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Richard Sherman's rant part of NFL mindset

Priest Holmes, the superb running back for the Kansas City Chiefs in the early 2000s, would shake his head every time we talked about postgame interviews. The whole thing just didn’t make any sense to him. Holmes was no taller than 5-foot-9, by midseason he probably weighed 200 pounds, he wasn’t exceptionally fast by football standards. He had blown out one knee, blew it out again, got his hip knocked out of joint and had been hit so hard he was not sure how he made it to the sidelines.*

*These were not necessarily called concussions in those days ... and those days were not that long ago.

Somehow, though, he was for a brief time the best running back in the NFL. In 2001, he led the NFL in rushing. In 2002, he was on pace to the greatest season a running back ever had until he blew out his hip after being horse-collared in Denver (this was one of the plays that led to the no-horse-collar rule). In 2003, he set an NFL record for touchdowns.

He did it with study, with precision (he was like Jerry Rice in the way he would repeat his steps) and with an otherworldly level of toughness. In an average game, he would get hit 40 or 50 times by angry men the size and with the torque of Ford F-150s. After a game, he would need a half hour of massage and an hour in a hot tub just to feel something close to human again. This is not unique. This is football.

“Do you have any idea what kind of mental state I have to get myself into to play a game?” he would ask.

“No,” I would say.

“It’s pretty extreme,” he said. “It’s like I have to become another person. It’s like I have to become a warrior. We all do.”

Then he would smile and shake his head and say, “And then, five minutes after the game ends, y’all are asking us questions about how we feel and what did we think of this play, and what’s it like to lose, and we’re supposed to talk like none of that just happened.”

I’ve thought about those conversations a lot. On one level, we all understand how brutal a sport football can be. In a way, calling it a “sport” is changing its shape, making it seem a lot like the touch football game we play on the church lawn or the flag football games we used to play in college. Pro football really isn’t a sport like that. Pro football is about men who can bench press trailers crashing into each other, and guided missiles in helmets colliding with human gazelles, and gruesome injuries that happen with such regularity that we can schedule commercials around them. Not to mention the concussions. You’d have to hypnotize me to play in a professional football game.

And these men do. They hypnotize themselves into this fevered state.

And we expect them to just let it all go when the whistle blows, and we snap our fingers.

This, of course, has to do with Richard Sherman’s postgame interview Sunday. Sherman, you certainly know, is the cornerback who sparked the tipped interception at the end of the game that clinched Seattle’s six-point victory over San Francisco and sent the Seahawks to the Super Bowl. Sherman, you might know, is a fascinating and gripping character. He grew up in Compton, was a brilliant student, went to Stanford as a wide receiver, suffered a devastating knee injury, came back as a cornerback, graduated and began working on his master’s degree, was drafted in the fifth round, immediately became a starter, quickly became an All-Pro and might have been the best defensive player in the league this year. He also was suspended for performance-enhancing drugs, won his appeal and has been as outspoken as anybody in the NFL.

[MORE: Sherman goes off  |  Crabtree responds  |  Sherman called out on Twitter]

He believes he’s the best in the game. He’s not unwilling to share this opinion.

A moment or two after his astounding play Sunday, FOX Sports reporter Erin Andrews went in for the postgame interview.

Erin Andrews: “(FOX play-by-play man) Joe (Buck), thank you so much. Richard, let me ask you, the final play, take me through it.”

Sherman: “Well, I have to credit my teammates and coaches. We all gave 110%. Each and every one of us. We were lined up man-to-man ...

Andrews: “As opposed to zone.”

Sherman: “Exactly. And that means I had the responsibility for the deep route on receiver Michael Crabtree. He’s a tall guy, you know a tall drink of water, and he has made some big plays late in games, so it became clear to me that they were probably going to try and throw over the top, which is something I’ve worked really hard on with my coaches. And ...”

No, wait, that’s not what happened. Let’s try it again.

Erin Andrews: “Joe, thank you so much. Richard, let me ask you, the final play, take me through it.”

Sherman: “I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree that’s the result you’re gonna get! (Looking into camera) Don’t you ever talk about me!”

Andrews: “Who was talking about you?”

Sherman: “Crabtree! Don’t you open your mouth about the best! Or I’m gonna shut it for you real quick. LOB!” (Which stands for “Legions of Boom” ... it had sounded to me like L.L. Bean)

Andrews: “All right, before ... and, Joe, back over to you!”

OK. Well, people are going to have an opinion about that. Compared to the usual pointless, passionless, perfunctory postgame interviews, this thing was a bit like the first time people raised on Bing Crosby saw Chuck Berry play rock and roll. Instead of clichés, we got fury. Sherman was angry and hyped and cartoonish -- I wrote on Twitter that the only thing that was missing was the Ric Flair “Whoooo” at the end.

Tony Dungy wrote on Twitter that Sherman should have showed more class. That’s true. Others wrote that they would be rooting for Denver in the Super Bowl because of Sherman’s act. That’s fine. Others thought it was a bad example for kids, which is a whole other conversation because there is a lot about watching a football game on TV that is not great for kids.

