National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

Former NBA player: 'Tough day' being reported dead

DALLAS (AP) Former SMU and NBA basketball player Quinton Ross had to ease the fears of friends and family members after he was erroneously reported dead.

Ross lives in the suburbs near Dallas and was attending Monday night's NIT game between LSU and SMU.

He said he woke to a phone loaded with messages from people concerned about his well-being.

"My phone was going crazy," he said. "I checked Facebook. Finally, I went on the Internet, and they were saying I was dead. I just couldn't believe it."

The New York Post ran a story early Monday on its website identifying Ross as a man found dead and buried on a city beach. The newspaper later corrected the story.

The 32-year-old Ross called loved ones and posted on Facebook to "let everybody know I was OK."

"A couple (relatives) already heard it," he said. "They were crying. I mean, it was a tough day, man, mostly for my family and friends."

After playing for SMU, Ross played seven NBA seasons with five teams, mostly with the Los Angeles Clippers. His final season came in 2010-11 with the New Jersey Nets.

Spurs win 14th straight, 76ers' skid now at 25

SAN ANTONIO (AP) Austin Daye had 22 points and Tim Duncan added 19 as the San Antonio Spurs earned their 14th straight win with a 113-91 victory Monday night that sent the Philadelphia 76ers to their 25th consecutive loss.

Philadelphia will face Houston on Thursday with the dubious distinction of being a loss shy of tying the NBA record for consecutive losses set by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010-11.

Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills scored 15 points each and Cory Joseph added 12 for San Antonio, which maintained the league's best record at 54-16. The Spurs did not play starters Tony Parker, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green, but did not need them against the lowly 76ers.

Thaddeus Young and Michael Carter-Williams each scored 19 points, Byron Mullens added 15 and Elliot Williams had 14 for Philadelphia (15-56).

Canadiens stop Bruins' 12-game win streak

BOSTON (AP) Alex Galchenyuk scored the only shootout goal, and the Montreal Canadiens stopped the Boston Bruins' 12-game winning streak with a 2-1 victory Monday night.(backslash)

The Bruins fell one game short of their longest winning streak since 1970-71 and two shy of the club record set in 1929-30. But their one point from the shootout loss moved them ahead of Western Conference-leading St. Louis for the most in the NHL with 104.

Boston tied it at 1 with just two seconds left on its sixth power play of the game. Dougie Hamilton's slap shot from the center of the blue line deflected off Patrice Bergeron and past goalie Peter Budaj with 5:26 left in the third period. It was Bergeron's 23rd goal of the season.

Ex-Jets QB Sanchez thanks team, fans in letter

NEW YORK (AP) Mark Sanchez said so long to the New York Jets.

The recently released quarterback thanked the team, its fans and his former teammates in an open letter he posted a link to on his Twitter page on Monday.

"Playing quarterback for the New York Jets has been the thrill of my young career," Sanchez wrote. "We shared some incredible moments that I'll never forget."

Sanchez, cut last Friday when the Jets signed Michael Vick, said there were "some tough times, but mostly good times," highlighting the consecutive trips to the AFC championship game in his first two seasons in 2009 and 2010.

"It's time to move on," Sanchez said, "but before I do, I want to thank you for supporting me and my brothers in green and white." He ends the letter by telling his former teammates, "I love you guys and I'll miss the good times we shared."

Sanchez, drafted fifth overall in 2009, is a free agent who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury suffered in the Jets' third preseason game against the Giants - paving the way for rookie Geno Smith to start every game.

Sanchez's release was listed Monday on the NFL's transaction wire as "failed physical," but he is already throwing and is expected to be ready in time for training camp. Philadelphia and St. Louis are among the teams believed to have interest, although he would likely need to pass a physical before he is signed.

Sanchez, 27, tore the labrum in his right shoulder against the Giants and needed surgery to repair it last October. He had three years remaining on his contract, but the move saved the Jets $8.3 million in salary cap space.

He has thrown for 12,092 yards in his NFL career with 68 touchdowns and 69 interceptions, but also had a league-leading 52 turnovers during the 2011-12 seasons.

NOTES: Former Jets QB Greg McElroy, who spent last season on Cincinnati's practice squad, joined ESPN as a college football analyst for the SEC Network. McElroy, a seventh-round draft pick out of Alabama in 2011, announced his retirement from football last Friday. McElroy will work with Tim Tebow and Jesse Palmer, among others, when the network launches in August.

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Woods: 'Still too soon' to know if fit for Masters

WASHINGTON (AP) Tiger Woods is not sure whether his ailing back will allow him to play in the Masters, which is two weeks away.

"For Augusta, it's actually still a little too soon, to be honest with you," Woods said Monday at a news conference to announce that Quicken Loans is the new title sponsor of his golf tournament. "That's kind of the frustrating thing about this."

