The Bisheff Blog
Analyzing and commenting on what's hot in sports

Apr
10

A few months ago I wrote about the blog being at a crossroads and not knowing where it was headed next. So many of you replied and urged me to keep at it, adding such kind and generous comments, I decided to cut back slightly but to keep the blog going.

Well, now I’ve reached another decision. The Bisheff Blog is coming to an end. This is it. This is my last one.

It seems funny now to think back to all those years I spent writing about aging athletes who didn’t know how to walk away. I always tried to empathize with them, but I’m not sure I fully understood until now.

It’s definitely difficult to leave something you love to do. I felt that way when I retired from the newspaper business a few years ago, and I feel that way about the blog.

Sports writing has been my life, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to keep at it in this new online form. It has allowed me to write what I call mini-columns, shorter than my old newspaper pieces but still full of what I hoped were salient points and topical opinions.

But I am supposed to be retired — semi-retired, I prefer to call it — and the blog took time and research and, often, more late-night effort than I realized I wanted to give. One of the nice things about retiring from column writing was getting away from the grind of having to produce four or five pieces a week. Well, in its own way, the blog had become a grind, as well.

“So only write one or two this week,” my wife, Marsha, would tell me. “It’s your blog. You can do what you want.” But I couldn’t do it. I felt obligated to write five a week at first, then, even cutting back, I produced at least three, sometimes more. I felt I owed it to you, the readers. It was a responsibility, one that I guess had been ingrained in me from writing columns all those years.

While it could still be fun, there were days when it was beginning to feel more like a chore. That’s when you know it is time to move on to something else.

I still want to write. It’s what I do. It’s what I love. I’ve already been fortunate enough to have five books published, and when the right subject comes along, I’d be eager to take a crack at number six.

In the meantime, I’ll still do some magazine pieces and, during the football season, I’ll be writing weekly for weareSC.com, Garry Paskewitz’s very professional online operation.

I do want to take the time to thank all of you who have been regular readers of the blog. You have been a very loyal group, helping it steadily grow, and it’s been gratifying reading your comments and opinions. I suspect some of you are likely to be upset, but I hope you can understand my side of it.

Besides, in this new era, you can still find me on Facebook or send me e-mails. I’m afraid I’m not into Twitter yet, but you never know. The main point is, if you still want to communicate, I’ll be glad to hear from you and happy to share opinions on the Angels, Trojans, Lakers, Bruins, Dodgers or whatever.

Most of all, I just want to take this opportunity to say thanks.

I have been blessed. It’s truly been a pleasure writing for all of you.

– STEVE BISHEFF

Apr
07

It is early. Verrrrrrry early.

Baseball fans have to realize that. They have to take a deep breath and not allow themselves to get carried away by what has transpired in a wacky first week of the season.

Seriously, there are six l-o-n-g months to go. You can’t panic yet. You can’t jump to conclusions. You’ve got to keep it all in some kind of perspective.

To help you in that regard, allow me to address a few early misconceptions:

– The Rangers aren’t going undefeated. Yes, they look strong and confident and they still have to be considered the heavy favorites in the AL West. But as good as that offense is, the pitching depth is still questionable. They can slug their way to the playoffs, but they’ll have to pitch their way back to the World Series, and it is far from certain they can do that.

– The Phillies offense won’t keep averaging 6 runs a game. Eventually the loss of Chase Utley and Jayson Werth will be felt in the middle of that order, and despite all that great starting pitching, this team will have its share of struggles once opposing teams start pitching around Ryan Howard.

– Baltimore’s pitching isn’t this good. Jeremy Guthrie is a solid No. 1, and the kids, including 23-year-olds Chris Tilllman and Zach Britton and 25-year-old Jake Arrieta, are talented. But they’re not to be mistaken for the Phillies’ Phab Phour of Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels. Trust me.

