National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

First lady: Gay football player is 'inspiration'

WASHINGTON (AP) Michelle Obama says a gay University of Missouri football player is "an inspiration to all of us."

The first lady took to Twitter on Monday to comment on Michael Sam, the all-American college player who announced Sunday that he is gay. Mrs. Obama says she "couldn't be prouder" of Sam's courage, both on and off the field.

The tweet was signed "-mo," which is how the White House marks messages personally sent by the first lady.

Sam could become the first openly homosexual player in the NFL. He's scheduled to participate in the league's weeklong scouting camp, where potential draftees are evaluated, later this month in Indianapolis. He is currently projected to be a mid-round draft pick in May.

Reports: Missouri All-American says he is gay

Missouri All-American Michael Sam says he is gay, and the defensive end could become the first openly homosexual player in the NFL.

In interviews with ESPN, The New York Times and Outsports that were published Sunday, Sam said he came out to all his teammates and coaches at Missouri in August.

"I am an openly, proud gay man," he said.

Sam will participate in the NFL combine later this month in Indianapolis and is currently projected to be a mid-round draft pick in May.

"It's a big deal. No one has done this before. And it's kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be ... I want to be a football player in the NFL," he told ESPN.

The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Sam participated in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., last month after leading the Southeastern Conference in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (19). He was the SEC defensive player of the year.

There have been a few NFL players who have come out after their playing days, including Kwame Harris and Dave Kopay.

Last year, NBA player Jason Collins announced he was gay after the season. Collins, a 35-year-old backup center, was a free agent when he came out and has not signed with a new team this season. MLS star and U.S. national team player Robbie Rogers also came out a year ago.

"His courage will inspire millions to live their truth," Rogers tweeted about Sam.

Division III Willamette kicker Conner Mertens, a redshirt freshman, said last month he was bisexual.

"We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage," the NFL said in statement. "Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014."

Sam's announcement comes at a time gay rights issues and sports have collided at the Olympics in Sochi. Russia's anti-gay law has received much attention, and criticism, because of the games.

"By rewriting the script for countless young athletes, Michael has demonstrated the leadership that, along with his impressive skills on the field, makes him a natural fit for the NFL," said Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, a leading lesbian gay, bisexual and transgender media advocacy organization. "With acceptance of LGBT people rising across our coasts - in our schools, churches, and workplaces - it's clear that America is ready for an openly gay football star."

The NFL's sexual orientation, anti-discrimination and harassment policy states:

Coaches, General Managers and others responsible for interviewing and hiring draft-eligible players and free agents must not seek information concerning or make personnel decisions based on a player's sexual orientation. This includes asking questions during an interview that suggest that the player's sexual orientation will be a factor in the decision to draft or sign him.

Examples: Do you like women or men? How well do you do with the ladies? Do you have a girlfriend?

Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams tweeted: "I could care less about a man's sexual preference! i care about winning games and being respectful in the locker room!"

Williams' teammate, cornerback Drayton Florence, posted on his Twitter account: "No comment but it can be a distraction in the locker room. At least he's open with it much respect!"

Sam said many people at the Senior Bowl, an all-star game for NFL prospects, seemed to know he was gay.

"I didn't realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me," he told ESPN. "I want to own my truth. ... No one else should tell my story but me."

Sam told the Times he dated a man on the Missouri swim team and came out to teammates L'Damian Washington and Marvin Foster about a year ago, before letting the whole team know during last preseason.

"Coaches just wanted to know a little about ourselves, our majors, where we're from, and something that no one knows about you," Sam told ESPN. "And I used that opportunity just to tell them that I was gay. And their reaction was like, `Michael Sam finally told us."'

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said in a statement Sunday night he was proud of Sam and how he represented the program.

"Michael is a great example of just how important it is to be respectful of others, he's taught a lot of people here first-hand that it doesn't matter what your background is, or your personal orientation, we're all on the same team and we all support each other," Pinkel said. "If Michael doesn't have the support of his teammates like he did this past year, I don't think there's any way he has the type of season he put together."

Missouri linebacker Donovan Bonner was a teammate of Sam's for five years.

"We knew of his status for 5 years and not one team member, coach, or staff member said anything says a lot about our family atmosphere," Bonner tweeted.

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AP Sports Writer Steve Reed in Charlotte, N.C., contributed to this report.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

SOCHI: What to watch on Monday

Here's a look at the compelling events, athletes and storylines of the Sochi Olympics on Monday, Feb. 10: 

Alpine Skiing

Women's super combined

Downhill: 2 a.m. ET -- CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Slalom: 6 a.m. ET -- CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

American Julia Mancuso is the 2010 Olympic silver medalist in this event that adds the times from one downhill run and one slalom run. She hasn't finished better than seventh in any World Cup race this season, but she's come up big at major events without much run-up fanfare before.

The clear favorite is German Maria Hoefl-Riesch, the reigning Olympic and world champion. Also watch out for reigning World Cup overall champion Tina Maze as well Canadian Marie-Michele Gagnon. Gagnon looks to win her nation's first Alpine medal since 1994.

Short Track

Men's 1500m, 4:45 a.m. ET -- CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Short track debuts with heats, semifinals and finals of the longest individual distance on the program. In 2010, this was the race where two South Koreans wiped out on the final turn, and Apolo Ohno and J.R. Celski skated past for silver and bronze.

Ohno is of course retired, but Celski is back and a medal contender again. The 23-year-old won a 1500m World Cup event in Kolomna, Russia, in November. He'll face a tough road to the final with three South Koreans, Russian Viktor Ahn (formerly Ahn Hyun-Soo of South Korea) and Canadian Charles Hamelin also in the field.

Speed Skating

Men's 500m, 8 a.m. ET -- CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

South Korean Mo Tae-Bum looks to repeat as champion in the shortest distance in speed skating. The medal picture is fairly open though, given seven men have won World Cup 500m races this season and only one captured more than one.

The powerful Dutch send twins Michel and Ronald Mulder (Michel is the 2014 World Sprint Champion). The U.S. has Tucker Fredricks and Mitchell Whitmore, who are seventh and 10th in the World Cup standings.

Luge

Women's singles, runs 1 and 2, 9:45 a.m. ET -- CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

This is Germany's event. They've won the last four Olympic women's luge titles and routinely dominate World Cups and World Championships. Natalie Geisenberger, the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist, looks primed to march halfway to gold of the four-run competition Monday night.

2010 Olympic champion Tatjana Huefner and two-time World Championships medalist Anke Wischnewski round out the German contingent seeking a sweep.

Canadian Alex Gough and Russian Tatyana Ivanova are the best non-German hopes. The U.S., yet to win an Olympic singles luge medal, sends 2009 world champion Erin Hamlin, the last World Cup race winner, Kate Hansen, and rising 19-year-old Summer Britcher.

Biathlon

Men's 12.5km pursuit, 10 a.m. ET -- CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Biathlon is not normally a must-see event in the U.S., but history is at stake here. Norway's Ole Einar Bjoerndalen will go off first in the pursuit, which essentially gives head starts based on finishes from the 10km sprint Saturday.

Bjoerndalen, 40, won the sprint to tie retired countryman and cross-country skier Bjorn Daehlie for the most career Winter Olympic medals. He now seeks record-breaking No. 13. Even if he doesn't get it Monday, he has two relays upcoming where Norway is favored for gold.

