National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

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."

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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.

76ers lose 23rd straight game, 93-92 to Knicks

PHILADELPHIA (AP) The 76ers have fumbled their way toward the wrong kind of NBA history.

Amare Stoudemire had 22 points and 10 rebounds, Carmelo Anthony scored 21 and the New York Knicks won their eighth straight game, 93-92 over Philadelphia on Friday night, sending the Sixers to their 23rd straight loss.

The Sixers have matched the Vancouver Grizzlies (1995-96), Denver Nuggets (1997-98) and Charlotte Bobcats (2011-12) for the second-longest single-season losing streak in NBA history.

The Cleveland Cavaliers set the record of 26 consecutive losses in the 2010-11 season.

The Sixers (15-54) would have to pull off an upset to avoid tying the record.

Up next, three straight road games at Chicago, San Antonio and Houston. If the Sixers lose all three, the potential record 27th loss would come March 29 vs. Detroit.

With 8.6 seconds left and the Sixers down 92-90, Sixers guard James Anderson mishandled the ball as he attempted to pass it to Thaddeus Young, and it bounced out of bounds.

After Anthony hit 1 of 2 free throws, Michael Carter-Williams missed the tying 3-point attempt, and a putback at the buzzer made no difference in ending the streak.

Tyson Chandler had 17 points for the Knicks, who are suddenly charging for a playoff spot.

Carter-Williams, one of the few bright spots this season, led Philly with 22 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists.

Young hit a 3-pointer with 32.5 seconds left, Philadelphia's 40th attempt, that pulled the Sixers to 92-90 with 32.5 seconds left. He scored 21 points and the Sixers set a team mark with 41 3-point attempts. They made only 10.

The Knicks entered the day only four games back of Atlanta for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Their recent surge started right around the time news broke that New York wanted to hire Phil Jackson as team president. Jackson was officially introduced on Tuesday, and the Knicks are starting to give him reason to believe he might be in charge of a playoff contender.

The Knicks never dominated, but did enough to hold off a Sixers team freefalling toward one of the worst seasons in NBA history.

New York shook off 33 percent shooting in the first half to hit a slew of big 3s and throw down one-handed jams that turned back Philadelphia at every run.

After the Knicks started 1 for 16 from 3-point range, J.R. Smith hit a pair early in the third that gave them some needed breathing room.

And in the fourth, Stoudemire's dunk pushed the lead to 11 and Tim Hardaway Jr., followed with one of his own that brought a huge pro-Knicks crowd to their feet.

For a team that ranked 29th in attendance, the blue-and-orange fans that colored the arena gave the fourth quarter a rare, lively atmosphere.

The losses have piled up for the Sixers - and now, an injury.

Shooting guard Tony Wroten, their third-leading scorer, left the game in the fourth with a sprained right ankle.

They could have used his scoring punch in the final minute. Instead, the put the ball in Anderson's hands, and he put it out of reach of an overdue win. The Sixers lost their 18th straight home game since beating Charlotte on Jan. 15.

Notes: 76ers coach Brett Brown was whistled for a technical foul in the fourth. ... The Sixers' previous high in 3-point attempts was 35.

Mercer shocks Duke 78-71 in NCAA tourney opener

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Dunk City is long gone. Make way for the next bunch of bracket busters from the little-known Atlantic Sun Conference: Mercer.

The 8,300-student school from Macon, Ga., delivered the biggest shocker in an already topsy-turvy NCAA tournament on Friday, going into Duke's backyard and knocking off the No. 3 seed Blue Devils 78-71.

"This," Atlantic Sun player of the year Langston Hall said, "is what March Madness is all about."

The 14th-seeded Bears - with a starting lineup of five seniors - came back from five points down in the last 4:52 as Duke's offense collapsed.

They sent home one of the true blue-blood programs, coached by Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski and starring freshman Jabari Parker, sure to be one of the top NBA picks this year. Mercer is coached by former Oklahoma Baptist player Bob Hoffman, who has banged around the coaching ranks from women's teams to the American Basketball Association to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA Developmental League.

Jakob Gollon scored 20 points and Daniel Coursey scored 17, helping the Bears overcome a season-high 15 3-pointers from Duke.

Mercer qualified for its first NCAA tournament since 1985 by winning the Atlantic Sun conference championship over Florida Gulf Coast, nicknamed "Dunk City" for the team's above-the-rim offense. A year earlier, the Bears lost that game and watched FGCU advance to the Sweet 16.

"When they were going on their run, we were sitting at home thinking, `Man, that could have been us,"' Anthony White Jr. said.

Now it is.

Mercer scored 11 straight points during the late 20-5 run that clinched the biggest victory in school history and sent the Blue Devils to their second first-game exit in three years.

Quinn Cook scored 23 points and Rasheed Sulaimon added 20 for Duke.