– It’s cute that the Royals already have won four in a row, and in another couple of years their farm system, rated No. 1 in baseball, should make them the most exciting young team in the game. But right now, the pitching still stinks and the hitting isn’t much better. They soon will settle into their proper lowly place in the standings and start dreaming warm thoughts about the future.

– The Giants aren’t nearly this inept. Their rotation remains the strongest in the National League, and as soon as they sort out their defensive deficiencies, switching a position here and there, they’ll be right back in the thick of things in the NL West. And oh yes, Buster Posey, the kid catcher, is already a star.

– The 0-6 Red Sox definitely won’t go winless. And their batting order, one of the strongest in either league, won’t look this limp much longer. There are just too many good hitters top to bottom for the Sox to keep this up. Their pitching might be more shaky than some suspected, although Jon Lester is probably the game’s most under the radar ace. But will this team hit? Are you kidding? It’s like asking if the Kennedys are Democrats.

OK? You get the idea? Can all those people who call sports talk shows ranting and wanting everyone fired calm down now?

It’s been a strange first few games. But that’s the point. They are just the first few games.

Baseball isn’t a gushing ocean roar of a season. It is, instead, a long, winding stream that trickles along at its own pace.

Everyone feel better now? Good.

Because I know I do.

– STEVE BISHEFF

Apr
05

They’re only opinions, but at least they’re all mine:

Yes, ladies, you showed the men how it’s done. Texas A & M and Notre Dame were only miles better than UConn and Butler when it came to NCAA championship games. You go, girls . . .

The saddest story in sports revolves around the Giants’ fan who was beaten into a coma in the Dodgers’ parking lot. Truth is, it’s a situation that has been building for some time. People have been talking about the “Raiders element” at Dodger Stadum for a while now. The problem is, how do you deal with it? . . .

Or maybe you don’t remember what those Raiders crowds used to look and act like in L.A. . . .

I thought UConn didn’t get enough credit for playing hellacious defense in the paint in the men’s NCAA title game. There was a reason Butler shot so poorly. It never got a good look inside 15 feet . . .

Give the Angels’ Mike Scioscia credit for demoting erratic closer Francisco Rodney and replacing him with Jordan Walden, the kid with the 97 mph heater. It had to be done . . .

Now what does he do about Scott Kazmir? This is a guy who has lost his fastball, his slider, his control and, not surprisingly, his confidence. Not much you can do to fix that. If it’s my team, I don’t let him make another start, $14.5 million owed or not . . .

The story of the spring so far at USC is sure-tackling Tony Burnett, who has risen from obscurity to become a starter at one corner on defense . . .

Why in the world was the Lakers’ Phil Jackson playing an already banged up Pau Gasol Tuesday night against Utah? Makes no sense with the playoffs fast approaching . . .

It would be nice if the Masters turned into another Tiger vs. Phil show, but there has been absolutely no evidence that Tiger Woods has any of that old magic . . .

There never has been stronger evidence that college basketball’s regular season is meaningless than having UConn, a team that finished ninth in the Big East, win the whole enchilada . . .

Butler coach Brad Stevens was classy to the end, wasn’t he? . . .

I know Red Sox and Brewers fans are panicking, but both those teams will hit in due time. Trust me . . .

Headline: NFL gives $1 million to charities of current, ex-players. Reaction: As PR moves go, that one is about as subtle as a Ray Lewis blitz . . .

Our old friend Manny looked well past his prime, striking out three times against Jered Weaver Tuesday night . . .

The NFL lockout is really getting to be a lot of laughs, isn’t it?

By the way, with the draft coming up, I love the way the fickle scouts keep changing their minds. It’s as if all those games they watched last fall suddenly are meaningless . . .

I love Charles Barkley, but he never really seemed comfortable talking college hoops during the tournament . . .

USC’s Matt Barkley keeps throwing interceptions in spring practice, and Lane Kiffin keeps saying it’s nothing to worry about. Sure, it isn’t . . .

– STEVE BISHEFF

Apr
04

Yes, it is early in the season. Very early.

