Who’s on First? A weekly sports column

This week, in sports!

Wildcats go wild in New Orleans

It had to seem like a bad case of déjà vu for John Calipari: he watched his team’s lead in the NCAA Championship game dwindle down at the hands of a Bill Self-coached team again, just like four years earlier. This time, however, Calipari’s charges hit their free throws, and the Kentucky Wildcats held on to beat the Kansas Jayhawks, 67-59, winning the eighth men’s basketball championship in school history.

Kentucky was led by its core of talented youngsters, particularly Anthony Davis, who had one of the more dominant games in recent NCAA history on Monday night; Doron Lamb, who hit two big three-pointers down the stretch; and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who chipped in eleven points.

To their credit, the Jayhawks made this one interesting, chipping an 18-point deficit down to five points late in the game. However, Kentucky’s suffocating defense, led by Davis’ 6 blocks and 16 rebounds, quashed any hopes for a miraculous comeback. The championship was the first for Calipari, who is one of college basketball’s most successful coaches but has been dogged by scandal over the course of his career, having Final Four seasons at the University of Massachusetts and University of Memphis vacated due to NCAA violations. Calipari will have his work cut out for him next season, as many of Kentucky’s fantastic freshmen and super sophomores are expected to leave school and enter the NBA Draft.

There are persistent rumors that Calipari will be courted by NBA clubs, particularly the New York Knicks, but Calipari has maintained that he has no interest in making the jump to the pros. The team that Calipari’s Wildcats beat in the semifinals, Louisville, has a coach that could caution Calipari on the perils of life as an NBA bench boss.

Nike unveils new uniforms

When it was announced in 2010 that Nike would replace Reebok as the NFL’s primary gear provider after the 2011 season, some fans were a bit nervous. After all, Nike’s affinity for “unique” uniforms at the University of Oregon has been well documented, and some feared that the “Just Do It” brand would radically overhaul their favorite NFL teams’ look. It turns out that such fears were unnecessary, as on Tuesday Nike unveiled “new” uniforms for all 32 teams that didn’t feature many big changes.

For the most part, player reviews of the jersey were positive, praising the tighter fit, lighter fabric, and more comfortable style. According to USA Today, Nike’s new uniforms are called the “Elite 51’s,” and “focus on lighter fabrics, more contoured fits and four-way stretch materials.” Basically, the changes are more material than aesthetic. Coincidentally enough, it was another Pacific Northwest team, the Seattle Seahawks, that got the most drastic overhaul. Maybe Nike, based in Beaverton, Ore., figures it can go craziest closest to home. The Sporting News has a gallery that features the new look of each of the league’s 32 teams.

NHL races go down to the wire

Though the NHL playoffs start in about a week, the question of which teams will be battling for the Stanley Cup remains up in the air. In the Eastern Conference, three teams are battling for two spots; out west, four teams are battling for three spots. In all likelihood, the race to get into the playoffs will come down to the final day of the season.

Last night, the Florida Panthers missed out on a chance to clinch their first playoff berth in over a decade by virtue of a 5-4 overtime loss against the Winnipeg Jets; meanwhile, the Buffalo Sabres kept their playoff hopes alive with a 6-5 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Panthers need just one point in their last two games to win the Southeast Division and head to the postseason for the first time since 2000. That leaves the Sabres to battle the Washington Capitals for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East; both teams have 88 points and two games remaining.

However, the Capitals own the tiebreaker (more regulation and overtime wins), meaning the Sabres would have to pass the Caps to get into the playoffs. Adding fuel to the fire, Washington’s Brooks Laich guaranteed that the Caps would get in on Wednesday morning. Things are even more jumbled in the Western Conference, as the Dallas Stars, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, and Los Angeles Kings are all fighting for one of the three remaining spots. Coincidentally, all four teams are in the same division.

The picture got a little clearer last night after Dallas suffered a crippling loss at home against the Sharks, giving San Jose a three-point cushion in eighth place with just two games left. The Coyotes also won last night, putting even more heat on the Stars. However, there is a bright spot: San Jose and Los Angeles play each other twice this week, meaning that if the games don’t go to overtime and Dallas wins out, they can sneak in. So you’re tellin’ me there’s a chance… Things are much more solid at the top of each table, as the New York Rangers clinched first place in the East with a win last night, while the St. Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks have locked up the top two seeds out west, though who is one and who is two has yet to be determined.

Reports of a 113-point game in Lebanon

Looks like Kobe Bryant might have some competition. Reports surfaced on Wednesday that Mohammad El-Akkari, who plays for Moutahed of the International Basketball Association (FIBA), scored a whopping 113 points in his team’s 173-141 win over Bejjeh on Tuesday. The two teams play in FIBA’s Lebanese Division A league. Reports from Yahoo! Sports, GMA News, and the Los Angeles Times seem to indicate that the feat is legitimate, despite no video of the game surfacing. According to FIBA Asia’s website, the 27-year-old El-Akkari hit 32 three-pointers, eight regular shots, and one free throw for the 113 point total. Akkari’s total shattered the record for points in a single official FIBA game, previously held by Oscar Schmidt of Brazil, who scored 55 back in 1988.

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