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Canada exorcises Venezuela demons to book FIBA World Cup spot

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You had to be there.

I was among the few that were lucky enough — or unlucky enough — to watch first-hand one of the most excruciating losses in the history of the Canadian senior men’s basketball team.

Sept. 11, 2015, Mexico City, if you need specifics.

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Anyone who cared about Canadian basketball was about to raise a celebratory beer — the cold frothy head just inches from hitting the hatch when they stumbled on some loose laundry and fell face first into the coffee table — beer and broken glass everywhere.

Just like that, the party was over. Canada was up seven with three minutes to play against Venezuela, Olympic berth on the line. Then came a cavalcade of turnovers, missed shots, miracle opponent threes and a phantom foul at the buzzer that was the difference in the game.

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Everything that has happened since has been about recovering the momentum Canada was building. The first wave of Canada’s golden generation looked poised to make the 2016 Olympics after missing them in 2004, 2008 and 2012.

Flash forward seven years and the Canadian men’s Olympic drought is now at five Olympic cycles and counting.

So yeah, having a chance to advance to the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup by beating Venezuela on home soil, in Edmonton?

The prospect was sweet for Canada Basketball chief executive officer Michael Bartlett over the phone from Alberta.

“Doing it in Canada was nice, it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to do that on home soil. Doing it with this winter core, the group that started this [qualifying] journey last November just shows how our roster consistency strategy is working and doing it against Venezuela would be nice because we’ve had some tough beats against them,” said Bartlett, who has been charged with creating the business infrastructure to both support Canada’s podium quest and leverage the knock-on effects if and when it happens.

“And there are a lot of people in the program who remember that and were a part of it. We wanted this one. It’s been circled on the calendar.”

And now they can put an ‘x’ through it: Nov. 10, 2022, marks the spot.

Canada gained some measure of revenge with a thorough 94-56 win over Venezuela on Thursday that clinched its year-long quest to qualify for the 2023 World Cup — which will be played in Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines in August and September — in front of a sold-out crowd at the Flair Airlines Hangar at the Edmonton Expo Centre.

Canada improved to 9-0 with three games left to play to remain the only undefeated team in qualifying while Venezuela fell to 7-2.

Canada had six players in double figures in scoring, led by Kassius Robertson who had 16 on perfect 6-of-6 shooting, while two more players chipped in with eight points in a perfectly balanced attack. Canada held the visitors to 34.4 per cent shooting and owned a 20-10 edge on the offensive boards. Canada led 46-31 at halftime and blew the game open with a 24-11 third quarter.

The game very nearly didn’t happen. Venezuela was late getting its visa applications submitted and was only cleared to travel to Canada on Wednesday. The team flew from Mexico to Vancouver on Thursday and then connected to Edmonton landing three hours before the tip.

When they arrived they were greeted by -15C weather — or about 35C colder than it had been in Caracas on Thursday.

Serves them right. For years it’s been Canada travelling to far-flung places to play in hostile environments. Having the Sorels on the other foot feels good for a change.

It was fitting too that a Canadian team featuring stalwarts from the ‘winter core’ — the group of more than 20 athletes that have made themselves available for the qualifying windows that NBA players aren’t able to play — were the ones that got it done.

Canada wouldn’t have made it this far without them. Sure, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kelly Olynyk led Canada to blowout wins in the summer qualifying windows, and Canada will be looking to Jamal Murray, RJ Barrett and other members of the summer core to join them next summer, but it’s been the likes of Robertson, Phil and Thomas Scrubb, Trae Bell-Haynes and others that have been in the lineup game after game.

Advancing to the 32-nation World Cup is just one step, of course.

Being the first team in the Americas allows Canada to get a head start on planning the logistics for next summer: training camp accommodations and details, exhibition games and the like. Every bit of certainty helps.

The ultimate goal is a place in the 12-team Olympic field in Paris in 2024. The surest way for Canada to manage that is to be among the top two teams from the Americas at the World Cup.

