping all 17 shots over the final two periods.
The narrow margin was fitting for the Ducks, who improved to 10-1 in one-goal decisions during the playoffs.
Pistons move into Eastern finals
PHILADELPHIA, May 17 (UPI) -- With pain shooting through his sprained ankle, Chauncey Billups carried Detroit into the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.
Detroit downed the Philadelphia 76ers in overtime, 93-89. The top-seeded Pistons turned back Allen Iverson, advanced to the conference finals for the first time in 12 years and will host the New Jersey Nets in Game 1 on Sunday.
Billups had been Detroit's leading scorer in the playoffs until spraining his ankle in the opener. He sat out two games, was ineffective in limited minutes in Game 4 and sat out again in Game 5.
But with the Pistons staring at the specter of a second straight Game 7, Billups decided to give it a try Friday night and clearly was the difference. Playing 40 minutes, he scored nine of his 28 points in overtime -- all on three-pointers.
All season, Billups has been one of the best clutch shooters in the NBA. He struck again, hitting a three-pointer with 15 seconds left that snapped an 89-89 tie and ended the 76ers' season.
Detroit improved to 10-0 in overtime this season. Three of those wins came against Philadelphia, including two in this series.
Iverson led the 76ers with 38 points. Detroit advanced despite shooting only 34 percent from the field and being outrebounded, 51-44. The Pistons made 31 of 38 free throws compared with 19 of 22 for the 76ers.
IMG founder McCormack dead at 72
NEW YORK, May 17 (UPI) -- Mark McCormack, who founded the marketing company that represents many of the biggest names in sports, died Friday, four months suffering a heart attack.
McCormack, 72, was once named the "Most Powerful Man in Sport" by Sports Illustrated. He had been in a coma at a New York hospital since mid-January.
He founded the International Management Group, better known as IMG. Its stable of stars includes golfers Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam. Others include tennis stars Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, football's Joe Montana and hockey's Wayne Gretzky.
"He was a genius when it came to sports marketing," Woods said. "If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be in the position we're in now."
The story of McCormack's rise to the top of sports marketing is legendary.
It began with a handshake between McCormack and Arnold Palmer. He followed by signing golfers Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus. McCormack, a Yale law school graduate, later branched into other sports. He signed tennis great Rod Laver in 1968 and later Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova .
Eventually, McCormack's reach was felt in nearly every sport.
McCormack's corporation, based in Cleveland, employs more than 3,000 people and provides more than 5,000 hours of television programming for more than 200 countries.
Indians finally beat Athletics
CLEVELAND, May 17 (UPI) -- Ellis Burks homered and drove in three runs Friday night as Cleveland snapped an eight-losing skid against Oakland, 3-2.
Rookie Billy Traber recorded his first major league win to outduel Oakland's Mark Mulder.
Mulder (6-2) went the distance for the fourth time in his last five starts, allowing three runs and seven hits while walking two and striking out four in his first loss since April 14.
The lefthander, who made the 100th start of his career, has lasted at least seven innings in each of his last seven contests.
With the Indians trailing, 2-0, Burks launched his sixth home run of the season in the sixth inning to tie the game. In the eighth, the designated hitter laced a single to snap the tie and give Cleveland just its third win in 23 games when scoring three runs or fewer.
Traber (1-2) struck out two in a perfect eighth inning in relief of C.C. Sabathia, who yielded two runs and four hits in seven frames with two walks and a season-high eight strikeouts.
Danys Baez retired the side in order in the ninth for his seventh save.
Other American League results: Tampa Bay 5, Baltimore 1; Anaheim 6, Boston 5; Seattle 6, Detroit 3; Texas 8, New York 5 (12 innings), Toronto 18, Kansas City 1; Minnesota 18, Chicago 3.
Braves down Padres
SAN DIEGO, May 17 (UPI) -- Robert Fick belted an RBI double in the eighth inning Friday night to give Atlanta a 6-4 decision over San Diego.
After spending the first 13 seasons of his career with Cleveland, Charles Nagy (0-1) had his contract purchased from Class AAA Portland prior to the game. The veteran righthander escaped the seventh inning unscathed with the help of a double play. But was not as fortunate in the eighth as Andruw Jones led off with a single and scored on Fick's shot down the right field line.