The Masters is the only major tournament the 38-year-old Woods has never missed. Four of his 14 major championships came at Augusta National, including his first in 1997. He last won the green jacket in 2005.

This year's Masters is April 10-13.

Woods is off to the worst start of his 18 years on tour, and he's been troubled lately by back problems.

He stopped playing in the final round at the Honda Classic on March 2 because of what he called back spasms and pain in his lower back. He tried to defend his title the following week at Doral, only for his back to flare up again in the final round, when he shot a 78, the highest Sunday score of his PGA Tour career and his first closing round without a birdie.

Then last week, Woods withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational because of persistent back pain.

"I've had a couple weeks off and getting treatment and just working on trying to get ready for Augusta," Woods said Monday. "As of right now, it's still too soon, which is, as I said, pretty frustrating."

This has been the longest sustained problem Woods has had with his lower back.

He first showed signs of back pain at Bethpage Black at The Barclays in 2012, which he attributed to a soft bed at his hotel. He felt twinges during the final round of the PGA Championship last year, and when his back bothered him in the final round of The Barclays two weeks later, he said it was unrelated.

At Monday's news conference, Woods discussed a deal through 2017 for his tournament to be called the Quicken Loans National. It will be played June 26-29 at Congressional this year. AT&T was in the final year of its contract as sponsor.

The AT&T National began in 2007 with a military theme built around the Fourth of July in the nation's capital. It has been held at Congressional for all but two years, in 2010 and 2011, as the course prepared to host the U.S. Open. In those years, it was played at Aronimink outside Philadelphia.

Congressional is under contract through 2014, and Woods said there will be a vote next week to determine whether the club would host every other year in 2016, 2018 and 2020.

---

AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.

---

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

AD: Marquette trying to move quickly for new coach

MADISON, Wis. (AP) Marquette's interim athletic director says the school is trying to move as quickly as possible to hire a replacement for Buzz Williams.

Bill Cords told The Associated Press in a phone interview Monday that the level of interest to replace Williams has been "very rewarding."

Williams was formally introduced Monday as the head coach at Virginia Tech. He left Marquette after six seasons.

Cords, as expected, is not revealing who is on his wish list of candidates and any information about interviews.

"We're trying to move as quickly as we can, as effectively and efficiently as we can," Cords said. "We're going to get the best guy."

VCU coach Shaka Smart, an annual name on the coaching rumor circuit, might be a possible candidate. Smart is a native of Madison, which is also home the Wisconsin Badgers; Marquette is located about 80 miles away in Milwaukee.

VCU athletic director Ed McLaughlin told The Associated Press on Monday night that Smart had promised to let him know if any schools reached out to him, and said he had not heard from Smart about being contacted. McLaughlin said no schools have sought his permission to speak with Smart.

Former UCLA and Pitt coach Ben Howland has also reportedly expressed interest in the position.

Williams was 139-69 in six years at Marquette, including a trip to the NCAA regional finals just a year ago. He left on a disappointing note after the team finished 17-15 and had an eight-year run to the NCAA tournament snapped.

The Golden Eagles were the preseason pick to win a Big East reconfigured into a basketball-only league this season, but ended up sixth in the 10-team conference. Williams had expressed frustration a couple times after home games in adjusting to the new time commitments and travel schedules.

Still, the move from a program that prides itself on a rich basketball tradition to the last-place team in the ACC and a school where football is the most popular sport caught some Marquette fans by surprise.

"When you have a good coach, there are other people that want to try to get him" Cords said. "It's kind of an annual ritual you go through."

Asked why he thought Williams left, Cords said he appreciated Williams having raised the level of the program, but otherwise deferred to his former coach.

The departure clouded an already uncertain period given Marquette is also operating with an interim president. Cords, who previously served as athletic director from 1987-2007, said he is staying on through next spring.

"Those things are factors, but at the same time, I think that the program speaks for itself," he said, adding later that the school was going to get "really good leadership in terms of a president here hopefully soon."

Marquette won the 1977 national title under coach Al McGuire, and boasts Dwayne Wade, Doc Rivers and Maurice Lucas among prominent former players who have made it to the NBA.

"We feel things are moving well ... and we believe we have a great program," Cords said. "And there's a level of interest that is very rewarding."

Goodell, union to meet on workplace environment

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Commissioner Roger Goodell says the NFL will meet on April 8 with the players union to discuss improving the workplace environment.

In the wake of the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal, league representatives have met with some 40 players in the last three months, as well as with the Dolphins and outside organizations, Goodell said Monday at the NFL owners meetings. The league is trying to get "as much input as possible. It's more about people understanding the importance of a proper workplace."

Goodell added the focus is on medical evaluations of the players involved, including tackle Jonathan Martin, who left the Dolphins in the middle of last season, saying he was harassed by guard Richie Incognito. Martin was traded to the 49ers earlier this month.