Tim Burke leads the U.S. contingent, starting 19th and 50 seconds behind Bjoerndalen. No American has won an Olympic biathlon medal.

Men’s Curling

U.S.-Norway, 10 a.m. ET -- CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

If you're going to watch one Olympic curling match, it might as well be this one. The U.S. men will need to pull off upsets to contend for a medal in Sochi. Defeating Norway in their opener would certainly qualify.

The Norwegians are the reigning Olympic and world silver medalists. They are better known for their outrageous pants, though they've displayed an even more interesting look in practice here.

- See more at: http://www.nbcolympics.com/news/day-3-sochi-olympics-what-to-watch-nbc#s...

Marcus Smart banned 3 games for shoving fan

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) Marcus Smart was quiet and subdued as he apologized at a podium, a demeanor in stark contrast to the one that sent shockwaves through Oklahoma State's basketball program hours earlier.

Smart was suspended three games Sunday by the Big 12 for shoving a fan in the closing seconds of the Cowboys' loss at Texas Tech on Saturday night.

The conference acted swiftly in banning the All-America guard, saying in a statement the penalty was handed down for "inappropriate conduct with a spectator."

Smart apologized to the fan, his teammates and his family for his role in the altercation before coach Travis Ford expressed support for the sophomore without dismissing the severity of his actions.

"This is not how I conduct myself," said Smart, a top NBA prospect. "This is not how the program is run. This is not how I was raised. I let my emotions get the best of me. It's something I'll have to learn from, a lesson I'll have to learn from. The consequences that are coming with it - I'm taking full responsibility. No fingers pointing - this is all upon me."

Late in Saturday night's game at Lubbock, Texas, Smart tumbled out of bounds behind the basket after trying to block a shot. He was helped to his feet and then shoved Jeff Orr with two hands after it appeared the Red Raiders fan said something to him. Teammates quickly pulled Smart away as he pointed back and shouted in Orr's direction.

Smart will miss games against Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor. He can return for a Feb. 22 home game against Texas Tech. But Ford said Smart will be allowed to practice.

"These guys mean a lot to me, and for me not to be able to be out there with them - it hits me in my heart," Smart said.

Texas Tech released a statement saying it conducted a thorough investigation. Orr denied making a racial slur, and Tech said the evidence backs up Orr's statement.

Orr, who goes to many Texas Tech games every year, has voluntarily agreed to not attend any Red Raiders home or away games for the remainder of the season, according to the statement.

"I would like to take this opportunity to offer my sincere apologies to Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, Tubby Smith and the Texas Tech Men's Basketball program," Orr said in the statement. "My actions last night were inappropriate and do not reflect myself or Texas Tech - a university I love dearly. I regret calling Mr. Smart a `piece of crap' but I want to make it known that I did not use a racial slur of any kind."

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who is at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, condemned Smart's actions in a statement.

"Mr. Smart's actions were a clear violation of the Big 12 Conference's Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct Policy," Bowlsby said. "Such behavior has no place in athletics, and will not be tolerated. I appreciate the efforts of Oklahoma State University athletics director Mike Holder in addressing this matter, and believe this is an appropriate response to an inappropriate action."

Ford said Smart already is learning from the incident.

"He understands, and we talked a lot about it, that no matter what is said or anything like that within a context of the game or life in general, whether it's the heat of the moment or no matter what it is, you've got to try to keep your composure as much as you can," Ford said.

Ford said Smart is a good teammate, "no sir, yes sir, do-whatever-you-ask-him-to-do" guy who is positive, even when he struggles.

"I hate it because he gets painted with a certain brush," Ford said. "I understand that. I get that."

Considered one of the best all-around players in the country, Smart has showed frustration more than once during an inconsistent season.

The sophomore guard got off to a fantastic start, leading to speculation that he could be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft this year. He has struggled in some recent games, though, including a four-point effort against West Virginia when he kicked a chair on the bench. That led to him apologizing to his teammates afterward.

"Marcus puts a lot of pressure on himself at times. It's something we have been addressing for a while," Ford said. "On many occasions he has handled it well, and on a few occasions he hasn't. I never fault his intention to be at his best every time he steps on the court. At times, it may not come across as his best, but Marcus does a pretty good job of analyzing himself and the areas in which he can improve."

Holder said everyone involved in college athletics can learn from the situation.

"Some things are more important than winning and losing," he said. "Your respect you have, your self-image, all that that takes a lifetime to build, can be gone in the blink of an eye. Playing competitive athletics is a privilege. It's not a right, it's a privilege. And that privilege can be taken away from you."

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AP Sports Writer Betsy Blaney in Lubbock, Texas, contributed to this report.

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Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP

Cheyenne Woods wins Australian Ladies Masters

GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) Cheyenne Woods won the Australian Ladies Masters on Sunday for her first major professional tour victory, holding off 17-year-old Australian amateur Minjee Lee by two strokes.

The 23-year-old Woods, Tiger Woods' niece, closed with a 4-under 69 at Royal Pines to finish at 16-under 276. Lee also shot 69 in the event sanctioned by the European and Australian tours.

Woods birdied the par-5 15th to open a two-stroke lead, hitting a wedge from about 120 yards to 4 feet. On the par-5 18th, she matched Lee with a birdie, holing out from 1 1/2 feet.

"This is a huge accomplishment for me," Woods said. "The European Tour has been great to be able to play this past year. I've been able to see all of these great players, play with Solheim Cup members ... to be able to come out here and compete with them and come out on top was huge for me."

From Phoenix, Woods is the daughter of Earl Woods Jr., Tiger Woods' half brother.

Woods turned professional in 2012 after an All-America career at Wake Forest and her only previous pro victory came in 2012 in a SunCoast mini-tour event. In December, she missed the cut in the LPGA Tour's qualifying tournament in a failed bid to earn a spot on the circuit.

"I've been pro for two years and, for the majority of it, people just think of me as Tiger Woods' niece, so now I have a game of my own and I have a title now, a win, which is exciting," she said. "It's nice now to say to people that I can play and I'm not just a name. Growing up with the last name of Woods, there's a lot of expectations and pressure and spotlight on you but I always knew that I was able to win. I always knew I'd be able to compete with these ladies, so now it's kind of a weight off my shoulders because now everybody knows not just me."

Woods earned $51,000 and a two-year exemption on the Ladies European Tour. She will play next week in the LPGA Tour-sanctioned Women's Australian Open in Victoria.

South Africa's Stacy Lee Bregman and Sweden's Camilla Lennarth tied for third at 12 under. Bergman closed with a 72, and Lenmarth had a 70.

SOCHI: Russia wins team figure skating, first gold of Games

SOCHI, Russia -- A master showman and four-time Olympic medalist, Evgeni Plushenko knows brilliance on the ice.

He saw it Sunday night inside the Iceberg at Sochi's Olympic Park from a countrywoman half his age. And he is certain Russia's figure skating future is secure in the skates of Julia Lipnitskaia.

"She is a genius," Plushenko said.

Along with eight teammates, the 31-year-old veteran and 15-year-old Olympic rookie won the new event of team figure skating and lifted the host nation to its first gold medal of the Sochi Olympics. Together, they put Russia back atop a sport it once dominated.

"My main motivation today," Lipnitskaia said, "was not to let the team down."