But their defense - an uncharacteristic weakness all season - did them in again while all those Mercer seniors simply got any shot they wanted. The Bears shot 56 percent - 58 percent in the second half.

"They're a team that's been together a long time," Duke forward Rodney Hood said. "They sliced us up. There's no other way to put it."

Duke went up 63-58 with 4:52 left after Parker converted a three-point play and Tyler Thornton hit three free throws.

The Blue Devils didn't score again until the final minute.

"I don't know if we panicked," senior Andre Dawkins said, "but we didn't do the things we needed to do."

Like score. Or defend.

Coursey countered by rattling in a jumper in the lane, and after two empty possessions for Duke, some slick ball rotation by Mercer set up White's open 3 that tied it at 63.

Hood picked up his fourth foul on the Bears' next possession and Gollon hit two free throws to put Mercer ahead for good.

By that point, Duke could do nothing right.

Parker missed a 3-pointer in traffic before Hood was called for walking, leading White to give a fist-pump to those noisy Mercer fans who stood all day.

The Bears hit 12 of 14 free throws in the final 2 minutes to seal it.

After the buzzer sounded, the Bears players formed a circle on the sideline and danced. In the middle was guard Kevin Canevari, a Charlotte native who's one of the seven seniors on the roster.

"We were confident all week," Canevari said. "We don't really look at it like we're an underdog in this tournament. Obviously, everyone's a great team, there's already been so many upsets."

White finished with 13 points, and A-Sun player of the year Langston Hall and Ike Nwamu added 11 apiece for Mercer.

Watching Florida Gulf Coast upset Georgetown and San Diego State last year gave the Bears an offseason's worth of fuel. Hoffman said his players "worked harder than any team in the country individually to get a chance to get back to the same moment."

Mercer has 1,176 wins as a program - only 191 more than Krzyzewski has all by himself.

Parker, one of a long list of high school All-Americans on Coach K's roster, finished what might have been his final college game with 14 points. Hood - a redshirt sophomore who also could be headed to the pros - had just six points.

Duke has been to 11 Final Fours and has four national titles under Krzyzewski, but his Blue Devils have lost their first tournament game five times.

Parker said he doesn't know what his future plans are. Hood said he also was undecided because "I thought I'd be playing after today."

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Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joedyap

NDSU pulls 12th-seed stunner beating Oklahoma

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) The guys in green raced off the court and into the locker room where they danced and sang, compared whose shot was most likely to end up featured on "One Shining Moment," and checked Twitter to see who was giving them a shoutout.

North Dakota State pulled off yet another 12 seed stunner and enjoyed every moment of it.

"I just want to keep coaching this team," NDSU coach Saul Phillips said. "I don't want to have to say goodbye to this locker room."

Lawrence Alexander's 3-pointer with 11 seconds left forced overtime and Carlin Dupree came off the bench to score four unlikely points in the final 75 seconds of the extra session, and the Bison knocked off No. 5 seed Oklahoma 80-75 Thursday night.

NDSU (26-6) picked up its first NCAA tournament win by rallying in the final minute and outlasting the Sooners in overtime. Alexander finished with a career-high 28 points, but it'll be his falling-down, fist-pumping celebration after the tying 3-pointer that will be replayed in Fargo for years.

But that was just the first act. Dupree came on in the closing seconds of overtime after Taylor Braun fouled out, hit two free throws and scored on a difficult baseline leaner with 41 seconds left that put the Bison up by four and ignited the celebration.

Phillips ran over to the fans in green and yellow, threw his arms in the air and screamed at the top of his lungs. No one could hear the excitable North Dakota State coach with all the noise.

The Bison quickly realized they grabbed the nation's attention.

"You guys figure out how big it is," Phillips said. "I know it's very gratifying and I know that for guys like Lawrence and Carlin and everybody on this team, couldn't have happened to a more fitting group of guys, because they have done what it takes to be exactly where we are right now, year-round."

While players were monitoring Twitter to see who had been watching, the school's own athletic department account probably had the best line.

"We'll gladly be your Cinderella, America."

Except this Cinderella doesn't fit the traditional mold. These Bison are proven. They won at Notre Dame in the regular season. This is part of a progressive rise under Phillips since the Bison made their first tourney trip in 2009.

They have a swagger not typically seen from smaller programs, because the Bison don't see themselves that way.

Take Alexander. After releasing possibly the biggest shot of his career - the tying 3 that forced overtime - he hollered "buckets," so confident the shot would rattle through the net.

"That's a lot of confidence there big fella," Phillips said.

Cameron Clark led Oklahoma (23-10) with 25 points, including 16 in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime. Isaiah Cousins added 17 points and Jordan Woodward had 13, making up for leading scorer Buddy Hield being limited to nine points on 4 of 14 shooting.