An NFL investigation determined Incognito and two other Miami Dolphins offensive linemen engaged in persistent harassment of Martin. Incognito was then suspended and missed the final eight games last season, and he became a free agent when his contract with the Dolphins expired.

On Monday, Incognito made a peace offering to Martin via Twitter. Incognito posted: "Call me on my cell phone. Love you brother. (Stuff) got crazy but we held it together," with the hash tags of CALLME and FAMILY.

And in another tweet to Martin: "No hard feelings. Let's just move on :)"

Goodell noted that improving the workplace environment involves "a culture change." He did not address what discipline any of the players face from the league for the bullying.

"What we need to do is make sure we have a workplace we are all proud of. This will be an important meeting with the players," Goodell said.

The NFLPA did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Goodell also addressed the absence of Colts owner Jim Irsay, who has entered a treatment facility after police found multiple prescription drugs in his vehicle during a traffic stop earlier this month. The 54-year-old Irsay faces preliminary charges of misdemeanor driving while intoxicated and four felony counts of possession of a controlled substance.

"He is seeking help and he's done that voluntarily," Goodell said. "To my knowledge, there's been no formal charges at this point. Obviously any policies or laws that are broken, whether they are (by) commissioner, player or coach those are subject to discipline."

Irsay is being represented at the meetings by his daughter, Carlie. And Indianapolis' suggestion that teams be allowed to open or close the stadium roof at halftime to enhance the fan experience has been tabled.

League owners will address a myriad of potential rules changes and bylaws adjustments this week, but only approved one item Monday: a one-year extension of the Raiders' stadium lease in Oakland. Earlier in the day, Raiders owner Mark Davis reiterated, "We're trying to get something done in Oakland" for a new home.

Instant replay, as it usually does, has garnered lots of attention, with the league considering having director of officials Dean Blandino and others consult with referees on replays. Blandino believes such a process could speed up video reviews as well as ensure the calls are correct.

"The referee will be the ultimate authority; we'll consult and come to a consensus," Blandino said of the proposal, something the NHL does on a smaller scale to great effect, although the final call in hockey comes from the league office. "Our system is more inclusive as to what we look at."

Under the proposal, observers at the central officiating site could begin discussing the play even as the referee is consulting with the coach making a challenge.

"Then we could say to the referee, `We've got two shots we want you to see,' `'said Rich McKay, president of the Falcons and co-chairman of the influential competition committee. "Dean sold us and we think he's got something there."

---

AP Sports Writers Janie McCauley and Steven Wine contributed to this story.

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Silver: 2 years of college best for NBA players

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Adam Silver says he's heard the "Bill Gates theory" numerous times from critics over the last month: You shouldn't be required to attend college to become a millionaire.

But the new NBA commissioner believes basketball players should spend at least two years in college - instead of just the currently required one.

Fair or not, he said it's simply best for the league. Speaking before Monday's Rockets-Bobcats game in Charlotte, Silver said: "I think two years is the right balance."

That means if Silver had his way, Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins would be staying another year in school. But there's little he can do about that.

An agreement between the league and the players' association is not imminent.

"I've heard all sides of the issue," Silver said. "I've had players say that a young man should have the right to earn a living at 18 and I've had others say we'd be a better league with more experienced players. I'm sensitive to both sides of the issue and it's not something that I could unilaterally change even if we wanted to. It's an issue that would have to be collectively bargained with our union."

Silver said the NBA has been waiting for the players' association to appoint a new head of the union before beginning negotiations on a potential change.

The NFL currently requires players to be three years removed from high school before being eligible to enter the draft.

Silver also believes there should be input from colleges. He said at this point he hasn't had any formal discussions with college administrators.

"We say one-and-done players, but in most cases it's really one semester and done, because they're coming in and retaining their eligibility for one semester and then if the team makes the tournament, they continue playing and once they lose, they prepare for the draft," Silver said. "In an ideal world, four years of college would be appropriate, but I recognize that's not realistic.

"There has to be a balance in terms of the economic opportunity and us putting the best product on the floor in the NBA. It's awfully risky to use your first pick on someone with limited experience in college and, to me, the right balance would be two years."

Silver said there is no economic benefit for the league on whether or not a player enters the league at 19 or 20 years old.

Beckham's architects recommend Port of Miami site

MIAMI -- David Beckham's architects and advisers have recommended the Port of Miami as the stadium site for the Major League Soccer expansion team that will be owned by the former English national team captain.

The plan announced Monday would have an open-air stadium with views of the bay and the downtown skyline. The capacity could be as low as 21,000 or as high as 35,000.

More than 30 sites were evaluated for the stadium. In addition to the recommended site, Marlins Park, Florida International University and a site near the city's airport remain under consideration for the team.

There is no year set for the team to start play.

John Alschuler, chairman of the consulting firm HR&A, said the earliest the new stadium could be ready was 2018. If the team starts play earlier, it would have to play in a temporary home, such as Marlins Park or FIU.