But what is happening to the Angels now isn’t just about this season. It is about last season and the past six weeks of spring training. It is about team officials who refuse to address the obvious question.

How much longer can they carry on the Scott Kazmir, Fernando Rodney charade?

Right now, Kazmir might be the worst starting pitcher in recent franchise history. And as for Rodney, well, his mechanics are even uglier than his pitching lines of late.

The Angels are a club with too many weaknesses to give away games, and at the moment, they’re giving them away every time Kazmir starts and Rodney is called in to — ahem — close.

Mike Scioscia already is at, or near, the top of the all-time franchise managerial list. But there are times when he also can qualify for he Stubborn Hall of Fame.

This is one of those times. Both Kazmir and Rodney should have their jobs taken away. I know it, you know it, everybody who watches this team play knows it. But Scioscia won’t do it.

Why? Well, there are a couple of reasons. Money is the biggest. The club is in deep with both these guys and pulling them is basically admitting the people in charge made millions of dollars worth of mistakes. Second, Scioscia is a manager who believes in roles. He swears by them, in fact, and sets them up early.

And in their current roles, Kazmir is the No. 5, or with Joel Pineiro’s current injury, the No. 4 starter, and Rodney is the closer. Forget the fact that Kazmir’s ERA has been off somewhere in the stratosphere since last season, and so far this spring and in his first start on Sunday, he’s looked even worse. Same with Rodney, who has proven time and again he has the most dangerous trait a closer can have — an inability to throw strikes.

There is also the unfortunate fact that there is no qualified arm ready to take over Kazmir’s spot in the minors, although anybody, and I do mean anybody from Trevor Bell to Matt Palmer, would be an improvement at this point.

The Rodney situation is different. Jordan Walden, with the best fastball on the team, probably isn’t quite ready to close yet. But as he demonstrated on Sunday, his raw ability is enough to at least give him a shot. He’ll allow some hits, but he’s also apt to strike some people out, something Rodney can no longer do consistently.

In the Angels’ and Scioscia’s behalf, it should be mentioned that the whole shaky bullpen situation has been exacerbated by the broken toe suffered by Scott Downs, the $15-million reliever the team signed in the offseason. If Downs were healthy, he probably would be closing right now, and with Walden available to set him up, a lot of the pressure might be alleviated.

Same with Hisanori Takahasi, the lefthander who is needed in the bullpen now. If everyone were healthy, he could probably step in and take over Kazmir’s spot in the rotation. He probably should, anyway. At least he’d get more than an inning and two thirds into games, allowing an already overworked bullpen a chance to rest a bit.

Something has to be done. And it needs to happen fast.

The worst thing about the Angels losing three of their first four games is that the team that beat them was Kansas City, one of the weaker clubs in baseball.

What happens when they start playing the quality teams?

You don’t want to know. Especially if they keep up this silly charade of theirs.

*********

Some quick shots after another wild weekend of sports:

Biggest upset of the weekend was UConn’s women losing to Notre Dame in the NCAA semis, although a certain coach named Gino did seem to be getting a little too cocky for his own good . . .

Will UConn’s men’s team be next? It’s hard to say, but with everything else appearing so sleazy in college basketball these days, it is difficult not to root for the purity of Butler in the title game . . .

Don’t know how to evaluate the Dodgers yet, but the bumbling Giants are definitely playing two people, Aubrey Huff in right field and Miguel Tejada at shortstop, out of position . . .

So much for those slow starts of Mark Teixeira’s, huh? . . .

A great deal has been made about the Angels’ great defensive outfield. Well, let’s just say that so far, left fielder Vernon Wells’ glove has appeared to be something less than golden . . .

Phil Mickelson is MIA, then suddenly reappears to win the week before the Masters. Funny how that happens . . .

Give George Karl some credit. What he’s done with the Melo-less Nuggets is pretty amazing . . .

When the talent-laden Red Sox open 0-3, you know not to take baseball’s first weekend too seriously . . .

