Golson emerges as Notre Dame's championship quarterback

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Golson emerges as Notre Dame's championship quarterback

Everett Golson was Notre Dame's most impressive quarterback seven months ago, when Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix both threw interceptions in the team's spring game. But coach Brian Kelly still referred to Golson as a "heart attack for me," noting how the young quarterback struggled to read signals and get plays called in a timely manner.

When fall camp rolled around, it quickly became clear Golson was the favorite to beat out Andrew Hendrix for the starting nod. Despite having no experience at the collegiate level, Golson was going to be Notre Dame's quarterback. So did the redshirt freshman picture back in August the kind of season he and the Irish wound having?

"Nah, not at all," Golson laughed after Notre Dame's 22-13 win over USC Saturday. "I think I was getting frustrated too much to be envisioning that."

Early on, Golson didn't struggle statistically, completing 47 of 81 passes for 611 yards and two touchdowns. A year after Notre Dame's season was done in by a spate of early-season turnovers, Golson didn't throw an interception against Navy, Purdue and Michigan State.

But he wasn't comfortable in that stretch, and that led to Tommy Rees replacing him late in Notre Dame's win over Purdue. The Michigan game -- three completions in eight attempts for 30 yards with two bad interceptions -- was the culmination of Golson's September discomfort.

"I keep going back to Purdue week, talking about that game. It was a little bit a lot for me, to be honest," Golson said. "But seeing how Ive progressed now, with the help of coaches and the O-line being with me and the wide receivers and the running backs, and also the guys on the defensive side instilling that confidence, its helped me a lot."

Kelly stuck by his quarterback, reaffirming over and over that Golson was entrenched as Notre Dame's starter. Rees has slowly been phased out as a safety net, with Kelly saying prior to the USC game that Golson reached a point where he would play through any struggles.

The playbook has opened up for Golson, starting with some zone reads against Miami and progressing to deep balls and options as the weeks have wore on. But his development still has a ways to go, and Golson was quick to point out he still needs to work on red zone execution heading into the BCS Championship.

"Its been a learning process. Were still right in the midst of it, youre watching it," Kelly explained. "Hes making better decisions with the football. I guess the difference is hes not careless with the football. Careless I cant take. Hes going to make some bad decisions once in a while. But hes not careless with the football."

Few expected Notre Dame to be in the position they currently are, awaiting the winner of the SEC championship in Miami Jan. 7. But of all the teams with first-year starting quarterbacks, it's Notre Dame and Golson -- not Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel, not Oregon and Marcus Mariota -- that's going to the BCS Championship.

"It was a great feeling knowing everything you worked for in spring ball and everything you worked for in summer camp, it really kind of proved itself to be true and worthwhile," Golson said.

Blackhawks break late tie to best rival Blues

Blackhawks break late tie to best rival Blues

Patrick Kane scored his 24th goal of the season and Artem Anisimov scored the game-winner as the Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues 4-2 on Sunday night.

The Blackhawks have won nine of their last 10 and are one point within the Minnesota Wild, whose bye ends on Monday night. Duncan Keith recorded a secondary assist for his 500th career point. Scott Darling, starting for Corey Crawford (illness), stopped 30 of 32 shots.

The Blackhawks got off to a 2-0 start in the first 12 minutes of the game, thanks to Jonathan Toews' 16th goal of the season and Kane's power-play goal. But the Blues kept chipping away and forced a tie game by the end of the second period.

But the second line, which hasn't been quite as productive lately, got in on the act late in the third. Panarin threw a perfect feed to Anisimov, who scored his 22nd of the season with 5:20 remaining in regulation.

Tanner Kero added an empty-net goal with 2.6 seconds remaining.

Illini keep NCAA tournament hopes afloat with dominant win over Nebraska

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USA TODAY

Illini keep NCAA tournament hopes afloat with dominant win over Nebraska

Illinois' last-ditch effort to reach the NCAA tournament is still alive.

The Illini won for the third straight time and the fourth time in their last five games Sunday night, using a monstrous second half to fly past the Nebraska Cornhuskers by a 73-57 score in Lincoln.

Illinois started the Big Ten season 3-8, but with this recent surge it's up to 7-9 and with two regular-season games remaining has at the very least given itself a much better position in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament and perhaps has played itself into a spot on the NCAA tournament bubble.

Defense has been the driving force throughout this recent stretch, and Sunday was no different, with Nebraska scoring just 57 points, the second straight game in which Illinois has held its opponent under 60 points.

But offense told the story Sunday, with the Illini catching fire in the second half and shooting the lights out at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Illinois shot 59.1 percent from the field over the final 20 minutes, including a stellar 8-for-13 from 3-point range. The Illini outscored the Huskers by a 43-29 margin after halftime.

All in all, Illinois shot 48.1 percent on the night and 13-for-26 from behind the 3-point line. The Illini's 73-point output was their highest since Jan. 25.

Malcolm Hill had a game-high 19 points and moved past Cory Bradford for fifth place on the program's all-time scoring list. Tracy Abrams joined Hill in double figures with 13 points. Hill and Abrams each hit four 3-pointers. Maverick Morgan scored 12 points.

Tai Webster scored 17 points for Nebraska, the only Husker in double figures on a poor offensive night. The team shot 37.5 percent from the field and went just 4-for-15 from 3-point range.

Illinois still seems like a bit of a longshot to make the NCAA tournament given its 17-12 overall record and the weakness of the Big Ten this season. But things are getting real late in the season. This surge could very well help the Illini end their three-year tournament drought and could do big things for head coach John Groce, who has had his job status talked about all season long.

Illinois' final two regular-season bouts come this week against Michigan State and at Rutgers.