Alschuler said a stadium at the Port of Miami would be built without the use of taxpayer money and that fans could drive there by using the Port of Miami tunnel and seeking limited parking spaces.

Beckham's group envisions perhaps as many as 4,000 fans per game making a "seven- or eight- minute walk" across the bridge from where the Miami Heat plays its NBA home games at AmericanAirlines Arena.

"The March to the Match' is a soccer tradition common in Europe and in certain parts of the United States," Alschuler said. "They hang out in bars and march to the match."

To ease traffic and parking concerns, the proposed MLS team has said it would not schedule home games on the same nights the Heat plays.

Alschuler said Beckham's group would pay "fair market" value for the land at the proposed site and would make a $200 million investment in creating jobs and economic activity downtown.

"We want a site that can feed off of the incredible energy that is developing downtown. We believe we can contribute to that," Alschuler said. "We want to be the most significant asset we can be to the economy of South Florida create jobs, create tax revenue and contribute to the economic balance sheet of the Port of Miami."

Ortiz says Boston is 'place I want to be'

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) David Ortiz wants to finish his career with the Boston Red Sox.

"I love playing the game. I love being part of this organization, and knowing that you're going to finish your career here," the 38-year-old said Monday. `It's something that's a huge accomplishment."

Due $15 million in 2014 in the final season of a two-year deal, Ortiz agreed Sunday to a new contract that calls for a $16 million salary in 2015 and could be worth up to $48 million over three years.

Ortiz's contract includes a $10 million club option for 2016 that could escalate to $16 million and become guaranteed, and a club option for 2017, also at $10 million to $16 million.

"This is the place I want to be," the 38-year-old designated hitter said. "This is the place that I know."

Ortiz said the agreement will make him "stress less."

A nine-time All-Star during 11 seasons with Boston, Ortiz has 431 major league homers. Big Papi and the Red Sox have spent a lot time discussing his future - one year at a time.

"I guess you guys get tired of me talking about contracts all the time," he said. "At least I'm going to have some time off from answering questions dealing with the contract situation."

Ortiz's 2016 option would become guaranteed at $11 million if he has 425 plate appearances the previous year and passes a team physical. If he passes the physical, it would become guaranteed at $12 million for 475 plate appearances, $13 million for 525, $14 million for 500 and $15 million for 575. If he has 600 plate appearances, it would become guaranteed at the higher of $16 million or the qualifying offer price for free agents - the average of the top 125 major league contracts by average annual value.

If Ortiz doesn't pass the physical, the 2016 club option price would be the midpoint of $10 million and the figure for whatever threshold he reached.

The 2017 club option would escalate at the same prices and thresholds as the 2016 vesting option.

Ortiz was MVP of last year's World Series, when Boston won its third title in 10 years. He batted .309 with 30 home runs and 103 RBIs last season after returning from a strained right Achilles tendon that limited him to 90 games in 2012.

"This virtually guarantees that David will finish his career with the Red Sox," general manager Ben Cherington said. "It means that David will be in the middle of the lineup for longer."

If Ortiz plays through 2017, he would be nearing his 42nd birthday.

"In a lot of different ways, David is an outlier. He's an exception to the rule," Cherington said. "There are just not many guys who produce at the level he has at this point in their career."

Ortiz was reminded that only Ted Williams was as productive as he was this late in a Red Sox career.

"I know what I need to do to continue to be successful," Ortiz said. "There's going to be the day when I don't feel like doing what I normally do, and when that happens, everybody's going to know it. I feel hungry. Winning is good. I feel hungry."

Ortiz is one of only a handful of fulltime designated hitter, with many teams preferring to have different players share at-bats.

"American League teams are doing that because they don't have David Ortiz," Cherington said. "At some point in the future, he doesn't feel like he can do what he's been doing, but we don't see that time is coming any time soon."

NFL gives $45 million youth football grant

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) The NFL Foundation is giving USA Football a five-year, $45 million grant to expand the already burgeoning Heads Up Football program that teaches safe tackling to youngsters.

Foundation Chair Charlotte Jones Anderson announced the grant Monday at the league's owners meetings after the NFL saw the early success of the program. Heads Up Football had nearly 2,800 youth football organizations teaching it during its first year, more than five times early projections.

Heads Up Football is designed to "take the head out of tackling" and employs master trainers who teach it to coaches throughout the nation. Those coaches in turn instruct youth football players - about 600,000 in 2013.

Funds also will be used to increase NFL flag football league for boys and girls ages 5-17

"There is a need for information and education," Anderson said. "And we can really have a chance to do something very significant here by having a loud voice and a large presence, and developing a great program to make a difference in youth sports safety.

"It is about showing people there is a correct way to play sports, so your children will be safe and will benefit. You can't replace what children learn from teamwork, respecting coaches, taking direction, being able to be part of a team and learning to deal with success and failure. You can't learn that in the classroom."