– STEVE BISHEFF

Mar
31

The season starts, and the first thing you notice is that this isn’t Arizona or Florida anymore.

Funny how the whole tone changes when you go from spring training to the real deal. One thing that hasn’t changed is that the fate of the Angels and Dodgers hinges on five key players from each club.

Exactly who are they? I thought you’d never ask.

ANGELS

1. Kendrys Morales. Duh! Not hard to figure this one, huh? Will he recover? When will he get back? And when he does, will he be the same dominant player he was in 2009 and early 2010? If the answers aren’t positive, the other four players on this list might not matter.

2. Fernando Rodney. Did you watch the ninth inning of the opener in Kansas City? If you did, there is no need to explain. This guy was shaky the second half last season, shaky throughout the spring and shaky in his first closing assignment in KC. All he did was struggle through a 26-pitch inning on Thursday, put the tying runs on base and narrowly miss losing when a potential 3-run homer went foul before he finally squeezed out the save. And don’t forget, this was against one of the weaker lineups in the game. What happens when he has to face the big boys?

3. Peter Bourjos. He has to hit enough to stay in center field, where he might already be the best defensive player in the league. So far so good with the bat, but the real encouraging thing is that he walked enough to have an on-base percentage in the high .400s in spring training. He’s also become a terrific bunter. So why did he have to wait so long to learn how to do both? Every time I asked that question in the past, Angels officials had no answer. I mean, why should they? This guy has only been the fastest player in the organization for years. He keeps this up, and the Angels might stumble into the best leadoff man they’ve had since Chone Figgins. First, though, Bourjos has to prove he can hit over the long haul.

4. Bobby Abreu. He is older (36), looks a bit chunkier and desperately needs to bounce back from that .255 season a year ago. What makes him even more important as the new DH is his presence as the only left-handed bat in the heart of the order, at least until Morales returns. If he doesn’t hit, right-handed pitchers will give the Angels fits.

5. Vernon Wells. When you’re making more money than anybody but A-Rod, you better contribute. If he hits to his career averages (around .270, 25 to 30 homers and 85 to 90 RBIs), he’ll be fine. But if he doesn’t, the pressure will mount and this team will struggle for runs the way it did a year ago.

DODGERS

1. Jonathan Broxton. In his first appearance of the season in the home opener, he immediately gave up a home run to the Giants’ Pat Burrell, then he managed to hold on to Clayton Kershaw’s victory. Not a particularly good sign. If he can bounce back from an ugly second half of 2010, this could be one of the better pitching staffs in the game. If he can’t, well, new manager Don Mattingly will have to start looking a bit more seriously at Kenley Jansen, who appears to be the closer of the future.

2. Rafael Furcal. If he’s healthy, he is the top of the order catalyst this offense desperately needs. If he isn’t, everything about this team changes, both offensively and defensively.

3. Matt Kemp. He is the breakout star waiting to happen. He seemed to have a new attitude in the spring and if his new mentor, Davey Lopes, can get through to him, Kemp can be one of the better all around players in the sport. If he reaches that level, the Dodgers can win the division. If he doesn’t, they can’t.

4. Andre Ethier. He wouldn’t have been on this list until he started talking about this possibly being his final year in L.A. He’s been the most consistent player on the team the past two years, and if he’s focused, he and Kemp can be a big time 1-2 punch. If he isn’t, if he is already brooding about 2012, it could be a long summer downtown.

5. Juan Uribe. The World Series hero with the Giants now joins their bitter rivals and he needs to give this team the added pop Ned Colletti thinks he’ll deliver. If he can hit 20 to 25 home runs and help stabilize an otherwise undistinguished infield, he’ll be worth every penny the Dodgers are paying him. But if that doesn’t happen, these guys could wind up scratching for runs the way they did in 2010.

– STEVE BISHEFF

Mar
29

Are you ready for some box scores? I sure am.