"They fought, kind of out hustled us on rebounds and things like that, but overall they're a great team," Clark said.

Whenever the Bison needed a big shot, Alexander answered. With Braun bottled up by the Sooners defense, it fell to Alexander to pick up the scoring load. The most he scored all season was 20 points and his career-high came in 2011 as a freshman.

No basket was bigger than the 3 that forced overtime. Braun drove into the lane and was cut off. Alexander was his only option. After briefly struggling to get the handle, he rattled in his fourth 3-pointer of the game.

Oklahoma gave NDSU a chance at tying by twice missing foul shots in the final minute.

Oklahoma had chances to win in regulation getting off three shots. Hield's open 3 rimmed off, Woodward's free-throw line jumper was short and Cousins' reverse layup attempt at the buzzer never caught the rim.

NDSU scored the first four points of overtime on baskets by Bjorklund and Alexander, but Clark's 3 pulled Oklahoma even at 70.

Braun put the Bison ahead with 1:39 left 72-70 on a driving layup. After he fell to the court, Braun got tangled with Clark, who appeared to inadvertently kick Braun in the face. No additional fouls were called, but Braun fouled out seconds later reaching in as Clark attempted to shoot.

Clark hit both, but four seconds later Dupree - a 58 percent free throw shooter - hit a pair to put the Bison back in front. Following an Oklahoma miss, Dupree drove baseline and scored instead of running off time. It was the shot of an inexperienced freshman, but Phillips didn't mind.

"It was just a great experience for me," Dupree said.

Reds' Chapman 'lucky' to have only broken bone

GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman underwent a 2 1/2-hour operation Thursday to repair a broken bone above his left eye but has no other serious injuries after being hit in the face by a line drive in a spring training game.

Team medical director Dr. Timothy Kremchek said Chapman could begin throwing off a mound in six to eight weeks, a timetable that could get him back in games in late May. The left-hander with a fastball that has reached 105 mph could start exercising and throwing on flat ground in a couple of weeks, Kremchek said.

The doctor called Chapman "a very lucky guy."

The surgery was performed by cranial facial plastic surgeon Dr. Ed Joganic.

Kremchek said earlier that a metal plate would be inserted in the bone above Chapman's left eyebrows and would remain there permanently. Chapman has a very mild concussion but no other brain injury and no injury to his eye, Kremchek said.

"He's feeling better and he has some pain management. We're optimistic that he is going to be on the mend," Reds manager Bryan Price said after meeting with players Thursday morning at the team's spring training facility. "Obviously, we'll stay in touch. We will make sure we follow the process as we continue to get familiar with the injury itself. We will let him know how much support he has and that we care about him. Hopefully, we will see him here very soon."

Cincinnati catcher Brayan Pena, a fellow Cuban and Chapman's close friend, was one of several Reds players who visited the injured pitcher Wednesday night and spoke to him on the phone Thursday morning.

"He was talking to me and we joked a lot," Pena said. "He just wanted to make sure for me to tell everybody that he appreciate so much the fans' prayers, especially our teammates, our coaching staff, everybody around, how much support and how much love he received and got from all of us."

Pena said Chapman was very happy when they spoke Thursday, "talking and joking. He was talking a lot about some Cuban jokes and that's good because that means his memory is still working pretty good."

The frightening incident, widely available on video via the Internet, occurred in the sixth inning of Wednesday night's game at Kansas City's spring training facility in Surprise, where the Royals' Salvador Perez lined Chapman's 99 mph fastball into the pitcher's face. Chapman was knocked backward to the ground, then rolled on his face, kicking in pain.

Pena rushed to the mound.

"Honestly, when I saw it I wanted to cry," Pena said. "That was my first feeling because it was very scary. It was very scary because I saw the line drive going straight for his face, and then I saw him bleeding and kicking and moving around the way he was."

Pena said Chapman "wasn't even talking. He was just like moaning and making sounds and then when I got there I panicked because I didn't know what else to do. Then the medical staff guys got there, and those guys were great."

Chapman was taken off the field on a stretcher as the crowd fell into an eerie silence and the game was called.

The pitcher was taken to a nearby hospital, then transferred to Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix. Kremchek said he expected Chapman to remain hospitalized for a couple of days and perhaps get released on Saturday.

The ball hit Chapman in one of the most protected areas of the skull, the doctor said.

"If you get hit in the side of the head, that could be disastrous," Kremchek said. "Where Aroldis got hit, you don't want to say he got hit in a good spot because he's undergoing surgery, but it could have been a lot worse, a lot more injuries, a lot more permanent. He's very lucky."

The 26-year-old Chapman has a blazing fastball that regularly hits 100 mph. The two-time All-Star defected from Cuba in 2009 and made the Reds in his first season of 2010. He had 38 saves each of the past two seasons, with 122 strikeouts in 71 2-3 innings in 2012 and 112 strikeouts in 63 2-3 innings in 2013.