USA Football, the sport's national governing body, developed Heads Up Football in an effort to unite a fragmented sport on the youth level through a coaching technique based on safety. The NFL helped fund the launch.

The significant infusion of money will allow USA Football to increase its stable of master trainers of Heads Up Football from about 30 to nearly 100. It also will help as the organization rolls out a similar program for high schools. About 15,000 high schools play the sport, encompassing 1.12 million athletes.

"Any time there is more investment in player-safety course training, it's beneficial," said Scott Hallenbeck, USA Football's executive director. "What is exciting is one of the key things we focus on is consistency of technique and terminology, which is a pretty important step toward a safer game. If a kid is taught consistently from 10 years old up to high school, that is tremendously important and a dramatic improvement in how football is taught."

Hallenbeck said that in addition to the NFL his group works closely with the NCAA and major college conferences.

"For them to see all of these different stakeholders involved makes them want to be participating," he said. "It gives everyone from commissioners to coaches a real sense of legitimacy when they have decided to do something other than the norm."

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Larson dazzles in drive to the front at Fontana

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Kyle Larson was ninth on the final restart at California, with four rows of traffic to navigate in two laps in a frantic bid for the best finish possible. With Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart at the front, Larson wasn't even thinking about victory.

"Tony's going to win," Larson radioed his Chip Ganassi Racing team.

"Man, these restarts are crazy. You never know," replied crew chief Chris Heroy.

So Larson went for the win.

He weaved low on the start alongside teammate Jamie McMurray, but quickly surged ahead. Then he blew past childhood idol Jeff Gordon and found himself in a side-by-side race with Paul Menard. Using the apron, his wheels inching dangerously close to the infield grass, Larson quickly cleared Menard.

He gained five spots on the first lap, and now had just three cars in front of him. He again drove low. As Kyle Busch passed his older brother and Stewart for the lead, Larson swept past Stewart and tucked in behind Busch.

He looked inside for the lead, but Busch threw a block that stopped Larson's momentum.

No matter. Second was just fine for the rookie.

"Wow," Larson said after following Busch across the finish line at Auto Club Speedway. "Wow! Wow! Good job!"

Larson was echoing the sentiments of thousands of fans who had just been wowed by a dazzling drive through the pack.

If there were any doubts that he belonged at NASCAR's top level, the 21-year-old answered them at Fontana.

He beat Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick on Saturday for his first win in a Nationwide Series race, then seemed to use everything he'd learned from watching the big names all those years to nearly steal Sunday's victory, too.

Larson, you may recall, is the former sprint car driver that's been raved about by Kasey Kahne, Stewart and Gordon for years. They'd seen what he could do in a car, including one magical night in 2011 at Stewart's Eldora Speedway, where Larson became only the second driver in history to win in all three kinds of USAC cars in a single night.

Although his interest was in IndyCar, he was snapped up before the 2012 season by Chip Ganassi and placed in a NASCAR driver development program. He was 19 and competing in a stock car for the first time in his life.

He was placed in the K&N Pro Series East and won two races and the championship.

Larson was in a Nationwide car the next year. His debut was bumpy - he was the driver who sailed into the catchfence in a last-lap wreck at the season-opener at Daytona, but Larson went on to finish eighth in the final standings. He raced almost weekly against Kyle Busch, mixed it up with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, sometimes Harvick and Matt Kenseth.

Come July, Ganassi was ready to promote him to the big leagues. It meant parting ways with longtime driver Juan Pablo Montoya, who had a relationship with Ganassi spanning more than a decade that included an Indianapolis 500 win and a Champ Car title.

Critics cried the kid wasn't ready. After just two years in stock cars?

Those critics didn't include his car owner, his fellow competitors or Target, which finances the No. 42 Chevrolet.

"It's amazing what Nationwide racing will do for you when you're racing against Cup guys," Kyle Busch said. "It's no surprise Larson is good. He gets the experience there of racing against me, Kevin, racing against guys like Matt Kenseth. Once he got here, he was more ready.

"Now that he's a Cup guy and performing well on Sundays, it gives him the confidence and the belief in himself and his team that he can do it Saturday and Sunday both."

Larson is the fresh new face that represents the future of NASCAR. He's the first to reach the big leagues, but there's a whole crop behind him in 18-year-olds Chase Elliott and Dylan Kwasniewski, Ryan Blaney, and Ty Dillon.

It doesn't hurt NASCAR's diversity initiative that he's Japanese-American with a backstory - his maternal grandparents were among the thousands of Japanese Americans sent to a California internment camp during World War II.

What matters now, though, is what he can do in a race car.

He can be quiet and unassuming. He is, after all, the kid who fell for an elaborate family ruse into his teen years that Santa Claus himself was delivering his Christmas presents. Learning the truth upset him, but that's about the only thing that fazes Larson.