Baseball’s Opening Day arrives Thursday, and if you write about the game, you have to make your picks. It is a sports writing ritual. So here we go:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

EAST

1. Boston. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford join an already stacked lineup, and the rotation is excellent. The best team in baseball entering the season.

2. New York. The lineup is still fearsome, but the pitching is shallow. Expect a trade for a name starter before the All-Star break.

3. Tampa. If anyone can get along with Manny Ramirez, it’s Joe Maddon. Rotation is excellent, but will there be enough runs?

4. Toronto. These guys would contend in a lot of divisions. Just not this one.

5. Baltimore. Buck Showalter improved the chemistry, but there is still not enough pitching.

CENTRAL

1. Minnesota. The Twins need Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau at full strength, but somehow, Ron Gardenhire always find a way.

2. Chicago. Adam Dunn and his 40 homers join an already good offense and the pitching is solid. Could finish higher.

3. Detroit. Miguel Cabrera is a one-man offense, and the rotation is better than you think. Could win 85 games.

4. Cleveland. Better than the Cavaliers, but not by much.

5. Kansas City. The future is coming, but it’s not here yet. Not with that pitching.

WEST

1. Texas. Easily the division’s best offense, but pitching still shaky.

2. Oakland. Added some solid bats to that exciting young rotation. They could win the division with some breaks.

3. Anaheim. Kendrys Morales is the key. If he isn’t back playing every day by mid-May, they will still be struggling for runs.

4. Seattle. King Felix is great, but not much else is in the Emerald City.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

EAST

1. Philadelphia. Rotation is baseball’s best in years, but there are a lot of bats missing from that lineup.

2. Atlanta. You know Chipper Jones won’t stay healthy, but Dan Uggla improves the offense, and the pitching is fine. A definite threat.

3. Florida. Good rotation, and young outfielder Mike Stanton is about ready to bust through and become a star.

4. New York. Terry Collins is a nice guy. He deserves better than this injury-riddled bunch.

5. Washington. In a couple of years, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper will be on board. In the meantime . . .it could be a long summer.

CENTRAL

1. Milwaukee. Only if newcomers Zach Greinke and Shaun Marcum are healthy. That deep lineup is as good as any in the league.

2. Cincinnati. A young, exciting group led by Joey Votto. I’m just not sold yet on the pitching.

3. Chiciago. Look out for the Cubbies. The rotation is decent, and if Alexis Ramiriz and Carlos Pena have big years, they could contend.

4. St. Louis. The Adam Wainwright injury was a killer. Even Albert Pujols might not be enough to save them.

5. Houston. The pitching is better, but they’re lacking enough bats.

6. Pittsburgh. These guys are the Clippers of baseball.

WEST

1. San Francisco. Buster Posey will be a star, and the pitching is just too good, although the Brian Wilson injury is scary.

2. Los Angeles. Call me crazy, but I like Clayton Kershaw and the rotation, Matt Kemp looks ready to break out and Juan Uribe will add some punch.

3. Colorado. Two great hitters in Tulowitzki and Gonzalez and an outstanding pitcher in Jimenez. But that’s not enough.

4. San Diego. Still can’t figure out how they won 90 last year. A .500 season is more likely this year.

5. Arizona. It will be a long, hot rebuilding year in the desert.

WILD CARDS:

Chicago in the American League

Atlanta in the National Leahue

WORLD SERIES: Boston over Milwaukee

MVPs

American League: Adrian Gonzalez, Boston.

National League: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee.

CY YOUNG awards:

American League: Jon Lester, Boston.

National League: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia.

ROOKIES OF THE YEAR:

American League: Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay.

National League: Freddie Freeman, Braves

– STEVE BISHEFF

3. Anaheim. Kendrys Morales is the

Mar
27

In an NCAA Tournament where very little has made any sense, we could end up with the perfect final.

The Hero against The Villain.

Brad Stevens, the Butler coach who is the epitome of basketball purity, against John Calipari, the Kentucky coach who is widely viewed as . . .well, something less than the sport’s Mr. Clean.

