Hawks-Suns game latest to be called off by NBA amid virus
The Phoenix Suns are now the latest NBA team to deal with contact tracing issues related to the coronavirus pandemic, and their game Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks was called off by the league after it was learned they wouldn’t have enough players cleared to participate.
The NBA also revealed Wednesday that 16 players — by far the most in a one-week period since training camps started — returned positive COVID-19 tests between Jan. 6 and Tuesday. With 497 players tested, that reflects a positivity rate of 3.2%.
In the previous five weeks combined, only 15 players were positive. But even the current rate is well below what the league dealt with going into training camps, when 48 players tested positive in the week before practices could formally begin leaguewide.
That Suns-Hawks game was the third on Wednesday’s schedule to be called, joining Utah at Washington and Orlando at Boston. It also marks the second consecutive time that a team ran into issues after playing in Washington; the Miami Heat lost eight players to COVID-related issues following their road game against the Wizards on Saturday.
Also not playing Wednesday: Zion Williamson, ruled out by the New Orleans Pelicans for their game at the Los Angeles Clippers because of the league’s health and safety protocols. That doesn’t mean he tested positive and simply could mean he was potentially exposed to someone who has.
The Hawks-Suns postponement was the sixth in the league since Sunday, and the seventh overall this season because of virus issues. The Suns, Hawks, Heat, Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers are among the teams dealing with significant roster depletion in recent days because of either positive tests, tracing — which indicates if someone has been in an unsafe amount of contact with a person who tested positive — or both.
UCLA promotes Jerry Neuheisel to wide receivers coach
LOS ANGELES — UCLA has promoted Jerry Neuheisel to wide receivers coach.
Neuheisel played for the Bruins from 2012 to 2015 and has been a graduate assistant with the program during Chip Kelly’s three years as head coach.
Neuheisel has worked primarily with the receivers and quarterbacks during his three seasons back in Westwood. He began his coaching career with Texas A&M as an offensive quality control coach in 2017.
Neuheisel replaces Jimmie Dougherty, who left UCLA after four seasons to join Arizona’s staff as quarterbacks coach.
Neuheisel is the son of former UCLA quarterback and coach Rick Neuheisel.
USC thwarts UC Riverside’s upset claim with 67-62 win in OT
LOS ANGELES — Evan Mobley scored 20 points with 11 rebounds and Isaiah Mobley scored 16 with 12 and Southern California escaped an upset bid by UC Riverside, beating the Highlanders 67-62 in overtime on Tuesday night.
Evan Mobley’s dunk with 4:05 left in the extra session gave the Trojans (9-2) the lead for good but they never created safe distance from the Highlanders (4-3).
Drew Peterson recorded back-to-back 3-point plays for the Trojans for a 61-56 lead with 2:35 left in overtime. Dominick Pickett came back with a 3 for UC Riverside 19 seconds later, but Evan Mobley sank a pair of free throws, Peterson hit a jumper and the Trojans had enough room to hold on.
Peterson scored 12 points and Tahj Eaddy 10.
The Highlanders went on a 16-0 run in the first half and led 25-14 on Wil Tattersall’s 3-pointer with 7:56 before halftime.
UC Riverside led 32-27 at halftime. USC’s 52-47 lead in the second half with 3:10 left was the largest lead for either team prior to overtime.
Browns’ cornerback Ward off COVID list
Browns top cornerback Denzel Ward is back with the team after missing Cleveland’s past two games — one of them a playoff win — with COVID-19.
Ward was activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday along with cornerback Kevin Johnson as the Browns (12-5), who have dealt with numerous virus-related issues over the last month, began practicing for Sunday’s playoff game at Kansas City against the top-seeded Chiefs.
If he can play, Ward would give Cleveland’s secondary a major boost as it faces Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his numerous offensive weapons. Ward typically is assigned to the other team’s top wide receiver.
Johnson, who has made six starts this season, will help as well.
The Browns gave up 501 yards passing on Sunday to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who picked on Cleveland’s backups.
Ward’s return could be followed by coach Kevin Stefanski’s. The first-year coach also missed Sunday’s shocking wild-card win at Pittsburgh after testing positive for COVID-19 last week. Stefanski is on track to be back at the team’s facility on Thursday.
Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio could be joining him. He missed last week’s game as well with coronavirus, along with Ward, Johnson, wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge and four assistant coaches.
MLS’s Canadian teams to face challenges again
MLS Players Association executive director Bob Foose says delaying the start of the 2021 season would be the “best solution” for Canadian teams given the pandemic-related border issues.
Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver were forced to relocate south of the border for much of the 2020 season because of travel complications caused by COVID-19. Toronto headed to East Hartford, Connecticut; Montreal moved to Harrison, New Jersey; and Vancouver went to Portland, Oregon.
Foose said on a conference call “the last thing we want to do is repeat that experience this year.”
MLS Commissioner Don Garber said Tuesday the league plans to start the season in mid-March.
Garber said while he felt for the challenges facing the Canadian teams, the league had to abide by made-in-Canada health guidelines.
MLS players won’t be rushed into decision on revising CBA
The Major League Soccer Players Association won’t be rushed into a decision on proposed changes to the collective bargaining agreement with the league amid uncertainties about the 2021 season, the union’s executive director said.
MLSPA executive director Bob Foose on Wednesday decried the league’s decision to invoke the agreement’s “force majeure” clause to reopen negotiations on the CBA after the sides had two difficult negotiations a year ago — one in February that seemed to indicate labor peace, and a second in June when players took a pay cut in order to resume the 2020 season.
Fox, Rodman selected with the top picks in the NWSL draft
North Carolina defender-midfielder Emily Fox was the first player taken in the National Women’s Soccer League draft Wednesday night, going to expansion team Racing Louisville.
With the second pick, the Washington Spirit selected 18-year-old forward Trinity Rodman, daughter of former NBA player Dennis Rodman and a standout on the U.S. youth national teams.
Fox is taking part January training camp with the U.S. women’s national team in Florida. She was applauded by her teammates at dinner after the selection was announced.
“I feel like its a very unique opportunity for me to go on there and try to do as best that I can and work my way up, and do anything I can for the team,” said Fox, one of three college players who were invited to take part in the national team’s camp.
Rodman was a freshman at Washington State, but the coronavirus outbreak postponed the fall season in the Pac-12. Because of an NCAA waiver, she could play for the Cougars this spring and join the Spirit afterward, but she said Wednesday she had decided to forgo her college career.
Midfielder Brianna Pinto out of North Carolina went to Sky Blue with the third pick. Pinto announced on Twitter on Tuesday that she was going to pursue a pro career, but said she would play this spring with the Tar Heels.
Stanford’s Kiki Pickett was selected by Kansas City with the fourth pick. Kansas City sent $175,000 in allocation money to Sky Blue in exchange for the pick.
Not only goalies wear masks: NHL coaches must cover faces
Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice struggled to blow a whistle while wearing a mask. Barry Trotz couldn’t see if one of his New York Islanders players was skating toward him because his mask had helped fog up his glasses.
“It was ugly there for a while,” Maurice said. “There’s some challenges to it.”
One of the new challenges for NHL coaches this season is the requirement to wear a mask behind the bench during games and on the ice for practices. Now that goaltenders won’t be the only masked men around the rink, coaches will learn and adjust on the fly like those in other sports have had to in recent months.
“Just being around the rink all day wearing one is an adjustment, but we’ll work it out,” Joel Quenneville of the Florida Panthers said. “Sometimes when you really want to get your point across, you might have to pull your mask down to make yourself clear. But I’ve never changed lines with a face mask on.”
Hockey coaches are more responsible than their counterparts in baseball, football or basketball to bark out directions in real time at a fast pace, which makes this an even steeper learning curve. Get ready for loud yelling and maybe a few more bench minor penalties for too many men on the ice.
FIFA grants approval for Macario to play for US
Brazilian-born midfielder Catarina Macario received permission from FIFA on Wednesday to play for the U.S. national team.
The governing body’s approval means she could appear in a pair of national team exhibition games in Florida against Colombia later this month.
“Now that I’m approved to play, it’s up to me to show the coaches I deserve to be on rosters and get playing time,” Macario said in a statement. “Nothing is guaranteed, and everything needs to be earned, so it’s up to me to get my fitness to the level needed and keep learning every day. Just to be in the position is a dream come true and I’ll never take any of it for granted.”
Macario, who came to the United States when she was 12 and played for Stanford, is currently in camp with the national team. She became an American citizen in October but hadn’t been able to play for the team while awaiting FIFA’s permission.
LPGA opens with consecutive events in Florida a month apart
ORLANDO, Fla. — The Gainbridge LPGA tournament is moving to Lake Nona, giving the LPGA Tour consecutive events in Florida one month apart to start its 2021 season.
The Gainbridge LPGA, to be played Feb. 25-28, is in its second year. It was played last year at Boca Rio Golf Club in Boca Raton.