Price, a former pitcher, said pitchers are in a dangerous situation, "regardless of how hard you throw."

"It's hard to defend yourself from 53, 54 feet," the manager said. "And everyone finishes their pitches differently. Everyone is not in a perfect fielding position and even if you are there is no guarantee that you can protect yourself when a ball's hit that hard."

Major League Baseball approved a protective cap for pitchers this winter following several terrifying scenes similar to this one in the last few years. The hats were available for testing during spring training on a voluntary basis but most pitchers have rejected them. Besides, the hats would offer no protection to the face, where Chapman was hit.

Chapman particularly wanted to thank the Royals organization for its support and offer assurance to Perez that it is just something that happens in baseball and was not his fault.

Pena said he also felt some responsibility.

"I kind of blame myself a little bit because I could have called slider or I should have called changeup," Pena said. "That's your thought process. Everything goes through your mind and you're looking for answers. ... You kind of put yourself in that guilt feeling."

But Chapman, Pena said, told him "`You know, it's not your fault. I should have thrown slower.' I'm the one feeling very bad about it and he's the one that's cheering me up. He's the one in the hospital."

Dodgers, Diamondbacks set for Sydney season opener

SYDNEY (AP) After taking its opener to Mexico, Japan and Puerto Rico over the past 15 years, Major League Baseball is expanding to a new territory this weekend: Down Under.

When Arizona's Wade Miley throws the first pitch of the season against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the teams will be nearly 7,800 miles from Chase Field in Phoenix.

Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw celebrated his 26th birthday Wednesday by cuddling a kangaroo.

"It's been a good experience for us and, hopefully, we can get a couple of wins and make it a great one," Kershaw said. "Opening day is always fun, no matter what continent it's on."

The games will be played at a revamped cricket field that seats 40,000-plus.

Some things will be familiar: Vin Scully will be in the Dodgers' broadcast booth for the start of his 65th season, a run that dates to the team's time in Brooklyn.

Baseball began its season at Monterrey, Mexico, in 1999; at Tokyo in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012; and at San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2001. This series marks the 100th anniversary of an exhibition game between the New York Giants and Chicago White Sox at the same venue on Jan. 3, 1914.

The Cricket Ground, opened in 1882, has been transformed into a baseball field over a few weeks. The right- and left-field foul poles are each 328 feet from home plate and straightaway center field is 400 feet away. From all reports, balls have been carrying.

The Dodgers defeated Australia's national team 4-2 Thursday night in an exhibition that drew just 14,385. Yasiel Puig, batting .122 (5 for 41) coming in, hit a two-run homer in the eighth, two innings after throwing out Mike Walker at the plate from right field.

On Friday, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he expected Adrian Gonzalez to play in the opener despite the first baseman having tweaking his back in the exhibition game and coming out in the fourth inning. "I've seen no red flags to suggest otherwise," Mattingly said.

He also announced his starting lineup for Saturday, with Puig leading off, followed by Justin Turner, Hanley Ramirez, Gonzalez, Scott Van Slyke, Juan Uribe, Andre Ethier, catcher A.J. Ellis and Kershaw.

"I'm serious," Mattingly when asked about Puig batting first. "We'll see where we go. It's all about the guys we have, the mixture. That dictates the order."

Miley will be pitching in place of Patrick Corbin, who has a partially torn ligament in his left elbow that may require season-ending surgery.

Kershaw, the 2011 and 2013 NL Cy Young Award winner, will be making his first start since signing as $215 million, seven-year contract, the largest deal ever for a pitcher.

"I don't take for granted the contract," Kershaw said Thursday. "It's a really amazing thing that the Dodgers think enough of me to give me something like that. I understand the responsibilities that come with that. As long as you win, everything takes care of itself."

The Dodgers and Diamondbacks play each other nearly 20 times a season in the NL West, and Mattingly said this week that any teams would develop a healthy rivalry in such a situation.

Last June, a brawl between the teams resulted in the suspensions of eight players. And when the Dodgers clinched the West title in Phoenix, a decision by some of their players to jump in the Chase Field swimming pool angered some Diamondbacks.

"I don't know what their sentiment is, but for us, it's just a new season," Kershaw said. "We're just going to play a game, not wonder what could or would happen. We've had our scuffles in the past and it should all be in the past.

"Obviously their big name guys - Paul Goldschmidt, Aaron Hill, Martin Prado - some of these guys they have over there - they play the game the right way. I enjoy watching them play. It's tough to beat them."

Saint Louis rallies for OT victory over NC State

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Rob Loe scored 22 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, helping St. Louis wipe out a late 14-point deficit and pull away in overtime to beat North Carolina State 83-80 in the NCAA tournament Thursday night.

