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6-time champion Djokovic unsure of playing Australian Open

Published: Wednesday, January 03, 2018 @ 2:33 PM
Updated: Wednesday, January 03, 2018 @ 2:32 PM


            FILE - In this Jan. 19, 2017, file photo, Serbia's Novak Djokovic makes a backhand return to Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin during their second round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia. Dkokovic is still not sure whether he will be able to play in the Australian Open, where has won six of his 12 major championships. Djokovic has been dealing with pain in his right elbow. A statement posted on his website Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2017, says he will travel to Australia to participate in two exhibition events next week. After that, the statement says,
FILE - In this Jan. 19, 2017, file photo, Serbia's Novak Djokovic makes a backhand return to Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin during their second round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia. Dkokovic is still not sure whether he will be able to play in the Australian Open, where has won six of his 12 major championships. Djokovic has been dealing with pain in his right elbow. A statement posted on his website Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2017, says he will travel to Australia to participate in two exhibition events next week. After that, the statement says, "the decision will be made about his participation at the first Grand Slam of the season."(AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

Novak Djokovic is still not sure whether he will be able to play in the Australian Open, where he has won six of his 12 major championships.

Djokovic has been dealing with pain in his right elbow. A statement posted on his website on Wednesday says he will travel to Australia to participate in two exhibition events there next week.

After that, the statement says, "the decision will be made about his participation at the first Grand Slam of the season."

Djokovic, who is right-handed, cited the elbow problem on Dec. 30, when he withdrew from this week's Qatar Open, a hard-court tuneup tournament for the Australian Open.

That was supposed to be the 30-year-old Serb's final competitive preparation before play begins in Melbourne on Jan. 15.

He previously pulled out of a United Arab Emirates exhibition tournament.

Djokovic hasn't played in any tournament since retiring from his match in the Wimbledon quarterfinals in July because of the elbow injury. At the time, he acknowledged that his right arm had been bothering him for more than a year but that he had decided against having surgery.

The extended absence dropped the former No. 1 player to No. 12 in the current ATP rankings.

Djokovic is hardly alone when it comes to high-profile men's tennis players dealing with injuries as the new season begins.

Top-ranked Rafael Nadal, the runner-up to Roger Federer at the Australian Open last year, withdrew from this week's Brisbane International tuneup tournament because of a bothersome right knee. Nadal won the French Open and U.S. Open in 2017 to raise his major count to 16.

Three-time major champion Andy Murray, meanwhile, also pulled out of the Brisbane International and is considering having an operation because of a bad hip. Like Djokovic, he last competed at Wimbledon, nearly six months ago.

Since winning his fourth consecutive Grand Slam title at the 2016 French Open — becoming the first man in nearly a half-century with four in a row — Djokovic has made it past the quarterfinals at only one of the past six major tournaments, finishing as the runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open.

A year ago at the Australian Open, as the two-time defending champion, he bowed out in the second round against 117th-ranked Denis Istomin, the first time Djokovic exited so early at any major in nearly a decade.

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Georgia coach Kirby Smart’s greatest challenge awaits in 2018

Published: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 @ 12:59 PM

ATHENS — So Roquan Smith and Trent Thomson have packed their bags and joined Georgia’s giant pack of seniors in heading on down the road.

This is what makes college football so great. This is also what makes it so hard.

Georgia’s toughest task will be in finding another inside linebacker that can have near the impact that Roquan Smith did this past season. (Perry McIntyre Jr./UGA)

College football, by and large, is cyclical. That works to varying degrees for different programs, but because of the constant ingress and egress of players due to graduation and attrition, achieving sustained, championship-level success is next to impossible for any program not currently named Alabama. To me, that’s what makes it fun and somewhat unpredictable from year to year.

Analysis: No need to panic, but South Carolina collapse sounded some alarms for Kentucky basketball

Published: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 @ 9:23 PM

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Consider this the first of a two-part reaction to Kentucky basketball’s strange night at South Carolina on Tuesday. The second part will be much more optimistic, promise, but first we must sift through the wreckage of Gamecocks 76, Wildcats 68.

