By Bill Campbell

Flyers and Sixers

Prior to the Super Bowl, we were able to pay increased attention to the Flyers and the 76ers. Both of them showed signs of coming to life.

The Flyers’ main problem has been the inability to cash in on power play opportunities. But they closed out last week against the Carolina Hurricanes scoring on all three power play chances as they won 5-3 at the Wells Fargo Center. It was nice to see them doing this as well as getting goals from Kurtis Foster, Danny Briere and Claude Giroux. The win ended a 3-game losing streak. “Tonight was an example of everybody chipping in,” said Giroux, who had a goal, an assist and won 56% of his face-offs. “It was a good win and, hopefully, we can move forward from there.” Not only did the Flyers snap that losing streak but they avoided the worst nine-game start in the history of the franchise. The Flyers’ power play is 2 for 30 (6.9% in the team’s six losses) and 6 for 13 in their victories. Briere said, “We need some more presence in front of the net and getting to the gritty area,” after scoring his first goal of the season. He’s right. Five different players scored for the Flyers against the Hurricanes, including four who got their first goals of the season. As Briere put it, “It was good for everybody’s confidence.” Mike Knuble, at age 40, signed as a free agent on January 25th and played his first home game for the Flyers since 2009.

A line-up change made by Sixers coach, Doug Collins, seems to have helped the team more than a little. After losing 8 of their last 10 games, Collins decided to shake it up a little in Milwaukee on January 22nd as he was bemoaning another lethargic start. Against the Bucs, the Sixers made only two of their first sixteen field goal tries and Collins concluded that he had to do something almost explosive to get his team back into the game. So he inserted Nick Young and Spencer Hawes into the starting line-up. For the moment, at least, Collins’ changes appear to have helped.

Collins had to have noted that the team had gone two months without winning a pair of back-to-back games – from November 30th to February 1st, trailing during the first half and at the half-time break. During that 27 game stretch, the 76ers went 6 for 19. They led after the first period just six times and were tied just once in the second period. He knew that something had to be done. So in came Young and Hawes as starters in place of Jason Richardson and Lavoy Allen. The results have been startling. Young has averaged 18 points in 4 starts and the new starting line-up is promisingly energetic. They’ve even won their last few. The Sixers have been much more aggressive on offense in the early part of games with Young and Hawes providing a spark that’s making a difference. Collins, hoping that it continues, said, “This change in the early part of games, actually this different starting line-up, will bear watching as the season matures.” Jason Richardson, 32, has been a consistent starter through his NBA career so the change can’t be an easy one for him. He’s started 827 of a possible 832 career games and it will be interesting to see how he reacts to coming off the bench. Some players never get used to it. Hopefully, Richardson will contribute when he’s put in play. But a major change was in order and Collins made it. We’ll see how it works out.

College Basketball

It was a memorable week in college basketball. Most people expected St. Joe’s to do well in the Atlantic Ten this season. The Hawks approached the Temple game on February 2nd with a somewhat pedestrian record of 12-6 (4-3 in the A-10). Temple was 13-7 so the teams were pretty evenly matched. But the St. Joe-Temple game was as thrilling a game as you could imagine.

With a lead that had bounced back-and-forth between the teams throughout the game, the Hawks were nine down with six minutes to go. Coach Phil Martelli’s team was going to have to win the game behind the arc to be victorious. Yet, despite 34 points from Temple’s Khalif Wyatt plus Temple going 11 for 31 in three-point land, St. Joe’s prevailed, 70-69. The Hawks lead was 70-69 with 0.7 seconds left and Temple nearly took it away from them with a Wyatt shot at the buzzer that fell short. The win was extra-satisfying for the Hawks because they just didn’t quit, even when Temple led, 61-52, with 5.39 left in the final period. “We just kept playing,” said St. Joe’s Carol Jones, who had 16 points along with C.J. Aiken, while Ronald Roberts tallied 18. St. Joe’s won the game from inside and the boisterous crowd of 4,200 at the Hagan Arena on Hawk Hill was thrilled.

LaSalle, coming off those big wins in mid-January against Butler and VCU, got a great team effort from up and down the line-up as it outscored George Washington, 80-71 last week. Six Explorers scored in double figures with Rajon Galloway and D.J. Peterson scoring 15 each to lead the way. Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland each scored 11 points for LaSalle with Duren replacing Larry Cannon for fifteenth place on the Explorers’ all-time assists list with 352. He also tied Shawn Smith for tenth place in career steals with 165. With this win, LaSalle ran its record to 15-6 (5-3 in the A-10).