Jordair Jett overcame a slow start to score 18, doing most of his damage while the fifth-seeded Billikens (27-6) were making their comeback in the last five minutes of regulation.

Both teams shot horribly from the free-throw line, with Saint Louis shooting 12-for-26 and No. 12 seed NC State shooting 20-for-37.

T.J. Warren scored 28 points for the Wolfpack (22-14), but the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year made just six of his 14 free throw attempts, including one that could have tied it in the final minute of OT.

UConn outlasts Saint Joseph's in 89-81 OT win

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Shabazz Napier shook off a miss at the second-half buzzer to score nine of his 24 points in overtime and lead seventh-seeded Connecticut to a 89-81 win over Saint Joseph's in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday.

DeAndre Daniels scored 18 while freshman center Amida Brimah forced overtime by completing a three-point play in the final minute for UConn (27-8). The Huskies won their first tournament game under coach Kevin Ollie, who took over two years ago after Jim Calhoun stepped down due to health issues.

With the game tied at 70 entering overtime, Daniels opened the scoring by completed a three-point play with 3:47 left during a 5-minute period the Huskies never trailed.

Langston Galloway scored 25 points for Saint Joseph's (24-10). The Hawks wore down because of a lack of depth, and then lost their top forward Halil Kanacevic, who fouled out early into overtime.

Michael Sam in spotlight at Missouri's pro day

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Michael Sam certainly draws a crowd.

Scouts from more than 30 NFL teams, fans and media packed Missouri's training facilities Thursday to watch the former Tigers defensive end and 14 of his former teammates at the school's annual pro day.

A little over a month since Sam announced his desire to become the first openly gay NFL player, he lifted 225 pounds 19 times, ran the 40-yard dash in an unofficial time of 4.69 seconds and jumped 30 inches - all improvements from his statistics at the NFL combine last month. He also raised eyebrows after tweaking his right hamstring during the run.

"Just a little sore," his agent Joe Barkett said.

With television cameras following his every move, the 6-2, 263-pound Sam stretched while teammates performed the 3-cone and short shuttle drills, and returned for the vertical jump and linebacker workouts.

One of his fans in attendance was Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who left Missouri last year. Richardson wished him the best in the NFL but said the draft hopeful could wind up hearing some homophobic jokes in the pros.

"It is what it is," Richardson said. "You hear every kind of joke - racist jokes, everything in the NFL locker room. That's what happens when you're a family. Nothing bothers you. Only those people can talk about you. No one else outside the locker room."

Sam is pegged to be picked in the lower rounds of the NFL draft, if at all, much lower than fellow defensive end Kony Ealy.

On his second and final attempt, Ealy ran the 40-yard dash in an unofficial 4.57 seconds, only four-hundredths of a second slower than Jadeveon Clowney's time at the combine. The school announced the time, which would be a considerable improvement over the 4.92 seconds Ealy posted at the combine.

Ealy also posted a 32-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot broad jump.

Ealy hopes to become the seventh first-round NFL draft pick from Missouri in the past six years following Richardson last April. The 6-feet-4-inch, 265-pound end described Richardson as a mentor.

"Having a guy like that, an older guy going through all the ropes, somebody I can relate to, it means a lot," he said. "I can easily relate to him."

While much of the attention surrounded the two defensive ends, the workouts gave other players a chance to show off their skills in front of scouts from every team except the Redskins, according to the NFL Network.

"I think it's very important," quarterback James Franklin said. "It's really helpful. In high school, it's kind of how I started to get recruited. Scouts would go there for other teams or college coaches would go there for other players, and then they would see me there. And that's kind of how I got attention."

Franklin ran an unofficial 4.9-second 40-yard dash on his second attempt, while receiver L'Damian Washington paced the field with an unofficial 4.39-second mark.

Asked about the challenge in preparing for May's draft, Washington mentioned the difficulty in turning the page so quickly from a 12-win season. He's recovering from what he described as an inflamed nerve in his feet, and says he is "90 percent."

Washington hopes the injury won't prevent him from fulfilling his dreams of becoming an NFL player.

"It's a four- or five-month job interview," he said. "And no matter what, you have to watch everything you do, watch everything you say, because it's going to be out there."

Cincinnati gets upset by 12th-seeded Harvard 61-57

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) Mick Cronin knew something was off. Within the first minute of the game, the Cincinnati coach was already making substitutions trying to get the Bearcats alert.

By the time Cincinnati started playing defense the way Cronin demanded, with the aggressiveness that led to a share of the American Athletic Conference regular season title, the Bearcats could not chase down upstart Harvard.

"Defensively we were far from our best in the first half. That was the difference in the game," Cronin said. "It had us playing from behind all night."