Then again, some thought Sherman was funny (I have to admit, I laughed for like 10 minutes), and his talk was real, and it was way better than watching someone sputter clichés that don’t mean anything.*

*Speaking of cliches: A few minutes later, FOX’s Pam Oliver was interviewing losing coach Jim Harbaugh. And at some point he said, “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

“Is that a quote?” Oliver asked.

I have to say, that was a weird exchange.**

**It is a quote. It is Hemingway, from Old Man and the Sea.

I wish it had been a dream now, and that I had never hooked the fish and was along in bed on the newspapers.

“But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

But to the point: Why do we ask these players (and coaches) questions so soon after they were under fiery hypnosis, so soon after they were smashing into each other and breaking bones, right as the adrenaline is draining and the pain is beginning to surface? And, more, why do we expect their answers to fit our expectations? I’m certainly not saying that Sherman acted admirably after his interception, the choke sign he made toward 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the taunt, then the “Don’t open your mouth about the best” soliloquy. Of course it wasn’t admirable.

But I have no idea what Richard Sherman has to do to himself to play professional football at the level he plays it. I have no idea what his state of mind must be like when he’s trying to match up to the violence of the moment. When Priest Holmes would finish games, he would almost never come out to his locker to talk. Sometimes, though, I would wait for him. An hour, an hour and a half. Sometimes two. The locker room would be empty. The equipment guys would ask me to turn out the lights when I left. Finally, he would limp out, and he would walk over to his locker, and he would slowly put on his clothes. And we would talk.

“I don’t see how those guys do it,” he would say of the players who had already spoken to the press. “If I had to talk right after the game, I’d say the craziest things you’ve ever heard.”

It's another season of finishing close for 49ers

SEATTLE (AP) For three straight seasons, Jim Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers have finished oh-so close.

The NFC championship game after the 2011 season and again this year, and last season's 34-31 Super Bowl defeat to the Baltimore Ravens. And they have lost them all in a most frustrating fashion: Each time, with a great chance to win.

"I still think we're the best team," wide receiver Anquan Boldin said.

Quest for Six will have to wait at least one more year after the Niners lost a chance for a return trip to the Super Bowl in a 23-17 loss to archrival Seattle on Sunday.

For a franchise eager to rediscover the old dynasty, San Francisco will get a fresh start in 2014 at its new $1.2 billion Santa Clara stadium at team headquarters looking for another special season and to take the success one step further.

"It's great competition," Harbaugh said. "Not many people get to be in this arena. I'm proud of our guys for the fight they showed today and all season."

In a scene reminiscent of the way last season ended in the New Orleans Superdome in the Super Bowl, Colin Kaepernick threw a pass in the end zone intended for Michael Crabtree. This time, Richard Sherman deflected the ball right to Malcolm Smith for a game-sealing interception.

"The matchup was in my mind, one on one," Kaepernick said. "I feel like we should have won that game."

Yes, San Francisco (14-5) is left to head home for the offseason with a bitter taste again of what might have been, even with the daunting task for teams that reached the Super Bowl the year before to get back to the NFL's big stage.

Harbaugh knows special seasons can be fleeting. All he has to do is turn to big brother, John, whose Ravens failed to even reach the playoffs 11 months after winning a championship.

Kaepernick and the Niners knew one or two turnovers could cost them a return trip to the Super Bowl.

That had been the case in their past two visits to Seattle, so taking care of the ball became a top priority for San Francisco to beat the Seahawks on their home field.

Kaepernick went 14 for 24 for 153 yards with two sacks and two interceptions, and the 49ers committed three fourth-quarter turnovers - all by Kaepernick - that made the difference through the deafening noise of CenturyLink Field.

"I told him to keep his head up. He has no reason to drop his head, he played his butt off this entire season," Boldin said. "He made play after play."

These 49ers endured a daunting schedule and a pair of two-game losing streaks. They played without top 2012 wide receiver Crabtree for the first 11 games as he recovered from a torn right Achilles tendon and May surgery. San Francisco moved on in the postseason with tough road wins at Green Bay and Carolina.

"We played great as a team collectively," tight end Vernon Davis said. "If I look back on this season, I get excited because of where we came from and some of the things we were able to do as a team."

But there's something about Seattle lately for this group - three straight losses in which they have been outscored 94-33.

Even when the 49ers seemed to be the NFL's hottest team, riding an eight-game winning streak as they hit the road once more for one of the league's toughest venues.

"You can't point fingers," right tackle Anthony Davis said. "We came out here as a team, we win as a team, and we just lost as a team."

It hurt even more to see two key players from either side of the ball go down with serious injuries - All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman with a likely torn left knee ligament, and left guard Mike Iupati with a left ankle that is believed to be broken.

"We had a shot," punter Andy Lee said. "That's what we wanted. It was a good year with these guys. Hopefully we can get back to work and come back all fine next year."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Manning's Broncos to face Seahawks in Super Bowl

Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos will face the best defense they've met all season when they play Richard Sherman's Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.