Lake Nona has been the Florida home of several top players over the years, such as Annika Sorenstam, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter. It most recently hosted the Tavistock Cup, a club competition between Lake Nona and Isleworth, and it was where Davis Love III and Fred Couples won the World Cup of Golf in 1993.
It also has some LPGA history, holding the inaugural Solheim Cup in 1990.
The tournament will feature a 120-player field and a $2 million purse.
Another tournament in Hawaii, a fresh start for most players
HONOLULU — For the 31 players at the Sony Open who took the 30-minute flight over from Maui, the decision to play was easy. They’re already in Hawaii, guaranteed a tropical climate and the course at sea level is an easy walk.
Collin Morikawa wouldn’t know it any other way.
In the two years since he left Cal and turned pro, he has won each year on the PGA Tour and been eligible for the Tournament of Champions to start the new year. Plus, his family has history in Hawaii.
Would the PGA champion fly out to the middle of the Pacific Ocean for just one week?
“It’s a great hypothetical,” Morikawa said with a smile. “But Hawaii is special to me. I would love to come out here starting the year. It has obviously the right kind of vibes. It gets you going to start the year. And I love it out here.”
His year didn’t start too badly, except for one round. With consecutive rounds of 65, he went into the final round at Kapalua one shot out of the lead and shot a 73.
For the other 113 players at Waialae, the long trip was worth their while. That includes Charles Howell III, who is making his 20th consecutive start at the Sony Open and has never left the islands without money in the bank. Along with never missing the cut, Howell has seven finishes in the top 5, but still no victory.
Hurkacz wins 2nd title, beating Korda in Delray Beach Open
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — Hubert Hurkacz was too good for Sebastian Korda in the final at the Delray Beach Open and, on the last point, a little lucky.
Hurkacz hit a cross-court lob winner corner to corner to close out a 6-3, 6-3 victory Wednesday for his second career ATP Tour title. With a laugh, he acknowledged he hit the last shot with more of his racket than intended.
“Most of the frame. A little bit of string,” he said. “I thought after I hit it, ‘Wow, it might be good.’”
It was, as were many of Hurkacz’s more orthodox shots. Seeded fourth, the 6-foot-5 Hurkacz displayed rangy defense and a wide variety of strokes when on the attack, even winning one point with a serve and volley on a second serve.
Hurkacz’s only other title was in 2019 at Winston-Salem, where he became the second Polish tour-level champion in the Open era.
Korda was slowed by an upper leg injury that required treatment in the second set. He broke at love in the opening game but didn’t have a break-point chance the rest of the way against Hurkacz’s strong serve.
Hurkacz said he was buoyed by the fans, even though there were less than 2,000 because of limits imposed due to COVID-19.
Jets complete 2nd interview with 49ers’ Saleh without deal
NEW YORK — The search for a new coach continues for the New York Jets after they completed an in-person interview with San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh on Wednesday without apparently reaching a deal.
Saleh was the first of the nine known candidates to speak remotely with the Jets last week to be hosted by the team at its facility in Florham Park, New Jersey.
Saleh arrived Tuesday night and spent several hours with the team before meeting again Wednesday. It’s believed Jets chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson, team president Hymie Elhai and general manager Joe Douglas all met in person with Saleh over the two days.
The Jets announced on social media they had completed their second interview with Saleh, which typically has indicated that a candidate has left the facility.
Broncos hire ex-Vikings exec Paton as Elway’s GM successor
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — John Elway’s replacement as Broncos general manager will be Vikings executive George Paton.
Elway announced the hiring Wednesday. Denver hasn’t reached the playoffs since winning Super Bowl 50 five years ago.
Paton spent the last 14 seasons with Minnesota, including the last six as vice president of player personnel and assistant general manager. He’s been one of the hottest names on the GM circuit in recent years.
Elway called Paton “a proven evaluator who knows every detail of leading football operations.”
Paton will report to Elway, who is keeping his role as president of football operations.
Paton was one of five candidates the Broncos interviewed, including Patriots executive Dave Ziegler, who withdrew his name last weekend to stay in New England in an expanded role.
The other candidates to succeed Elway were Saints executive Terry Fontenot, Bears executive Champ Kelly, and in-house candidate Brian Stark, the Broncos’ college scouting director.
Bears plan to keep Nagy, GM Pace for at least 1 more season
CHICAGO — The Chicago Bears plan to keep general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy for at least another season.
