Saad scores only goal, Raanta nets first NHL shutout as Hawks edge Kings 1-0

Antti Raanta made 26 saves in his first NHL shutout and Brandon Saad scored as the Blackhawks beat Los Angeles 1-0 on Monday night and sent the Kings to their first three-game losing streak in a year. With Blackhawks No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford nearing a return from a lower-body injury, Raanta improved to 10-1-3 while bouncing back from one of his worst performances. He allowed two late goals in the Hawks 6-5 shootout loss at St. Louis on Saturday. Saad netted the only goal in this one in the first period. The Blackhawks, who lead the NHL with 158 goals, played its lowest-scoring game since a 2-1 shootout win at Dallas on Nov. 29. Los Angeles’ Martin Jones made 29 saves in his second straight loss after beginning his career with eight consecutive wins, tying the NHL record.

Butler and Boozer lead Bulls to surprising win in Memphis

Chicago Bulls Logo - Red bull with script above head

MEMPHIS—Jimmy Butler scored 14 of his 26 points in the third quarter, Carlos Boozer added 21 points and 10 rebounds, and the Bulls defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 95-91 on Monday night. Butler shot 6 for 10 from the field, including 2 of 3 on 3-pointers, and 12 of 14 at the foul line in a team-high 41 minutes. The Bulls were 6 for 15 from 3-point range. D.J. Augustin had 10 points off the bench for the Bulls, including eight in the fourth period as Memphis tried to make a late run.Mike Conley finished with 26 points, nine assists, six rebounds and six steals to lead the Grizzlies. James Johnson scored 13 points, all in the second half, and grabbed 10 rebounds before fouling out with 4:10 left.Tony Allen also had 13 points and Kosta Koufos finished with 12. Zach Randolph added 10 points and 10 rebounds. The Bulls won despite playing again without leading scorer Luol Deng, who missed his fifth straight game with a sore left Achilles.Conley took over late in the third and led the Grizzlies as Memphis chipped away at the Bulls biggest lead of the night at 18. Memphis pulled to 72-71 in the fourth and 78-76 later, both after scores by Johnson. Augustin nailed a long 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with about 6 minutes left to answer Johnson’s second score. Augustin’s basket started a 10-2 run, capped by Kirk Hinrich’s 3-pointer with 3:33 left, that pushed the Bulls’ lead back to 10.That was enough for the Bulls to earn their fourth victory in the last 12 games. The Bulls held a 46-44 lead at halftime after Tayshaun Prince fouled Mike Dunleavy on a desperation shot in the final second of the second quarter. Dunleavy converted all three free throws. Boozer had 12 points to lead the Bulls. Koufos had 10 for the Grizzlies, hitting all five of his shots in the half. The first half was a sloppy affair filled with turnovers and mediocre shooting. The Bulls had 14 miscues to 12 for Memphis. The teams were a combined 1 for 7 from 3-point range.Memphis led by eight early in the second, but that was erased by a 16-5 Bulls rally. The defense began causing real problems for the Grizzlies in the third as the Bulls opened the second half with a 20-4 run, fueled by a handful of Memphis turnovers and the Grizzlies missing 11 of their first 13 shots. The Bulls opened a 66-48 lead, but Memphis answered with Conley’s eight points in a 16-5 burst to close the period, leaving the Bulls with a 71-64 advantage entering the fourth.

NOTES—Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau missed the morning shootaround to attend his father’s funeral in Connecticut. The elder Thibodeau died on Christmas Day, according to published reports. ”Our family, once I saw they were good, I felt good about [coaching],” Thibodeau said before the game. … Derrick Rose, who played one season at the University of Memphis, missed the game with his right knee injury. Rose has returned only twice to Memphis to play against the Grizzlies in his NBA career. … Conley’s 26 points were the most he has had since scoring 28 against Minnesota on Dec. 15 – the last game before he missed two straight with a left thigh bruise. … Memphis F Jon Leuer did not return after halftime because of back spasms.