It will be a matchup between the NFL's No. 1 offense, led by Manning, against the NFL's No. 1 "D," led by Sherman, when the AFC's Broncos (15-3) take on the NFC's Seahawks (15-3) on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

No upstarts here: Providing quite a cap to the season, this marks only the second time in the last 20 Super Bowls with the No. 1 seeds from both conferences.

The Broncos will be trying to win their third Super Bowl title, after 1998 and 1999. The Seahawks are eyeing their first championship.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Davis, Feely, Tillman finalists for Payton Award

NEW YORK (AP) Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis, Arizona kicker Jay Feely and Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman have been selected as finalists for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.

The award, named in honor of the late Hall of Fame running back, recognizes a player's community service and performance on the field. The winner, who'll receive a $20,000 donation in his name to his favorite charity, will be announced during the NFL Honors show on Feb. 1, the night before the Super Bowl.

Davis, Feely and Tillman were chosen from among the 32 team nominees for the award, and will receive a $5,000 donation in their name.

The seven-person selection panel includes NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and 2012 winner Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Sharapova out in another early upset in Australia

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Third-seeded Maria Sharapova has been eliminated in the fourth round of the Australian Open, losing 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 to Dominika Cibulkova in the second major upset in 24 hours on Rod Laver Arena.

Sharapova struggled with her serve Monday, hitting seven double-faults in the third set, and needed an off-court medical time out after the second set for what appeared to be a lower back problem.

The four-time major winner was two tournaments into a comeback from a prolonged layoff with a right shoulder injury.

Top-ranked Serena Williams was knocked out in the fourth round on Sunday in a three-set loss to 14th-seeded Ana Ivanovic.

Kane scores in SO as Blackhawks top Bruins 3-2

CHICAGO (AP) Patrick Kane scored in a shootout to lift the Chicago Blackhawks to a 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins on Sunday in a rematch of last season's Stanley Cup finals.

Jonathan Toews beat Tuukka Rask on the stick side to give the Blackhawks the lead in the tiebreaker, but Brad Marchand's quick wrist shot got by Corey Crawford, tying it up for the Bruins.

Kane, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy last year as playoff MVP, then skated toward the net, slowed up for a second and sent a shot past Rask on the stick side to give Chicago the win. The Blackhawks had lost their past seven games that had gone past regulation.

Marian Hossa and Brandon Bollig scored in regulation for Chicago, which beat Boston in six games to win the title last June.

Eto'o scores hat trick as Chelsea beat Manchester United 3-1

LONDON - Samuel Eto'o seized on slack defending to score his first Chelsea hat trick in a 3-1 victory over Manchester United on Sunday that provided further evidence of the Premier League champions' struggles under David Moyes.

It was United's seventh league loss, leaving them not only 14 points behind leader Arsenal but six points from the fourth Champions League spot.

For Jose Mourinho, it was his 100th Premier League win and it kept Chelsea within two points of the summit.

Chelsea took control of the game against the run of play at Stamford Bridge after a shot from Eto'o deflected off Michael Carrick into the net in the 17th minute.

After Danny Welbeck squandered a chance to equalize, Eto'o was left unmarked to tap in Chelsea's second on the stroke of halftime.

The Cameroon striker scrambled in his third in the 49th after goalkeeper David de Gea parried Gary Cahill's free header.

"I'm very happy," Eto'o, who joined from Anzhi Makhachkala in the summer transfer window, said in French. "My career wouldn't have been as beautiful if I hadn't gone to Chelsea."

Although Javier Hernandez pulled one back from close range in the 78th to revitalize United, it came too late to prevent United slumping to its fourth loss in five games in all competitions at the start of 2014.

To add to United's troubles, Moyes faces three matches without Nemanja Vidic after his captain was sent off in stoppage time for lunging at Eden Hazard in an undisciplined end.

In the uneasy transition since Moyes succeeded Alex Ferguson after the team won its 20th English title in May, even staying in the top-four elite could be beyond United, which is already out of the FA Cup.

The second-tier League Cup has taken on greater importance for United, with a 2-1 deficit to overturn against Sunderland in the second leg of their semifinal on Wednesday.

United's start in west London had belied its lowly league position - by their standards - in seventh.

Shaper and more determined, United pressed with conviction. And Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech was called on after two minutes to deny Ashley Young after a smart one-two by the winger with Danny Welbeck.

So confident was the visiting support that they taunted Mourinho: "You wanted this job."

Mourinho appeared to spend the start of 2013 trying to audition for a United job that only became vacant in May when Ferguson retired and hand-picked Moyes to replace him.

But he ended up back at Chelsea in June rather than inheriting a United side in need of considerable strengthening.

The United defense was sliced through with ease for the opener.

Eto'o cut in from the right, swept past Phil Jones and unleashed a shot that took a heavy deflection off Carrick's boot before looping over De Gea into the net.

United squandered a chance to level in the 38th. Adnan Januzaj's cross reached Welbeck in a central position but the striker couldn't produce a clean shot.

Oscar then tried to double the lead with a bicycle kick that flew over from right in front of goal, and instead Chelsea's second came from the boot of Eto'o again.