The team opted against sweeping changes in leadership after the Bears slipped into the playoffs despite going 8-8 for the second year in a row, chairman George McCaskey said Wednesday.
The announcement comes on the heels of the Bears’ wild-card loss at New Orleans on Sunday, their second playoff appearance in three years. Chicago won the NFC North at 12-4 in 2018 — Nagy’s first season.
The Bears have two playoff appearances and a 42-54 regular-season record in six years under Pace, while Nagy is 28-20. They have not won in the postseason since the 2010 team played in the NFC championship game.
There was speculation Pace or Nagy could be on their way out when the Bears lost six in a row this season — their worst skid since 2002. Chicago regrouped by winning three straight against struggling teams before closing the regular season with a 35-16 loss to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
UConn guard Bouknight has elbow surgery, out indefinitely
STORRS, Conn. — UConn guard James Bouknight will be out indefinitely after having surgery on his left elbow, the school said Wednesday.
The school had earlier said the sophomore hyperextended his left while diving for a loose ball in the first half of the Huskies’ win at Marquette on Jan. 5. He came back into the game, but has missed UConn’s last two contests, wins over Butler and DePaul.
The surgery was done on Tuesday.
Bouknight had been leading the Big East in scoring, averaging 20.3 points, while making 45% of his shots from the field.
AP sources: Eagles won’t be penalized for QB decisions
PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles won’t be penalized after the NFL looked into the way the team handled its quarterback decisions in the final regular-season game against Washington, two people familiar with the decision told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Both people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to reveal the conversations.
Doug Pederson, who was fired by Philadelphia on Monday, removed Jalen Hurts for third-string quarterback Nate Sudfeld in the fourth quarter of a 20-14 loss on Jan. 3. The Eagles trailed by a field goal when Sudfeld, who hadn’t thrown a pass in a game since 2018, entered. He was picked on his second attempt and also lost a fumble.
Washington (7-10) secured the NFC East title with the victory and the New York Giants (6-10) were eliminated. Giants players and their fans were angry that Pederson benched Hurts, feeling the Eagles tanked. The loss gave Philadelphia the sixth pick in the draft instead of the ninth.
Australian Open qualifying complete; 15 charters to arrive
Nearly 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles) from Melbourne, the qualifying tournament has been completed for the Australian Open, with 16 men and 16 women set to join the singles main draw beginning Feb. 8.
That’s a three-week delay from the original start date for the season-open tennis major at Melbourne Park because of quarantine protocols in place in the COVID-19 pandemic. The qualifiers join the group of players who’ll begin arriving Thursday on 15 charter flight and immediately go into a 14-day quarantine.
Due to virus restrictions in place for arriving passengers into Australia, the women’s qualifying was held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and the men’s qualifying was in Doha, Qatar.
The women qualifiers include two-time Australian Open and Roland Garros doubles champion Timea Babos of Hungary and British player Francesca Jones, who has a rare genetic condition.
Jones has ectrodactyly ectodermal dysplasia, which means she was born with three fingers and a thumb on each hand, three toes on her right foot and four toes on her left.
On the men’s side, the qualifiers include 17-year-old ATP newcomer of the year, Carlos Alcaraz of Spain.
Six women and six men will also travel to Australia as lucky losers and undergo mandatory quarantine like the rest of the international players, hoping to get a place in the main draw as cover for injuries or withdrawals. There are 104 direct entries based on rankings for the men’s and women’s singles main draw, plus wild-card entries and the qualifiers.
Aryna Sabalenka wins 3rd straight title in Abu Dhabi
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Aryna Sabalenka won her third straight tour title and 15th straight match by beating Veronika Kudermetova 6-2, 6-2 Wednesday in the Abu Dhabi Open final.
The fourth-seeded Belarusian, who won indoor tournaments in Ostrava and Linz at the end of last season, last lost in the third round of the French Open in October.
“I was doing everything I could in each match from the beginning (in Abu Dhabi) and I’m happy to start the season with a title,” Sabalenka said. “I’m going to Australia, I’m confident with one thing, that I will do everything I can to win matches.”
Sabalenka will rise three places to seventh in the rankings. She is 9-4 in career finals and 6-0 in the last 16 months. Kudermetova was playing in her first tour final.
Mark Shapiro gets 5-year extension as Blue Jays’ CEO
TORONTO — Mark Shapiro has been given a five-year contract extension as the Toronto Blue Jays’ president and chief executive officer.
Rogers Communications, which owns the team, made the announcement Wednesday.