Bears defense screw’s the pooch as Green Bay scores on 4th down play to win NFC North. Bears season ends and many questions continue

Questions continue, can Jay Cutler beat Green Bay or even win big games! Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb came back just in time to lift the Packers to the NFC North championship. Rodgers fired a 48-yard touchdown pass to Cobb in the final minute, and the Packers beat the Bears 33-28 to capture the division title. Back after missing seven games with a broken left collarbone, Rodgers found a wide-open Cobb on fourth-and-8 to wipe out a one-point deficit with 38 seconds left.Green Bay will host San Francisco next weekend in the wild-card round. The Bears had one final drive, but Cutler’s deep pass to Alshon Jeffery was intercepted by Sam Shields on the final play. That gave the Packers (8-7-1) their third straight division title and fifth postseason appearance in a row. It also kept the Bears (8-8) out of the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.Things weren’t looking great for the Packers after Brandon Marshall spun away from Tramon Williams in the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 28-20. But the Packers answered with a touchdown drive. Eddie Lacy ran in from the 6 after a 22-yard pass from Rodgers to Andrew Quarless went through safety Chris Conte’s hands, making it a one-point game. Then, on the winning drive, Green Bay converted twice on fourth-and-1 before Rodgers eluded pressure unleashed that winning pass to Cobb. It was a strong finish after a shaky start for the superstar quarterback, and it gave him some payback against the team that nearly ended his season. Rodgers was intercepted on the Packers’ first two possessions, with Conte picking him off in the end zone on the first one. He also threw for 318 yards and two touchdowns in his first appearance since Nov. 4. He got knocked out of that game on an early sack by Shea McClellin at Lambeau Field, sending the Packers into a 2-5-1 slide. Jordy Nelson had 161 yards receiving, and Cobb, in his first appearance since Oct. 13, won it with his catch. James Starks ran for 88 yards. Eddie Lacy, hobbled by a knee injury, finished with just 66. For the Bears, their first season under Marc Trestman ended the same way five of the previous six did under Lovie Smith — on the outside looking in at the playoffs. They had a chance to wrap up the division last week, only to get pounded 54-11 at Philadelphia. And with another opportunity, they came up short against their longtime rivals.This one is sure to spark memories of Green Bay’s victory in the 2010 NFC title game at Soldier Field on the way to the Super Bowl championship — and fuel more questions about Cutler’s ability to win big games. With a playoff spot on the line and his contract set to expire, Cutler threw for 226 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He is now 1-9 against Green Bay, including that conference final and a loss with Denver in 2007. Matt Forte ran for 110 yards and two scores. He also had 47 yards receiving with a touchdown catch. Alshon Jeffery had 80 yards receiving, and Brandon Marshall had 74.Two unusual plays late in the first half turned a 7-3 deficit into a 13-7 advantage for the Packers.Green Bay had a first down at the Bears 17 when a sack and strip against Rodgers by Julius Peppers turned into one unusual touchdown. Jarrett Boykin ran across the field, picked up the loose ball as play stopped. One thing, though: The whistle never blew.With Rodgers standing nearby, Boykin turned and headed 15 yards to the end zone. Rodgers then threw his hands up to signal a touchdown, and after a replay review, it stood. That stunned the crowd and gave the Packers a 10-7 lead. Green Bay caught another big break on the Bears’ next possession when Jeffery fumbled a pass at the Bears 41. Morgan Burnett picked up the ball and lateraled to Sam Shields, who returned it to the Bears 28. That led to a 27-yard field goal by Mason Crosby to make it a six-point game at the half.

Irish beat Rutgers in slop- of New Yankee Stadium

NEW YORK—This nicely sums up Tommy Rees’ Notre Dame career. The senior threw for 319 yards and no interceptions in his final college game, leading No. 25 Notre Dame to a 29-16 victory against Rutgers that was far from pretty but ultimately successful — and an offensive lineman won the MVP award.

“I was giving Tommy a hard time,” said senior tackle Zack Martin, who took home the award. “I think he got snubbed a little bit.”

Rees finished four years of football for the Fighting Irish packed with both memorable and forgettable moments with a solid performance, going 27 for 47. He has been “The Closer,” rallying Notre Dame to victories with late drives, and “Turnover Tommy,” making crushing mistakes at the most inopportune times during his time in South Bend, Ind. For his finale, against one of the worst pass defenses in the nation, Rees was mistake free and productive. He missed some throws that could have broken open the game, but, typically, he persevered.

“I’m a Tommy Rees fan for life,” coach Brian Kelly said.

Kyle Brindza kicked five field goals for the Fighting Irish (9-4), who finished their follow-up season to last year’s run to the national championship game a long way from the BCS — facing a two-touchdown underdog trying to avoid a losing record. Notre Dame’s play was less than inspired — Kelly said about a dozen players were fighting a flu bug — but the win prevented the Irish from finishing with eight victories for the third time in his four seasons.