Welbeck only half cleared, Ramires seized possession and fed the ball to Hazard on the right flank. The winger then squared to the unmarked Eto'o to sweep a shot into the net as halftime loomed.

United had little time to settle after the break before its defense was breached again and Eto'o celebrated his first treble in English football.

Cahill headed in from Willian's corner and De Gea only briefly blocked the ball before it went back out for Eto'o, who got ahead of Antonio Valencia to score.

United pulled one back when Jones' scuffed shot was stabbed into the net by Hernandez, but never came closer to a comeback.

Record 98 underclassmen eligible for NFL draft

NEW YORK (AP) A record 98 underclassmen, including Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowney, have made themselves eligible for the NFL draft in May.

The league released the list of early entrants Sunday, and says the number has risen six straight seasons. The deadline for underclassmen to apply was Jan. 15.

Last year, 73 underclassmen entered the draft. The year before it was 65 and in 2011 it was 56.

Also, four players who graduated and still have eligibility left are joining the draft class. Most notable among those is Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Among the early entrants expected to be selected near the top of the draft are Manziel, the Texas A&M quarterback, Clowney, the defensive end from South Carolina and Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins.

The draft is May 8-10 in New York.

Sidney Crosby to captain Canada at Sochi Olympics

OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) Sidney Crosby will captain the Canadian hockey team at the Olympics.

After the Pittsburgh Penguins star scored the gold-medal-winning overtime goal against the United States in Vancouver four years ago, he's the natural choice in Sochi. Along with leading the NHL in scoring, the 26-year-old center is the face of the league and hockey in Canada.

The Chicago Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews and the Nashville Predators' Shea Weber will be alternate captains, Hockey Canada announced Sunday.

"Sidney, Jonathan and Shea have been leaders on the international stage in the past, as well as with their NHL teams," coach Mike Babcock said in a statement. "These three players will be at the forefront of our efforts in Sochi, but we are confident we have 25 players on our roster that will lead in their own way and allow our team to be successful."

Crosby was made the youngest captain in NHL history when he got the "C" for the Penguins 6 1/2 years ago. In 2009, he raised the Stanley Cup as captain.

At the 2010 Olympics, Crosby was an alternate along with Chris Pronger and Jarome Iginla. Veteran defenseman Scott Niedermayer captained that team and said before his Hockey Hall of Fame induction in November that he had no doubt Crosby was ready to assume the role.

Russia has already picked Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings as captain. It's Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins for Slovakia and Tomas Plekanec of the Montreal Canadiens for the Czech Republic.

The United States has yet to announce its captain, though general manager David Poile singled out Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan and David Backes as leaders.

Larrazabal wins Abu Dhabi Championship

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Spain's Pablo Larrazabal shot a final round 67 to end a near three-year winless drought to capture the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Sunday.

Larrazabal, 30, won by a stroke with a 14-under par 274 on the National Course in the UAE capital.

Rory McIlroy (68), who had incurred a two-stroke penalty a day earlier, finished with a share of second place with Phil Micklelson (69) on 13-under.

"It means a lot to win my third victory on Tour and playing against who I played today," said Larrazabal.

"Of course, I play against myself but I knew who I also had behind me in Mickelson. I have just beaten two of the three most talented guys in my era, and in the last era, as well in Phil Mickelson and Rory.

Mickelson was left counting the cost of incurring a shot penalty after a double hit while playing from brush on the 13th hole of the National course.

The British Open champion, who was leading at the time, finished the hole with a triple-bogey seven.

"I was sitting at the presentation ceremony I said to myself: `Pablo? What are you doing here?' I've got Rory McIlroy on my left and I am shaking the hand of Phil Mickelson on my right. It's very special for me," added Larrazabal after collecting the trophy.

"But it's been a long journey and a lot of work since my last win in Munich, and only my team and my family know how hard I have worked for this victory with no holidays, and not too many days off this winter, just working hard to arrive here properly and in form to Abu Dhabi. So, yes happy days."

While Mickelson was returning home for his first PGA event of the New Year, at this coming week's Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, McIlroy is returning to nearby Dubai to continue working on his game.

It is the second occasion in three years he has let slip victory in Abu Dhabi because of a rules violation.

"It happens, it happens but it never crossed my mind I might double hit it," Mickelson said.

"I was just trying to dribble it out of the bush because I couldn't get the unplayable penalty lie to give me a shot without stroke and distance and I felt it was worth the risk. It not only cost a penalty shot, but it also stopped the ball from going to a spot where I could hit again.

"So after that I got refocused and got aggressive and made some birdies and gave myself a chance. If Pablo had not birdied the last hole to win, I would have gotten into a play-off, and so I give him a lot of credit for finishing the tournament off the right way," he added.

McIlroy had been penalized for illegally brushing sand off his line on the final day of the 2012 event before losing by a stroke to England's Robert Rock.

On Saturday, the double Major winner was slapped with a two-shot penalty after being reported by the caddy of another player in not taking `full relief' from a spectator cross walk.

"I can't describe how frustrating it is and feeling like I should be standing here at 15-under par for the tournament and winning by one," McIlroy said.