Stevens’ story gets more amazing with every game. Here he is at Butler, a tiny private university in . . .where? Exactly. Most people couldn’t tell you.

It is in Indiana, and only 4,600 students are enrolled. There are schools in this tournament with almost that many enrolled in the same class. Schools with 40,000 or 50,000 students.

But here is Stevens, with that young, bespectacled, professorial image of his, peering out from all the anonymity, and making it not just to one Final Four, but to two in a row, even after losing his one NBA-caliber player a year ago.

Hey, it’s a big deal if Kansas or North Carolina or Kentucky make it to one in a row these days. Now here is Butler, going back to back, barely losing to Duke in a pulsating final last year, and now just one more victory away from being in the final again.

None of us know too much about this young man who barely looks old enough to order a postgame beer. But I’ll tell you what we do know now:

He has to be a heckuva coach. How one of the big heavyweight schools hasn’t made a lucrative run at him is beyond me. But here he is, back home in Indiana, ready to head for Houston and another shot at the ultimate prize.

Then there is Calipari, and yes, if you listen closely, you can almost hear the booing and hissing in the background.

They say he cheats. They say he has to, or he wouldn’t keep getting this ridiculous stream of wonderfully gifted athletes to follow him wherever he goes. Nobody can recruit THAT well, right?

Well, while they’re badmouthing him behind his back, maybe it is also time to admit he’s done an incredible job this year, overflowing talent or not.

A year ago, he sent an unprecedented five players to the NBA, where they were all first round draft choices. That’s right, five No. 1s. That meant he had to start from scratch this season, losing five of the best athletes in the country.

Most coaches would have shrugged their shoulders, rolled up their sleeves and said, “OK. So we have to rebuild this year.”

Calipari rebuilt, all right. He rebuilt this team loaded with freshmen all the way to the Final Four, which happens to be farther than last year’s team could get.

He, too, obviously can coach basketball a bit. Does he bend the rules to do it? Let’s just say that anyone who recruits as well as he does has to be suspicious. And his questionable reputation certainly has followed him to Kentucky.

But you can’t take away what he’s done with this group, just as you can’t deny that Butler’s Stevens now has one of the more remarkable resumes in the country.

Virginia Commonwealth is a great story, too. And you have to love the coach’s name . . .Smart? Yeah, I’d say this guy Shaka is plenty smart. He has critics all over the country eating their words today.

And if I had to pick anyone at this point — and why would I, since, like most of you, I have no teams left in my bracket? — I think UConn and Kemba Walker are now the favorites.

But we all know what favorites have done so far.

Nah, forget that. Give me Butler and Kentucky. Stevens vs. Calipari. The Hero versus The Villain.

As tournament scripts go, you just can’t get much better than that.

– STEVE BISHEFF

Mar
25

Some new revelations on a busy March Friday:

– Guess the Pac-10 wasn’t so weak, after all. Not after its champ, Arizona, not only beat ACC power Duke, it practically ran the Dukies off the Honda Center floor in the West Regional. You don’t see Coach K’s teams get embarrassed the way the Blue Devils were in that devastating second half blitz by the Wildcats. Amazing.

– ‘Zona’s Derrick Williams is college basketball’s best NBA prospect. He has it all, size, quickness, hands like an NFL receiver and he can even shoot the three. His 25-point first half earned him a lot of money against Duke. And when his teammates went crazy in the second half, he didn’t force anything, proving he understands how to win. I know the scouts are saying Duke’s Kyrie Irving is No. 1 on their lists, but anyone who passes on Williams will be sorry.

– It wasn’t Jimmer’s best night. Jimmer Fredette carried BYU into overtime against Florida, but he shot like Kobe does when he’s forcing it, going 11-for-29. He still scored 32, and he enjoyed a spectacular season, but some of the sparkle was dimmed just slightly. Not that it really matters. I still think he was Player of the Year.