“A good season that could have been a great season,” Kelly said.

Notre Dame’s TJ Jones scored on an 8-yard run in the first quarter and Rutgers star Brandon Coleman answered with a 14-yard touchdown catch soon after. Tarean Folston’s 3-yard touchdown run with 3:38 in the fourth made it 26-16 and finally gave the Irish a comfortable lead. On the slick turf at Yankee Stadium, the Pinstripe Bowl turned into a field-goal kicking contest. Brindza was 5 for 6. Kyle Federico made 3 of 3 for the Scarlet Knights (6-7).

The Irish dominated in yards (494-237) and time of possession (38:49) but bogged down in the red zone repeatedly.

“I loved the way we were able to stay calm and stay within our offense and continue to kind of monotonously move the ball down the field,” Rees said.

Twice Notre Dame put together double-digit play drives that ended in short field goals for Brindza. A 15-play, 90-yard march that started in the third quarter and ended in the fourth with Brindza’s 25-yarder made it 19-13 Notre Dame with 12:46 left.

“I love the fourth quarter,” Brindza said. “That’s pretty much what a kicker’s job is supposed to be.”

Brindza’s third field goal, a 26-yarder with 6:03 left in the third quarter, gave Notre Dame a 16-13 lead — after the Irish caught a break. Brindza had missed from 36 yards but Rutgers was flagged for running into the kicker to give him a second, easier, try.

“We thought we played good red zone defense and we could make them kick a few field goals and attempt some field goals, maybe we could block one and then win the game in the fourth quarter,” Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. “We were kind of poised to do that.”

Notre Dame improved to 17-6-3 at Yankee Stadium, though this ballpark in the Bronx is only a few years old and across the street from where the original House that Ruth built sat for decades.

“It’s great to be in New York,” Kelly told what was left of bowl record crowd of 47,122 during the postgame trophy ceremony on the field after the Irish had sung the alma mater with the band in right-center field, near the Yankees bullpen.

The Fighting Irish played the first football game in the new stadium back in 2010. Rees, a freshman then, helped the Irish beat Army and got to use Derek Jeter’s locker. Called upon to lead the Irish this year after Everett Golson was suspended from school for academic cheating, Rees surpassed 3,000 yards through the air and became one of the most prolific passers in school history, making the most of his limited physical tools.


Illini dominate second half and beat Flames 74-60

Rayvonte Rice led a furious second-half comeback on Saturday, scoring 28 points as the University of Illinois beat UIC 74-60.Trailing by 10 at halftime, the Fighting Illini went on an 8-0 run over the first 1:04 of the second half to erase the deficit and seize momentum. Rice scored seven points in 58 seconds a few minutes later to turn a two-point deficit into a five-point lead – Illinois’ first lead of the game.The junior’s left-handed layup at 13:24 tied the game at 53. His layup and 3-pointer on the ensuing possessions put the Illini in the driver’s seat.Rice also had seven rebounds and three assists. He has scored in double-digits every game this season. Tracy Abrams scored 16, and Joseph Bertrand added 14 for Illinois (11-2), which has won four of its last five.UIC senior Kelsey Barlow led the Flames with 21 points.Barlow put the Illini defense on its toes right from the opening tip, scoring 14 of the Flames’ first 18 points en route to an early 10-point cushion.With the Illini’s attention focused on Barlow, the floodgates opened up for his teammates, who shot 64.7 percent from the floor in the first half.Marc Brown drained a pair of easy 3-pointers on consecutive possessions midway through the first half when Illinois collapsed on Barlow, who drove into the paint only to dish it back out to a wide-open teammate.UIC (5-9) was unable to sustain its success, shooting just 26.1 percent in the second half.Barlow, Brown and Pat Birt, who combined for 35 points in the first half, scored just seven between them in the second.Barlow eclipsed the 20-point plateau for the fifth time this season and the Flames are 2-3 when he does so.Though the United Center is less than two miles from the UIC Pavilion, the Flames were engulfed in a sea of orange-clad Illini fans.Illinois has won 13 of 15 meetings all-time against UIC, and three of four at the United Center. The Illini are 35-12 overall at the United Center since the 1994-95 season.UIC won 57-54 when the teams last met on Dec. 18, 2010. Illinois was ranked No. 12 at the time.