Unfortunately, Drexel continued its disappointing performance in the Colonial A.C., losing to Northeastern, 59-52. The Dragons committed 21 personal fouls to 12 for Northeastern and the first-place Huskies shot 21 for 23 from the foul line. Drexel is now 9-13 on the year, 5-5 in the league. Northeastern is 14-8, 9-7 in the league. Elsewhere, Cornell came back from 10 down and Penn failed to protect its second-half lead for the second straight night as the Quakers went down, 71-69. Penn Coach Jerome Allen said, “We must work on being able to finish games. You can’t expect to give up almost 40 points in the second half and win.” A balanced Pitt performance upset Number Six Syracuse, 65-55, and Oklahoma State beat Kansas, 85-80. But Indiana still looks like the country’s Number One team as March Madness looms ahead.

Last but far from least, Villanova lost to Providence, 55-52. Bryce Cotton drilled the winning three-pointer with 2.2 seconds to go to seal it for the Friars. In the span of the previous week, Villanova had taken down both Louisville and Syracuse before this match up. The team was playing with hot hands. But this one didn’t go the Wildcats’ way. Villanova, which also lost to Notre Dame last week, is now 13-9.

Phil Mickelson

It’s hardly golf season, even in Arizona. But the name of veteran pro Phil Mickelson belongs in any review of the week leading up to the Super Bowl. Mickelson scorched the Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, Arizona, last week, shooting 60, 65 and 64 in the first three rounds. He matched the PGA tournament record for 54 holes set by Mark Calcavecchia in 2001. Mickelson’s first round bordered on a 59 when his birdie putt fell into and out of the hole on the18th. He shot 11 under par on that first round, birdied the final 4 holes in the third round while settling for a 6-stroke lead going into the final round. Having held the lead after each round, Mickelson flirted with history again in the fourth round at Phoenix when he posted a 4 under 67, taking a 6-stroke lead in to win it all. Brandt Snedeker finished second, 4 strokes back, after a 65. This was Mickelson’s third wire-to-wire victory but his first since the Bell South Classic in 2006. It also was his forty-first lifetime win on the PGA tour although it was his first in 51 weeks. His last win was at Pebble Beach.

Phil Mickelson wasn’t the only pro golfer to be setting fire to a course last week. In the United Arab Emirates, a Scotsman, Stephen Gallacher, shot a ten-under 62 to take a three-shot lead in the Dubai Desert Classic. He finished with a 21-under 175 over three rounds to break the tournament record set in 2001 by Tiger Woods by one stroke. Gallacher made eagle on the 16th hole in the final round, electrifying the crowd as he took the win. It’s good to be thinking about golf again.

The Super Bowl

The XLVII Super Bowl will henceforth be known as the “Beyonce Bowl” or the “Blackout Bowl” or some such thing. It took extra power and a lot of lights to put on Beyonce’s half-time show and that may have caused the 34-minute partial power loss that kicked off the second half. The near black-out could have cost the Baltimore Ravens the game. Instead, it made it that much more memorable.

Once most of the power was restored, San Francisco came to life. The most scintillating individual play of the game had to have been Jacoby Jones’s 108 yard kick-off return for a touchdown at the start of the second half. His team went on to score the next 17 points, outscoring the Ravens 25 to 6. (There is no truth to the rumor that, beginning with the 2013 season, all games at San Francisco Park will be played in the dark or at least at twilight and without benefit of electricity). But Ravens quarterback, Joe Flacco, steadied his troops, who had led at one point 28-3, and his team hung on. This classic ended with the San Francisco 49ers in the Baltimore red zone and threatening. But the Ravens prevailed in the end, 34-31.

There’s no disputing that Audubon’s Flacco did all he could to earn the huge contract he surely will sign for the next few years. The University of Delaware product will be paid generously whether or not the Ravens place the franchise tag on him. But this game really showcased two captivating young quarterbacks. Flacco finished the day with a passer rating of 124.2, throwing for 287 yards and 3 touchdowns. Yet his adversary, Colin Kaepernick, merits mention: he threw for 302 yards and ran for 62 yards including a TD. In addition to the catch by Jacoby Jones that started off the second half, Michael Crabtree racked up 109 yards on passes from Kaepernick. At one point, after the 49ers had scored a TD, they went for 2 points and a tie but Kaepernick’s pass was off the mark – something he’s probably replayed in his mind a thousand times since Sunday. But we’re going to be seeing a lot of these two talented guys in the years ahead.

Ravens coach, John Harbaugh, won his first Super Bowl, beating his little brother, Jim, a former Eagles’ assistant and special teams coordinator. It was the second Super Bowl win for the Ravens who have been in existence just since 1996 – the year when Art Modell sold the one-time Cleveland Browns and folks in Ohio were blind-sided at seeing the team relocate to Baltimore. The move clearly has paid off.

Imagine if Kaepernick had made that two-point pass and there had been a tie: we might have had an overtime Super Bowl – and that would have been equal to, or even better than, the forty-seventh being remembered for Beyonce and a blackout!