He doesn't get rattled, is never awe-struck in the company of all the big stars he watched on TV as a boy, even as he's lining up next to them on the starting grid every Sunday.

Larson did get annoyed, however, in January when he convinced himself he bombed during his first stint of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, his first career sports car race. But he bounced back, just as he did when he crashed at Daytona, or the five times before Sunday that he'd run second to Kyle Busch or Keselowski or Logano in a NASCAR race.

"I was right on Kyle down the backstretch and it went through my mind, `I might sweep the weekend here,"' Larson said, smiling. "We will take a second. It seems like I run second a lot in stock cars, but I will take a second."

Kyle Busch wins again at Fontana in wild finish

FONTANA, Calif. (AP) Kyle Busch figured he had little chance to defend his Fontana title for most of Sunday while he circled the oval in a "mediocre" car.

Yet his tires were just fine, unlike much of the rubber on the bumpy racetrack. And when the race came down to a two-lap sprint to the finish, Busch demonstrated his spectacular closing skills one more time.

Busch won at Fontana for the second straight year, holding off Kyle Larson, Tony Stewart and his older brother Kurt for his 29th career Sprint Cup victory.

Kyle Busch capably blocked Larson and outlasted a crowded field to win a race featuring a track-record 35 lead changes and numerous tire problems. Busch stayed out of trouble and roared up late for his second straight stunner in Southern California, following up the Las Vegas native's final-lap surge to victory a year ago.

"Holy cow, what do you expect when you've got a green-white-checkered finish and everybody has to come down pit road and put four tires on?" Busch asked after his third career win at Fontana. "That was `Days of Thunder' right there. Unbelievable day."

Busch is NASCAR's fifth winner in five races this season. He led just five laps - the fewest of his career in a win - in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

"I came off the fourth turn in disbelief that we won this thing, because we were mediocre all day," Busch said. "It was really weird for us, not a race that we're typically used to. But now there's a load off your shoulders that you can go out the rest of the season and race the way you want to."

He also got a thrill from outlasting Larson, the 21-year-old rookie in the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing.

"I guess you couldn't ask for more, but I was surprised to get up there late in the race," said Larson, who held off Busch to win the Nationwide race Saturday. "We were probably a 12th-place car for most of the day."

Kyle Busch pointed out his window at Larson after Sunday's finish, pumping his fist in approval.

"What a shoe that boy is," Kyle Busch said of Larson.

Five more things to remember from Fontana's big finish:

SO CLOSE: Jeff Gordon drove the field twice and was in position for his first win of the season until Clint Bowyer's spin with two laps to go sent the race into overtime. From there, he faded badly on the two-lap sprint to the finish and wound up 13th despite having one of the strongest cars in the field.

"The closing laps were pretty much typical restart for me," said the four-time champion, who has struggled for several years on restarts.

Gordon overcame an early speeding penalty and was one of several drivers who missed the entrance to pit road on an early stop because the red light signifying that pit road was closed was on when they passed. It forced him to drive hard to put himself in the lead before Bowyer's spin. He regretted the final finish because of the effort he and his Hendrick Motorsports team put in Sunday.

"They gave me the most incredible race car and it is just so disappointing for it to end like that," Gordon said. "I hate that the caution came out."

SHREDDED TREAD: Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were among the drivers who had problems with their tires, yet manufacturer Goodyear didn't absorb much heat from the drivers.

The problems likely were the latest effect of NASCAR's new aero rules, which are producing higher speeds that lead to extra stress on the tires - particularly on the bumpy asphalt on Fontana's back straightaway, which already wears out tires aggressively. NASCAR also loosened rules on tire pressure.

"By no means is this a problem for Goodyear," Kurt Busch said. "It's just a thumbs-up for NASCAR for allowing teams to get aggressive in all areas."

Those problems might frustrate pit crews, but they can also lead to phenomenal racing, as the sellout crowd on its feet for the finish could attest.

HAMLIN SIDELINED: Denny Hamlin never got a shot at the redemption he craved after last season's final-lap crash with Joey Logano at Fontana left him with a broken vertebra.

About 30 minutes before Sunday's race, Joe Gibbs Racing said Hamlin was headed to the hospital for tests on a sinus infection. He was expected to stay overnight in the Los Angeles area.

"It's not just a headache. It's a lot more serious than that. He was actually losing vision his eye," crew chief Darian Grubb told MRN.com and NASCAR.com after the race.

SMOKE SIGNALS: Don't count out Tony Stewart just yet. After a lousy start to the Sprint Cup season, Smoke has posted back-to-back top-five finishes, following up his fourth-place finish at Bristol by coming in fifth. The 2012 Fontana champion had a shot at another win late, and Kurt Busch particularly enjoyed racing his boss for position in the final two laps.

UNIFORM CAUTION? For the second straight week, NASCAR had a problem with the caution light on pit row - but this one was more hilarious than detrimental.