Mavs blowout Bulls 105-83

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Vince Carter and the Dallas Mavericks made sure this one was decided early. Monta Ellis scored 22 points and Dallas took control in the first quarter, coasting to a 105-83 victory over the Bulls on Saturday night. Carter and Dirk Nowitzki added 18 points apiece for the Mavericks, who led by as many as 32 while bouncing back from a home loss to San Antonio on Thursday.

“We were locked in from the jump and we didn’t have to play catch-up, and I think that’s good for our team,” Carter said. “We had to bring more energy and we had to do it from the beginning. We had to hit those guys first because they do a great job of trying to take teams out of their game early.”

Joakim Noah led the Bulls with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but the Bulls had their modest two-game winning streak snapped. Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson each added 13.

“Whenever you feel too good about yourself somebody smacks you,” Gibson said. “That’s a part of the NBA.”

The Mavericks took command with a 15-2 run to end the first quarter, turning a 17-15 deficit into a 30-19 lead. Carter, who entered just before the run started, had seven points during the spurt. Dallas continued to pull away early in the second quarter, using a pair of four-point plays — one each by Nowitzki and Jae Crowder — to stretch the lead to 43-23 less than 4 minutes into the period. The Mavericks led by as many as 29 points before taking a 61-34 advantage into halftime.

“There is no doubt that we played well,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “When we rebound and defend like that, we are a formidable team. (The Bulls) are very physical. They get up on our ball handlers and can cause problems. This was a great win for us.”

The Bulls gave up plenty of points, but much of their first-half woes came on the offensive end. They didn’t manage to score 20 points in either quarter, going 14 for 36 (38.9 percent) from the field and committing 13 turnovers in the first half. Carter led the Mavericks with 14 points on 4-for-5 shooting, including 3 of 4 on 3-pointers.

“When he plays the way he played, we’re a whole different team,” Ellis said.

Dallas was 7 for 13 from long range in the first half, compared with 1 of 6 for the Bulls.

“You have to give them credit,” Tom Thibodeau said. “They played well, they shot well. They are a terrific offensive team. They got their confidence early and then they can go all night.”

The Mavs led 86-56 entering the fourth quarter and it appeared the final 12 minutes would be extended garbage time, but the Bulls made things a bit interesting by scoring the first 16 points of the period to pull to 86-72 on a three-point play by Noah with 6 minutes remaining. Carter finally ended the run when he scored on a layup with 6:16 left to make it 88-72. The Bulls created some tense moments on the Dallas bench, but they never got the deficit under 14 points.

“That lead was just too big,” Gibson said.

NOTES—Luol Deng missed his fourth straight game with a sore left Achilles. Deng said he wants to make sure the injury is healed before he returns so he doesn’t have a setback. “In the past, I would’ve been out there and playing and then missing another month or so, and I really don’t want to do that,” he said at the morning shootaround. … Nowitzki had six field goals to reach 9,002 for his career. … Dallas F Brandan Wright returned after missing a game with flu-like symptoms, but G Wayne Ellington sat out with flu-like symptoms. … In their 11 wins, the Bulls have held opponents to an average of 82.5 points.

Garrett scores at buzzer, Demons edge Cats 57-56.

EVANSTON—Billy Garrett Jr. scored the game-winning basket as time expired and DePaul beat Northwestern 57-56 on Friday night.Sandi Marcius finished with 12 points and Cleveland Melvin added 11 for DePaul (8-5).Leading 52-51, Tommy Hamilton IV found Marcius, who was fouled on a dunk and made a free throw to complete a three-point play with 35.2 seconds left to put DePaul up 55-51.Northwestern (7-6) had a chance in the final seconds. Tre Demps made two free throws, then, after Brandon Young missed the front end of a one-and-one, Demps was fouled on his putback. He missed both free throws, but Northwestern got the rebound and James Montgomery found Dave Sobolewski at the top of the key for a 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds left to give Northwestern a 56-55 lead.DePaul broke a full-court press, Durrell McDonald found Garrett underneath the basket, and his shot just beat the clock.Garrett finished with nine points for DePaul.Demps scored 23 points for Northwestern and Crawford added 15 on 5-of-17 shooting.Trailing 49-44 with 4:54 left, Nathan Taphorn made a 3-pointers and Sanjay Lumpkin made one of two from the line to cut the DePaul lead to one. Crawford then gave the Wildcats lead with a jumper in the lane to put them up 50-49 with 2:10 left. Marcius answered for DePaul with a three-point play to put DePaul up 52-50 with 52.3 seconds left. After Crawford made one of two free throws DePaul broke Northwestern’s full-court press.Melvin had back-to-back baskets to put DePaul up 39-31 early in the second half, but Northwestern quickly cut the deficit. JerShon Cobb and Demps both connected on 3-pointerss to get within 39-37 with 11:48 left.It was an ugly first half for both teams. DePaul shot 28.6 percent and was 11 of 21 from the free-throw line. Northwestern committed 10 turnovers and shot 28 percent. DePaul led 28-23 at the half. Melvin led the Blue Demons with five points and four rebounds. Crawford led all scorers with eight points on 3-of-11 shooting for the Wildcats. Sobolewski struggled against DePaul’s pressure throughout the game. He committed five turnovers.Cobb came off the bench to score three. He missed the last three games with an ankle injury.Demps led all scorers with 23 points and was awarded the Waldo Fisher-Frank McGrath MVP, given each time the teams play.