There was no chance of that in an arena packed with her exulting countrymen, including President Vladimir Putin. The Russians skated away from Canada and the United States to win the gold before the final free dance even started.

In no discipline did Russia finish worse than third, compiling 75 points to Canada's 65 that won silver and the 60 that gave bronze to the Americans.

It was a rout built on the experience of Plushenko, the consummate entertainer who now has two golds and two silvers -- a record for modern-era figure skaters.

It was victory capped by the freshness of Lipnitskaia, who donned a Russia baseball cap when she was done with her sublime tour of the ice, sat with her triumphant teammates and grinned like the school kid she is.

"I was calm," Lipnitskaia said, adding it was her coaches, parents and teammates who were nervous. "I'm happy with my marks, the scores overall, for the team and for all of Russia. I am so pleased all the country could help me."

That includes Putin, who personally congratulated the team after their victory and picked the perfect competition to make his first at these games. Also in the Iceberg stands: members of the Russian ice-hockey team, Olympic champion gymnast Alina Kabayeva and two-time Olympic champion pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva.

"We feel joy and honor," said ice dancer Elena Ilinykh of Putin's presence. "It was inspirational."

That some other countries sat out their top skaters or that the Russians did the same in pairs and dance didn't matter. This was never much of a contest.

"This games is the hardest for me," Plushenko said. "All the fans are cheering so hard that you literally cannot do badly because they do everything with you. You get goose bumps."

The Americans' bronze effort was led by world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who won both the short and free dance, and helped by national champion Gracie Gold's superb free skate, which the judges scored second behind Lipnitskaia.

"We were looking forward to this event," White said. "We feel like we were out there for each other and with each other."

Davis and White beat their top rivals and training partners, defending champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, in both dance disciplines. Canada didn't win any segment, but built enough points throughout to take silver.

American Jason Brown of Highland Park, Ill., was fourth in his first major senior international event.

But those are just details. This was a night for a Russian show that might be celebrated as much as the Bolshoi.

It signals the country's return to the top of a sport it had owned for decades. As the Soviet Union or Russia, the host nation had won 51 Olympic figure skating medals. But there were no golds in Vancouver four years ago, a first since the country was blanked in 1960.

Now, in the first figure skating event of the Sochi Games, Russia stood atop the medals podium.

It's a place the sensational Lipnitskaia could make her own, just as Plushenko has done for more than a decade. Her routine to "Schindler's List" was mesmerizing. With maturity and grace beyond her years, she clearly was never bothered by her surroundings on this golden night for Russia.

"She's dynamite," Gold said while Lipnitskaia was still skating. "She's 15 and completely unfazed."

Lipnitskaia then contorted her body into one of her spins that a human body shouldn't be able to perform.

"She has no spine," Gold added with a chuckle. "But she has iron in her bones."

Give Plushenko plenty of credit, too. He says he's had 12 surgeries. He barely competed after finishing second to American Evan Lysacek in 2010 at the Vancouver Games. And he had to convince his federation he deserved to be in Sochi after finishing second at the national championships.

Mission accomplished, with a golden hue.

Skating to "Best of Plushenko," there were mistakes in his jumps and not much in between them aside from the required footwork. No, it was not his best, but he scored 168.20 points.

"Today he was a good member of the team," said his longtime coach, Alexei Mishin. "He's enough famous and enough great."

SOCHI: Miller's wobble shows world of alpine skiing not fair

SOCHI — Here’s the thing you can feel, really feel, when watching Bode Miller ski the downhill: He’s on the edge. He’s pushing the edge. In his words, he’s pushing the line. All of the downhill skiers are but maybe you feel it a little more with Miller. He’s on the very edge.

The edge of what? Well, that’s a little bit harder to pinpoint. He’s always on the edge of a crash, of course, but it feels even more dangerous than that. It’s like he and the other downhillers are on the edge of something disastrous, something calamitous, something hard to put into words.

“Hhhhh!” the person next to me sounds off five or six times while Miller skis — the sound of catching breath. “Huhhh,” she inhales when he’s turning and looks as if he’s about to flip. “Huhhh!” she inhales when he crashes into a gate. “Huhhh!” she inhales when it seems like he’s about to go bouncing off the course and, possibly, into the outer atmosphere never to be seen again. It’s like a sustained two-minute horror movie.

The alpine downhill is, perhaps, the marquee event of the Games because of that “Huhhh” sound, because of the feeling in the pit of the stomach, because even with all the thrilling jumps and blazing speed around the Games, it is the sport that grabs your inside for a few thrilling seconds. And then it’s over.

That means: Over. There’s one run down the mountain. That’s all. In a sports world of second chances and efforts to make things even for everybody, the downhill is thoroughly and unapologetically unjust and biased. You get your turn. If you catch a bad break on the light, or the wind changes direction, or the course is chewed up for your run, or the weather takes a bad turn … you deal with it. There’s no second chance.

And because of this: We are on a 25-year run of mostly random Olympic champions. The greatest downhill skiers of the last quarter century are probably, in no particular order: Austrians Michael WalchhoferStefan Eberharter and the legendary Hermann Maier (the Herminator); the great Swiss skier Didier Cuche; fellow Swiss skier Franz Heinzer who won three consecutive World Cup downhill titles; France’s Luc Alphand who would become a race car driver; Norway’s current genius of the downhill Aksel Lund Svindal and, heck, let’s throw in Bode MIller because so many downhill skiers are in awe of his guts and will.

Here’s one thing that is true of all nine of those men who have dominated the downhill for a quarter century.

Not one of them won an Olympic downhill gold medal.

It’s pretty wild, if you think about it. It would be like taking the nine fastest sprinters of the last 25 years and not one of them wins an Olympic gold in the 100m. The Olympic downhill was once the place to elevate the greatest downhill skiers — Franz KlammerJean Claude KillyToni SailerBernhard Russi — into legendary figures.

But now — randomness rules. In Torino in 2006, for instance, France’s Antoine Deneriaz won gold. It was the only international downhill race he ever won. The great Michael Walchhofer, two-time defending World Cup champion, settled for the silver, the only downhill medal he ever won.

In 1998, France’s Jean-Luc Cretier won the downhill. It was HIS only international victory. Hermann Maier, like more than a dozen others, crashed on the seventh turn and could not finish. Maier won gold medals in the super-G and the giant slalom in his career. But the downhill always eluded the Herminator.

In 1994 it was American Tommy Moe, and, right, he never won a World Cup downhill race either. Franz Heinzer — who, as mentioned, had won three World Cup titles in a row — crashed. Two years earlier, Heinzer finished sixth.

Sunday, everyone was looking to Bode and Svindal and Adrien Theaux of France. They are the best in the world. Miller was the most intriguing of the bunch; though he’s 36 and has been written off, he had been awe inspiring in training. Two out of three sessions, he had finished with the fastest training time. After his breathtaking Saturday session, Kjetil Jansrud of Norway issued a quote on Miller’s run was blunt and to the point: “There’s not much to say besides it was epic.”

“It’s a f-ing real course,” Miller explained, as only Miller can explain.

Then, Sunday, a 23-year-old named Matthias Mayer went out early on that bleepin’ real course and put up a pretty good time. He didn’t think it was THAT good a time, but then nobody really expected much of him. Mayer is the son of Helmut Mayer, the 1988 silver medalist in the super-G, and he’s considered a bit of a skiing phenom but so far he had not done much in the downhill. He had never won an international race.