After a single by Javy Lopez put runners on the corners, Vinny Castilla hit a grounder that third baseman Sean Burroughs threw away, allowing pinch runner Darren Bragg to score.
Kevin Gryboski (3-2) recorded the win, tossing a scoreless inning in relief of Mike Hampton , who struggled through six frames.
John Smoltz struck out two in a perfect ninth for his major league-leading 17th save.
Other National League results: Houston 4, Philadelphia 2; Milwaukee 12, Cincinnati 3; St. Louis 7, Chicago 4; Montreal 4, Colorado 1; Los Angeles 2, Florida 1.
Singh leads Byron Nelson Championship
IRVING, Texas, May 17 (UPI) -- Vijay Singh put the furor surrounding Annika Sorenstam aside Friday and grabbed the lead after two rounds of the Byron Nelson Championship.
Four days after touching off a controversy with his comments slamming Sorenstam's participation in next week's Colonial, Singh let his clubs do the talking in a 5-under-par 65.
Singh totaled seven birdies and two bogeys in strong winds at Cottonwood Valley, one of two courses used for the $5.6 million event.
"I came here to win the tournament. My mind is totally on this golf game," said Singh, who was at 10-under 130, one stroke ahead of Tim Petrovic (66) and two better than Robert Gamez, Kevin Sutherland, Scott Verplank and Jeff Sluman. Petrovic aced the par-3 fifth hole at the TPC course.
Singh switched putters overnight and liked the improvement.
"I am excited about the way I am putting," he said. "If I had used that putter yesterday, I probably would have shot 60."
Harrington leads Woods by nine
HAMBURG, Germany, May 17 (UPI) -- Padraig Harrington left Tiger Woods in his wake for the second straight day and nobody else could keep pace, either.
Harrington built a three-shot lead Friday midway through the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open. Woods, seeking his third straight title at this event, was nine shots behind.
Woods actually was in danger of missing a cut for only the second time in his professional career after bogeys at the first and third holes, but he got his act together to shoot a 1-under-par 71.
Harrington, who played the first two rounds in the company of Woods, reached 13-under 131 with a 66.
"Paddy's going to be tough to catch," Woods said. "He drove it better today and putted the same."
Rain soaks track on eve of Preakness
BALTIMORE, May 17 (UPI) -- Rain fell for much of the day at Pimlico Friday, but a top track official predicted conditions would be excellent for Saturday's Preakness.
Pimlico senior vice president John Passero guaranteed there would be a fast track for the race as long as the rain did not continue unabated into Saturday morning.
"If the rain ends tonight, the track will be fast," said Passero, who is in charge of track facilities.
Passero said there was just a thin layer of muck on the track because of the work done by crews on the surface Thursday night. The workers rolled and floated the track twice, using 10,000-pound steamrollers and three-ton floats.
The rain had subsided a bit by early Friday evening and overcast skies and temperatures in the 60s were expected by post time.
Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide, meanwhile, arrived at Pimlico fashionably late.
Trainer Barclay Tagg, who wanted to keep his horse home in New York's Belmont Park as late as possible, orginally planned on bringing Funny Cide here early Saturday morning. But he reconsidered, in part due to the weather, and Funny Cide was in the Pimlico barn Friday afternoon.
Big East confirms ACC expansion bid
PROVIDENCE, R.I., May 17 (UPI) -- Big East Conference Commissioner Mike Tranghese confirmed Friday that the ACC has extended invitations to Miami, Boston College and Syracuse.
Earlier in the week, the ACC reportedly took a vote in which the league voted in favor of expansion by a 7-2 count. Duke and North Carolina reportedly were the two schools to vote against expansion.
"I received a phone call from (ACC Commissioner) John Swofford this afternoon," Tranghese said. "He informed me that the ACC has extended invitations to Miami, Boston COllege and Syracuse. This comes as no surprise."
Tranghese is in Florida meeting with conference members and is expected to propose alternatives to keep the conference intact. That could mean a split of the non-football-playing schools and the football schools or invitations to other schools, such as Conference USA members.
"We are looking forward to productive meetings this weekend," Tranghese said. "I am anxious to get started."
The centerpiece of any expansion would involve Miami, which has won five national football championships since 1983 and would create a natural ACC rivalry with Florida State. Boston College and Syracuse would give the ACC footholds in the Northeast and schools with credible football and basketball programs.