Siyani Chambers scored 11 points, including five straight in the final 2 minutes, and 12th-seeded Harvard won its second NCAA tournament game in history, upsetting Cincinnati 61-57 on Thursday.

Wesley Saunders led the Crimson (27-4) with 12 points as Harvard proved last year's upset of New Mexico as a 14 seed was no fluke. The Crimson became the first Ivy League school with NCAA tournament wins in consecutive years since Princeton in 1983-84. They will play either Michigan State or Delaware in the third round.

Harvard never trailed after the opening moments. They played with confidence and scrap against the fifth-seeded Bearcats. They got second and third chances at their own misses. They littered the court scrounging for loose balls.

It all meant another upset for the Crimson, even if the coaches involved didn't see it that way.

"In my mind, today's game was anything but an upset," Cronin said. "They've got a great team. Tough draw for us. In my opinion, they're one of the best teams we played all year."

Sean Kilpatrick led Cincinnati (27-7) with 18 points, but the Bearcats failed to win a tournament game for the second straight year. Kilpatrick, one of the top scorers in the country, saw Harvard run a flurry of different defenders in his direction. He didn't score for the first 10 minutes then was only able to get off four shots in the second half.

"They played pretty good defense and we were missing opportunities," Kirkpatrick said. "That was really it."

There was a reason Harvard was a popular upset pick. Even President Barack Obama had the Crimson taking out the Bearcats.

That reason: defense and balance. All five starters averaged in double figures for the season and that balance was needed against Cincinnati's aggressive defense. Laurent Rivard, the Crimson's 3-point specialist, finished with 11 points, while Steve Moundou-Missi and Brandyn Curry both scored nine.

Harvard improved to 15-0 this season when holding its opponent to 60 points or less. They entered the tournament with the 13th-best scoring defense in the country. That defense helped overcome a shaky performance at the free throw line where Harvard was 17 of 28.

"We always find ways to get around that," Rivard said. "We had to make other plays because we were not making our free throws."

Cincinnati had its chances. Justin Jackson finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, but the Bearcats shot only 37 percent from the field and missed a number of shots in close.

"I missed a lot of opportunities around the rim," Jackson said. "I usually don't do that going one-handed flipping the ball. I can't really comment on that, just bad on my part and I was not finishing around the rim."

Harvard withstood the early second-half push from the Bearcats that was largely caused by Cincinnati's trapping press defense. Jackson's dunk while being fouled and subsequent free throw pulled Cincinnati within 42-39 and Titus Rubles' driving layup later trimmed the margin to 45-43.

The Crimson then forced turnovers on three straight possessions. Saunders flipped in a driving finger roll to push the lead to five. As Harvard went to the bench for a timeout, Chambers grinned and coach Tommy Amaker pumped his fists in approval.

Harvard was not going to be denied another moment. They got second and third chances at their own misses. They littered the floor scrounging for loose balls.

Cincinnati went more than 5 minutes without scoring.

But the Bearcats fought back and cut the lead to one before Chambers stepped up. He hit a pullup 17-footer with 1:57 left for a 56-53 lead. Kyle Casey then drew an offensive foul against Kilpatrick with 1:33 left.

Chambers hit three free throws in the final minute and Saunders sealed it hitting two more with 11 seconds left, setting off the celebration.

"They got real players. They got high major players," Cronin said. "They can play against anybody."

Lockout of MLS referees ends with 5-year deal

NEW YORK (AP) The lockout of Major League Soccer's referees has ended following an agreement on a five-year labor contract.

The Professional Referee Organization, which manages game officials for the U.S. Soccer Federation and MLS, and the Professional Soccer Referee Association, announced the agreement Thursday. Replacements had been used for the first two weekends of MLS games.

The PSRA was certified by the National Labor Relations Board last May to represent referees, assistant referees and fourth officials working MLS games. The sides bargained since July, and the lockout began a day ahead of MLS openers on March 7.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service entered talks, and a tentative agreement was reached Tuesday night that was ratified by the union membership and approved by PRO's executive board.

"First contracts sometimes pose difficult challenges as the parties seek to define the parameters of a new formal relationship," FMCS acting director Scot L. Beckenbaugh said in a statement.

The agreement runs until Jan. 15, 2019. Lucas Middlebrook, a PRSA lawyer, said the deal includes "substantially better" compensation and "a number of non-economic work rule protections such as a just-cause standard for certain disciplinary matters and standardization of fitness testing.

"In addition, the officials now have a contract protecting important quality-of-life items such as travel standards, vacation time and advance notice of match assignments," he said in an email.

Falcons sign return specialist Devin Hester

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The Atlanta Falcons have agreed to terms with return specialist Devin Hester.

