SOUTH BEND, Ind. - For seven straight seasons, the Kentucky softball team has reached the NCAA Tournament.
Leading one of just 21 programs nationally with such a streak, UK head coach Rachel Lawson knows it's a big deal.
"It means that we are able to build and that we are a program, not just a team," Lawson said.
The latest edition of the Wildcats will make its tournament debut on Friday, facing Northwestern in the South Bend Regional at 2 p.m. UK. The Cats are coming off their first Women's College World Series trip ever, but haven't performed quite up to expectations in entering the NCAA Tournament with a 29-24 record.
"We understand that we have fallen short for a lot of reasons and hopefully we have tightened up," Lawson said.
When Lawson says "tightened up," she's thinking execution, not the emotional state of her team. She learned long ago from a longtime UK administrator to avoid that kind of tightness at all costs.
"We are really fortunate because John Cropp - who our stadium is named after - used to tell me when I first got here that worrying is just praying for something bad to happen," Lawson said. "That is kind of our mindset all the time."
Instead of thinking about the fact that they have lost seven straight games - the last three in walk-off fashion to No. 8 national seed Tennessee - the Cats are trying to learn the lessons they can from the defeats and focus on what's next.
"Honestly we're just trying to take the positives out of it and kind of move on from the past and move forward and look at what's ahead," senior catcher Griffin Joiner said. "That's the next pitch and the next game that we play."
But practice came first.
UK fell in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Wednesday, leaving the Cats ample time to practice for the NCAA Tournament with nothing but themselves in mind.
"We have had about six great days of practice and we haven't had that since January," Lawson said. "I think the fact that we have been able to focus on those things and the individual techniques that are required so we end up coming through in the end. I think we are going to be OK."
"We just had more time to focus on the things that we need to focus on," Joiner said. "It's kind of (hard to do that) during the grind of the season. You play every day, so it's just been good to be able to slow down and focus a little bit."
Lawson expects that extra time to yield results come this weekend, when UK will look to get past Northwestern, host Notre Dame and Ball State and into a Super Regional.
"I like the intensity of the practice and the passion," Lawson said. "The other thing from a tactical standpoint was the defense was a lot better and a lot cleaner and we were making diving catches and attacking balls that we used to sit back on. The postseason is about pitching and defense and then hopefully you luck out and get those timely hits."
A season ago, UK had that recipe down pat in making that WCWS trip, riding the arm of Kelsey Nunley, a good defense behind her and a clutch offense to Oklahoma City. With numerous contributors back from that team, including Nunley and Joiner along with Christian Stokes, Nikki Sagermann and Sylver Samuel, the Cats will be calling on that experience come Friday.
"I think the team that has the most experience when you walk on the field, you are not as nervous, you know what to expect and know what pregame is about and media and all those things," Lawson said. "That certainly gives us an advantage."
An advantage, sure, but no guarantee.
The Cats might be part of something bigger than themselves when it comes to the UK program, but they're just a team when they step on the field.
"I think the other thing you understand is that when you are in the postseason: It doesn't matter what you did the previous season, you have to play well this weekend," Lawson said. "Having that mindset is what has been able to carry us and we have had that mindset for seven years now."
The Kentucky baseball team got the all-around effort it needed on Tuesday en route to a 5-1 win over Northern Kentucky.
It was the team win the Wildcats were looking for after a dropping the final two games of a weekend series vs. Georgia and before the final regular-season series of the year, at Missouri beginning on Thursday.
All but one starter had a hit, and the four-man pitching staff combined to allow one run and nine hits. The all-around effort saw just two Wildcats, Evan White and Storm Wilson, with more than one hit, and no pitcher took the hill for more than three innings.
As head coach Gary Henderson looked back at the win, it was the pitching that stood out.
"It was a really good team win tonight," Henderson said. "Starting with two innings from Andrew [Nelson] on the mound, then to be able to get three out of Brad [Schaenzer] and three out of Zach [Pop] and then one out of Bo [Wilson], in a different role for Bo. I was really pleased with all four of those guys."
Nelson got the start and worked two innings. The senior righthander allowed no runs on just two hits with three strikeouts. In the first inning, he walked two and NKU loaded the bases, but a lineout to left ended the threat with the bases full.
Schaenzer came in the start the third. The freshman allowed a two-out single in each inning, but nothing more. Schaenzer added four strikeouts and walked none.
Next in line was Pop, another freshman. He was nearly as good as Schaenzer, but a pair of doubles in the eighth plated the Norse's lone run.
With Kentucky's lead cut to 3-1, the offense scored two in the bottom of the eighth before Wilson closed it out in the ninth.