Failing that there is the opportunity to play in and win one of the last-chance Olympic Qualifying tournaments in the summer of 2024 that will determine the final four spots in the field.

But Canada doesn’t want to come in through the back door. There’s been too much time, too much effort, too much money and too much hope invested in building a program that can compete with the world’s best on the brightest stages, any time, any place. It’s been proven on the women’s side and it’s been proven in age-group basketball. It’s just the talent-rich senior men’s category that hasn’t been able to put it all together.

The loss in 2015 was the first in a string of heartbreaks: A close miss in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in 2016; a disappointing 21st- place finish at the 2019 World Cup, the loss to the Czech Republic in overtime at the last-chance Olympic qualifier in Victoria that kept Canada out of the most recent Summer Games in Tokyo.

It’s time for Canada to make its mark.

“I get it. For people who have been following this program for a long time, they’re going to say ‘prove it’,” says Bartlett. “Well, the World Cup gives us a chance to say prove it before we go to the Olympics and prove it again.”

“… Nothing would be better than giving the county a reason to cheer,” says Bartlett. “It’s the coolest thing ever.”

The Canadian men’s team got another big step closer on Thursday and put to bed an old demon in the process.

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Bengals vs Chiefs Touchdown Props for the AFC Championship – Best Touchdown Scorer Bets – Covers

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The AFC Championship on Sunday features a rematch of last year’s conference title game as Cincinnati travels to Arrowhead to take on Kansas City. Read more to find out our favorite anytime touchdown props for Bengals vs. Chiefs.

Last Updated:
Jan 29, 2023 2:43 PM ET

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Read Time: 4 min

The second of Sunday’s two Conference Championship games could be an absolute classic, with the Cincinnati Bengals facing the Kansas Chiefs for a trip to the Super Bowl

There’s plenty of scoring opportunity in this game for bettors, so why don’t we get right into the action? Don’t miss our NFL anytime touchdown prop picks for the Bengals vs. Chiefs on January 29.

For more, be sure to check out Jason Logan’s full AFC Championship betting preview, as well as our Bengals vs. Chiefs prop picks

Bengals vs Chiefs touchdown props

Click on each pick to jump to the full analysis.

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Bengals vs Chiefs TD props

Mr. Dependable

At +100, you won’t find a better prop bet for the AFC Championship game. While the injury to Patrick Mahomes will probably limit Kansas City‘s volume of passing, Travis Kelce is the heartbeat of this team and will always be involved — especially in the red zone.

He’s had 14 touchdowns this season, with two of those coming last week against the Jaguars. With the season on the line and Mahomes banged up for most of it, Kelce was still targeted an incredible 17 times and recorded 14 receptions. 

The Mahomes-Kelce connection is one of the strongest in the NFL. With the chance to reach the Super Bowl in play, you can guarantee they’ll be looking for their All-Pro tight end to play an important role. 

Prop: Travis Kelce anytime touchdown (-105)

Chase can’t be caught

If Kelce is the man to trust for the Chiefs, then the same can be said of Ja’Marr Chase for the Bengals. His chemistry with Joe Burrow is arguably in the same bracket as that of Mahomes and Kelce, dating back to their time playing together at LSU.

Chase finished the regular season sixth in touchdowns scored (9), which is not bad for a player who missed all of November with a hip injury.

The star wideout has scored in each of the Bengals’ two playoff games and has been targeted at least eight times in all but one game this season. At odds of +100, it makes too much sense to bet on Chase’s anytime market.

Prop: Ja’Marr Chase anytime touchdown (-105)

Covers NFL betting tools

1B to Chase’s 1A

You could make a serious argument that Tee Higgins is the best second option in any team’s receiving corps. Although he isn’t always Burrow’s first read, he’s still a hugely important part of this team and can often thrive with the opposition’s best corner shadowing Chase.

