Wildcats roll Illini in regular season finale

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Wildcats roll Illini in regular season finale

EVANSTON, Ill. Never mind the rivalry game for a minute. The Northwestern Wildcats wanted to make another statement. By reaching their ninth victory of the season, the Wildcats could lock up a berth in a New Years Day bowl game.

And Northwestern responded to the challenge with a rout of its in-state rival.

Eight different players scored for the Wildcats, who reached nine victories for the first time since 2008. The next test for the Wildcats is to snap their nine-game losing
streak in bowl games.

Nine wins is a great year. Ten is special, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. To be a bowl champion could be a great exclamation point.

The Outback, Capital One and Gator bowl games have been mentioned as possibilities for the Wildcats (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten).

Were going to play on the road. Were going to play in Florida somewhere. Were going to play an SEC team in their backyard and were going to be the underdog by 75 points, Fitzgerald said, drawing laughter.

We play the best of the best. We have in the past and weve gone toe to toe with them. Its going to take our best preparation for whoever we get the privilege to play. I promise that our guys will be fired up and excited for it.

After routing Illinois (2-10, 0-8) on Saturday, the Wildcats were excited about reclaiming the Land of Lincoln Trophy. Quarterback Kain Colter said lifting the heavy, hat-shaped trophy was a workout.

Its a rivalry game, so you definitely want bragging rights, said Colter, who completed 9 of 11 passes for 102 yards and a career-high three touchdowns. He also ran for a touchdown. I havent beaten them since Ive been here, he said. We really wanted to get this one and get back on track and finish this season up right, and especially do it for our seniors.

Northwestern claimed the rivalry victory after a slow start. Illinois scored on the game-opening drive, marching 78 yards on 11 plays. The Illini later cut the lead to 24-14 on backup quarterback Reilly OTooles 12-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter.

You look at the way we tackled early, it was pathetic and gave them some opportunities to make some plays, Fitzgerald said. But Nathan is an outstanding quarterback. They have weapons across the board and made some plays early. We felt like that was the worst half of football we played in a month, and the only way its going to get fixed is if we do something about it. Our team went out there in the second half and dominated the way we should have dominated from the start.

Northwestern was especially efficient running the ball, finishing with 338 yards on the ground. Venric Mark ran for a game-high 127 yards and a touchdown. Six players scored touchdowns on offense for the Wildcats. Jeff Budzien kicked 44- and 36-yard field goals. Hes 17 of 18 on field goals this season.

We have a motto. Its: Everybody eats, Colter said. Everybody wants a taste of the end zone. Thats one thats kind of developed since I got here. Everybodys competing. Everybody wants to get on the field.

As for defense, Northwestern forced four turnovers, including three interceptions.

After the Wildcats stressed better play in the second half, they scored early in the third quarter on Colter's 15-yard touchdown pass to Tyris Jones. Northwestern turned the game into a rout on Colters 24-yard touchdown pass to the wide-open Paul Jorgensen from Colter for a 41-14 lead.

He was lined up at left tackle and he ends up running down the field wide open, Colter said. Its a good feeling to get an offensive lineman six points. We were pretty excited about that. Its something weve repped in practice.

After another Illinois interception, Mike Trumpy scored on a 3-yard run for a 48-14 lead. Northwestern recorded a safety with 3 minutes left.

Now the Wildcats are focused on a bowl victory.

We havent gotten the job done yet, defensive end Quentin Williams said. Its hard to diagnose a problem when it goes on for that long, but I dont think we have that problem this year. I think we can finally set that legacy and do what we do out there.

Matt Davidson stays mentally involved for fourth consecutive game off

Matt Davidson stays mentally involved for fourth consecutive game off

Matt Davidson, despite a .324 batting average and 1.010 OPS, hasn't been in the White Sox starting lineup in four consecutive games. 

For Sunday's series finale against the Cleveland Indians, Melky Cabrera got the start at designated hitter (he banged up his wrist running into a wall in left field foul territory Saturday night) with Jacob May playing in left field. Cody Asche, who started at DH in the White Sox last three games and went 0-10, is on the bench. 

A few things to note about Davidson's absence: They've come against four of the American League's best right-handers in New York's Masahiro Tanaka and Cleveland's Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Entering Sunday's game, though, the White Sox haven't scored in their last 23 innings and only have had one runner reach second base in their last 20 frames. 

Manager Rick Renteria said ostensibly poor matchups for Davidson, who has 12 strikeouts in 23 plate appearances against right-handers this year, haven't been why he hasn't played him.

"It's not so much the matchup," Renteria said. "I think we have other guys we want to go ahead and give them the opportunity to face who they are facing today. Matty has shown he can hit anybody. It has nothing to do with it. It has more to do with putting the guys we have right now in a particular situation to experience this particular club."

Davidson said the gap in starts hasn't been an issue for him, since he's already dealt with a lull in playing time earlier this year. Davidson made his last Cactus League start March 28 and only had one at-bat between then and his regular season debut April 6, when he went 2-4 with a home run, a walk and three RBIs. 

"I'm just staying with my approach, I'm watching video and staying up just like I'd be playing," Davidson said. "As long as I'm doing that I think I'll give myself the best chance I can."

Davidson, who made his four seasons ago with the Arizona Diamondbacks, spent nearly three years in Triple-A after the White Sox acquired him in exchange for closer Addison Reed in December of 2013. When he finally broke through with the White Sox last year, he broke his foot in his first game back in the major leagues and missed the rest of the season. 

So while Davidson's starts and at-bats have been sporadic this season, he's not taking the chances he gets for granted. 

"All of a sudden you spend a couple more years in Triple-A and you see the same thing over and over again, and you really appreciate being up here," Davidson said. 

The White Sox upcoming three-game series should provide opportunities for Davidson to get back in Renteria's lineup, with left-handers Jason Vargas and Danny Duffy starting the first two games of the series for the Kansas City Royals. 

"You will see him in the lineup coming up a little bit more," Renteria said. "But we will continue to mix and match to do what we can to make sure everybody stays capable of what they need to do."

Bulls' Rajon Rondo fined $25,000 for attempting to trip Celtics' Jae Crowder in Game 3

Bulls' Rajon Rondo fined $25,000 for attempting to trip Celtics' Jae Crowder in Game 3

Rajon Rondo's emergence made sure the Bulls played on the edge but one always had to wonder where he would go over the line—an aspect Jae Crowder and the NBA figured out Friday night.

Rondo was fined $25,000 by the NBA for sticking his leg out in an apparent attempt to trip Crowder when Crowder was close to the Bulls' bench late in the first quarter of Game 3 Friday night.

[BULLS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Television replays caught Rondo's leg extending after Crowder hit a 3-pointer right in front of the Bulls' bench.

When asked Rondo claimed that due to an ACL surgery he had several years ago he had to extend his leg to keep it from getting stiff.

"When you tear an ACL your leg gets stiff on you. I always do that," Rondo said. "He may have been so deep on our bench."

Upon investigation from the NBA, it issued Rondo a stiff fine and the increasingly contentious series will take another turn Sunday evening in Game 4.

Rondo is expected to miss the rest of the series with a broken right thumb after being a key to the Bulls taking a 2-0 lead by stealing two wins in Boston last week, averaging a near triple-double.