Hawks avenge earlier loss by routing Avs 7-2, Sharp stays hot with Hat Trick

After being kidded about being one of the old men on his team, Patrick Sharp celebrated his 32nd birthday in style on the ice Friday night. Sharp scored three goals for his third career hat trick and set up one of Jonathan Toews’ two scores to lead the Blackhawks past the Colorado Avalanche 7-2. Toews added two assists as both he and Sharp finished with four points. Michal Handzus and Kris Versteeg also scored for the Blackhawks, whose league-leading offense powered them to a second straight win and improved them to 7-1-1 in their past nine. Sharp has 21 goals this season and 10 in his past nine games. He scored twice in the previous game, a 5-2 win over New Jersey on Monday.

“It’s special any time you can do it (score a hat trick),” Sharp said. “But on a birthday, where some of the guys are giving me heat for being an old-timer, it makes it feel even better.Tonight, I was getting set up with some good plays, and once you start scoring the way we were tonight, you get a good feeling and you just want to keep that going.”

Joel Quenneville liked what he saw, too. “(Sharp) had a great game,” Quenneville said. “He’s had his best season to date. Consistency, both sides of the puck.”

More impressive than Sharp’s hat trick — notched in an eight-minute span late in the first and early in the second periods — was how he assisted on Toews’ second goal of the game against the Avalanche. That score put the Hawks ahead 5-0 midway through the second.Colorado leading scorer Matt Duchene was bearing down on Antti Raanta on a breakaway. But Sharp caught up to Duchene just as he was about to shoot, hooked his stick and stole the puck. Sharp then turned deep in his zone and wheeled a pass to Toews down the ice on right wing. Toews moved in, faked and beat a helpless Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

“It was unreal,” Toews said. “He was just determined to get back there. Things turned around pretty quick.”

The play left Duchene, Colorado’s 22-year-old leading scorer, shaking his head — even if he had to slow down on the breakaway to settle a rolling puck. Giguere allowed seven goals through two periods on the Blackhawks’ first 24 shots. Semyon Varlamov relieved him in the third and stopped all 13 he faced.Colorado’s Paul Stastny and Gabriel Landeskog beat Raanta, who finished with 16 saves in his eighth straight start — all since Blackhawks top goalie Corey Crawford suffered a lower-body injury on Dec. 8.Patrick Kane, the Hawks leading scorer, had an assist to extend his point streak to a career-high 13 games. Kane has seven goals and 15 assists in his streak, and at least one point in all but one of his past 25 games. The Blackhawks took charge in the second half of the first period and led 3-0 after 20 minutes.

“It felt like we were playing in the wrong league there for a little bit,” Duchene said. “We were down before 3-0 before we knew what hit us and the game was pretty much over at that point.”

Sharp opened the scoring at 12:27 of the first to cap a sprint from the Colorado blue line. He took a pass from Duncan Keith, gained a step on Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda then fired a low shot past Giguere from 10 feet. Toews made it 2-0 with 1:57 left in the first when he swept in a rebound from the right side of the net after Marian Hossa had skated through the crease with the puck.Sharp’s second goal, a power-play score 1:15 later, extended it to 3-0. He connected from the top of the right circle with Andrew Shaw screening Giguere.Sharp completed his hat trick and made it 4-0 just 27 seconds into the second. His backhand attempt on a rebound of Niklas Hjalmarsson’s shot from the point struck Giguere, but continued into the net. Toews’ second goal, set up by Sharp’s spectacular play, made it 5-0 at 8:21.

