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WISCONSIN SPORTS ROUND-UP: Bucks get rare blow-out win

MILWAUKEE - Ersan Ilyasova scored 31 points last night, to help the Milwaukee Bucks crush Utah 114-88 at the Bradley Center.  

The Bucks led by seven at the break, and then pulled away with a 22-to-6 run to open the third quarter.  The lead was 28 going into the final 12 minutes, and all five Milwaukee starters rested for the entire fourth quarter.  Ilyasova was nearly perfect, missing only one of his 14 shots from the floor.  Ramon Sessions and Zaza Pachulia each added 14, as the Bucks out-scored the Jazz 46-36 in the paint.  Enes Kanter had a career-high 27 points with 14 rebounds for Utah, which has now lost three straight.  Only 10,022 tickets were distributed for the game -- the lowest since the Bucks started playing in the 19,000-seat Bradley Center in 1988.   The victory improved Milwaukee's NBA-worst record to 12-47.  The Bucks will host Sacramento tomorrow night.


Bucks' legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spoke to the Milwaukee crowd during the first quarter of last night's win over Utah.  He said he hopes the Bucks will quote, "get their act together soon," and that everything works out so the team can stay in the city.  The Bucks' lease with the Bradley Center expires in 2017, and the NBA has been leaning on the city to get a new arena -- a tough sell, especially as the team struggles with poor play and low attendance. And getting money from the state given the extreme polarized politics of southeast Wisconsin is a difficult proposition at best.  A task force is looking at options.  The 66-year-old Abdul-Jabbar played six years in Milwaukee and was a part of the Bucks' only league championship team in 1971.  Most of his best years came after he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in '75. Abdul-Jabbar told reporters that the Bucks need to improve their business model -- and he would be interested in helping out, but there's nothing on the table right now.  Abdul-Jabbar cited Indiana's Larry Bird as a solid example for finding talent and getting the team to play together -- and he'd like to be a part of that with Milwaukee.


For the fourth year in a row, the Green Bay Packers did not use their franchise or transition tags to keep any of their impending free agents.  That means they'll let corner Sam Shields and defensive lineman B.J. Raji shop for other teams when the free-agent signing period begins a week from today.  The deadline was yesterday for NFL teams to use their franchise and transition tags to keep their top free agents for at least one more year.  Shields' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said over the weekend that his client will test the market.  Media reports from yesterday said Raji would do the same, due to a lack of progress on contract talks with the Packers.  It would have been expensive for the Packers to use the franchise-or-transition tags on either player.  They would have had to pay Shields $10-to-12 million for this season, and Raji $8-to-10 million.  Both are starters, and both played key roles in Green Bay's Super Bowl championship team during the 2010 season.


The Milwaukee Brewers lost to the Chicago Cubs 4-2 yesterday in an exhibition game in Phoenix.  Walter Ibarra had the game-winning hit, a two-run single in the seventh inning.  He was filling in for Cubs' shortstop Starlin Castro, who's out for up to 10 days with a strained hamstring.  The Brewers were held without a hit until the fourth inning when Ryan Braun doubled.  He scored on a two-out single by Juan Francisco.  Braun also singled and scored on a double by Carlos Gomez.  Brewers' starter Marco Estrada gave up a second-inning homer to Javier Baez, as the Cubs won their first spring contest against three losses.  The Brewers are now 3-3 in the Cactus League, and will play Oakland this afternoon. Wily Peralta will make his second appearance of the spring, when he starts from the mound.  The right-hander threw two scoreless innings in his first outing.  The A's will send right-hander Dan Straily to the hill. 


Pekka Rinne's rehab assignment in Milwaukee is over.  The NHL's Nashville Predators recalled their All-Star goaltender yesterday, and he's scheduled to start tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Rinne has only played in nine games for Nashville this season, after getting an E-coli infection in his surgically-repaired left hip.  He played two games with the Admirals this past weekend, stopping all but two of 35 shots for a .946 save percentage.  Rinne is a two-time Vezina Trophy finalists.  He's 3-1-1 with Nashville this season, with a one-point-six-oh goals-against average. 


The road to a state championship begins tonight for Wisconsin girls' high school basketball teams.  The first regional contests will be played in five divisions.  Yesterday, the season's final girls' Associated Press poll came out.  Kimberly spent most of the year atop Division 1, and that's where they ended.  Sheboygan North was second, followed by Oak Creek and Hartland Arrowhead.  Green Bay Notre Dame finished atop Division 2.  Milwaukee Pius XI was second, and Onalaska third.  Neillsville was the Division 3 leader, followed by Brodhead and Fox Valley Lutheran.  Racine Prairie ended the regular season atop Division 4, with Colfax and Algoma in the two-and-three spots.  Barneveld had the final No. 1 ranking in Division 5, with Wisconsin Rapids Assumption second and South Shore third.