Miller went four skiers later. He would say something about the sun going down on him and that causing some issues. He would say that the middle of the course just slowed down. Then, this is the deal with the downhill. No mercy. He was faster than Mayer at the top of the track but he slowed, he had a brush with a gate, and he simply could not find enough speed. His run certainly FELT dangerous. But it was a half second slow.

Svindal went shortly after Miller. He too could not find enough speed to get on the medal stand. Theaux followed and could not come close. The only one who did come close to Mayer was Italian Christof Innerhofer who is worth mentioning because he’s also an Armani swimsuit and ski wear model, plays the stock market, and takes painkillers for his back every single day so he can continue to ski. THAT is a downhill skier. He fell six-hundredths of a second short.

And the times got slower and slower after that. Mayer won gold. It made him the fourth man since 1994 to win his first downhill event at the Winter Olympics.

“It’s tough when you have to judge yourself because the clock doesn’t really seem to judge you fairly,” Miller said when it ended.

That’s the downhill at the Olympics. It’s thrilling. It’s terrifying. It’s magnificent.

And it does not even pretend to be fair.

Durant scores 41 as Thunder defeat Knicks 112-100

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Kevin Durant scored 41 points, with 10 rebounds and nine assists, and the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the New York Knicks 112-100 on Sunday.

Reggie Jackson had 19 points and six assists and Serge Ibaka had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Thunder, who were coming off a 103-102 loss to struggling Orlando on Friday.

Durant, the league's leading scorer, got the best of his duel with New York's Carmelo Anthony, the league's No. 2 scorer. Anthony finished with 15 points on 5-for-19 shooting for the Knicks, who now have lost four of five.

Raymond Felton and Amar'e Stoudemire each scored 16 points for the Knicks, who have lost four of five.

The Thunder made 12 3-pointers and shot 55 percent overall.

Oklahoma City led 58-53 at halftime as Durant outscored Anthony 19-7.

The Thunder asserted themselves in the third quarter. Jackson drained a 3-pointer to put the Thunder up 76-64 midway through the period. Durant's 3-pointer gave the Thunder an 81-69 edge, and the Knicks called a timeout.

New York cut Oklahoma City's lead to 86-80 early in the fourth quarter on a dunk by Jeremy Tyler, but Oklahoma City pulled away. A 3-pointer by Durant pushed Oklahoma City's lead to 95-86.

Oklahoma City led 97-88 with 5:34 remaining when Ibaka was issued a technical foul. Anthony made the free throw, but the Knicks didn't get anything out of the possession. The Thunder took control from there as a long jumper by Ibaka put Oklahoma City ahead 105-90.

Durant scored his 40th point on a free throw with 1:41 remaining.

NOTES: Knicks guard Metta World Peace, who as Ron Artest attacked a fan in the stands in 2004, said Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart can learn from his incident with a fan on Saturday night. Smart shoved Texas Tech superfan Jeff Orr late in the game. "I think that emotion and that fire could be directed towards winning on the court instead of directed other ways," World Peace, the former Pacers star said. ... The Thunder shot 60 percent in the first half. ... Anthony played the late minutes of the game with five fouls.

Okla State to address Smart confrontation with fan

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Oklahoma State will hold a news conference Sunday in Stillwater with Marcus Smart, coach Travis Ford and athletic director Mike Holder to address Smart's confrontation with a fan at Texas Tech.

Late in Saturday night's game at Lubbock, Texas, Smart confronted a Red Raiders fan in the stands after it appeared the fan said something to the All-America guard. Smart shoved Tech fan Jeff Orr with two hands, and teammates quickly pulled Smart away as he pointed back in Orr's direction. Smart was issued a technical foul and did not play the final seconds of the game.

A decision on whether Smart will be punished is expected to come Sunday.

Texas Tech said earlier Sunday it is investigating the incident, trying to speak with people who were in the area of the altercation to find out what was said to Smart.

"We are conducting a very thorough investigation, trying to collect everything we can," Texas Tech spokesman Blayne Beal said Sunday. "We are in conversations with Mr. Orr."

There is no fan-behavior guidelines printed on Texas Tech basketball tickets, Beal said, but the school follows the Big 12's sportsmanship policy. Before each game the public address announcer reads a few sentences about sportsmanship that includes that inappropriate fan behavior will not be tolerated.

"It's read literally at every game," Beal said.

Section 12.2.1 is titled Institutional Responsibility: "The Big 12 member institutions have the responsibility to take all reasonable steps to ensure that all university employees, students, and others in attendance at athletics events conduct themselves in a dignified manner and exhibit respect and courtesy towards game officials, other institutions and their employees, students (including student-athletes) and fans."

Orr did not immediately return a call Sunday seeking comment.

Knicks forward Metta World Peace, who was in Oklahoma on Sunday to play the Thunder, says Smart can learn from the fallout that will come from the incident.

If anyone would know, it's the player formerly known as Ron Artest.

In 2004, Artest infamously ran into the stands and attacked a Detroit Pistons fan who he thought threw a beer on him. Artest was suspended for 73 regular-season games and the playoffs before being traded the next season.

World Peace said Smart - who is projected to be a high NBA draft pick - might benefit from learning how to deal with obnoxious fans at age 19, before he becomes a pro and millions of dollars are on the line.

"Just in general, I heard the kid is pretty good and a potential pro," World Peace said Sunday before his game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. "So those types of challenges on the court when you're playing and fans are rooting against you - that was a great lesson learned, so that hopefully when he does become a pro, he'll be able to kind of withstand the fans that are rooting against him on the road."

World Peace also said Smart needs to learn to control his energy.

"I think that emotion and that fire could be directed towards winning on the court instead of directed other ways," he said.

World Peace said given the chance, he would advise Smart to be aware of the big picture when making decisions.

"At 19 years old, when I came out of St. John's, I was fresh out the `hood. I was fresh out of Queensbridge," he said. "So my mentality was still struggle, defensive and things like that. I wasn't really conscious. I'm 34 years old now. So he's a young kid. I wish I would have listened when I was a kid to my elders or people who had my best interests at heart, and then I wish I would have been more conscious at that age also. Those are two things that, if you were to reach out to a kid like Marcus - a talented kid, future leader in the community - you would tell him those things."

World Peace said more guidelines should be in place for college fans because college players don't get paid. He said fans should have more leeway at NBA games.

"As far as the pros, people pay to come and see us, and I appreciate it because I'm able to take care of my family," he said. "So I don't really judge fans about what they say, good or bad."

When asked if he would respond to the beer thrower differently in 2014 versus 2004, World Peace's eyes lit up.

"If you threw a beer on me, I would probably put you in a choke hold right now," he said with a smile. "And then we would get some ice cream later. But I would tell you how much of an (expletive) you were."

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Associated Press Writer Betsy Blaney in Lubbock, Texas contributed to this report.

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Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com

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Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP

Pistons fire coach Maurice Cheeks

DETROIT (AP) Even by the Detroit Pistons' recent standards, this was an abrupt change.

Detroit fired coach Maurice Cheeks on Sunday after less than a year as coach, with the Pistons languishing well below .500 despite offseason moves aimed at putting the struggling franchise back in contention.