Offensively, the game was just as clean and well-rounded for Kentucky. Eleven hits distributed among nine players, and the five runs were scored and batted in by a combined seven Wildcats.
"We came up with a couple of key hits when it mattered," Henderson said. Greg [Fettes'] hit in the eighth was huge. It was certainly a lot better than the offensive showing on Sunday. We were able to get some guys some at-bats and get some hits and drive in some runs with guys on base. That was nice. Obviously that was a little bit of a battle for us on Sunday, but they did a nice job today."
Fettes, in his first at-bat of the game, launched a two-run home run in the eighth. The shot to left scored Wilson and came a half-inning after Northern Kentucky scored its only run.
The offense got a quick start to the game in the first, as Kyle Barrett singled to lead off the game. He scored on White's double, who scored on a JaVon Shelby groundout. Four batters into the game for the Wildcats and they held a 2-0 lead. UK's lead grew to 3-0 after White scored in the fifth.
It was a big win for Kentucky because of what's next. Wednesday's day off includes a trip to Missouri, where the Wildcats open a three-game set on Thursday. Then, the postseason begins at the SEC Tournament on Tuesday.
With its NCAA Tournament hopes still up in the air, Kentucky will need some wins this weekend against the Tigers. However, the Wildcats will have some momentum on their side as they take the field for the final time in the regular season.
"It's a lot better than not having the win," Henderson said of momentum going into the Missouri series. "Hopefully we'll go from this and we just have to play well. We're very capable of playing well on the road, and the team knows that. That'll be our job, that's our challenge, and we need to go to Columbia and play well."
With series wins in two of its last three three-game road SEC series, UK certainly knows how to play well on the road. That should only add to the momentum.
Head coach Gary Henderson was forced to play Dorian Hairston.
The junior is swinging a hot bat, and there's no way he can't be in the lineup night in and night out.
Friday was Hairston's 11th consecutive start, and he celebrated it with a three-run home run in the third inning, the eventual game winner in UK's 6-2 victory over Georgia.
"That's a phrase that the kids are very familiar with, force me to play you," Henderson said about Hairston playing his way into the lineup. "Take it out of my hands, make it a no-brainer, you have to play."
Friday was the 19th time Hairston's name was listed on the lineup card in UK's last 21 games. Before that, he started just five times.
The home run was Hairston's fourth career long ball, all coming this season in conference play. Hairston has plated the game-winning run for the Wildcats in three of their last four wins, two of those coming against top-six teams.
Friday's blast cleared the fence in left-center came on a 2-1 pitch. A curveball from a righthanded pitcher was not a problem for Hairston tonight.
"That was huge," Hairston said. "That's been my big weakness. Since I've been here, it's always been 'we have to figure out a way to get you to hit the righthanded off-speed breaking pitch. I actually wasn't even looking for that pitch, I thought he was going to throw a fastball, it's a 2-1 count, I'm thinking he doesn't want to get to 3-1. He floats that thing over there and it hangs a little bit. I was able to keep that front shoulder in and turn it around, and now it's a 3-0 ballgame. That was huge, that was big for my confidence.
"He hung a curveball in my first at-bat, and he hung it again in the second, it was a 2-1 count and I took advantage of it."
So what has changed since mid-march for the Lexington native?
It began with a start in right field on March 22 vs. No. 20 Mississippi State, where he went 2-4 with two RBI. Three games later, he had two more starts under his belt. After another day off, the stretch of 19 starts in 21 days began.
"Confidence," Hairston said. "I feel a lot more confident at the plate, I feel like I'm starting to prove myself and show that I've earned some playing time. Through that, I feel a lot more comfortable at the plate and I'm finding some success with it."
In his last 19 games, Hairston has recorded at least one hit in all but five games. He has 12 RBI with seven extra-base knocks.
His confidence is up, but Hairston is also seeing the ball better and picking the right pitches to swing at.
"He's doing a better job of swinging at strikes, he's doing a better job of laying off balls out of the strikezone, same thing," Henderson said. "He's become much more proficient in clobbering soft stuff that's a mistake, which is what he got tonight. He's a good rightfielder, plays smart, he cares. Kids respect him, coaches respect him."
Swinging a hot bat, Hairston will see plenty more time in the lineup. After all, he has forced his way in.
Kelsey Nunley had nine strikeouts in UK's loss to Tennessee in the SEC Tournament on Wednesday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
BATON ROUGE, La. - It was an all too familiar feeling.
The Kentucky softball team had just lost in walk-off for the third time in five days to Tennessee, this time in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
That didn't make it any easier.
"This game, it's hard to swallow," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. "A lot of the games that we've played lately are hard to swallow."