Higgins surpassed 1,000 yards on the season, scored seven touchdowns, and could very well add to that tally against a Chiefs secondary that is far from the best in the NFL. 

Although he’s gone scoreless in his past three outings for the Bengals, Higgins successfully reached paydirt in all of the four games prior. When these two teams met in early December, Higgin hauled in three of his five targets and scored a touchdown.

It wouldn’t be a shock to see him do it again on Sunday.

Prop: Tee Higgins anytime touchdown (+195)

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Eagles ride ground game to Super Bowl LVII with win over 49ers – TSN

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jalen Hurts can conduct a singalong about as well as he can orchestrate the kind of punishing scoring drives that sent the Eagles into the Super Bowl.

At the end of one more triumph, Hurts stood on the stage on the field — as his Eagles teammates passed around the NFC championship trophy — and clutched a microphone in front of what was suddenly Philadelphia’s largest karaoke joint. His rendition of the team fight song was a tad off-key.

Hurts may not sing as well as he can score, but it was another memorable moment in a season full of them. And the Eagles don’t believe they’re done yet.

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“We’ve got new moments,” Hurts said. “New moments and new times.”

Hurts had one of Philadelphia’s four rushing touchdowns and the Eagles soared into the Super Bowl, forcing both of San Francisco’s quarterbacks out of the game with injuries and beating the wounded 49ers 31-7 in the NFC championship game on Sunday.

The Eagles, who won the Super Bowl five years ago with a different coach and quarterback, will try to do it again behind the formidable duo of Hurts and coach Nick Sirianni. Philadelphia will play either the Cincinnati Bengals or former Eagles coach Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs.

“We get to do it because we did it better than anyone in the NFC this year,” Sirianni said.

Hurts had a modest game by his standards after a season in which he was a finalist for MVP. He was 15-of-25 passing for 121 yards and ran for 39, improving to 16-1 as a starter this season. The Eagles (16-3) lost two games that he missed with a sprained right shoulder.

Hurts sat alone at his locker dressed all in purple and he took a few puffs of a cigar as the Eagles celebrated around him. He understood there was one more game to win.

“I never knew how far we’d go,” Hurts said, “but I never said it couldn’t be done.”

Miles Sanders ran for two touchdowns and linebacker Haason Reddick made the hit that forced 49ers rookie quarterback Brock Purdy out of the game with an elbow injury. Reddick also recovered a fumble by Purdy’s replacement, Josh Johnson, who later suffered a concussion.

That forced Purdy back into the game, but his injury was clearly a factor as the 49ers all but gave up on the passing game, even while trailing by multiple scores. Purdy said he was unable to throw the ball more than 10 yards after his elbow got hurt.

San Francisco’s bad luck at quarterback was finally too much to overcome as its 12-game win streak ended. The Niners (15-5) lost both Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo to season-ending injuries, and Purdy — the final pick in April’s draft — lost as a starter for the first time.

Philadelphia police greased traffic and light poles in what proved again to be a futile attempt to slow the postgame revelry. The city now has its beloved Birds in the Super Bowl just three months after the Philadelphia Phillies reached the World Series.

“When you guys go into our indoor (practice facility), there’s always that picture in the back part of it of the 2017 NFC championship game, and it’s just the electricity of the stadium,” said Sirianni, who was hired two years ago to replace the Eagles’ Super Bowl-winning coach, Doug Pederson. “We’re looking forward to getting another picture up there of this special moment that we had.”

The game disintegrated in the waning minutes and Philadelphia’s K’Von Wallace and San Francisco’s Trent Williams were ejected for their roles in a brawl. Williams yanked Wallace from behind and slammed him to the ground.

The moment only seemed to rile up Eagles fans even more as they soon waved their green towels and went wild as confetti fluttered around them.

“We’ve got one more game for the rest of our lives,” Sanders said.

