Notre Dame facing a daunting task at Oklahoma

922597.png

Notre Dame facing a daunting task at Oklahoma

Bob Stoops has coached 83 games at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in his 14-year tenure in Norman. His teams have only lost four times.

Thats a fairly daunting number for the No. 5 Irish to face this weekend, with plenty of BCS implications on the line against the No. 8 Sooners. But Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday he doesnt think his team is frightened by that 79-4 mark.

We've got so many other things our guys have to worry about, whether they're stepping with their right foot or left foot, Kelly said. Those numbers are really not something we bring up. But clearly we know how good they are.

If Notre Dame does pull off the win, itll be with a quarterback whos only started five collegiate games. But Everett Golson wouldnt be the first inexperienced signal-caller to beat Stoops in Norman.

In 2001, freshman Josh Fields -- who went on to play third base for the White Sox -- replaced junior Aso Pogi early and piloted Les Miles' Oklahoma State squad to a 16-13 win. Pogi threw two interceptions in his first nine passes and was yanked for Fields, who only threw one interception the rest of the way.

Texas Tech's Seth Doege, in his first year as a full-time starter, went into Norman and threw for 441 yards in a shocking win over then-No. 3 Oklahoma last year -- but he at least had some game experience dating back to 2009. TCU's Tye Gunn was a senior when the Horned Frogs became the second team to defeat Stoops at Owen Field in 2005. And K-State senior Collin Klein, who led the No. 3 Wildcats to a 24-19 win in September, is arguably the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy this year.

While Stoops' 79-4 home record certainly appears intimidating, half of those losses have come in the last two years, and it's important to note the Red River Shootout is annually played in Dallas -- so OU doesn't have to play Texas in Norman.

In fact, Saturday's game will mark just the fourth time Stoops has faced a team ranked in the top 10 at home:

Oct. 28, 2000: 31-14 win vs. No. 1 Nebraska
Oct. 19, 2002: 49-3 win vs. No. 9 Iowa State
Nov. 22, 2008: 65-21 win vs. No. 2 Texas Tech

Still, four losses in 83 home games is just one way the strength of Oklahomas program has materialized. Stoops has taken OU to a bowl game in each of his 14 years, including two BCS bowl wins and a national championship in 2000. Make no mistake, its Oklahoma -- not Texas -- thats been the class of the Big 12 for the last decade and a half. Few schools can boast the success Oklahoma has enjoyed under Stoops, and its something Kelly and Notre Dame are shooting for.

That's where we want to be, Kelly said. We want that consistency. Year in and year out you know Oklahoma is going to be part of the conversation. And that's where we want to get our football program. We're nowhere near that yet. We think we're moving in the right direction. We're trending the right way.

But I think the hallmark of great programs is that consistency, the consistency that we saw here for a number of years that we haven't seen, we want to be able to bring that back. And that takes time. And that takes a lot of winning, and that's why there's so much pride and tradition in their program as well.

Illini's Malcolm Hill breaks backboard with practice dunk

malcolm-hill-0530.png

Illini's Malcolm Hill breaks backboard with practice dunk

One of John Groce's goals for his team this offseason was to improve the Illini's strength.

Things seem to be going nicely.

Malcolm Hill broke a backboard in the Illini's practice gym on Monday, and there's photo evidence to prove it.

Take a look at these tweets from Hill and Illinois strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher.

Hill was already the team's best player in numerous facets. He led the Illini with 18.1 points and 3.3 assists per game and ranked second with 6.6 rebounds per game.

Now he's shattering glass with some mean slams. It could be a crazy senior year for Hill.

Bullpen's ridiculous performance bails out Cubs in win over Dodgers

cubs_maddon_on_wood_he_was_spectacular_05-30_640x360_695644739609.jpg

Bullpen's ridiculous performance bails out Cubs in win over Dodgers

The Cubs' MLB-leading starting rotation has gotten plenty of buzz this season, but the bullpen had their breakout game on Memorial Day.

With Jason Hammel limited to only two innings because of hamstring cramping, the bullpen stepped up big time, tossing seven perfect frames in the Cubs' 2-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in front of 41,470 fans at Wrigley Field.

Hammel allowed just a bloop single with two outs in the first inning on a ball that fell between Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward in shallow right field, wind-aided and sun-aided base hit for Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner.

Hammel walked the next hitter and that was it.

No other Dodger reached base after Adrian Gonzalez walked with two outs in the first inning. 

Hammel and four relievers combined to set down 25 straight to end the game, the first time a Cubs pitching staff has done that since May 15, 1960.

Travis Wood was the standout performer from the bullpen, coming in on short notice in the third inning and tossing four perfect innings with four strikeouts, throwing just 43 pitches.

When Maddon sat down for his standard postgame press conference, he said the Chicago media should really be talking to Wood first.

"Oh my God," Maddon said. "I'm really trying to decide when to take him out of that game. ... My goodness. You throw like 20 pitches after two innings.