It really takes some doing to turn the triumphant debut of 5-star freshman Jarred Vanderbilt and a 14-point, second-half lead into a total disaster (and defeat). But by golly, these UK freshmen did it.

“This is another example that we don’t know how to close out games,” said freshman Kevin Knox, who had 21 points and 8 rebounds but launched eight 3-pointers and only made one. He knew this team was living dangerously at the end of the Texas A&M and Vanderbilt games last week, and it finally bit them. “Coach was trying to get us to make winning plays down the stretch and we weren’t doing what he was asking for. We were trying to do our own thing and you see what happened.”

The 18 th-ranked Wildcats actually led by 14 three different times after intermission, the last coming at 57-43 with 11:34 to go. Then they were outscored 33-11 the rest of the way. But how does a collapse like that happen?

A little something like this: PJ Washington throws an awful, intercepted cross-court pass and Hamidou Diallo commits a pointless intentional foul for his fourth of the game, triggering a snowball of foul trouble and bone-headed gaffes that would bury Kentucky (14-4, 4-2 SEC).

Coach John Calipari remembers Diallo yelping: I didn’t do it! “You pulled the guy’s shirt out of his pants, so don’t say that. You did it.”

And here comes the avalanche: Wenyen Gabriel’s fourth foul at the 10:13 mark, Sacha Killeya-Jones’ fourth at 9:19, Gabriel’s fifth at 7:21, Nick Richard’s fourth and fifth at 4:38 and 2:47.

“I’ve never seen so many dumb fouls,” Calipari said.

All told, six of eight available scholarship players finished with at least four fouls — including three foul-outs — and the 32 team fouls were the Wildcats’ most in a regulation game since 1997.

“That was tough for us because we had to stay in that zone [defense] and they were kind of picking at it, throwing it inside, and we couldn’t really do much because we couldn’t foul,” Knox said after UK gave up 27 points to South Carolina forward Chris Silva. “Our point guard had four fouls and Hami had four fouls, so we really couldn’t pressure the ball and play man. I think that kind of changed the game”

Yeah, sort of. And it also hurt that starting point guard Quade Green missed his third straight game with a back injury and the usually spectacular Shai Gilgeous-Alexander seemed both exhausted — he played 39 minutes in both games last week — and declawed by early offensive fouls.

Still, the Wildcats should’ve won Tuesday night.

But after shooting better than 50 percent to build that 14-point lead, they made just 3 of 14 shots the rest of the way and did not make a single field goal over the final 6:12. That included a bricked putback dunk by Richards that would’ve given Kentucky a 7-point lead with 4:47 remaining. Instead, the game was tied 45 seconds later.

Diallo missed a pair of free throws with the game tied at the 3:46 mark, from which point the Cats sank just 3 of 8 from the line.

“They looked like a bunch of freshmen playing — first time this year,” Calipari said. “This started in shoot-around today, where you’ve got a bunch of guys that don’t know that … going through the motions or not paying attention or not being focused guarantees what happens when the game is in the crunch.

“Hopefully — I hate to say it — you’ve just got to take some losses to get some guys to start listening.”

There were several positive signs for Kentucky before the implosion, like Richards’ dozen points after a prolonged slump and Knox’s early attacks of the basket and especially Vanderbilt’s 6 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 block in a tantalizing, 14-minute debut. But all of that is for Part II of this post mortem.

We mustn’t ignore some obvious alarm bells that went off (again) in the final minutes against the Gamecocks.

“Instead of getting [the lead] to 20 and taking the win and going home, next thing you know we’re trying to do our own thing and they get back into it — we’re not listening, people trying to get their own baskets,” Knox said. “We weren’t running none of the plays, weren’t playing no defense, weren’t listening to nothing the coaches were saying. [But] we got all freshmen and it’s a learning experience for us. We’re going to need it down the stretch in March Madness.”

Or, more immediately, Saturday at home against Florida.

RELATED: Everything Calipari said after South Carolina collapse

Pac-12 referee, crew target of threats, harassment after Music City Bowl

Published: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 @ 9:04 PM

A Pac-12 referee and his fellow officials have been the targets of threats and harassment in the aftermath of the Music City Bowl, according to a report from ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura.