The UW-Milwaukee men will try to win tonight for the first time at the U.S. Cellular Arena since January second.  That's where the Panthers will host Detroit in the opening round of the Horizon League Tournament.  UWM has been a tough team to read this season. They won nine of their first 11 -- but they've gone 3-6 at the Cell, where they lost to last-place Illinois-Chicago last Tuesday in dropping their fourth straight.  The Panthers did come back last Thursday to win at Detroit -- the same team they'll face again tonight. Detroit is 13-18 overall, after going 6-10 in the Horizon regular season.  Milwaukee went 7-9 in conference play, and they're 17-13 overall.  The Panthers have had some key road victories, including a 10-point win at top-seeded UW-Green Bay on February 8th. Tonight's winner will play either Illinois-Chicago or Valparaiso on Friday night at Green Bay's Resch Center, where the rest of the tournament will be played.  Regular season champion Green Bay has a double-bye, and will not play until Saturday's semifinals.


UW-Green Bay men's basketball guard Keifer Sykes has been named the Horizon League's Player-of-the-Year.  His Phoenix teammate Alec Brown was chosen as the defensive player-of-the-year.  And Green Bay's Brian Wardle was tabbed as the league's top coach, after he led the Phoenix to their first regular season conference title in 18 years.  Sykes, a junior, is averaging 20 points and five assists per game.  The 7-1 Brown is averaging 16 points and six rebounds in his senior year.  Both were also named to the All-Horizon League first team.  Sykes is a repeat selection.  Brown also made the all-league defensive team along with Green Bay sophomore forward Jordan Fouse. UW-Milwaukee only had one post-season award winner.  Senior guard Jordan Aaron was named to the all-league second team.  


University of Wisconsin women's basketball junior Michala Johnson has been named to the All-Big Ten Conference first team as selected by the league's coaches -- and to the second team as picked by the media.  Badgers' senior Taylor Wurtz was a consensus honorable mention.  And Racine J.I. Case High School standout Samantha Logic of Iowa was a consensus first-team selection, and a unanimous pick by the coaches.  Johnson averaged 16-and-a-half points a game for the Badgers in the post, and she led the Big Ten with a 57-percent shooting average in conference games.  Wurtz was the Badgers' second-leading scorer in the regular season with 13 points a game, with a team-leading eight-plus rebounds.  Logic, a junior, is the only player in the nation to average 13-or-more points, six-or-more rebounds, and seven-or-more assists.  The Badgers have the No. 11 seed in this week's Big Ten Tournament.  They'll play No. 6 Minnesota on Thursday night in Indianapolis.


Five Wisconsin teams were among 64 receiving bids yesterday to the NCAA Division III women's basketball tournament.  Three of them will play at a four-team regional in Kenosha, where CCIW champion Carthage will host Midwest Conference champ Saint Norbert of De Pere on Friday.  NACC titlist Wisconsin Lutheran will face Hope College of Michigan in the other Kenosha game on Friday, with the winners to square off in the second round on Saturday.  Also, UW-Oshkosh will host another four-team regional.  The Titans, winners of the WIAC, will play Saint Mary's of Minnesota on Friday.  The winner will face either Northwestern College of Saint Paul or Washington of Saint Louis in the second round on Saturday.  UW-Whitewater received an at-large berth.  The Warhawks will play Concordia-Moorhead on Friday at Saint Paul.  The winner plays either the host Saint Thomas or Loras College on Saturday.  The national Final Four will be played in Stevens Point on March 21st and 22nd. 


Four Wisconsin teams were named today to Field-of-62 for the NCAA Division III men's basketball tournament.  UW-Stevens Point and UW-Whitewater will both host four-team regionals on Friday and Saturday.  The top-ranked Pointers will host Marian of Fond du Lac, and the winner will play either Central of Iowa or Saint Olaf in the next round.  Whitewater will host Northwestern College of Saint Paul, with the winner to take on either Augustana or Saint Thomas in Round-Two.  Also, Saint Norbert College of De Pere will head to a regional at Illinois Wesleyan.  The Green Knights will play Ohio Wesleyan on Friday, and that winner will face either Wesleyan or Webster on Saturday.  Saint Norbert earned its NCAA berth by winning the Midwest Conference.  Marian entered the nationals as the champions of the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference.  Top-ranked Stevens Point won the WIAC conference tournament yesterday over Whitewater, which is the only Wisconsin school to earn an at-large berth.