“That was the story of the night for us, to be honest with you,” Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. “You’re going a breakaway and all of sudden the puck goes the other way and it’s a breakaway on the other side and they score a nice goal.”

Stastny backhanded in a rebound of his own close-in shot at 9:07 to get Colorado on the board at 5-1.Set up by Kane’s nifty pass, Handzus tapped in a goal with 6:30 left in the second to make it 6-1. Versteeg added to the rout when he whipped in a shot from the slot with 2:12 left in the period.Landeskog scored on a breakaway at 7:37 of the third to complete the scoring.

NOTES—Duncan Keith had three assists in the game and leads NHL defenseman with 33. … Sharp has four multiple-goal games this season. … Duchene, just 22, played in his 300th NHL game. … Toews ended a five-game goal drought. … Kane is the first NHL player to record multiple points streaks of more than 10 games in the same season since 2005-06, when Jaromir Jagr did it. … Colorado D Cory Sarich was a scratch. … The United Center crowd of 22,201 was a season high.

NIU, Lynch see bad momentum from MAC Title Game continue in Bowl loss to unranked Utah State

SAN DIEGO—Utah State allowed two 100-yard rushers all season long. Jordan Lynch, the all-purpose Heisman Trophy finalist from Northern Illinois, failed to make it into that exclusive club. The Aggies’ swarming defense made Lynch look average during a 21-14 victory over No. 24 Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl on Thursday night. Safety Brian Suite intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble by Lynch, who was bottled up for only 39 yards rushing. That kept him from becoming the first major college player to rush for 2,000 yards and pass for 2,000 yards in the same season. Utah State stymied a Huskies offense that had averaged nearly 42 points a game.

“The only thing we do every week is not stop the run game, but eliminate the run game,” USU coach Matt Wells said. “But obviously he is a big part of the run game, so we were able to eliminate him, make him one-dimensional and then we were able to actually find a way to run the football, which makes them one-dimensional, and the ballgame is ours.”

Joey DeMartino, who went to high school and junior college in San Diego, carried 23 times for 143 yards and a touchdown for Utah State (9-5). He was the offensive MVP.

“The feeling’s unreal,” DeMartino said. “I couldn’t ask for a better senior game to go out on and to be in front of my hometown, my family, my friends and everyone who supported me out here.”

DeMartino said the Aggies wanted to bounce back from a loss to Fresno State in the Mountain West Conference championship game.

“We took a hard loss there,” DeMartino said. “That’s not how we play. We just wanted to come back and prove to the nation that we can compete every game and we did just that.”

Lynch was third in the Heisman Trophy voting and made the Associated Press All-America team as an all-purpose player. He extended his major college record for yards rushing for a quarterback in a season to 1,920. He completed 20 of 35 passes for 216 yards and was sacked twice. Lynch ran for a touchdown and passed for another for NIU (12-2), which ended the season with two straight losses. The Huskies were coming off a 20-point loss to Bowling Green in the Mid-American Conference title game that cost them a BCS bid.

“We gave it the 24-hour rule,” Lynch said. “The carpet got pulled out from under us losing to Bowling Green and thinking about going to a BCS game. But we got a chance to play a great opponent in Utah State. I thought we had a great three weeks of practice. We came out with a lot of energy and had fun. All the credit goes to Utah State.”

Lynch’s pass was intercepted on the first play of the third quarter by Suite, setting up a go-ahead, 5-yard touchdown pass from Darrel Garretson to Brandon Swindall. The Aggies put it away when DeMartino scored on a 1-yard run with 4:14 to go for a 21-7 lead. It capped a 16-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 7:19.

“We had to find a way to keep wearing them down and I’m going to tell you what — we imposed our will on them at the end of the game,” Wells said.

“On that one drive to make it 21-7, that was more of an issue that they had been out there all night because the offense couldn’t do a thing,” NIU coach Rod Carey said. NIU punted four times, had two turnovers, two missed field goals and relinquished possession on downs one time.

“We weren’t able to move it like we normally do,” Carey said.