Elliott wins pole for The Winston
CONCORD, N.C., May 17 (UPI) -- Bill Elliott captured the pole Friday at Lowe's Motor Speedway and for the fifth time will start up front in The Winston.
Elliott completed his three-lap tour around the 1 1/2-mile oval in 2 minutes, 3.192 seconds in his Dodge Intrepid. That included a mandatory pit stop to change four tires that made the difference.
It's the fourth time in the last seven runnings of The Winston that Elliott has captured the pole. He won the race in 1986 and was runner-up the following year to Dale Earnhardt in what has become known as the "Pass in the Grass."
Elliott pocketed $50,000 and has a shot at the $1 million first prize. He was just over a half-second faster than the Chevrolet Monte Carlo of reigning Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart. Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified third and fourth in Chevrolets.
Serena reaches Rome semis
ROME, May 17 (UPI) -- Serena Williams got past a tight first set Friday to post a 7-5, 6-2 victory over Conchita Martinez and reach the semifinals of the Italia Masters.
Williams has to lose a set in five encounters with Martinez, a four-time winner here.
Not only has the 21-year-old American dominated the WTA Tour the past year, she has shown a champion's resourcefulness when it comes to getting out of tough situations.
When asked Friday what makes her such an outstanding tennis player, the winner of the last four Grand Slams said, "I would say I have the ability to stay mentally tough and I have the ability to pick up my game when I'm down. I have that fighting spirit.
Williams, the defending champion, is 34-1 this season. She won her first three tournaments of the year at the Australian Open, Paris Indoors and Miami. Her 25-match winning streak came to an end in Charleston with a loss to Justin Henin-Hardenne in the final.
Next up for Williams will be fourth seed Amelie Mauresmo of France, a 6-3, 7-6 (12-10) winner over No. 5 Jennifer Capriati of the United States. Mauresmo defeated Capriati for the fourth straight time after losing three of their first four meetings.
However, Mauresmo, who won her first title of the year two weeks ago in Warsaw, is 0-5 lifetime against Williams.
Capriati failed to reach her sixth straight semifinal since her first-round loss at the Australian Open in January. She had just 17 winners to 30 for Mauresmo.
Second-seeded Kim Clijsters advanced to the semifinals for the eight time in as many tournaments this year when she routed No. 8 Anastasia Myskina of Russia, 6-2, 6-2. She has played in the final in four of her last five events, winning two titles.
The 19-year-old Belgian's semifinal foe will be her doubles partner, Ai Sugiyama. The 13th seed from Japan cruised past Slovenian qualifier Tina Pisnik, 6-1, 6-3.
International players could impact NBA draft
NEW YORK, May 17 (UPI) -- High school phenon LeBron James led the list of NBA draft eligible players released Friday, but international players could have a bigger impact.
A record 31 international players were among the 73 to file as early candidates for the June 26 draft, which will be held at The Theatre at Madison Square Garden in New York.
James was one of six high-schoolers to file and Syracuse freshman Carmelo Anthony was among 36 college players. The 42 combined is six fewer than the record set last season.
While James and Anthony could go 1-2 in the draft, 7-foot Serbian sensation Darko Milicic is widely considered one of the best three players available.
Milicic is so good the NBA changed its rules of eligibility, allowing those that turn 18 by the time of the draft to be selected instead of those that do so by the May 12 deadline to file. Milicic's birthday comes between the two.
The 31 internationals equals the total from the previous two years. If they go undrafted, they can return to their pro teams overseas while college players lose their amateur status.
Those players from American schools that declared for the draft have until June 19 to withdraw their names. Once they sign with an agent, they give up their right to return to school.
Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks and Stojakovic and the Sacramento Kings have been going head-to-head in the Western Conference semifinals, a series that also features players from Canada, Mexico and Turkey.
Last year, Chinese center Yao Ming was picked first overall by the Houston Rockets. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to Amare Stoudemire of the Phoenix Suns, who became the first to win the award directly out of high school.
In this year's foreign pool, there are six players from Italy, five from Serbia-Montenegro, three each from Greece, Germany and Spain, two from France and one apiece from Uruguay, Brazil, Austria, Russia, Turkey, Croatia, Burkina Faso, Bosnia-Herzegovina and China.