Several drivers complained during an early pit stop that the red light was on, indicating pit road was closed. Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, was told that the official in charge of displaying the flag got his uniform caught in a hole in a fence and couldn't move, preventing him from flipping off the red light.

Napier leads UConn in 77-65 win over Villanova

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Shabazz Napier scored 25 points in leading Connecticut to a 77-65 win over second-seeded Villanova in the third round of the NCAA tournament Saturday night.

Villanova became the highest seed to be knocked out of the tournament so far, and the Wildcats' loss came on the heels of another upset in Buffalo. The game was played immediately after Dayton, the South Region's 11th seed, beat third-seeded Syracuse 55-53.

Seventh-seeded Connecticut (28-8) advanced to New York City next week, when they'll play the winner of Sunday's third-round game between third-seeded Iowa State and sixth-seeded North Carolina.

Ryan Arcidiacono scored 18 points for Villanova (29-5) in a matchup of two former Big East rivals.

UConn coach Kevin Ollie improved to 2-0 in his tournament debut, two years since taking over after Jim Calhoun stepped down because of health issues, and a year after the Huskies were barred from postseason play because of academic sanctions.

Wisconsin wins 85-77 thriller over Oregon

MILWAUKEE (AP) Ben Brust hit a 3-pointer with 1:07 left and second-seeded Wisconsin overcame seventh-seeded Oregon for a thrilling 85-77 win Saturday night to get into the Sweet 16.

Brust's clutch 3 from the corner gave the Badgers (28-7) the lead for good in a heavyweight fight of an NCAA tournament game.

Traevon Jackson followed with three free throws, but missed one with 21 seconds left to give the Ducks (24-10) one more chance to tie trailing by three.

Oregon gave it to Joseph Young, who had made big shots all night and scored 29 points. But he missed a rushed 3 from the wing, and the Badgers sealed it at the foul line.

An arena filled with Wisconsin fans erupted into a deafening roar.

Dayton stuns Syracuse 55-53 to advance

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Dyshawn Pierre scored 14 points and Jordan Sibert hit a key 3-pointer with 47.7 seconds left as Dayton stunned Syracuse 55-53 Saturday night to earn a spot in Sweet 16 for the first time in three decades.

Syracuse was poised to pull out another close victory, but Tyler Ennis' 3-point attempt clanged off the rim at the buzzer.

Dayton (25-10), the 11th seed in the South Regional, advances to the regional semifinals next week and will play Kansas or Stanford.

The third-seeded Orange (28-6), who finished second in their first year in the Atlantic Coast Conference, struggled all game against the swarming Dayton defense, missing all 10 attempts from beyond the arc, while the Flyers hit seven times from long range.

G'day, baseball! Opening day goes Down Under

SYDNEY (AP) The most quintessential of American sports took top billing at the symbolic home of Australia's national game as the 2014 Major League Baseball season began Down Under at Sydney Cricket Ground.

At a venue steeped in the history of another bat and ball game, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks opened the season Saturday night before a sellout crowd of around 40,000.

The two-game series marks the first regular-season games in Australia. Previous MLB season openers were held in Japan, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

The gameday menu was popular, and expensive. It cost $36 for a 2-foot-long hot dog. There also were ice-cream sundaes served in batting helmets.

Another novelty for the crowd involved balls that got hit into the stands. Fans could keep them, unlike cricket where the ball is returned to play.

Jets sign Vick and release Sanchez

NEW YORK (AP) Michael Vick is switching green jerseys - and maybe trading his clipboard for a starting job.

The New York Jets signed the former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback to a one-year deal Friday, and released Mark Sanchez, the one-time face of the franchise.

"I love competition and I love football," Vick said during a conference call Friday night. "And, I feel I have a lot of football left to play."

Vick will present a real challenge to Jets starter Geno Smith, who played well down the stretch of his rookie season, but finished with 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.

"As of right now," Vick said, "Geno's the starting quarterback of this football team."

But, Vick also made it clear that he still envisions himself as a starter.

"I wouldn't say I would necessarily be OK with sitting on the bench all year," Vick said. "But, I know what I signed up for and I know what I came to New York to do."

He said his first order of business is competing with Smith and helping the second-year quarterback along.

"At the end of the day," Vick said, "I'll be content with it."

Vick said he met Smith last year during the draft process and has stayed in touch since. He also acknowledged that he won't wear his familiar No. 7 with the Jets, saying it was Smith's number to keep.

Vick was a free agent after spending the last five seasons with the Eagles. He will be reunited with Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who helped the quarterback have the best season of his career in Philadelphia in 2010. Vick was plagued by injuries the last three years and lost the starting job last year to Nick Foles.

"I want to personally wish Michael Vick and his family all the best as he heads into the next phase of his career," Eagles chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement. "I really enjoyed getting to know him over the last five years. He always represented our team with a tremendous amount of class."

