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WISCONSIN SPORTS ROUND-UP: VCU's Smart to talk to Marquette about hoops job

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MILWAUKEE - Madison area native Shaka Smart is reportedly the latest to talk with Marquette officials about the school's basketball coaching vacancy.  

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The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Web site reported this afternoon that the Milwaukee Jesuit school has spoken with Smart -- the present coach at Virginia Commonwealth University -- and former UCLA coach Ben Howland. That was after Buzz Williams left on Friday for Virginia Tech after six years heading up the Golden Eagles.  Media reports said Smart is also being courted by Wake Forest, which is also looking for a new men's basketball coach.  The 36-year-old Smart has been a hot commodity ever since he took VCU to the Final Four in 2011.  

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Wisconsin will play its NCAA Sweet-16 game more than two-thousand miles away from Madison.  That means the Badgers won't have a stadium full of screaming fans like they did in the last two rounds -- when a No. 2 seed gave them a home-state venue in Milwaukee with victories over American University and Oregon.  As of last night, ticket brokers said they had very little demand for buying tickets to the West Regional in Anaheim, California -- where Wisconsin plays Baylor on Thursday night.  The Badgers must buy 500 seats at Anaheim, and they can 750 more if they need them.  UW donors and season-ticket holders have until one this afternoon to buy seats.  Anything left over will go on sale at  3p.m. at the UW ticket office and at UW Badgers.com.  Associate athletic director Justin Doherty expects a good turnout of Bucky Badger fans, with a sizable number of alumni from southern California. 

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The Milwaukee Bucks will return tonight to the place where they won their only Western Conference road game this season -- the Staples Center in Los Angeles.  That's where they beat the Lakers on New Year's Eve.  It's also the home of the LA Clippers, whom the Bucks will take on tonight.  It wasn't too many years ago when the Clips used to be one of the NBA's doormats.  Now, they're a powerhouse while Milwaukee is languishing with the league's worst record at 13-and-57.  The Bucks have dropped seven straight after losing by 17 at Sacramento last evening.  Milwaukee is 0-5 on the Clippers' home floor.  Blake Griffin had a triple-double in the Bucks' last visit, with 23 points, eleven rebounds, and eleven assists in a 16-point LA victory on March sixth of last year.  The Clippers have won their last four overall games against the Bucks by an average of 19 points.  That includes a 28-point romp at the Bradley Center on January 27th.  LA is 49-21, winning all but one of its last 13 overall contests.

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The Milwaukee Bucks would have to win two of every three remaining games to avoid setting a new record low for wins in a season.  That's not likely, since the Bucks are 13-57 and decided long ago to give their youngest players a lot of NBA experience.  It's a virtual certainty that Milwaukee will set a new record-low for season wins, which is now 20 set under coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. in 1994.  Meanwhile, the Bucks' attendance is also struggling.  They average just over 13,250 tickets sold or given away each game -- the lowest figure in the league.  At the current pace, the Bucks will set an all-time season-low for their average crowds since the Bradley Center opened in 1988.  The Bucks have six home games remaining, two of which could draw some decent crowds -- Miami on Saturday night, and a contending Indiana team on April 9th.  The Bucks are wrapping up a four-game Western road trip.  They hope to avoid being swept in that set tonight when they play the Clippers in Los Angeles.

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UW-Whitewater men's basketball coach Pat Miller has been named the national Division-Three coach of the year by D3hoops.com.  Miller led the Warhawks to their second NCAA championship in three years on Saturday night, with a 73-72 win over Williams College decided on a three-point play by Quardell Young with nine-tenths-of-a-second left.  Tyler Tillema of UW-Stevens Point made the D3hoops.com All-American first team.  Trevor Hass of the Pointers was named to the fourth squad.  Whitewater's K.J. Evans was an honorable mention.  Amherst College senior Aaron Toomey was the D-Three men's player of the year.  Sydney Moss of Thomas More College of Kentucky received the same honor on the women's side.  Carthage guard Stephanie Kuzmanic of Carthage in Kenosha made the D3 women's All-American second team.  Sally Linzmeier of UW-Superior made the third team, Whitewater's Kaitlyn Thill was a fourth-team selection.

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The Milwaukee Brewers confirmed today that infielder Juan Francisco was put on waivers during the weekend.  The move was never announced -- but it became obvious after Francisco's locker was emptied out, and two other challengers for the first base job were both given regular season roster spots.  The 26-year-old Francisco was obtained last season in a trade with Atlanta.  But he had fielding problems at both first and third base -- so the Brewers decided to keep veterans Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds, and use them both at first.  Overbay and Reynolds were both non-roster players coming into Spring Training more than a month ago.  The Brewers are not playing an exhibition this afternoon.  They'll face the San Francisco Giants tomorrow in Arizona.  