– Kemba Walker is a monster. Now I know why they were raving about him in the Big East Tournament. All he did was score 36 points to eventually wear down plucky San Diego State. UConn was the better team and deserved to win, but Walker was the story. If he were a few inches taller, NBA scouts would be going nuts about him. As it is, he should have a nice, long career in the league.

– So Butler is still in and Duke is out. Go figure. That’s what makes the tournament so interesting. You never can be sure which way it will go. The bottom line is this: Butler is now 8-1 in its last nine tournament games and could have been 9-0 with a little luck. So no, please, don’t call these guys a fluke.

– Meanwhile, in spring training, Scott Kazmir continues to implode. This time, he gave up 10 runs, 8 of them earned, on 8 hits and 4 walks in five innings. His springtime ERA is an ugly 7.79. Isn’t it time the Angels admit they’re at least considering leaving him out of their rotation? The charade has to end soon, doesn’t it? Even Mike Scioscia can’t talk around this one.

– The other intriguing Angels’ storyline involves Brandon Wood. The club seemed on the verge of releasing him until he went on a sudden hitting spurt in the last 10 days or so. He now has 4 home runs and 11 RBIs on the spring, and with Kendrys Morales out indefinitely, it would seem like a good idea to keep this guy around. Maybe he’s finally relaxed and is ready to play the way everyone in the organization thought he could. If nothing else, he seems to have bought himself a bit more time. If you’re an Angels fan, you should root for him. He’s a good kid.

– It was only one inning, but it was a scoreless one for Jonathan Broxton on Thursday. The Dodgers should be thrilled. Their whole season could depend on which Broxton shows up in the ninth inning for them. Will it be the intimidating closer of ’09, or the struggling reliever of ’10? Don Mattingly is hoping this latest performance was an encouraging clue.

– STEVE BISHEFF

Mar
22

They’re only opinions, but at least they’re all mine:

This is why great teams win: Andrew Bynum is still out, so you ask Lamar Odom to step up, and all he does is score 29 with 16 rebounds to help Phil Jackson’s guys outlast the Suns in triple overtime . . .

The Angels are trying to play it down, but Kendrys Morales’ latest foot setback, making his return to the lineup indefinite, is a huge early blow for Mike Scioscia’s club . . .

Now they have to throw Mark Trumbo in at first base, whether he is ready or not. He’s looked good in the spring, but everything changes when they start playing games for real . . .

The West NCAA Regional that starts Thursday in Anaheim is easily the most appealing of the four. San Diego State vs. UConn and Duke vs. Arizona are both terrific match ups . . .

We want Jimmer! We want Jimmer! In the Final Four, that is . . .

Put the Dodgers and Angels rosters together, and you’d still have trouble finding a quality, every-day third baseman . . .

Tim Salmon, working as a color radio broadcaster this spring, comes off relaxed and entertaining for someone just breaking in. Of course, I’m probably a bit biased, considering Salmon was one of the all-time classy athletes with the media . . .

USC already had a ton of injuries, so it had to hurt when starting tailback Marc Tyler limped off with a hamstring injury on the first day of spring practice . . .

If nothing else, it will allow Coach Lane Kiffin to get a long look at redshirt sophomore tailback D.J. Morgan, who is one of the two fastest players on the team . . .

Kiffin’s candid quote on whether the Trojans’ defense will be better in 2011: “It would be hard to be worse.” . . .

If I’m UCLA’s Tyler Honeycutt, I come back for another year with a chance to be an All American on a team that should be rated in the preseason Top 10 . . .

Now the Spurs’ Tim Duncan goes down indefinitely with a badly sprained ankle. Does it seem like everything is going right for the Lakers lately, or what? . . .

Has top-seeded Ohio State even had to take a deep breath yet in the NCAA Tournament? Doesn’t seem like it . . .

Wonder how much pressure Pete Carroll will be under in Seattle to draft hometown favorite Jake Locker at quarterback? . . .

If it wasn’t for all the money they owe him, Scott Kazmir would have about as much chance of making the Angels’ rotation this spring as you would . . .