Pac-12 referee Chris Coyte ran a crew of officials in the postseason bowl game between Kentucky, a Southeastern Conference school, and Big Ten-member Northwestern. During the contest — which Northwestern eventually won 24-23 — Kentucky running back Benny Snell was ejected for contacting an official, a decision widely criticized upon video review.

Both Coyte and the Pac-12 Conference stood by the call after the game, but the referee received “a barrage of threatening calls to his cell and office phones,” per Bonagura’s report. Those eventually died down, until a letter from Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart to Pac-12 vice president of officials David Coleman became public when the Lexington Herald-Leader obtained it via public records request and published it.

With that came a renewal of threats and harassment, and arguments over perceived breaking of protocols (including one that doesn’t exist).

In the letter, Barnhart questioned the professionalism of Coyte and line judge Tim Messuri, claimed the ejection of Snell was unwarranted and accused the officiating crew of lacking care for the well-being of Kentucky’s players, citing an injury to Wildcats quarterback Stephen Johnson as an example.

“Specifically, head referee Chris Coyte seemed to have no care for our injured player or willingness to allow our team a few moments to prepare a substitute quarterback to replace him, which is normal protocol in such a situation,” Barnhart said in the letter, per ESPN.

There is no specific rule requiring a warm-up time for a replacement quarterback before entering the game. Moreover, Kentucky punted on the ensuing play, which came after an unsportsmanlike penalty was issued against the Wildcats.

The Pac-12 felt as though Barnhart broke protocol by reaching out directly to Coleman, per Bonagura’s report.

“We’re happy to discuss the matter with the SEC,” the Pac-12 said in a statement to ESPN. “We’re particularly sensitive about this issue because our officials have received threats and we are concerned about their safety.”

“We are not aware of any protocols for this kind of situation,” the Kentucky athletic department said in its statement to ESPN. “We made contact with the Southeastern Conference office and made them aware of our concerns. We expressed those concerns to the SEC and to the Pac-12 office.”

Kentucky Basketball: What John Calipari said after Cats’ 76-68 collapse at South Carolina

Published: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 @ 8:18 PM

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Jarred Vanderbilt finally made his debut, played really well, and Kentucky basketball was on the verge of running South Carolina off its home court Tuesday night. Then the Wildcats watched a 14-point lead shrivel over the final 11 minutes and spoiled it all with a 76-68 meltdown defeat instead.

No. 18 Kentucky (14-4, 4-2 SEC) did not make a field goal over the final six minutes and sank just 3 of 8 free throws in the final 3:46. The Cats finished with 32 fouls — their most in a regulation game since 1997 — and six of their eight available scholarship players had four-plus, including three foul-outs.

It was a mess. But finally seeing Vanderbilt (6 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block in 14 minutes) is a major bright spot for Kentucky, which also figures to get starting point guard Quade Green back from his three-game absence with a back injury sooner than later. So what do we make, then, of this kind of strange defeat on the road?

Here, let’s allow head coach John Calipari to handle that. Everything he said after the game:

On Kevin Knox saying players weren’t listening to Cal down the stretch: “No. Here’s what this — this started in shoot around today where you’ve got a bunch of guys that don’t know that, having a great shoot around doesn’t guarantee a great game. But going through the motions or not paying attention or not being focused guarantees what happens when the game is in crunch. We got up 14, had the ball. PJ throws a cross-court pass for not what we were trying to do. That’s not what we had called. And then Hami fouls intentionally. ‘I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it.’ You pulled the guy’s shirt out of his pants. ‘I didn’t do it, I didn’t grab.’ You pulled the guy’s shirt out of his pants, so don’t say that. You did it.

“All of a sudden, Nick misses a dunk, it doesn’t go right and all of a sudden you’ve got a bunch of young guys that don’t know how to grind it in that situation. You’ve got to stop the bleeding. We go to the foul line late. South Carolina makes every free throw. We went 1 out of 2, 0 out of 0. Every one. You’re going to lose the game. I really disappointed, but you know what? You’ve got to give South Carolina credit. They played like Frank coaches. They’re down and it looks like they’re going to get smacked and they never stopped playing and then they got the momentum.