TAKING CONTROL

The Eagles broke the game open in the final two minutes of the first half, getting a rise out of a crowd that had been quiet with nervous energy since a touchdown on the opening drive.

Sanders broke free for a 13-yard run for a 14-7 lead, concluding a 14-play, 75-yard drive extended by three 49ers penalties.

Johnson bobbled a shotgun snap and fumbled on the next drive, and Reddick — the free-agent pickup from Carolina having one of the great defensive seasons in franchise history — recovered at the San Francisco 30. Boston Scott scooted 10 yards for a touchdown and 21-7 lead.

Even with Hurts almost a non-factor — he had 97 yards passing in the first half — the Eagles were firmly in control. His 1-yard rushing touchdown on Philadelphia’s signature rugby-style QB sneak made it 28-7 late in the third quarter.

“We’ve got a chance to go out there and win it all,” Hurts said. “So we want to go prepare to go do that.”

The Eagles used quick thinking as they scored on their opening drive for the second straight playoff game. DeVonta Smith made a sensational one-handed grab for 29 yards, but replays showed he appeared to lose control of the ball as he hit the ground. Smith popped up and frantically waved the Eagles to the line. Niners coach Kyle Shanahan did not challenge the call and the Eagles got off the next play. Sanders scored on a 6-yard run.

“Smart players do smart things,” Sirianni said. “He did a smart thing right there. I’m going to say he caught it, though.”

NINERS’ NADIR

Purdy left the game with an elbow injury after he was drilled in the arm by Reddick on San Francisco’s first drive. The play was initially ruled an incomplete pass, but replays confirmed it was a fumble.

“I knew that was a sack-fumble because I got my hand on the ball,” Reddick said.

He also got his hand on Purdy’s arm, changing the course of the game. The 23-year-old Purdy’s improbable rise from “Mr. Irrelevant” to playoff starter ended with a whimper as he failed to become the first rookie QB to lead a team to the Super Bowl.

He was improbably needed again in the third quarter after Johnson, a journeyman backup signed in December, was also injured.

“I hurt for these guys,” Shanahan said. “We felt really good about this game. It was tough circumstances.”

With little hope they could get anything going behind Johnson, the 49ers turned to Christian McCaffrey, a midseason acquisition who led the team with 13 TDs in the regular season and playoffs, to get on the board. He broke three tackles on a 23-yard touchdown run that made it 7-7 in the second quarter.

That turned out to be the only moment of hope for Shanahan’s Niners, who managed 164 yards of offense and 11 first downs.

“You’re never out of the fight,” McCaffrey said. “We believed it and it just didn’t turn out our way. We got beat and wish we had another shot at it with everybody.”

IN THE HOUSE

First lady Jill Biden, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, actor Bradley Cooper, comedian Kevin Hart, Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout and several 76ers, including Joel Embiid, attended the game.

UP NEXT

The Eagles will play in the fourth Super Bowl in franchise history on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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Russia issue looms for Paris Olympics, Zelenskyy rebukes IOC

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GENEVA (AP) — The question of if and how Russia competes at the Olympics hangs over the 2024 Paris Summer Games.

Just as it has now for five straight Olympics during Thomas Bach’s leadership of the IOC, whose support this week for some Russians to compete in Paris was publicly challenged Friday by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Russia and its athletes have been at risk of being banned — though ultimately competed — at each Olympics since the steroid-tainted 2014 Sochi Winter Games that was Bach’s first as president of the International Olympic Committee.

This time it is Russia waging war on Ukraine. Previously it was Russian state-backed doping and then Russian authorities trying to cover up evidence of that scandal.

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Zelenskyy wants Russia excluded from taking part in Paris while its military is occupying and attacking his country. He stressed that this week in talks with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Ukraine’s sports minister first warned on Thursday of boycotting the Olympics. That was after the IOC detailed its preferred pathway to let Russians who have not openly supported the war to qualify for Paris and compete as neutral athletes against Ukrainians.