"It is a very positive start to the season so I'm not to let one little negative ruin that. It was not to I finished one behind on the 18th that it started he o dawn on me if what happened yesterday had not happened, I would have won.

"But Pablo played well, and I can't take anything away from him. When he needed to, he hit the shots, and the two shots he hit into 18 were straight out of the drawer, so fair play to him.

"It's good to see. He's a good guy, one of my closer friends out here and good to see him get the win."

Larrazabal moved into seventh place in the Race to Dubai and to 12th on the European Ryder Cup Team points table.

As well, the current World No. 103 ranked player should move inside the top-64 on the rankings when they are adjusted Monday and that will guarantee the Spaniard a first-ever place in next month's Accenture Match-Play Championship in Arizona.

Canucks coach Tortorella, Flames have altercation

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) The Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames engaged in a wild first-period brawl Saturday night which later carried over to Canucks coach John Tortorella being involved in an alternation in the hallway outside of the Flames' dressing room.

The opening minutes of the NHL game, which the Canucks won 3-2 in a shootout, was like a scene from the movie "Slap Shot."

It brought back memories of when teams such as the Broad Street Bullies and Big Bad Boston Bruins hit the ice.

"I don't think anybody expected that," said Flames defenseman Chris Butler, one of eight players ejected from the game.

"It's been a while since something like that happened, five guys pairing off."

The Flames raised a red flag by putting their fourth line on the ice to start the game. The Canucks countered with their tough guys.

Game on.

Just 2 seconds had ticked off the clock when all five skaters from each team taking the opening faceoff dropped their gloves and began throwing punches.

Calgary enforcer Brian McGrattan was left bloodied in a fight with Vancouver tough guy Tom Sestito. After the fight Sestito patted McGrattan on the back of the head.

Minor league call-up Kellan Lain's first game as a Canuck was brief. He was tossed for fighting with Calgary's Kevin Westgarth, who has no points in 21 games for the Flames.

Also receiving game misconducts were Vancouver's Dale Weise plus defensemen Kevin Bieksa and Jason Garrison. For Calgary, it was Westgarth, Blair Jones, Ladislav Smid and Chris Butler.

"They started their goon squad over there," said Sestito, who leads the NHL with 167 penalty minutes in 47 games. "I just don't think we're going to be backing down from guys."

Sestito and McGrattan remained in the game.

In the aftermath of the brawl Tortorella could be seen yelling at the Flames bench.

Later in the period, Calgary's Mark Giordano punched Vancouver's Alex Burrows in the face. Burrows was wearing a facemask to protect a broken jaw. It was his first game since Dec. 1.

The bad blood wasn't confined to the ice. At the end of the first period CBC, which televised the game, captured Tortorella attempting to go into the Flames locker room at Rogers Arena. McGrattan pushed him away.

Flames goaltender coach Clint Malarchuk came out of the Flames dressing room after Tortorella and McGrattan were separated. Malarchuk followed Tortorella, but was restrained by several members of Calgary's staff and McGrattan.

Much of the altercation appeared off camera, but another camera showed Vancouver defenseman Chris Tanev pulling Burrows back toward the Canucks dressing room.

Tortorella refused to comment on the incident, but made no apologizes for the lineup he started.

"I know the other guy across the bench," he said. "It's easy for people to say `well put the Sedins out there and it's deflated.' I can't put our players at risk like that.

"With the lineup that he had, I'm not going to put those types of players at risk and that's what ensued. I'm not proud of it. I've apologized to every one of the players involved in it. I don't feel great about it at all."

Flames coach Bob Hartley was left shaking his head over Tortorella charging his team's dressing room.

"I just don't understand," he said. "I got out of there. I don't need to get suspended or fined.

"There is nothing to be settled there. I just don't understand what was going on."

Hartley also defended his starting lineup.

"Those guys are playing well for us," he said. "They got a goal last game. We're not scoring many goals. We had zero intentions there.

"As far as I know they were the home team. They had the luxury to put whoever they wanted on the ice."

The teams combined for 188 penalty minutes in the first period.

Djokovic cruises through to Australian Open quarterfinals

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Novak Djokovic ensured there wouldn't be consecutive upset losses at Rod Laver Arena on Sunday when he beat Fabio Fognini 6-3, 6-0, 6-2 in a fourth-round match at the Australian Open.

Immediately following fellow Serbian Ana Ivanovic's win over top-seeded and five-time champion Serena Williams, Djokovic raced to a 4-1 lead in the first set in just 19 minutes and won in 1 hour, 33 minutes to advance to the quarterfinals of his 19th consecutive Grand Slam.

It was also Djokovic's 28th consecutive win dating back to his loss to Rafael Nadal in last September's U.S. Open final.

Djokovic, who has captured six Grand Slam singles titles, next plays the winner of the match between Stanislas Wawrinka and Tommy Robredo later Sunday.

Ivanovic ousts Serena in 4th round at Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Serena Williams' long winning streak has come to an end in an upset 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 loss to Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round of the Australian Open.