“I was trying to hold back to call a timeout to get under the four because I knew we were going to need it. I probably should have called one earlier when it got to six, but — and [Chris] Silva. We did a pretty good job in the first half, but in the second half they just said, ‘We’re throwing it to him.’ My big guys stayed behind him. You won’t believe this, in every timeout, what I was saying? Don’t stand behind him. At least get up beside him so he has to catch it out. We’re not there yet. [Silva finished with 27 and 8.] Hopefully, I hate to say it — you’ve got to take some losses to get some guys to start listening. What also ends up happening in a game like this, individual players really look like they’r not very good players. When you start realizing, yeah, we’re not very good and you’re not very good, you’re hurting yourself, let’s get this right. Hopefully we’ll move on from here and we’ll get this right.”

On if he’d felt UK was living on the edge of this with late-game snafus recently: “No weren’t up that many points. Like this game was ours and all we had to do was grab it and no, the other games throughout the whole game they were always close. We were never up big. This was a different situation for them. You know, you’re up, OK finish the game. No, they just, the minute, there’s an unwarranted arrogance that we get up, we’re really good or I’m really good and I’m going to do what I’m choosing to do, I’m not going to listen to what you’re saying. And that’s what happened and all of a sudden they get rolling and we couldn’t stop the onslaught. So they deserved to win. This wasn’t about us. This was about South Carolina.”

On Jarred Vanderbilt: “Told me prior to the game. Yeah he was pretty good for first time out. He’s trying to figure out what we’re doing.   We really haven’t scrimmaged with him. We’ve done some half court stuff, but I thought he was pretty good for the first time out.”

On playing without a point guard: “A lot of the game and when we played with one he wasn’t very good either. So basically we played the whole game without a point guard. We had out chances to win the game anyway. I mean, that wasn’t — look, there were balls that we should have had rebounds. Like, I’ve never seen so many dumb fouls. Like, just grab a guy and pull his shirt out. Excuse me, do you think this is lacrosse? The guy drives baseline, just reach in and grab. I’m going to have to watch the tape to make sure they were all fouls. And you understand these guys were coming over to the bench saying what? I didn’t foul him, I didn’t grab him. OK, well let me watch the tape, but they looked like fouls.  This one will be a tough second half to watch. First half will be tough to watch, too.”

On Silva: “He was the difference. He manhandled everybody we put on him. We didn’t double every time, we didn’t double as much in the zone. We probably should have. We were telling guys, really dig into his lap and we didn’t. He just moved people. He bullied them. He moved them. He dominated them. He manhandled anybody on my team.”

On South Carolina fast start in first half: “No, I had to sub a couple guys early and like look if you’r not ready to go you can’t be in here. Look, it’s typical of teams that play us. They’re not going to give us a bad game. They’re pealing us, and South Carolina always gives us a good game. They always do.”

On mistakes: “We had 16 turnovers and my point guard had six. He had no assists and six turns. It was not one of his better games and the offensive fouls, the fourth one was. If you’re not getting by somebody, you can’t push off. If you can’t get by somebody, don’t try to get by him.  This looked like a bunch of freshman playing. First time this year, I would say in the second half. The first half, you would look and say, ‘Ah, they got a nice team and da da da da.’ They’re all freshmen. In the second half you looked at us and we looked like a bunch of freshmen playing like freshmen would play. Which, again, I’m kind of disappointed in, but these kids aren’t machines, they’re not robots, they’re not great every time out. There’s ups and downs to this.  There is the unwarranted arrogance of a typical team that thinks they’re better than they are and all the other stuff that goes along with the growth of a program and a season and the process you go through. Let’s learn and move on.”

On if he’ll intentionally miss every shoot-around half court shot from now on (hadn’t made one since before 2008 Memphis title game he lost, then made one Tuesday) : “Robes [long-time right-hand man John Robic] was mad when I made it. I try to make it, but normally I don’t.”