The team announced the deal Thursday. The 31-year-old Hester is a three-time Pro-Bowler who last year tied an NFL record with his 19th scoring return in eight seasons with the Chicago Bears. Coming off a dismal 4-12 season, the Falcons are hoping he can bolster a unit that ranked 28th in the league in kickoff return yards and 21st in punt return yards.

Hester has scored on 13 punt returns, five kickoff returns and off a missed field goal. In 2013, he led the NFL in kickoff return yards (1,436) and total return yards (1,692).

In addition, Hester has 217 receptions for 2,807 yards and 14 touchdowns in his career.

Terms of Hester's contract were not immediately available.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

MLB 2014: Cardinals among NL favorites again

Stephen Strasburg leads a deep rotation in Washington. Matt Holliday and St. Louis are back again. And the loaded Los Angeles Dodgers think it's their time to shine.

Yes, it is a very familiar group of favorites. Throw in Freddie Freeman and Atlanta, and the NL list is practically complete. But there's always one team that crashes the party at the top; see MVP Andrew McCutchen and the 2013 Pirates.

With Arizona and Los Angeles starting the season Down Under in Australia, the race is on to see which teams will finish on top in the National League.

"Our team's really good," Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke said. "We did really good, even with a bunch of injuries last year. We have some young guys about ready to come up if needed. I mean, the expectations should be really high here."

Washington was among the favorites last year, coming off a breakthrough season. But Bryce Harper was hurt and the Nationals underperformed in their final season under manager Davey Johnson, finishing 10 games back of NL East champion Atlanta.

Enter Matt Williams, who gets his first job as a major league manager after three seasons as Arizona's third base coach. The rotation is one of the best in the majors, with Doug Fister coming over in a December trade after winning 14 games for Detroit last season. Harper is healthy again, and Strasburg looks just fine following October elbow surgery.

"The more experience you get, the better chance you have to succeed, and I think that's kind of the lesson from last year," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said.

Powered by another great season from Freeman, the Braves breezed to the division title last year. Atlanta has made it to the playoffs in two of Fredi Gonzalez's first three years as manager, but is still looking to advance for the first time since it lost to Arizona in the 2001 division series.

The rotation was beset by injuries in spring training, but Atlanta should be in the mix again - even after it lost right-hander Tim Hudson and catcher Brian McCann in free agency.

The Central belongs to St. Louis, which has won the division five times in the last decade. There's no reason to believe the Cardinals won't make it six times in 11 years.

Adam Wainwright and postseason darling Michael Wacha are part of the division's best rotation. The lineup remains stacked even after Carlos Beltran departed in free agency. All-Star slugger Allen Craig missed much of the postseason last year, and the Cardinals still made it to the World Series.

The real intrigue in the division comes after the Cardinals. The Central had both wild cards last season, with Pittsburgh making the playoffs for the first time in 21 years and Cincinnati another four games back in the third.

The Pirates and Reds each lost a key player in free agency, while the Brewers get Ryan Braun back from his season-ending, 65-game drug suspension. A.J. Burnett went from the Pirates to the Phillies after a productive two years in Pittsburgh, while the Reds lost leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo to a big contract with the Rangers.

"We're still hungry," Pirates catcher Russell Martin said. "We did some special things last year, but everybody was disappointed with how it finished. I don't know what all the `experts' are saying, but I consider myself an expert and I think we're going to do better than we did last year."

The muddled Central could mean another playoff slot for one of the West teams.

Los Angeles' biggest deal of the offseason was a $215 million, seven-year contract for its own Clayton Kershaw, who won the NL Cy Young Award for the second time in three seasons. Kershaw, Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig and steady Adrian Gonzalez helped the Dodgers all the way to the championship series.

Health is one of the biggest concerns in Southern California, with Matt Kemp coming back from left ankle surgery. If the Dodgers can keep the talented outfielder and shortstop Hanley Ramirez in the lineup alongside Gonzalez, look out.

Arizona made one of the biggest trades of the offseason, acquiring Mark Trumbo from the Angels in a three-team swap that also involved the White Sox. Trumbo hit 34 homers last year and should help protect Paul Goldschmidt in the lineup. The Diamondbacks also signed Bronson Arroyo to provide innings.

The Giants are another team that could surprise. Hudson joins a rotation that also includes 13-game winner Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain, and Michael Morse should add some pop in left field.

"The way this team is put together, everybody has a job and everybody just does their job," Morse said. "History shows it, this is a winning organization."

A look at the NL in predicted order of finish:

EAST

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Adam LaRoche plays great defense, but he slumped last year at the plate. That's why Zimmerman fielded some grounders at first this spring training. The plan is for Zimmerman to remain at third most days, but more time at the opposite corner might help him stay healthy.

The Nationals finished in the middle of the league in most offensive categories in 2013, and more games for Zimmerman could help improve those numbers. But the rotation is one of the best in baseball and left-hander Jerry Blevins, acquired in a December trade with Oakland, should help the bullpen.