Williams hadn't lost a match since August, one of only four defeats in 2013, and came into the fourth round with 25 straight wins. It was her 70th match at Melbourne Park, a record in the Open era, and she set the mark for most match wins ever at the Australian Open with her third-round victory.

Ivanovic hadn't taken a set off Willliams in their previous four matches.

The other quarterfinal will feature two women who'll turn 32 next month, with two-time finalist Li Na wrapping up a fourth-round win over No. 22 Ekaterina Makarova in less than an hour Sunday to set up a quarterfinal against Flavia Pennetta at the Australian Open.

The 2011 French Open champion broke Makarova's serve five times and fended off four break points on her own serve during a 59-minute, 6-2, 6-0 win to reach the quarterfinals here for the fourth time in five years.

Pennetta's late-career revival continued as she reached her first Australian Open quarterfinal with a 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 win over ninth-seeded Angelique Kerber of Germany.

The 28th-seeded Pennetta has played some of her best tennis since returning last February from a wrist injury that caused her ranking to drop as low as No. 166.

Li and Pennetta both turn 32 next month, one day apart.

"You know what, at least she is one day older than me. So I will play an older player," Li, who had back-to-back wins over the two youngest players in the tournament tin the first two rounds, joked in an on-court interview. "Not like couple rounds (before), always younger than me. Nobody talked about the age."

Pennetta reached her first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open last year and has followed that by reaching her first quarterfinal at Melbourne Park in 11 appearances.

"I'm a little old so I'm starting to enjoy (tennis) more," she said. "When you are young you want to win so much."

Pennetta broke Kerber to take a 5-3 lead in the third set but tightened up as she was serving for the match, giving the break right back. She recovered, however, to take a 6-5 lead and then broke Kerber to close out the match.

Five-time champion Serena Williams was facing former No. 1-ranked Ana Ivanovic in fourth-round match on Rod Laver Arena later Sunday.

After setting a record for most match wins at the Australian Open with her 61st this week, Williams will better another mark Sunday by playing her 70th match at Melbourne Park, topping Lindsay Davenport's former record of 69.

On the men's side, three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic was set to take on Italian Fabio Fognini for a place in the quarterfinals.

Djokovic is attempting to make his 19th consecutive appearance in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam -- the third-longest streak in the Open era after Roger Federer's 36 and Jimmy Connors' 27.

Agent: Rodman checks into rehab for alcohol abuse

Dennis Rodman has checked into an undisclosed alcohol rehabilitation center to treat his long-time struggle with alcoholism, his agent says.

Darren Prince declined on Saturday to say which facility will treat Rodman and how long he will be there. Rodman recently returned to the United States from his latest trip to North Korea.

He later apologized for comments he made in North Korea about a detained American missionary, saying he had been drinking and was under pressure as he organized an exhibition game there. He also sang "Happy Birthday" to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the start of the friendly game.

"What was potentially a historic and monumental event turned into a nightmare for everyone concerned," Prince said. "Dennis Rodman came back from North Korea in pretty rough shape emotionally. The pressure that was put on him to be a combination `super human' political figure and `fixer' got the better of him.

"He is embarrassed, saddened and remorseful for the anger and hurt his words have caused."

Rodman won five NBA championships with the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls and was one of the NBA's fiercest rebounders and most colorful personalities. Detroit selected Rodman in the second round of the 1986 draft out of Southeastern Oklahoma. The native of Trenton, N.J., also played for Chicago, San Antonio, the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas. He was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in of 2011.

He stamped his name on "Dennis Rodman - The original Bad Ass Premium Vodka," late last year. It was in the works before his relations with North Korea, but has taken off since.

Rodman, known as much for his piercings, tattoos and bad behavior as he was for basketball, was the highest-profile American to meet Kim since Kim inherited power from father Kim Jong Il in 2011. He traveled to the secretive state for the first time last February with the Harlem Globetrotters for an HBO series produced by New York-based VICE television.

But the 52-year-old Rodman has been denounced for not trying to use his influence with Kim to secure the release of Kenneth Bae, an American missionary with health problems who is being held in North Korea on charges of "anti-state" crimes.

He organized a group of retired NBA players to travel to North Korea for that exhibition game. Rodman dedicated the contest to his "best friend" Kim, who along with his wife and other senior officials and their wives watched from a special seating area. The capacity crowd of about 14,000 at the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium clapped loudly as Rodman sang a verse from the song.

Rodman had an angry meltdown before the game on CNN, defending his decision to travel to North Korea.

"People forget Dennis is just an entertainer and retired NBA star," Prince said. "The fact remains that a basketball game was played in North Korea live in front of 14,000 people and hundreds of millions around the world viewed clips of the game."

Li Na through to Australian Open quarterfinals

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Two-time finalist Li Na has advanced to the Australian Open quarterfinals for the third time in four years with a 6-2, 6-0 win in just 59 minutes over Ekaterina Makarova on Sunday.

No. 4 Li, who broke No. 22-seeded Marakova's serve five times, lost to Victoria Azarenka in the 2013 final at Melbourne Park.