UW-Parkside will play the University of Missouri-Saint Louis on Friday night in the quarter-finals of the Great Lakes Valley Conference men's basketball tournament in Evansville, Indiana.  Parkside earned a first-round bye after winning its second straight East Division title last week.  The Rangers went 15-3 in the conference regular season, and they're 22-5 overall.  Eighth-seeded Missouri-Saint Louis advanced after a 103-79 victory over Missouri S&T in the first round yesterday.  The Tritons shot 62-percent, in improving to 16-11 overall.  The Parkside women ended their season last week, after going 8-18 overall with only one road victory in 11 tries.


Marquette University will be the opposition tonight, when the Providence men's basketball team plays its own home finale.  The two teams are tied for fourth place in the Big East Conference at 9-7.  But the Friars have the better overall record at 19-10 while Marquette is at 17-12.  Providence is coming off a five-point win at Seton Hall.  The Golden Eagles were crushed by 17 at eighth-ranked Villanova on Sunday, and coach Buzz Williams says they'll have to play a lot harder in order to have a chance against the Friars. Marquette senior forward Jamil Wilson has only scored eight points in his last two games, after scoring in double-digits for four straight -- including a 25-point, 10-rebound performance against Seton Hall on February 11th.  Also tonight, the Marquette women play at Villanova.


The University of Wisconsin men's basketball returned to the national Top-10 this afternoon.  The Badgers jumped five places to No. 9  in the Associated Press media poll.  The Badgers had plunged from the third spot when they lost five-of-six.  Now, however, the Badgers have won seven straight.  They're 11-5 in the Big Ten, and 24-5 overall and host Purdue in the final regular season game at the Kohl Center on Wednesday. Tip-off is at 8 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on BTN.


About 1,600 upper deck seats were still available today for the NCAA men's basketball tournament games in Milwaukee.  An official of the Bradley Center said ticket sales are picking up with the Round-of-64 just two-and-a-half weeks away.  Arena vice president Paul Jensen says a sell-out depends on which teams are chosen for Milwaukee -- and how well their fans travel.  There's still talk about Wisconsin possibly being sent to Milwaukee, after the Badgers have won seven straight.  Four Milwaukee games are set for two weeks from Thursday.  The winners will face off in the third round that Saturday, March 22nd.


Two University of Wisconsin softball players have received weekly honors from the Big Ten Conference.  Sophomore Taylor-Paige Stewart is the league's pitcher-of-the-week, after she won both her starts against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.  Chloe Miller was named the Big Ten's Freshman-of-the-Week, after she homered twice and drove in five runs in five games.  Paige-Stewart had a 1.72 ERA in five appearances, including three relief outings.  She struck out a career-high 10 batters last Friday. 


The University of Wisconsin softball team is 7-7 on the young season, after beating Connecticut 7-2 in five innings on Sunday.  It was the Badgers' final game at the Texas A&M Invitational, and it was cut short by rain.  Michelle Mueller hit a two-run homer -- and Mary Massei and Chloe Miller also went yard for the Badgers.  Cassandra Darrah got the win, giving up an unearned run in four innings.  Connecticut fell to 1-9. Meanwhile, the UW-Green Bay softball team opened its season by winning three-of-four at the Western Kentucky Hilltopper Classic at Bowling Green.  The Phoenix were rained out yesterday against Indiana State, after beating that same team 4-2 on Saturday.


Bryan Badolato has become the first Marquette University lacrosse player to win the Big East Conference weekly honors on offense.  The redshirt senior scored five goals on nine shots last Saturday in a 16-12 loss to Marist.  Badolato also scored five goals in a game last season against Mercer.  He was the first Marquette player to achieve that feat.  The Golden Eagles' lacrosse program is into its second season, with a record of 1-3 so far. 


The University of  Wisconsin men's hockey team was off this weekend -- but the Badgers still went up by one place to No. 5 in the new U.S. College Hockey Online poll.  The Badgers are 19-9-2 as they wind down the regular season, their first in the Big Ten Conference.  Minnesota, whom the Badgers swept in a home series last month, is back at No. 1 this week.  The Gophers are 23-4-5.  Boston College fell to second. Wisconsin will play a Big Ten series at Penn State this weekend while Minnesota is at Ohio State.


Steve Stricker of Madison remains at No. 13 in the new World Golf Rankings.  He has only played in one event this year, the Accenture Match Play Championship in which he was eliminated after his first round.  Pewaukee native Mark Wilson rose five spots in the new World Rankings to 246th.  That's after he tied for 46th at the Honda Classic in Florida during the weekend.  Madison golfer Jerry Kelly dropped one spot to 149th, after he missed the weekend cut at the Honda Classic.