The loss came after the Wildcats had built leads of 2-0 and 3-1 on the Lady Volunteers. UK (29-24) seemed unlikely to relinquish the lead with Kelsey Nunley on the mound in the postseason, but Tennessee (40-13) charged back anyway for a 5-4 win on a two-run single off the wall in left field by Meghan Gregg.
As Nunley's pitch count climbed, the Lady Volunteers began to hit her harder. Nunley stranded runners in scoring position in two of the first three innings, but she was unable to escape trouble in the fourth and fifth, allowing three runs, and she was lifted for Erin Rethlake. Rethlake, a true freshman, looked unfazed in her first postseason appearance, but two walks and an error undid her and UK in the seventh inning.
"We've done some things really, really well," Lawson said. "We just need to figure out how to finish games. We need to figure how to close games and we need to clean up some things. We played most of the game well, but when you're playing at this level and you're playing a team of this caliber you can't make mistakes and you certainly can't make mistakes at the end of games because I think people take advantage of that."
UK, which now will await its NCAA Tournament fate and Sunday's 10 p.m. ET Selection Show, will have to cut out some of those mistakes to duplicate last year's run to the Women's College World Series.
"The postseason really comes down to pitching and defense and hopefully get your timely hits," Lawson said. "So I think it's important that we spend the next couple of days focusing defensively, really trying to tighten that up."
To go with that, Wildcat pitchers will go to work refining things.
"It'll be nice to have a few days in a row to work on things in the bullpen," Lawson said. "We really haven't had that luxury a lot lately. So to be able to have a few days to tighten up some of our pitches, make them break a little bit better, not keep them on the same plane, I think is going to be a big deal."
Though certainly and understandably disappointed after their seventh loss in a row, the Cats are ready to take advantage of a few days off and a chance to improve.
"It was a tough game, but we can just learn from it," said Maisie Steed, who had two hits against Tennessee." That's all we can do, is learn and move on and get back to Lexington and start working on things we need to work on and hopefully take it into the NCAA Tournament."
"We just gotta get back to Lexington and get back to work and hopefully just think of the postseason as a fresh start, try to turn things around," senior catcher Griffin Joiner said.
BATON ROUGE, La. - The Kentucky softball team, at long last, reached the top of the mountain a season ago.
The Wildcats had arrived, breaking through and advancing to the 2014 Women's College World Series after repeated Super Regional trips.
What they didn't realize was they'd have to go right back to base camp once the following season began.
"I think that after going to the World Series they just expected everything now would be easy," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. "And it's not easy. I think getting to the postseason is the hardest part. I think that's a valuable lesson our program had to learn and I think they learned it. I think they learned it the hard way."
The hard way, for UK, means a 29-23 regular-season record and a ranking of No. 24/25, down from top 10 preseason. The Cats enter the Southeastern Conference Tournament as the No. 12 seed, set to open postseason play against fifth-seeded Tennessee at 7:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday on the SEC Network.
"I think what's important right now going into the postseason is that you're playing good softball," Lawson said. "I think it's important that we're moving around fast. I think it's important we're communicating. I think at this point, you've learned a lot during the season, it's just important that you trust yourself, you fly around, you play good softball and then what happens happens."
Though the last month has been a struggle (UK has lost six straight games and 14 of 18), the Cats do have some experience to call on when it comes to playing good softball. UK sat at 21-5 before a trip to Auburn, but it was the previous SEC series - the Cats' first - that Lawson says was when the challenge ahead became clear.
"We were playing really well and we were loose and then we had that big snowstorm and we weren't able to practice," Lawson said. "We hung out in a hotel for two days and then we flew out to A&M (on March 5) and we got in at 4 in the morning. I think that wasn't ideal. I think when we got to A&M I think they just expected, 'OK, SEC play is here and we're going to run through it.' "
Instead, UK went 5-19 in SEC play and dropped its final five conference series.
"I think it's important you have a short memory," Lawson said.
The Cats' collective memory will be immediately tested.
UK's final regular-season series was a sweep at the hands of the same Lady Volunteer team the Cats will face on Wednesday, dropping the final two games in walk-off fashion. To add to the intrigue, the two teams shared the same connecting flight from Atlanta to Baton Rouge, La.
It would be Lawson's preference to play one of the four teams that didn't appear on UK's regular-season schedule, but she isn't worried much about that.
"They're all incredible teams so it doesn't really matter which one you play," Lawson said. "It is strange playing a team so early, especially sharing a flight down with them, but I think at the end of the day both our goals are similar."
The goal, of course, is to advance deep into the conference and NCAA tournaments, just like last year when Kelsey Nunley - UK's likely Wednesday starter - carried the Cats to the World Series. As trying as the regular season was at points, 2015 will be remembered for what happens next.