Li started this year by successfully defending her title at Shenzen and on Sunday improved her record at the Australian Open to 31 wins from 39 matches.

Li will play the Flavia Pennetta in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. Pennetta earlier beat No. 9 Angelique Kerber.

NBA fines Cuban $100,00 for yelling at referees

NEW YORK (AP) The NBA fined Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban $100,000 on Saturday for confronting referees and using inappropriate language toward them.

Cuban confirmed the fine on his Twitter feed, saying he couldn't let Commissioner David Stern leave without a proper farewell.

"Its been a fun 14 years of trying to create change and donating to the donut fund!" Cuban wrote.

Cuban went onto the court and yelled at the officials after the Mavericks blew a 17-point lead in the final 5 minutes of a 129-127 loss at the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. He called it "speaking his mind" in another Twitter post.

He tweeted that he would donate an equal amount to charity once he reached 2 million followers, which he is about to reach.

Cuban has been fined more than $1.5 million by the league, often for his outbursts about the officiating.

Stern is retiring on Feb. 1. Cuban had told ESPN.com he wanted one more fine before Stern left.

No. 9 Oklahoma State falls to No. 15 Kansas

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) After beating Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse last season, and after Marcus Smart left a lasting impression with a celebratory backflip, Oklahoma State nearly pulled off the feat again.

This time, the Cowboys couldn't quite make it all the way back.

Le'Bryan Nash had a chance to win the game at the buzzer, but he was stripped by the Jayhawks' Frank Mason as he went up for the shot near the 3-point line, allowing the 15th-ranked Jayhawks to hold on for an 80-78 victory over the ninth-ranked Cowboys on Saturday.

"Down two (Nash) was trying to get to the basket," Smart said. "He looked up at the clock and realized he didn't have much time so he had to hoist it up there."

Smart's layup with 24 seconds remaining had gotten Oklahoma State within 79-75, and after Mason missed a free throw, Phil Forte hit a 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds remaining to make it a one-point game.

Mason was fouled and made the first of two free throws, and the Cowboys raced up court with the rebound on the miss. But the potential winning shot never made it toward the rim.

"I don't think it's a moral victory," Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said, "but we'll walk out of here with our heads held high, no matter what."

Naadir Tharpe scored 21 points to lead the Jayhawks (13-4, 4-0 Big 12) while Joel Embiid added 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks.

Forte hit seven 3-pointers and finished with 21 points for Oklahoma State (15-3, 3-2). Smart added 16 points, but he was just 3 of 14 from the field and 0 for 6 from the 3-point arc.

"I knew coming into this game they were going to try to do everything in their will not to let me come out and score," Smart said. "So I had to become a facilitator."

Markel Brown finished with 15 points for Oklahoma State, but he also received two of the six technical fouls handed out in the game. He wound up fouling out in the closing minutes.

The animosity between the teams really started to simmer last season, when the Cowboys came into Allen Fieldhouse and ended the Jayhawks' 33-game home win streak. Smart celebrated by doing a backflip, a stunt captured on film that Kansas coach Bill Self showed his team this week.

It reached a rolling boil shortly before the season, when Smart declared that Kansas' Andrew Wiggins had yet to warrant the considerable hype that the star freshman had been receiving.

Naturally, most figured that Smart and Wiggins would be the leading characters when their teams met. Instead, they were relegated to supporting roles - Wiggins scored just three points.

"I don't know of a team that's more talented in the country as deep as they are," Ford said. "We just let them play to their strengths."

Tarik Black took the spotlight first, fueling a 13-0 run for Kansas midway through the first half. The backup forward's basket for a 29-15 lead left a sellout crowd that included Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers roaring its approval.

In fact, the noise was so deafening that Brown didn't hear Ford call a timeout. He instead raced up court and found himself in the midst of the Kansas huddle, triggering a benches-clearing fracas that the officials had to separate.

Brown and the Jayhawks' Jamari Traylor were each hit with technical fouls.

Things didn't cool off, either. Later in the half, Smart was hammered by Wayne Selden on his way to the rim. Selden was shoved by the Cowboys' Stevie Clark, drawing another technical.

The Cowboys tried to mount a comeback on the second half. Forte got hot from behind the arc, and Brown hit four 3-pointers in the span of a few minutes to make it 59-56 with 11:02 left.

Kansas stoically answered the challenge.

Mason's 3-pointer triggered seven straight points by the Jayhawks, and when Smart finally hit his first field goal with 5:53 left, Embiid answered with a thunderous jam.

As the Jayhawks slowly rebuilt their lead, Oklahoma State began to lose its poise. Brown was whistled for a foul on Embiid, and voiced his frustration within earshot of official John Higgins, earning his second technical of the game and a seat on the bench.

The Cowboys got within 77-73 on a basket by Smart with 1:29 left, but Tharpe answered again with a 3-pointer from the top of the key. The Jayhawks then held on in the closing seconds to put some distance on one of its biggest threats in the Big 12 race.

No. 2 Syracuse holds off No. 22 Pitt to stay unbeaten

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis scored 16 points, including two driving layups and two free throws in the final 2 minutes, and No. 2 Syracuse beat No. 22 Pittsburgh 59-54 on Saturday in a battle for first place in the ACC between the two former Big East rivals.