Detroit is 21-29, and although the Pistons still have a decent chance to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, their new roster has performed erratically.

"This was a difficult decision for the organization to make but we needed to make a change," team president Joe Dumars said in a statement. "We have great respect for Maurice and appreciate his hard work."

A person with knowledge of Detroit's plans said assistant John Loyer will take over as interim coach. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team had not announced an interim coach yet.

The Pistons haven't made the playoffs since being swept in the first round in 2009 - in Michael Curry's only season as their coach. Since then, Detroit has gone through two seasons under John Kuester and two under Lawrence Frank.

After neither of them could make any real progress, Cheeks was brought in as Detroit's ninth coach since the 1999-2000 season.

In addition to hiring Cheeks last offseason, Detroit signed forward Josh Smith and traded for point guard Brandon Jennings, trying to bolster a roster that already included young big men Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

But the mix has been uninspiring for the most part. The Pistons have had problems defensively and have struggled to close out games in the fourth quarter.

The poor attendance that's become commonplace at The Palace hasn't really improved - and Detroit's 11-15 home record hasn't helped.

"Our record does not reflect our talent and we simply need a change," Pistons owner Tom Gores said Sunday. "We have not made the kind of progress that we should have over the first half of the season. This is a young team and we knew there would be growing pains, but we can be patient only as long as there is progress."

Detroit is only a half-game out of the final playoff spot in the East, but that's largely because so many teams in the conference are having similar problems. The Pistons are only three games better than they were after 50 games last season.

Cheeks became the first coach to leave or be fired after 50 games or fewer with an NBA team since Rudy Tomjanovich, who coached only 44 games for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004-05, according to STATS. That does not include interim coaches.

"The responsibility does not fall squarely on any one individual, but right now this change is a necessary step toward turning this thing around," Gores said.

"I still have a lot of hope for this season and I expect our players to step up. I respect and appreciate Maurice Cheeks and thank him for his efforts; we just require a different approach."

The Pistons have won four of six, including back-to-back blowouts at home against Brooklyn and Denver on Friday and Saturday. They host San Antonio on Monday night, and the team has not made any announcement about who will coach that game.

Cheeks previously coached Portland and Philadelphia, a team he won an NBA title with as a point guard. The Pistons gave him his third shot to be an NBA head coach in June.

Gores was in attendance at a recent game and said he thought the team was better than its record.

"I'm not satisfied. Our job is to make sure that our players are at their maximum," Gores said after that Feb. 1 game against Philadelphia. "I'm not satisfied with the job I'm doing. I'm not satisfied with the job anyone is doing."

At that point, speculation centered around the upcoming trade deadline and the possibility that Detroit might shake up its roster again. Now, the Pistons are hoping another coaching change can improve the franchise's outlook.

Detroit made the conference finals six straight years from 2003-08, but the team's fall was swift after that, and rebuilding has been difficult. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Pistons' championship in 2004 - and the atmosphere at The Palace could hardly be more different.

"We're focused on how to make our players the best," Gores said earlier this month. "I don't think we've done our best job of making sure they are at their best. They are working at 100 percent, but these are young men who need a lot of preparation."

The Pistons became the third major pro team in Detroit to make a coaching or managerial change in the past six months. Jim Leyland of the Tigers stepped down and was replaced by Brad Ausmus after last season, and the Lions fired Jim Schwartz in late December, eventually replacing him with Jim Caldwell.

So Ausmus, who has yet to manage a game, is now the second-longest tenured manager or coach of the city's four major pro teams.

Yahoo Sports first reported Cheeks' firing.

Oregon coach claims student spit at him

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Oregon coach Dana Altman is concerned about safety at Arizona State's Wells Fargo Arena after two of his staffers claim an ASU student spit at them at halftime of Saturday's night's game.

Oregon assistant coach Brian Fish told The Oregonian the student spit at him and trainer Clay Jamieson and reported the incident to arena security, but did not want charges pressed.

The incident was addressed and the student had his season tickets revoked, according to an Arizona State official.

Altman said after the Ducks' 747-72 loss it was not a good situation having visiting teams go past the student section on their way off the court at Wells Fargo Arena.

Ducks guard Jason Calliste had a verbal confrontation with at least one student late in the first half.

OSU star Smart shoves fan in loss to Texas Tech

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) Oklahoma State star Marcus Smart shoved a fan underneath the basket in the waning seconds of Texas Tech's 65-61 win over the 19th-ranked Cowboys on Saturday night.

Smart tried to block Jaye Crockett's dunk attempt from behind with 6.2 seconds to go and tumbled into the front row of the crowd. He was helped to his feet by one man but then got in the face of another fan in a black shirt.

The man appeared to say something to Smart, who then shoved him with two hands. The fan stumbled backward a bit but didn't fall.

Teammates quickly pulled an angry Smart away from the fracas, and he pointed back in the direction of the fan. Smart was called for a technical foul but was not ejected.

SOCHI: What to watch on Sunday

Here’s a look at the compelling events, athletes and storylines of the Sochi Olympics on Sunday, Feb. 9.

WHAT TO STAY UP LATE FOR …

Men’s downhill, 2 a.m. ET — CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE EVENT LIVE

The medal picture for the marquee skiing event of the Olympics has shaken up over the last few weeks. American Bode Miller, a five-time Olympian with five Olympic medals, is now a legitimate pick for gold despite missing all of the 2012-13 season following knee surgery.

Miller, 36, was the fastest man in two of the three training runs at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort. He would be the oldest Alpine skier to win an Olympic medal.

He’s been the best skier on the mountain,” Aksel Lund Svindal, the reigning world champion and World Cup champion, said of Miller. “So now he looks like the favorite.”

Miller, the 2010 Olympic downhill bronze medalist, has not won a World Cup race in three years but took third in the final pre-Olympic downhill race Jan. 25. A sixth Olympic medal would put him solo second all time among men behind retired Norwegian Kjetil Andre Aamodt, who earned eight.

Svindal, the 2010 Olympic silver medalist, has won 11 World Cup races in the same three-year span. He’s been eighth, third and second in this week’s training runs.

Before the training runs, Svindal was a consensus gold-medal favorite, a status cemented when top Austrian hope Hannes Reichelt withdrew from the Olympics with a herniated disk. Italian Dominik Paris, the 2013 world silver medalist, has yet to return to form from a December crash.

Snowboarding, women’s slopestyle, 4:15 a.m. ET – CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Four-time Winter X Games champion Jamie Anderson could make it a U.S. sweep in snowboard slopestyle following Sage Kotsenburg’s surprise gold Saturday.

Anderson qualified second into the final, passing on her second run after posting a 93.50 in her opener Thursday. Anderson is a slight favorite over 2013 world champion Spencer O’Brien of Canada and top qualifier Anna Gasser of Austria. American Karly Shorr and Australian 2010 Olympic halfpipe champion Torah Bright also qualified straight into the 12-woman final.

Reigning X Games champion Silje Norendal will join the favorites mix if she is one of four to advance out of the 15-woman semifinals, which begin at 1:30 a.m. ET. Americans Ty Walker and Jessika Jenson are also in the semis.

WHAT TO WAKE UP EARLY FOR ….

Speed skating, women’s 3000m, 6:30 a.m. ET – CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

The first women’s speed skating event of the Olympics is likely to come down to three veteran Olympic champions.