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With seven days until Opening Day, the Milwaukee Brewers still have competition for a couple of roster spots.  Elian Herrera and Jeff Bianchi are still in contention for the final bench spot.  Both are utility players who would serve as Milwaukee's back-up shortstop.  Four relievers are still in the running for three spots in the bullpen.  They are Rule-Five Draft pick Wei-Chung Wang, veteran Zach Duke, Rob Wooten, and Tyler Thornburg who was a starter for the Crew at the end of 2013.  Under free agency rules, the Brewers must decide by 11 a.m. tomorrow whether they'll keep Duke.  If Wang is kept, he must stay up with the big club, or else go back to Pittsburgh -- the team that let him go in the Rule-Five process.  It's possible that Thornburg could begin the season as a starter at Triple-"A" Nashville, in which the Brewers would have three lefties in their seven-man bullpen.  Manager Ron Roenicke says it would not be a problem.  This is the final week of exhibition contests.  Milwaukee is not playing today.  They'll put up a 12-16 spring record tomorrow against San Francisco.

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NFL owners have reportedly decided to make teams wait until they clinch playoff spots before selling post-season tickets.  The Business Journal said the mandate was approved today at the league owners' meetings in Orlando.  The Green Bay Packers were already looking to make a change, after 40,000 playoff seats originally went unsold for the Pack's playoff loss to San Francisco -- and sponsors had to buy a couple thousand remaining seats so fans could watch the game on local TV.  Packers' CEO Mark Murphy has not commented on the idea of making teams wait until clinching the post-season before selling tickets.  He said earlier the Packers were looking at their old policy of letting fans get refunds for post-season games which are not played.  Last November, the Packers decided to give season-ticket holders only future credits for non-played games in January.

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The NFL's off-season owners' meetings began this morning in Orlando Florida.  Packers' general manager Ted Thompson will be a no-show due to a personal matter.  But Green Bay is well-represented by president Mark Murphy, coach Mike McCarthy, and other top brass including chief contract negotiator and vice president Russ Ball.  Some major rule changes will be considered -- like making it harder to kick extra points by putting the ball at the opponents' 25-yard line instead of the two.  Also, owners will consider moving the ball up to the 40-yard line for kickoffs, where it used to be located for many years.  Safety reasons are cited for the proposal, such as fewer hard-hitting kickoff returns.  Safety is also mentioned for a proposal not to have overtime in exhibition games which are tied after the fourth quarter.  Replay could be used on personal foul calls -- and one of the other proposals would no longer stop the clock after a sack.  Most rule changes will be voted on Wednesday.

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Steve Stricker's limited schedule continues to drop him down the World Golf Rankings.  The Madison pro fell one spot to 15th in the new rankings released today.  As he approaches 50, Stricker is generally saving his play for the bigger tournaments while he spends more time in Wisconsin with his family, friends, and charity work.  Jerry Kelly of Madison rose three spots to No. 142, despite taking last weekend off.  Pewaukee native Mark Wilson was also away from the Tour this past week, and he fell one spot to 248th.  Kelly is now 56th in the Fed-Ex Cup season point standings.  Wilson is 180th and Stricker 192nd.  

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Gabrielle Ortiz of Racine Prairie has been named Wisconsin's Miss Basketball by the state coaches' association.  The group also made the senior guard a unanimous selection to the Division 4 All-State team -- the third straight year she made the top squad.  Ortiz averaged 20-and-a-half points and almost seven rebounds in a game in her final season at Prairie.  She'll play for Oklahoma in the fall.  The coaches have announced their All-State teams in every division except D-5. Arike Ogunbowale of Milwaukee Divine Savior Holy Angels is also an All-Stater for the third straight year, and she's among four unanimous picks in Division 1.  The others are Jessica Lindstrom of Superior, Kelly Smith of Hartland Arrowhead, and Frankie Wurtz of Kimberly.  In Division 2, Allie LeClaire of state champ Green Bay Notre Dame was a unanimous selection -- along with Taylor Nelson of Monona Grove, Maya Jonas of Whitefish Bay, and Abby Gerrits of Pewaukee.  There were a trio of unanimous All-State picks in Division 3 -- Jenny Lindner of Neillsville, Emma Roenneburg of Adams-Friendship, and Carly Mohns of Brodhead.  In Division 4, Ortiz was joined by Maddy Reed of Oshkosh Lourdes and Kennedy Blahnik of Algoma as unanimous All-Staters.

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