ATLANTA BRAVES

The 24-year-old Freeman hit .319 with 23 homers and 109 RBIs last year, making the All-Star team for the first time. He was rewarded with the biggest contract in franchise history, a $135 million, eight-year deal.

The Braves also agreed to multiyear deals with outfielder Jason Heyward, closer Craig Kimbrel and shortstop Andrelton Simmons. When Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen reinjured their elbows, the Braves signed Ervin Santana to a $14.1 million, one-year contract to bolster their rotation.

NEW YORK METS

Help is on the way for the Mets; it just appears to be at least a year away. Pitching prospects Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero showed promise during spring training, and Matt Harvey is rehabbing his surgically repaired right elbow.

In the meantime, free-agent deals for pitcher Bartolo Colon and outfielders Curtis Granderson and Chris Young should be enough to keep New York on top of Philadelphia in third.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Another year, another set of injury concerns for the aging Phillies. Cole Hamels could miss the first month of the season with left biceps tendinitis. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins and second baseman Chase Utley are each 35, and slugger Ryan Howard is 34, making another title run for the accomplished core even more questionable.

MIAMI MARLINS

Giancarlo Stanton should have some more help in the lineup after the Marlins signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Garrett Jones and Rafael Furcal, but it likely won't be enough to move the Marlins out of the NL East basement. Miami has finished last in the division in each of the last three seasons.

CENTRAL

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Matt Carpenter moves from second to third base this season after leading the NL in hits (199), doubles (55) and runs (126) last year. Carpenter, who also batted .318 with 11 homers, is one of the key performers in a young Cardinals core that could keep the team in contention for years.

One of St. Louis' biggest offseason moves was a trade to acquire center fielder Peter Bourjos, who adds more speed to an already dangerous lineup. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta also shores up one of the Cardinals' weakest positions offensively.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Burnett is gone, but Pittsburgh still has Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole at the front end of the rotation. Liriano won 16 games last year in his first season with the Pirates, and the 23-year-old Cole looks like a star. Touted pitching prospect Jameson Taillon also could make it to the majors this summer.

With his mix of speed and power, McCutchen is one of the majors' most dangerous hitters. He had a .317 batting average last season to go along with a career-high 38 doubles and a .404 on-base percentage.

CINCINNATI REDS

Billy Hamilton could be one of baseball's most exciting players this summer. He takes over for Choo in center field after batting .368 with 13 steals in a short stint with the Reds at the end of last year. The big question about the speedster is his ability to get on base, and he showed improved bunting skills during spring training.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Matt Garza returned to the NL Central for a big free-agent deal with Milwaukee, joining Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse on top of an improved Brewers rotation. Garza went 6-1 in 11 starts with the Cubs last year before he was traded to Texas in July.

CHICAGO CUBS

The Cubs are hoping new manager Rick Renteria will have a positive effect on first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro after each young player had a disappointing 2013 season. The focus remains on the future, with slugging prospects Kris Bryant and Javier Baez attracting attention during spring training.

WEST

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Tough load for Alexander Guerrero, who is moving from shortstop to second base while adjusting to life in the United States. He defected from Cuba last year and agreed to a $28 million, four-year contract with the Dodgers in October. Dee Gordon and Chone Figgins also were in the mix at second.

Puig made his major league debut last June and hit .319 with 19 homers in 104 games. Will it be a sophomore slump for the strong-armed outfielder, or more of the same? Stay tuned.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Arroyo has pitched at least 200 innings in eight of the last nine seasons, and he had 199 innings with Cincinnati in 2011. The durable right-hander also wins, recording at least 12 victories in five of the last six years.

The 37-year-old Arroyo has been bothered by a bulging disk in his back. And that was a relatively minor problem for the Diamondbacks compared to the injury Patrick Corbin, who could need season-ending surgery on his left elbow. At least Arizona has Archie Bradley, one of the majors' best pitching prospects.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

The Padres have a promising rotation in Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross, Josh Johnson and Eric Stults. The hard-throwing Cashner, acquired from the Cubs in 2012 trade, went 10-9 last season with a 3.09 ERA in 31 games, 26 starts.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Hudson broke his right ankle while covering first for Atlanta last July 24, ending his season. The Giants are counting on a full recovery for the 38-year-old right-hander after their rotation faltered last year. Hudson had 49 wins for Atlanta from 2010-12.

COLORADO ROCKIES

No more Todd Helton; the longtime first baseman retired after 17 seasons in Colorado. Justin Morneau takes over, but the biggest key for the Rockies could be just keeping sluggers Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez on the field. Tulowitzki played in 126 games last year, while Gonzalez was limited to 110 games.

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AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco and AP freelance writer Carl Kotala in Viera, Fla., contributed to this report.

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Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

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