Czech Martina Sablikova is the defending Olympic champion and World Cup leader. German Claudia Pechstein, 41 and a nine-time Olympic medalist, is the only woman to beat Sablikova in a World Cup 3000m this season. The Netherlands’ Ireen Wuest is the 2006 Olympic champion and reigning world champion in the distance.

The U.S. women’s team is likely to end its medal drought since 2002 in Sochi, but it probably won’t come here. Jilleanne Rookard and Anna Ringsred represent the red, white and blue.

WHAT YOU CAN’T MISS DURING THE DAY …

Luge, men’s singles, 9:30 a.m. ET — CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

The third and fourth runs will determine the medals at the Sanki Sliding Center. The first two runs saw the same accomplished men in the top three — defending Olympic champion German Felix Loch, seven-time Olympian Russian Albert Demtschenko and 2002 and 2006 Olympic champion Italian Armin Zoeggeler.

Loch leads by .294 over Demtschenko and .744 over Zoeggeler. He’s trying to become the third man to win back-to-back Olympic luge titles, joining Zoeggeler and German Georg Hackl.

Zoeggeler would be the first athlete to win a Winter Olympic medal in six straight Games. Demtschenko, 42, can take the title of oldest Winter Olympic champion in an individual event from Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who set the mark Saturday.

Chris Mazdzer is the top American in 13th, the same place he finished at the 2010 Olympics. The U.S. has never won an Olympic singles luge medal, and that drought will continue.

Figure skating, team event, 10 a.m. ET (Live on NBCSN) – CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

The first figure skating medals will be awarded following three sets of free skates (men, women and ice dance) from five nations at the Iceberg Palace. The U.S. improved from a tie for fifth to third place Saturday, but it can’t finish higher than second as Russia is well ahead.

The U.S. is expected to send first-time Olympians Jason Brown and Gracie Gold and world ice dance champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White up on Sunday, in that order. They must average a little over two spots better than Canada per event to win silver. That is very unlikely.

Really, the Americans should be more concerned with being caught by Italy and Japan, which are three and four points back. The key will be Brown and Gold handling the pressure of their Olympic debuts. The U.S. could even trail Italy and Japan by a point or two going into the free dance finale, since those nations don’t have the firepower to match Davis and White.

Canada needs to finish at least two spots better than Russia per event to overtake the host nation for gold. That is very unlikely. Russia is guaranteed no worse than silver, meaning Yevgeny Plushenko will become the second figure skater to win four Olympic medals.

Ski Jumping, men’s normal hill, 12:30 p.m. ET – CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVEThe second day of competition will conclude with ski jumping under the lights at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center. Ski jumping has been a daytime affair at all recent Winter Olympics save 2006.

Gold is up for grabs. Four-time Olympic champion Swiss Simon Ammann is among the contenders, as are decorated Austrians Gregor Schlierenzauer, Thomas Morgenstern and Thomas Diethart. Poland, Slovenia, Norway and Germany send top jumpers as well.

And then there’s Japan’s Noriaki Kasai, at 41, in his seventh Olympics and still looking for his first individual medal. He’s got a shot.

The U.S. qualified three men into Sunday’s competition — Nick Alexander, Anders Johnson and Peter Frenette — but neither is expected to contend for medals.

US Olympic LW Pacioretty injured with Canadiens

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty sustained a lower body injury when he was checked into the goal in the first period against the Carolina Hurricanes, putting in jeopardy his spot on the U.S. Olympic hockey team.

Pacioretty collided with the goal with 7:30 left in the first period Saturday after being checked by Carolina's Brett Bellemore in the teams' final game before the Olympic break.

A native of New Canaan, Conn., Pacioretty was scheduled to leave for Sochi, Russia, on Sunday to join the American team, which opens play on Thursday against Slovakia.

The 25-year-old Pacioretty has played 49 games this season. He has 26 goals and 11 assists. Pacioretty had second hat trick of the season Thursday in a 5-2 win over Vancouver.

Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal: Rampant Reds tear leaders apart

Liverpool put on a devastating first half display to blow away league leaders Arsenal at Anfield on Saturday, with the home side running out 5-1 winners over the Gunners.

The scoring started early as Martin Skrtel scored after just 55 seconds, then grabbed another after nine minutes. Soon after Raheem Sterling made it 3-0, then in the 19th minute Daniel Sturridge made it 4-0 in an incredible opening 20 minutes for Liverpool.

Arsenal were shell-shocked following Liverpool’s high-pressure approach and after the break Sterling made it 5-0 as the rout continued. To their credit Arsenal kept working hard and bagged a consolation through Mikel Arteta‘s penalty with 20 minutes to go.

With the win Liverpool stay in fourth but are now just five points behind leaders Arsenal, while the Gunners will expect to be replaced at the top by Manchester City or Chelsea later in the weekend.

(MORE: Three things we learned in Liverpool’s battering of Arsenal)

After just 55 seconds Liverpool took the lead, as Suarez had been fouled out wide by Per Mertesacker andSteven Gerrard swung in a magnificent free kick which Skrtel guided past Wojciech Szczesny to send Anfield wild and put Liverpool 1-0 up.

Arsenal then fell further behind in the 9th minute as Skrtel once again got on the end of a set-piece from Gerrard, as the Slovakian defender headed home his second goal of the game to put Liverpool in dreamland and 2-0 up.

Liverpool were rampant as both Suarez and Daniel Sturridge came close to scoring a third, as Suarez smashed the upright with a marvelous volley from 25-yards out that really deserved to go in. The Gunners didn’t know what had hit them, as only Mertesacker’s glancing header came close to reducing Liverpool’s lead.

And then Liverpool were 3-0 up as Suarez broke down the right and fed Sterling to slot home in the 15th minute. Less than five minutes later the home side were ahead 4-0 as Philippe Coutinho played a marvelous ball to Sturridge who slotted home to score for his seventh straight game.

After just 20 minutes of the first half gone, Liverpool were 4-0 up. I repeat, 4-0 up against PL leaders Arsenal.

For the rest of the first half it was a case of damage limitation for Arsenal, as they held back Liverpool who just kept surging forward with their incredible high-pressure approach.

(Latest Premier League Standings)

After the break it was more of the same, as Sterling raced clear after good play down Liverpool’s left an the young English winger bagged his second and Liverpool’s fifth in the 51st minute.

Arsenal made a triple substitution on the hour mark as Podolski, Rosicky and Gibbs all came on as Wenger tried to spark life into his side that had been completely obliterated in the opening half of the game. The Gunners had a shot on goal soon after as Wilshere forced Mignolet into a diving save, but then moments later Suarez almost scored a stunning free kick as his 35-yard effort was clawed out of the top corner by Szczesny.

In the 68th minute Arsenal finally pulled a goal back as Arteta scored from the penalty spot after Gerrard took down Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the box. Soon after that Mignolet made a good stop from Arteta’s free kick as Arsenal finished the game strongly.

But Liverpool had further chances to extend the lead, but settled for a 5-1 mauling as their magnificent home form continues.

Ejim scores 48; No. 16 Iowa State beats TCU 84-69

AMES, Iowa (AP) Melvin Ejim hit 20 of 24 shots in scoring a Big 12-record 48 points and grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds to lead No. 16 Iowa State to an 84-69 victory over TCU on Saturday.