Syracuse (18-0, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) entered the game 2-0 against former Big East rivals, with victories over St. John's and Villanova. The Orange made it three straight and remained one of only three unbeatens in Division I.

In four of the past five seasons, Syracuse has started with at least 13 consecutive wins, and twice in the last four years Pitt (16-2, 4-1) had stopped those streaks.

In a seesaw game that was tight all the way, Ennis, encouraged by coach Jim Boeheim to take more shots, won it by hitting a scoop with 1:47 left and a lefty layup with 30.6 seconds to go as the crowd of 30,046 shook the Carrier Dome with deafening roars.

Flyers sign goalie Mason to contract extension

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Flyers goaltender Steve Mason has signed a contract extension reportedly worth $12.3 million over three years.

The 25-year-old Mason is 19-11-5 with a 2.48 goals-against average and .917 save percentage entering Philadelphia's game against the New York Islanders on Saturday night. Mason was acquired from Columbus last April, and has become the team's No. 1 goalie.

Mason played well despite the team's poor start and has helped the Flyers into playoff contention. The Flyers are 23-12-5 since a 1-7 start.

Mason was the NHL's Rookie of the Year in 2008-09 when he was 33-20-7 for the Blue Jackets.

Arsenal, Man City march on in Premier League

MANCHESTER, England (AP) - Arsenal and Manchester City showed no sign of slowing up in the race for the Premier League title by grabbing routine home wins on Saturday to stay 1-2 in the standings.

Spain playmaker Santi Cazorla scored second-half goals in a five-minute span for Arsenal in a 2-0 victory over lowly Fulham that keeps the Gunners in the lead by a point.

"We have played 22 games and have 51 points. If you compare that to any other season you will see that it is one of the best, if not the best ever," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said after his side's fifth straight league win. "So let's just continue."

City put on another attacking clinic to breeze past Cardiff 4-2 and pass the 100-goal mark this season in all competitions - after just 34 matches. Edin Dzeko, Jesus Navas, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero netted for City, which has now scored four or more goals in a game on 12 occasions this campaign.

"It's not easy to score 103 goals by the middle of the season," City manager Manuel Pellegrini said. "It reflects how we think this team must play. We are always an attractive team."

The Chelsea side of last season had been the previous fastest to reach a century of goals in the Premier League era, after 42 games, but Pellegrini's entertainers have set a high bar.

The defeat dumped Cardiff into last place and ensured a miserable return to Manchester for its coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who spent 11 successful years across the city at United.

Third-place Chelsea will look to stay a point behind City by beating Manchester United at home on Sunday in the standout game of the weekend.

Liverpool lost ground in fourth by drawing 2-2 at home to Aston Villa, which raced into a two-goal lead after 36 minutes thanks to strikes by Andreas Weimann and Christian Benteke.

Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard - from the penalty spot - salvaged a draw for Liverpool, which is now eight points behind Arsenal after spending Christmas Day on top of the table.

The scrap for survival is even tighter than the battle for first place, with three teams now locked on 18 points in the relegation zone.

Crystal Palace started the day in last place but Jason Puncheon made up for his awful penalty miss against Tottenham last week by converting from the spot against Stoke, sealing a 1-0 win.

Sunderland remains second from bottom after coming from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Southampton and West Ham makes up the bottom three following a 3-1 loss to Newcastle, for whom France midfielder Yohan Cabaye scored twice while compatriot Loic Remy netted the other.

Norwich climbed five points clear of the drop zone thanks to a 1-0 win over Hull, secured by Ryan Bennett's 87th-minute goal.

Although Arsenal is maintaining the remarkable consistency it enjoyed in 2013, it will be difficult to stop City on current form.

Solskjaer was part of a string of wonderfully attacking teams during his time at Old Trafford, but none of them were as rampant as City's class of 2013-14.

Edin Dzeko brought up City's century of goals with a scruffy opener that dribbled just over the line in the 14th minute at Etihad Stadium, with the validity of the strike confirmed by the Goal Decision System on the giant screens in the corner of the ground.

Craig Noone equalized for Cardiff in the 29th minute but Jesus Navas restored City's lead three minutes later and second-half goals by Yaya Toure and substitute Sergio Aguero kept up the team's 100 percent home record in the league.

"We are playing fantastic football at the moment," Pellegrini said. "We play with fantastic intensity and that is how we must continue. The best way to play is the way we are playing now."

With Theo Walcott out for the rest of the season with a knee problem and Aaron Ramsey still not fully recovered from injury, it was Cazorla's turn to chip in with goals from midfield to ease the burden on chief striker Olivier Giroud.

Cazorla delivered instinctive finishes in the 57th and 62nd minutes, the first to complete a flowing move and the second after latching onto a clearance to break down the stubborn resistance of a Fulham side that arrived at Emirates Stadium with the league's leakiest defense.

"He is one of the players who can create something special, either through his pass or through his finishing," Wenger said of Cazorla.

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