Illini's Paul embraced under Groce's new system

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Illini's Paul embraced under Groce's new system

ROSEMONT Brandon Paul displayed his star power last January, when he dropped a career-high 43 points in Illinois upset of fifth-ranked Ohio State.

It was the third-highest point total in Illini history, tied for the fifth-highest total in the NCAA last season and was the highest total in a Big Ten game since Glenn Robinson tallied 49 in 1994.

Then things went downhill. The Illini lost 12 of their final 14 games, finishing 17-15 and failing to reach the postseason. Paul was unable to score in double digits in three of his final six games, coming up with only four points against Iowa in the Big Ten tournament. He finished 13th among conference scoring leaders at 14.7 points per game.

Entering a new season with a new coach, the Illini and Paul are aiming for consistency. Sometimes, its showing up both halves, Paul said at Thursdays Big Ten Media Day at Hyatt Regency OHare. I dont want to have a good half and come out next half and not take advantage of that and play harder. As a team, we want to play all 40 minutes. We cant just play 35. We want to control games and we want teams to come in thinking we
have to have conditioned guys and subs. Were hoping to create mismatches.

Paul said the Illini struggled to keep their focus and close out games last season. Senior guard D.J. Richardson said its up to him and Paul to keep the team focused and maintain chemistry. We both had an up-and-down year, Richardson said. Just him personally, we need him to stay consistent. Hell be running a lot of point guard. We need to him take control of the team.

Besides playing shooting guard, Paul will help handle point guard duties for an up-tempo offense implemented by former Ohio coach John Groce, who was hired in March to replace the fired Bruce Weber. As a backup point guard in the past, Paul is looking forward to the role. He said his ballhandling has improved each season. I like that the balls in my hands, he said. I like to make a decision with the ball. I feel Im a passer and I led the team in assists last year. Thats something I want to improve on, more assists and less turnovers.

Groce has been focusing on the mental side with Paul. He asks the senior guard: Who did you help today? He has shared the Pat Riley quote: Coaches will take consistency over greatness any day of the week. I think you do that by understanding every practice matters, every rep matters, every little thing that we do matters, Groce said. Thats how you become more consistent at what you do, and hes embraced that.

In the new system, Groce doesnt want to deter Paul from shooting. He can score more than 40 points a game against a high-ranked opponent, after all. Brandon is a terrific scorer, so the last thing I want to do is put shackles on him, Groce said. Hes got to take plays for us. Hes listened. Hes done a good job. I want him to be aggressive and I want him to attack.

White Sox crush four homers to support Jose Quintana in win over Mariners

White Sox crush four homers to support Jose Quintana in win over Mariners

Fireworks Night started early for the White Sox on Saturday night.

The White Sox homered four times to support Jose Quintana in their 9-3 win over the Seattle Mariners at U.S. Cellular Field in front of 27,318 fans. Quintana, who set a career high in season wins last week, notched his 11th victory of the season.

"This year is special for me," Quintana said. "Now we have momentum. (We have to) try to keep (it) going to get more for my team. It’s really good. I’m trying to do my job."

Quintana was on point again right from the get-go. After allowing a double to the first batter of the game, the 27-year-old southpaw retired the next 11 batters.

Quintana pitched 7.2 innings with eight strikeouts and two runs on five hits and a walk. He lowered his ERA to 2.77 on the year.

"He's pretty consistent," said manager Robin Ventura. "I think that's the biggest thing for him. Mentality wise and just focus, just his attitude and everything that goes with him is pretty consistent. You're never going to really tell what's going on with him on the game.

"He's had so many games that were close or tied or even behind that he never changes. I think that's what endears him to a lot of guys. He's consistent."

While Quintana has been consistent all year, the offense hasn't been. But on Saturday, the team gave their starter a healthy dose of run support.

"What was really impressive was the offense tonight was really good for us and for me," Quintana said. "It’s fun when you’re throwing when a lot of runs are scored."

The Mariners opened up the scoring with a sac fly from Robinson Cano in the first. But the White Sox answered back right away.

Melky Cabrera drove in Tim Anderson, who tripled in the previous at-bat, with a sac fly. The next batter, Jose Abreu, crushed his 18th homer of the year to put the White Sox in front. Cabrera was the only White Sox who didn’t record a hit in the game.

The White Sox offense began to heat up in the fourth after a quiet second and third from both sides.

After the first two batters of the inning were retired, the next four White Sox got on. It cleared the path for Tyler Saladino’s RBI single, which put the Sox up 3-1. Saladino finished the night with one homer and three RBI.

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The White Sox added four more in the fifth inning.

The scoring started with an RBI triple from Justin Morneau — the team’s second three-bagger of the night.

Back-to-back homers from Avisail Garcia and Alex Avila made it 7-1. It was the fifth time the White Sox hit two consecutive homers this season.

"I think Q's probably the happiest guy of anybody. He was great," Ventura said. "Any time you swing the bat as well as we did tonight and you get some add ons with the homers, you like seeing that kind of offense and you like seeing balls over the fence.

"Guys had a good night of just being patient and being able to cash in."

The Mariners added a run in the sixth from an RBI single by Guillermo Heredia and a sac-fly Franklin Gutierrez in the ninth.

Avila went 1-for-3 with a solo homer and walk in his first game since July 5.

Garcia, who had five extra base hits in June and July, had three on Friday night.

Preview: Cubs-Dodgers Sunday on CSN

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Preview: Cubs-Dodgers Sunday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

CSN will also carry the live audio call of Los Angeles Dodgers broadcasting legend Vin Scully during Sunday's game as the SportsNet LA audio feed will be featured during the third inning.

Sunday’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester vs. Kenta Maeda

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

Defensive mistakes, red card cost Fire in ugly loss at D.C.

Defensive mistakes, red card cost Fire in ugly loss at D.C.

RFK Stadium hosted one of the stranger games of the Chicago Fire’s season on Saturday.

It also may end up being a killer blow to the Fire’s playoff hopes.

The Fire lost 6-2 to the host D.C. United, falling nine points out of the playoffs with nine matches remaining.

Patrick Mullins had a hat trick and former Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko played a role in three of D.C.’s goals. The six goals were the most the Fire have allowed this season.

Fire midfielder Khaly Thiam received a red card in the 34th minute in a match-changing moment. Thiam fouled Nyarko then argued with the ref and dropped the ball on Nyarko’s face while Nyarko was still on the ground.

Nyarko keyed the opening goal in the 25th minute with a backheel in the box to Marcelo, whose low cross was finished off by Mullins.

Michael de Leeuw answered for the Fire (5-12-8, 23 points) by tucking away a big rebound from goalkeeper Bill Hamid after Matt Polster hit a half-volley at Hamid. The relief was short-lived for the Fire because Thiam was sent off a few minutes later.

Nyarko set up Mullins for a goal in the 40th minute and then Luciano Acosta did the same for Mullins in first half added time to make it 3-1 D.C. (7-8-11, 32 points). Razvan Cocis got the Fire back within one on the final kick of the half with a long shot that took a big deflection, lofting the ball perfectly over Hamid and into the net.

However, Nyarko quickly restored D.C.’s two-goal lead out of halftime with a goal in the 51st minute. Mullins finished off his hat trick in the 76th minute and Nick DeLeon finished the scoring in the 89th.

David Accam, who was favoring and icing his left leg after Wednesday’s draw with LA, did not start the match. He subbed on at halftime. He and David Arshakyan, who made his Fire debut off the bench, will both leave for international duty and miss next weekend’s match against Philadelphia.