Ejim had two 3-pointers and six dunks during his big game, one on a spectacular fast-break lob from DeAndre Kane that gave the Cyclones (18-4, 6-4 Big 12) a 67-52 lead and effectively put the game out of reach.

A 6-foot-6 senior, Ejim scored 20 straight Iowa State points during one stretch in the second half. It was his 30th career double-double.

Georges Niang added 11 points and Kane finished with 10 assists for the Cyclones, who avoided a letdown after their thrilling three-overtime victory at Oklahoma State on Monday, their first win in Stillwater since 1988.

SOCHI: Dufour-Lapointe sisters go 1-2 in women's moguls

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- The Dufour-Lapointe family of Canada will have a few things to share and compare when they get home from Russia.

Try Olympic gold and silver medals. Youngest sister Justine took the gold in women's moguls Saturday night and middle sister Chloe got the second-place prize.

Oldest sister Maxime also made it into the finals, where she finished 12th.

"The path we walked, we did this side-by-side," Maxime said. "These tears I'm crying, these tears are not of disappointment. They're tears of joy."

Over the past year, Justine Dufour-Lapointe has proven one of the few moguls skiers who could challenge American Hannah Kearney, who was the defending champion and also strung together 16 straight wins during a span from 2011-12.

On the biggest stage, the 19-year-old Justine more than challenged. She beat Kearney.

Going third-from-last, Justine set the bar with a straight, solid run -- skis pointed straight downhill and the bright red knee pads that help the judges gauge the quality of the run moving together in unison. Her jumps -- a 360-degree twist and a back layout -- were simple and ramrod straight. She scored a 22.44 -- a combination of her speed, her work through the moguls and 12.5 percent for each jump.

Chloe, 22, who finished fifth at the Vancouver Games and was the only sister with Olympic experience, came next. Her jumps were a bit more complex -- they both involved crossing her skis -- but the run itself was a little less clean. She scored 21.66.

Kearney went last, with a chance to become the first woman to go back-to-back in 22-year history of Olympic moguls. But it was her landing after the first jump, one she had trouble with during two earlier runs as well, that tripped her up. One ski went flailing up and she struggled to keep her balance. Kearney's final jump, which includes a difficult grab of her ski, wasn't enough to make up for the earlier problems.

Everyone knew it and when the score was posted, the sisters screamed and hugged, while Kearney could only offer a resigned smile.

SOCHI: Snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg shows fun side of Games

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — There’s something wonderfully childlike about slopestyle snowboarding -- or, as Norway’s fantastic Staale Sandbech pronounces it, “snowbirding.” Everything about it seems like it emerged from the mind of a precocious 8-year-old. Let’s put some rails on top for people to slide on. Yeah, that’s cool, then let’s have a little jump in the beginning, and then let’s put three giant snow ramps in the course so people can do awesome, huge jumps.

You get the sense that the first slopestyle track was sketched out during a third-grade art class — on construction paper, below a lemon yellow circle surrounded by lines that represents the sun.

Saturday, for the inaugural slopestyle event at the Olympics, there was a lemon yellow sun dangling over Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. There was cool music playing and announcers interspersing Russian, English and French commentary. The snow, which was so hard and fast early in the week that snowboarders complained about conditions, was softening in the sunshine.

“We like it when the snow is a little soft,” Sandbech would say.

And a 20-year-old kid with the utterly unlikely name of Sage Kotsenburg headed into his last of his three jumps. He felt good, felt loose, felt free … or, to use the phrase Kotsenburg likes best, he felt “super mellow.” Hey, why not? He had reached the final of the Olympic Games. The final! It was insane!

How insane? Put it this way: Three weeks ago Kotsenburg won the slopestyle event at Mammoth Mountain, Calif., to clinch his place in the Games. OK? The last time he won before that? When he was 11 years old.

“Whoa how random is this I made the finals at the Olympics!!!” he tweeted after he qualified for the final Saturday morning, the key part being those three exclamation points.

So Kotsenburg was feeling super mellow, but, you know, at the same time, he was feeling super stoked. That’s a pretty good combination. Snowboarding, for Kotsenburg, has never been about medals or victories or glory — that probably should be obvious. It has always been about the snowboarding. The fun. The friendships. The chance to do something so massive and awesome that everyone around shouts out, “Whoa!”

When Kotsenburg was asked his goal in the sport, it wasn’t to win an Olympic gold medal. Sure, if that happened, awesome. But the goal, the real one, is “to make snowboarding look cool and get kids stoked on it.”

Which might explain the crazy thing that happened Saturday. He approached that last jump, and he decided to try a trick that (if it had a name) might be called a “1620 with a Japan Grab.” That basically means doing 4 1/2 rotations in air while also grabbing the snowboard behind the right foot and then pulling back.

Here’s the thing: He had never tried it before. Ever. Not in competition. Not in practice. Not ever. As far as he knows, nobody ever tried it before.

“That’s snowboarding, you know?” he says. “You want to do stuff that’s never been done. You want to follow your own path.”

This has long been Kotsenburg’s way — which might be why he has so rarely won events. He’s the impulsive artist out there, following whatever rhythm happens to be moving him in the moment. Still, you could argue that this was different, this was taking it a little too far. Here he was trying something brand new in the final of the Olympic Games. This is somewhat like a Major League closer, in the ninth inning of the World Series, deciding: “Hey, you know, I’ve never really thrown a knuckleball before. Seems like a good time.”

But this is what I mean about slopestyle being so wonderfully childlike — he’s not the only one out here who would try something brand new at the Olympics just to see if he could. They all want to win — of course they do — but more, they want to play. They try to astonish each other. They like to celebrate each other’s greatest moment. If you can think back to, say, a football or basketball game in the neighborhood, maybe you can remember the joy of playing, the moment when you did something sensational — a fantastic pass, a spectacular catch, a big-time blocks shot — and everybody thought it was just great and THAT mattered more than the game, the score, the victory. It is like this with the snowboarders.

“The judges,” says bronze medalist, and perhaps the world’s best slopestyle snowboarder, Mark McMorris, “are honestly the least of my concerns.”

In other words, Kotsenburg wasn’t trying this crazy new trick to impress the judges or win the Olympics. He was trying it because he felt super mellow and super stoked at the same time, and it just felt like something crazy creative to do. Also, his coach Bill Enos had told him, “I guarantee you’re going to land it.”

And Kotsenburg landed it. His formula was simple: He did his usual 1260 trick (3 1/2 rotations) and then, you know, went one more rotation. Sure. Simple. Kotsenburg landed it, and he immediately knew he had just done something nobody in the history of the world had ever done exactly his way. That’s the whole point. The … whole … point.

“That’s what I do,” he would say. “There’s no blueprint.”

The judges were wowed — they gave him a 93.50, which on this day was sensational. That would win him the first ever slopestyle gold medal. Let’s mention here: There apparently is some controversy about the judging of this sport, just like there is controversy in every other judged sport. Some of the snowboarders think the judges have long rewarded great tricks more than style, which is a problem. Then, on Saturday, some people apparently thought that by giving Kotsenburg such a high score, the judges were rewarding style over great tricks. Another mystery. What is the sound of one-hand clapping? And what would be a fair score for it?