Vick thanked the Eagles, their fans and the city of Philadelphia in an open letter posted on The Philadelphia Inquirer's website.

"I was honored to be their quarterback and took the privilege to heart every day," he wrote.

Vick was considered the top quarterback available in this offseason's free agent class, although he didn't garner much attention. Vick said he was sold on the Jets because he enjoyed the idea of being reunited with Mornhinweg and playing for Rex Ryan, an opportunity he always hoped for.

"He's a great talent who's won many games, including playoff games, in this league," Mornhinweg said of Vick in comments posted on the team's website. "He has the respect of both his teammates and opponents. He's here in a role where he's going to compete and push Geno Smith to become the very best that he can be. Michael will be able to go in and play at a high level and a winning level if called upon."

Vick, who had a solid start in Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense, injured a hamstring in Week 5 last season. He was replaced by Foles, who led the Eagles to the NFC East title and was selected the Pro Bowl MVP. Despite losing the starting gig, Vick was praised by Kelly and team officials for being a leader in the locker room and maintaining an outstanding relationship with Foles and helping him through his second NFL season.

"I have a lot left," Vick said. "It's evident with what I was able to do last year."

The move by the Jets is reminiscent of the headline-making trade they made in 2008, when they acquired an unretired Brett Favre - but as their unquestioned starter. The Vick signing also came two years to the day that the Jets made the stunning move to trade for Tim Tebow.

Vick, a four-time Pro Bowl selection who will be 34 in June, was once considered the most dynamic player in the NFL, particularly during his first six NFL seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.

His playing career was abruptly halted for two seasons in 2007 when he pleaded guilty to being part of a dog fighting ring. He served 21 months in federal prison, and two more in home confinement. Since his release in 2009, Vick has worked with the Humane Society of the United States to stop organized animal fighting.

The move drew mixed reviews by Jets fans on Twitter and message boards, but that didn't concern Vick.

"I appreciate all the Jets fans who appreciate me and accept me for who I am and what I've become, not for what I've done," Vick said. "Right now, my past is irrelevant."

The Sanchez move came as no surprise, but completes a stunning downfall for the quarterback who once drew comparisons to Joe Namath after helping lead the Jets to consecutive AFC title games in 2009 and 2010.

Sanchez struggled with consistency after that, and the lasting image of his time with the Jets came in 2012 when he fumbled after running into the backside of guard Brandon Moore. It was returned for a touchdown by New England's Steve Gregory in front of a national television audience on Thanksgiving night and infamously labeled "The Butt Fumble."

He spent last season on injured reserve after tearing the labrum in his right shoulder in a preseason game, clearing the way for Smith to start every game. Sanchez had three years remaining on his contract, but his $13.1 million salary cap number for next season - and $2 million roster bonus due Tuesday - made it unlikely the team would keep him at that amount.

"I'd like to thank Mark for everything he's done for this team and me personally," Ryan said in a statement issued by the team. "We were rookies together and had some early success, becoming the first rookie head coach-quarterback to go to back-to-back championship games. We experienced a lot together and I really appreciate Mark.

"He's a great player, a great teammate and I wish him nothing but the best."

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Lumberjacks pull off 77-75 upset of VCU in OT

SAN DIEGO (AP) Desmond Haymon scored on an improbable four-point play with 3.6 seconds in regulation and hit a big 3-pointer in overtime to lead No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin to a 77-75 win over fifth-seeded Virginia Commonwealth Friday night in the NCAA tournament's South Region.

VCU (23-10) was firmly in control for most of the second half before SFA (32-2) rallied in the closing seconds.

Haymon hit one of the biggest - and most improbable - shots of what's already been a wild March, knocking down a 3-pointer and a free throw after being fouled by Jordan Burgess at the end of regulation.

Haymon hit another 3-pointer to put SFA up with 2 minutes left, but VCU had a final shot after Thomas Walkup missed 1 of 2 free throws with 14 seconds left. JeQuan Lewis got an open 3-pointer, but it went long and SFA snared the rebound.

Durant scores 51; Thunder top Raptors in 2 OTs

TORONTO (AP) Kevin Durant had 51 points and 12 rebounds, All-Star guard Russell Westbrook limped off in the third quarter with a sprained right knee but the Oklahoma City Thunder survived to beat the Toronto Raptors 119-118 in double overtime on Friday night.

Durant hit a go-ahead 3 with 1.7 seconds left in the second overtime, Reggie Jackson scored 25 and Serge Ibaka had 13 as the Thunder won their fourth straight and finished off a 3-0 road trip that also included wins at Chicago and Cleveland.

The Thunder are 12-2 on the road against Eastern Conference opponents.

DeMar DeRozan scored 33 points and Amir Johnson had 25 points and 12 rebounds for the Raptors. Kyle Lowry scored 25 and Greivis Vasquez fouled out after scoring 21.

Pages