Shapiro worked for the Cleveland Indians before becoming the Blue Jays’ president on Oct. 31, 2015.
Rogers chairman Edward Rogers said Shapiro’s leadership and commitment over the last five years have been critical to the team’s growth and development.
To cancel or not?: IOC, Japan press ahead with Tokyo Games
TOKYO — Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency last week for Tokyo and surrounding areas. Amid the surging virus, he again promised the postponed Tokyo Olympics would be “safe and secure” and tried to disconnect the state of emergency from the fate of the games.
But opposition to the Olympics is growing with calls mounting for a cancellation. The International Olympic Committee and local organizers have already said another postponement is impossible, leaving cancellation — or opening on July 23 — as the only options.
Two polls published in the last few days by the Japanese news agency Kyodo and Japanese broadcaster TBS show that just over 80% want the Olympics canceled or postponed, or believe they will not take place. The negative responses are up 15 to 20 percentage points from polls published just last month.
Tottenham buckles again in familiar style, City jumps to 3rd
It has become a familiar pattern for Tottenham under Jose Mourinho this season: take the lead, retreat, invite opponents on, and eventually concede.
The same thing happened again on Wednesday, and it cost the team a place in the Premier League’s top four.
Leading through a rarely seen diving header put away emphatically by Harry Kane, Tottenham couldn’t hold out against a Fulham side playing the game on just two days’ notice — much to the chagrin of its manager.
Ivan Cavaleiro scored a header of his own in the 74th minute to earn Fulham a 1-1 draw at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, giving Mourinho that sinking feeling he is starting to know well.
After all, Tottenham has conceded late equalizers in draws against Crystal Palace and Wolverhampton over the past month. In that period, there was also the 90th-minute header scored by Roberto Firmino to earn Liverpool a 2-1 win over Spurs at Anfield.
Earlier in the season, Tottenham squandered home leads in draws against Newcastle and West Ham.
Mourinho’s renowned pragmatism is well-received by supporters of his teams if it pays off. It feels like a wasted opportunity when it doesn’t.
According to Opta, the Premier League’s official statistics supplier, Tottenham has had only 12 second-half shots on target in its last nine league games.
Mourinho’s team wasted two chances, in particular, to finish off Fulham as Son Heung-min struck a shot against the post when clean through and Moussa Sissoko was denied by a last-ditch tackle after a weaving run into the area.
Premier League players told to stop hugging by government
LONDON — The British government is increasingly troubled by soccer players hugging and kissing in celebrations, risking coronavirus infections and the sport’s ability to be allowed to continue during the latest lockdown.
Outbreaks at Premier League teams, forcing the postponement of matches, have heightened concerns about the avoidable and very visible close contact between players.
“Everyone in the country has had to change the way they interact with people and ways of working,” Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston tweeted Wednesday. “Footballers are no exception. COVID secure guidelines exist for football. Footballers must follow them and football authorities enforce them — strictly.”
Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, the Premier League has warned clubs that punishments will be handed out for flouting the rules.
FIFA details depths of sexual abuse case in Haitian soccer
GENEVA — FIFA released details Wednesday of its investigation into systematic sexual abuse of female soccer players in Haiti, saying there were 14 alleged victims of the national federation’s president.
The FIFA ethics committee said Yves Jean-Bart, the president of Haiti’s soccer federation for 20 years, allegedly raped girls as young as 14 and took “habitual mistresses” among players. The details were included in a newly published verdict that explained why Jean-Bart was banned from soccer for life in November.
The 45-page document said “many of the girls from very poor backgrounds became known as his ‘restaveks,’ a Haitian term for a child slave.”
One 14-year-old player allegedly became pregnant by Jean-Bart and was taken by soccer federation officials to have an abortion.
Chen the headliner, Bell could be scene stealer at nationals
While Nathan Chen will be the headliner at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships that begin Thursday in Las Vegas, Mariah Bell could be the scene stealer.
Chen is the first man to win four consecutive national titles since Brian Boitano in 1988. The winner of the last two world championships — the event was not held in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic — and the last three Grand Prix crowns, Chen is in line for a fifth successive U.S. title. That would equal the five overall wins by Todd Eldredge, but no one since Dick Button from 1946-52 has won that many in a row. Button had seven.
US team out of men’s handball worlds with coronavirus
CAIRO, Egypt — The United States men’s handball team has been forced to withdraw from the world championships in Egypt after a coronavirus outbreak.
The U.S. team said late Tuesday that “a majority of our players and staff members tested positive for the virus” before the squad planned to travel to Egypt.