McMorris broke his rib a couple weeks ago but had a fantastic and gutsy final run and took the bronze. He was happy. The silver went to the aforementioned Staale Sandbech of Norway, who was beyond happy — he celebrated by diving head first into the snow. That’s another great thing about slopestyle: Everyone’s happy.

During Sandbech’s medal-winning run, I happened to be sitting next to a Norwegian television booth, and I heard the broadcasters screaming joyfully during Sandbech’s run, then again when the score was posted, and then AGAIN when the final snowboarder was unable to pass him for the silver medal. The screaming was much louder than Al Michaels’ “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” call after the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey beat the Soviets and was a good reminder how much the Olympics mean to countries around the world.

“This was the best snowbirding I’ve ever seen,” Sandbech said afterward. Of course, he said snowboarding, but I prefer it the way he makes it sound. Every Olympic sport — every sport in general — could use just a little snowbirding.

No. 17 Iowa beats No. 10 Michigan 85-67

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) Roy Devyn Marble scored 22 of his 26 points in the first half and No. 17 Iowa beat No. 10 Michigan 85-67 on Saturday.

Aaron White added 11 points and eight rebounds for the Hawkeyes (18-6, 7-4 Big Ten), who avoided a third straight loss at home and split the season series with Michigan.

Caris LeVert scored 22 points for the Wolverines (17-6, 9-2), who have lost two of three after starting 8-0 in the Big Ten.

Marble was 6 of 9 from 3-point range in the first half - hitting three in the opening minutes. Iowa led by double digits for much of the game.

Mike Gesell had 10 points and eight assists for the Hawkeyes, who rank next to last in the Big Ten in 3-point field goals, finished 10 of 17 from behind the arc.

Nik Stauskas, Michigan's top scorer, finished with 10 points.

SOCHI: What to watch on Saturday

Here’s a look at the compelling events, athletes and storylines of the Sochi Olympics on Sat., Feb. 8.

WHAT TO STAY UP LATE FOR …

Men’s snowboard slopestyle, 12:30 a.m. ET (semis), 3:45 a.m. ET (finals)
CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE EVENT LIVE

The first gold-medal winner of the Olympics will be crowned at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. It will not be Shaun White, who pulled out of slopestyle Wednesday (but is still scheduled to go for his third straight halfpipe gold Tuesday).

Canada has a shot to sweep the podium, which the nation has never done before at a Winter Games. It’s led by Winter X Games champion Max Parrot, the top qualifier from Thursday. Sebastien Toutant won the 2013 European X Games and also qualified directly into the 12-man final.

Then there’s Mark McMorris, the 2012 and 2013 X Games champion who was the prohibitive favorite one  month ago. Then he broke a rib at the X Games and did not qualify for the final. He’ll go in the semifinals, where 21 men compete to lock up the remaining four spots in the final.

The three Americans – Chas Guldemond, Sage Kotsenburg and Ryan Stassel – are also in the semifinals.

The top medal threats to Canada are Norway’s Stale Sandbech and Finland’s Roope Tonteri, the 2013 world champion, and Peetu Piiroinen, the 2010 Olympic halfpipe silver medalist. Piiroinen is trying to become the first snowboarder to win medals in multiple disciplines.

Women’s hockey: U.S.-Finland, 3 a.m. ET (Live on NBCSN)
CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE EVENT LIVE

The reigning world champion Americans open the women’s hockey tournament with a test. Finland handed the U.S. a 3-1 defeat on Nov. 8 at the Four Nations Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Finland was led then as it is now by goalie Noora Raty, who stopped 58 of 59 shots in Lake Placid and backed the University of Minnesota to the 2013 NCAA Championship.

This could be the closest game the U.S. plays outside of a Feb. 12 date with Canada and a probable gold-medal game against Canada. Canada plays Switzerland on Saturday at 10 a.m.

The U.S., Canada, Finland and Switzerland make up one of two four-nation groups. They are the top four nations in the world and are guaranteed spots in the playoff round regardless of group results.

WHAT TO WAKE UP EARLY FOR ….

Men’s speed skating 5000m, 6:30 a.m. ET
CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Dutch superstar Sven Kramer is the clear favorite to repeat as Olympic champion here. He hasn’t lost a 5000m at a major international meet since taking silver at the 2006 Olympics at age 19.

It could be the first of three gold medals in Sochi for Kramer, the best distance skater of his generation and one of the greatest-ever across all distances.

Kramer could lead a Dutch sweep if Jorrit Bergsma and Jan Blokhuijsen are in form. Bergsma is engaged to American skater Heather Richardson.

The best U.S. hope, Jonathan Kuck, is paired with Kramer. Russia has a medal contender in Ivan Skobrev.

WHAT YOU CAN’T MISS DURING THE DAY …

Figure skating, team event, 9;30 a.m. ET (Live on NBCSN, ice dance, women’s short, pairs free)
CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

The U.S. will need to rebound if it’s to win a medal in this new Olympic event. Jeremy Abbott and Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir put it in a tie for fifth (but seventh for all intents and purposes) out of 10 nations Thursday.

That puts more pressure on world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White to win the short dance over Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada.

Ashley Wagner then makes her Olympic debut in the women’s short program. She won’t have to deal with Yuna Kim (South Korea isn’t entered), but Mao Asada, Yulia Lipnitskaya and Carolina Kostner won’t make it easy.

If the U.S. is in the top five as expected after the short programs, it will advance to free skates. The first of four free skates, pairs, concludes Saturday night’s session. Castelli and Shnapir will look to improve upon their fifth-place showing from the short program there.

The team event ends with the men’s, ice dance and women’s long programs on Sunday.

Here are the standings after Thursday’s programs:
1. Russia — 19 points
2. Canada — 17 points
3. China — 15 points
4. Japan — 13 points
5. Germany/France/U.S. — 10 points

Men’s luge, 9:30 a.m. ET
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German Felix Loch is the favorite as luge begins with the first two of four total runs over two days. Loch will begin a quest to become the third man to win back-to-back Olympic luge titles, joining legends Georg Hackl and Armin Zoeggeler.

Zoeggeler, the 2002 and 2006 Olympic champion, is trying to become the first athlete to win a Winter Olympic medal in six straight Games.

He’s also in the medal mix along with countryman Dominik Fischnaller, German David Moller and Russian Albert Demtschenko, who is in his record seventh Winter Olympics.

Chris Mazdzer, who took second in a pair of World Cups this season, is the top U.S. hope. No American has ever won an Olympic singles luge medal.

Medals won’t be determined Saturday, but a major mistake in either run could take a slider out of the running for the podium Sunday.

Women’s moguls final, 1 p.m. ET
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Hannah Kearney is a heavy favorite to bring home the first U.S. gold medal of the Olympics. That’s exactly what she did four years ago in Vancouver, where she upset Canadian Jenn Heil and made up for tearfully washing out of 2006 Olympic qualifying.

Kearney was the top qualifier into the final from Thursday and is trying to become the first freestyle skier to win multiple Olympic gold medals. Freestyle skiing has been in the Olympics since 1992.

Her biggest threats are Canadian sisters Chloe, Justine and Maxime Dufour-Lapointe.

American Eliza Outtrim also made the final, while Heather McPhie must compete in another round of qualifying earlier Saturday to make the 20-woman final. The fourth American, Heidi Kloser, crashed in training and missed qualification.

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