"He was so pitch-efficient, he permitted us to do what we did. It comes down to that. Pure and simple. Forty-three pitches in four innings. He was spectacular."

Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon followed Wood in order, each throwing an inning and combining for four strikeouts and only 36 pitches.

"The rest of the guys came in and they were very efficient 'cause they saw Travis go out there and do it," Maddon said. "So then here comes Grimmer and here comes Stroppy and here comes Ronny. 

"They all were really, really efficient. Good pitches, good location, good stuff. But Travis set the tone for the whole day."

"I love our bullpen," said David Ross, who caught the whole game. "Those guys are very impressive to me."

Wood picked up his third victory of the season on a day where he entered the game just seconds after sitting on the couch in the Cubs clubhouse. When he saw Hammel go down, he knew he might be needed, so he dashed out to the dugout and sure enough, he got the call to go into the game.

Maddon and the Cubs always claim Wood has a rubber arm, and he needed only 15 or so pitches to warm up before his four perfect innings. 

"[I was just focusing on] each hitter at a time and try to get the outs," Wood said. "Those are freak situations that happen - a guy gets hurt or in Hamm's case, it was just a cramp.

"So you're just out there to get outs for as long as they want you to. And then take it from there."

The Cubs got on the board in the fifth inning when Zobrist led off with a single and wound up on third after Dodgers right field Yasiel Puig booted the ball.

Heyward plated Zobrist on a 60-foot chopper down the first-base line, reaching safely for an infield single. He then came around to score the game's final run on Anthony Rizzo's double to right field two batters later.

The Cubs have won six straight games and have allowed just one hit to the Dodgers in their last 18 head-to-head innings dating back to last season.

Now the Dodgers have to contend with Jake Arrieta - who no-hit them on national TV the last time he faced them - Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

Cubs breathing a sigh of relief after Jason Hammel's leg cramp

cubs_hammel_it_felt_like_a_cramp_05-30_640x360_695644227883.jpg

Cubs breathing a sigh of relief after Jason Hammel's leg cramp

Before anybody really knew what happened, Jason Hammel was sitting on the ground behind the pitcher's mound at Wrigley Field surrounded by Cubs trainers and coaches.

The veteran starting pitcher had just come out to warm up for the top of the third inning after he and Ben Zobrist struck out to strand the bases loaded for the Cubs in the bottom of the second.

He eventually got up and tried to throw a few more warmup pitches, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Chris Bosio ultimately decided to roll with Travis Wood, removing Hammel from the game after only 39 pitches.

Two innings later, the Cubs announced Hammel was being evaluated for right hamstring cramping.

After the game, Joe Maddon sounded optimistic about Hammel's status.

"It seems to have just been a cramp," Maddon said. "We just couldn't wait for it to settle down. You just don't know in that particular moment if it is a cramp. 

"We thought it was a cramp, but you just can't stand out there for 15 minutes and wait for it to dissolve or whatever. So we had to move it along at that point."

Maddon said the Cubs feel Hammel should be ready to go for his next start in five days.

Hammel - who said he's never dealt with a cramp like that before - iced and massaged his leg after being removed from the game and took an anti-inflammatory. 

But he felt good enough to joke after the game about how he gave up the only hit before the Cubs bullpen combined for seven perfect innings of relief.

"I blew the no-hitter!" Hammel said. "It makes me feel really small. I obviously wanted to stay in there. It just sucks. Something like that where it's on and off.

"I felt like after I stretched it and it was down on the ground and I threw the first pitch, I felt fine. Then the next pitch, it was back. It would've taken us six hours to get through the game if I stayed in there."

After two shutout innings Monday, Hammel now has a 2.09 ERA and 1.16 WHIP on the season and has been a revelation in helping the Cubs to the best starting rotation in baseball slotting behind Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey.

Hammel was pitching at an All-Star level (2.89 ERA) before running into a leg injury in early July last season. He was never the same after, posting a 5.03 ERA in his final 15 starts.

Over the winter, the 33-year-old Hammel responded by shedding some weight and rededicating himself to a training regimen designed to help take some pressure off his lower body.

After the hamstring/calf issue last July, Maddon had a quick hook with Hammel, who expressed his frustration at various points throughout the end of last year. 

But after the cramp popped up Monday, Hammel saw the big picture and wasn't upset with Maddon, who wanted to play it safe with the Cubs thinking World Series or bust.

"Made the right move," said Hammel, who bounced the ball on the mound in frustration after being removed from the game. "We're all stubborn when we're out there. We want to compete and finish what we started. But the end game is basically to make sure we're staying healthy and it doesn't really do any good to push it there. 

"I honestly felt like I drank the equivalent of Lake Michigan last night. Once it starts to get pretty humid and hot here, I always hydrate really well. I drank so much water last night. I really don't understand why I cramped. We'll figure it out."

If Hammel is forced to miss any time, Maddon said he would turn to Wood or Trevor Cahill for a spot start.

When asked if he feels ready for a spot start, Wood responded simply:

"I feel so. I'm always ready to take the ball."