“It is obvious that any neutral flag of Russian athletes is stained with blood. I invite Mr. Bach to Bakhmut,” Zelenskyy said in a video address, referring to the city in eastern Ukraine wrecked by the war. “So that he could see with his own eyes that neutrality does not exist.”

The IOC was more strident on Russia when the military invasion started within days of the Beijing Winter Games closing ceremony. It was an egregious breach of the United Nations-backed Olympic Truce that is prized by Bach.

Last February, the IOC recommended “with a heavy heart” sports bodies exclude Russia and Belarus from hosting and competing “in order to protect the integrity of global sports competitions and for the safety of all the participants.”

It could not be fair for Russians to continue competing while “many athletes from Ukraine are prevented from doing so because of the attack on their country,” the IOC said last Feb. 28.

Now, 18 months before the Paris opening ceremony and as qualifying ramps up in the 32 sports, the IOC’s revised public stance has provoked anger from Ukraine.

“If we are not heard, I do not rule out the possibility that we will boycott and refuse participation in the Olympics,” Ukrainian sports minister Vadym Guttsait wrote Thursday on his Facebook account.

One of Ukraine’s top medal prospects does not want to share the stage with Russians — even if such a symbol of peaceful tolerance is exactly how the IOC sees its “unifying mission” to bring all 206 national Olympic teams together.

“They died for me, really they don’t exist in my life,” said Yaroslava Mahuchikh, the high jumper whose rivalry from 2019-21 with Russian champion Mariya Lasitskene made theirs a standout event.

Mahuchikh told German broadcaster DW Sports this week that Ukrainian athletes “will do everything that is possible” to keep out athletes from Russia, which she called a “terrorist state.”

In Bach’s home country Germany, the Athleten Deutschland group said Friday many of its members find it “difficult to imagine contesting competitions against Russian athletes under the current conditions.”

“No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport,” the IOC stressed Wednesday, though this was often not true in Olympic history.

Germany and Japan, the aggressors of World War II, were not invited to the 1948 London Olympics. South Africa was excluded from 1964 through 1988 because of its racist Apartheid laws.

The IOC points instead to the more recent example of Yugoslavians competing at the 1992 Barcelona Games as “independent athletes” while the nation was under UN sanctions during a civil war.

Bach wants to separate athletes from the actions of their government, and has called the situation a dilemma for a stated aim to “always embrace human diversity and never to exclude others.”

That philosophy rankles with Zelenskyy, who can be a compelling advocate for a blanket ban on Russia that was resisted when demanded in the past decade by athletes, the World Anti-Doping Agency or activist groups.

If Russians are allowed to compete, their path to Olympic qualification likely will go through Asia due to Russia’s tense relations with its European neighbors.

Paris is the last of six Olympics for Bach’s presidency before hitting his 12-year term limit in 2025. A presidency that began in September 2013 with an instant congratulatory phone call from President Vladimir Putin has always had a major Russian theme.

After the Sochi laboratory doping scheme was detailed in 2016, Russia sent a limited team — though still nearly 300 athletes — to the Rio Janeiro Games and has been denied its flag and anthem at each Olympics since.

Yet while Russians always were at the Olympics, they were banned entirely from track and field’s world championships last July in Eugene, Oregon.

“The world is horrified by what Russia has done, aided and abetted by Belarus,” World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said within days of the war starting. “Sport has to step up and join these efforts to end this war and restore peace. We cannot and should not sit this one out.”

Track’s ongoing Russia ban excludes Lasitskene, the three-time defending champion in high jump. Last year she wrote an open letter to Bach, who could not defend his team fencing title at the 1980 Moscow Olympics because of the West German boycott after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

“I have no doubts,” she wrote, “that you don’t have the courage and dignity to lift the sanctions against Russian athletes.”

This week, Bach set governing bodies of some Olympic sports on the path to do just that.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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