My college basketball player of the year ballot reads like this: 1. Jimmer Fredette, BYU. 2. Kemba Walker, UConn. 3. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State . . .

Dodgers fans already are hoping that Don Mattingly doesn’t overwork the bullpen the way Joe Torre often did . . .

So Barry Bonds says he didn’t know he was taking steroids, huh? I guess when he looked in the mirror and saw that his head had doubled in size, it just wasn’t a good enough clue . . .

– STEVE BISHEFF

Mar
20

This edition of March Madness has been lots of things — wild, fun, unpredictable.

One thing it hasn’t been, though. It hasn’t been consistent, at least as far as the officiating is concerned.

College basketball has to decide. Either you make all the calls, or you don’t. Either you ignore how much time is left, or you take it into consideration. You can’t have it both ways.

Yet that is exactly what happened in two of the key games over the weekend. In the Pittsburgh-Butler game, the one whose subtitle should be “Dumb and Dumber,” the refs made two calls you ordinarily would never see with 1.4 seconds left.

They called the first foul on Butler’s Shelvin Mack for inexplicably defending a midcourt shot that never had a chance. Then with 0.8 seconds left, they called another on Pitt’s Nasir Robinson, who, for some bizarre reason, bumped Gilbert Brown when he had even less of a chance to score from the complete other end of the floor.

Both fouls were incredibly dumb but appeared legitimate. Contact definitely was made. In most games, under most circumstances, officials swallow their whistles in cases like that. This time, with everything at stake, they didn’t.

OK, you can live with that if the whole tournament is to be officiated that way. But some 24 hours later, after a somewhat questionable five-second call gave Arizona the ball and the lead, Texas’ J’Covan Brown — the best player on the floor, by the way — drove into the paint in the final seconds and absorbed enough contact to knock down three players. And nothing was called. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

Game over. Texas loses one game by a point, and Butler wins the other by one.

Two different situations, two different interpretations.

This is Madness, all right. But the wrong kind. Now that the field has been trimmed to 16, how should coaches expect the rest of the games to be called?

The answer is, they have to guess like the rest of us. And that’s a shame.

I understand human beings are involved here, and anyone can make an honest mistake. But it seems to me that some sort of order should come down from high up in the NCAA somewhere to eliminate the chaos.

At the end of tense, dramatic, high stakes games, especially in the final few seconds, either everything is called, or nothing is called.

This needs to be clarified, for the sake of the coaches, players and fans. And most of all, for the sake of the tournament’s integrity.

Come on, gentlemen. Think about it. This isn’t asking so much.

The games have been great so far, but something needs to be done. The kids from Texas and Pittsburgh deserved a better shake.

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Some quick shots from basketball to baseball and beyond:

UCLA had nothing to be embarrassed about in its loss to Florida. I thought the Bruins played a terrific game. Now if only they could find a bigtime point guard, there’s no telling how far they could go . . .

I’d love to see San Diego State make it to the Final Four, but the Aztecs can’t make it the way they played against Temple . . .

The more BYU wins, the more we get to see Jimmer. You have to love that . . .

This is turning into a sour spring for the Angels. Kendrys Morales will start the season on the DL, key reliever Scott Downs probably will miss the first month and now No. 4 starter Joel Piniero is hurt. Right now, Mike Scioscia’s club has to be picked third in the A.L. West . . .

There is no more exciting announcer in any sport than Gus Johnson. He’s a human adrenaline rush . . .

The Lakers’ Andrew Bynum deserved the two-game suspension. That was one cheap shot. I didn’t know ‘Drew had it in him . . .

USC begins spring football practice this week, and the big question for Lane Kiffin in Year Two is obvious: Can anything be done to improve that awful defense? . . .

Baseball America is predicting the Dodgers and Angels both to win a grand total of 79 games this season. Really makes you want to rush out and buy tickets, doesn’t it? . . .

– STEVE BISHEFF

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