Lynch threw a 5-yard scoring pass to Juwan Brescacin with 1:44 left to pull NIU to 21-14. NIU tried an onside kicked that USU recovered. There were four turnovers and three missed field goals. The game drew only 23,408 to 70,000-seat Qualcomm Stadium, the lowest attendance in the bowl’s nine-year history. Suite also recovered Lynch’s fumble in the first quarter. NIU’s first five series in the second half ended with an interception, three punts and a missed field goal.

“We had our chances,” Lynch said. “We had our chances to make some plays and score some points. We were in the red zone three times or so and we didn’t come away with points. We just didn’t capitalize on it.”

The teams staggered through an unimpressive first half that included a missed field goal by each team, a shanked punt by NIU and a lost fumble by Lynch, who later scored on a 1-yard run with 8:17 left in the second quarter to cap a 15-play, 78-yard drive and give NIU a 7-6 lead. Lynch ended NIU’s second possession by losing a fumble at midfield. Utah State responded with a 31-yard field goal by Nick Diaz. NIU’s Mathew Sims was wide right on a 37-yard field goal attempt and DeMartino had a 58-yard run to set up Diaz’s 39-yard field goal

Bulls blow past Nets for second straight

Chicago Bulls Logo - Red bull with script above head

BROOKLYN—Taj Gibson enjoyed coming home for the holidays.Gibson, a Brooklyn native, scored 20 points and Jimmy Butler added 15 to help the Bulls rout the Nets 95-78 on Wednesday.”It was stressful,” said the 28-year-old, who grew up minutes from Barclays Center. “I did a toy drive and I was tired, but it was great to see my family.”
Gibson led a balanced offense with six players in double figures for the Bulls,who were buoyed by the return of guards Kirk Hinrich and Butler.With the Bulls trailing 50-49 early in the third quarter, Butler took over, keying a 21-5 run that gave them control. Butler, who sat out the previous game with a right ankle injury, started the burst with a 3-pointer and added a three-point play that made it 57-52. That was the first of 12 straight points by the Bulls.Another three-point play by Butler made it 66-52.

“Coming out of halftime was a focus for us,” Hinrich said.

The Bulls (11-16) led by 19 at the end of the period after Reggie Evans’ dunk with less than a second left ended a 5-minute field goal drought for the Nets (9-19).Brooklyn couldn’t get much closer in the fourth and was serenaded with a chorus of loud boos from the fans.

“They cheer when things are good and they let you know when things aren’t going good,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said. “They expect good and they expect it 90 percent of the time, but right now we are 90 percent bad and so they have every right to boo and express how they feel.”

What once was viewed as a Christmas Day showdown between Eastern Conference contenders became a matchup of two of the NBA’s biggest disappointments so far, as both teams have been plagued by injuries.Deron Williams scored 18 points and Mirza Teletovic added 17 for the Nets, who have lost four straight.

“I’m surprised at this season, how it’s played out altogether,” Williams said. “It’s like a nightmare the way the injuries have been, the things we talk about every day, the lack of effort, the lack of energy.”

The victory was the Bull’s second straight, the first time since five consecutive wins from Nov. 8-18 that the Bulls had two in a row. The Bulls are starting to get healthy with the return of Hinrich and Butler, both of whom started.Hinrich spurred a 12-0 run midway through the second quarter that gave his team a 39-31 lead. Williams then scored seven straight to make it a one-point game. The Bulls led 41-38 at the half before Butler took over.

It’s good to get guys back,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Our starters were very solid and our bench guys did a great job. Taj was super.”

The Bulls were still missing Luol Deng (Achilles) and Derrick Rose, who is sidelined for the season with a right knee injury.Brooklyn has its own injury issues with center Brook Lopez lost for the season Friday to a broken right foot.The two clubs were wearing their Christmas short-sleeve jerseys that look straight out of a rec league game. Instead of numbers and a team name on the front, there was a big shiny logo. There are numbers on the sleeves, while the backs look more like a normal NBA jersey.Both squads were also wearing striped socks to complete the ugly outfit.

NOTES—The Nets were still missing Andrei Kirilenko, who has been sidelined this season with a back injury…. Kidd said before the game that the forward is making progress.
Kidd said he has always loved playing on Christmas. “One of the biggest honors as a player and coach is to participate on Christmas,” he said. “The world is watching so you can showcase your talent.”….These two teams met in the first round of the playoffs last season and the Bulls won in seven games.    The Bulls have won eight of the past 10 regular-season meetings.