"I think they've done it in the past and they were relieved when the regular season was over," Lawson said.
(2) Houston Rockets (Terrence Jones) vs. (3) Los Angeles Clippers
Game 1 of the first Western Conference Semifinals of Jones' career will tip off in Houston at 9:30 p.m. ET on TNT. Jones scored 15 points and grabbed five rebounds in the Rockets' 103-94 Game 5 victory over the Dallas Mavericks last Tuesday. The Clippers and Rockets split the regular season series, 2-2, with Houston claiming the latter two contests. Jones sat out both Rockets losses due to injury.
East (1) Atlanta Hawks vs. (5) Washington Wizards (John Wall), WSH 1-0
The Wizards continued their postseason undefeated streak with a 104-98 victory over the top-seeded Hawks on the road. Wall fought through a sprained left wrist to notch his fourth double-double in five playoff games, by way of 18 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds. Game 2 is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday. TNT will broadcast live from Atlanta.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (3) Chicago Bulls (Nazr Mohammed)
After sitting out the first six games of the Bulls' first round series with the Milwaukee Bucks, the 37-year-old Mohammed recorded two points, one block, and one rebound in Chicago's 120-66 Game 7 annihilation of Milwaukee. Game 1 with the Cavs will begin tonight in Cleveland at 7:00 p.m. on TNT.
Dustin Beggs struck out 12 batters in 8.1 innings as UK defeated No. 6 Vanderbilt, 11-5 on Saturday (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
Saturday, Kentucky faced a team that scored 13 runs the night before and had tallied nine or more runs 17 times. The opponent was the defending national champions and sixth-ranked Vanderbilt.
For UK's junior righthander Dustin Beggs though, who recorded his four consecutive win, it was business as usual.
Beggs went 8.1 innings and allowed just three runs. It was all the Wildcats needed as the offense exploded for 11 runs in an 11-5 win to even the three-game series at 1-1.
"I felt really good," Beggs said after the game. "[Head coach Gary] Henderson and I have been working in the bullpen, getting everything going in the right spot. Mesh everything together, get fastballs and curveballs working together. I think it's been working out well."
Saturday was Beggs' fourth win in as many starts, going at least eight innings in each appearance. He earned his team-high eighth quality start of the season as UK improved to 8-4 on the year with Beggs on the mound.
Last week's win came at No. 5 Florida with a career-high 8.1 innings pitched. The 8.1 frames Saturday vs. the sixth-ranked Commodores matched that.
With a career-best 12 strikeouts Saturday and having reached the ninth inning in back-to-back weeks, Beggs has continued to get better week after week.
"We certainly have high standards for him, but he's gotten better as the season has progressed," Henderson said. "He's gotten more stamina, he has the ability to concentrate longer. His concentration now, compared to where it was in February is in a noticeably different spot."
Beggs has recorded six or more strikeouts in four consecutive games and in six starts total in 2015. Saturday's 12 was the first time in his career that he sat down more than eight opposing batters.
The curveball was Beggs' go-to pitch on Saturday.
"I was able to switch sides well, and my curveball was working really well. I was getting a lot of swing-and-misses on that, before there were two strikes, so it worked well."
Following a 13-run outburst from Vanderbilt in Friday's series-opener, including back-to-back five run innings, Henderson was especially impressed with how Beggs handled a rocky first inning on Saturday.
The Commodores sent eight batters to the plate and they had three hits. VU loaded the bases with two outs, but a flyout to center ended the threat with just one run across.
Beggs had his first two strikeouts in the opening frame, and after allowing the three hits, he settled down to give up just four the rest of the night.
"What Dustin did in the first inning, it wasn't very clean," Henderson said. "It had the chance to be a mess but he got out of it. He found his rhythm and really found his command after that, I thought that was as impressive as anything we'd seen in a while.
"Early on, they were clearly sitting on the outer half [of the plate] on the fastball. So we got him off the fastball a little bit, and he did a much better job of mixing the sides of the fastball. It was much better than we did last night."
Tomorrow, the Wildcats go for their fourth Southeastern Conference series win against a top-20 opponent in six chances. On the mound, Beggs has played a significant role in UK's success against ranked foes.
The senior has three wins over ranked opponents and a no decision in another two.
Along with an 8.1-inning, 3-run showing last week to clinch the series at No. 5 Florida, Beggs earned a win vs. No. 20 Mississippi State when he allowed three runs in 6.0 innings on March 21.
At No. 1 LSU on March 28, Beggs gave up just two runs, one of them earned.
It's performances like that that helps give his teammates confidence against ranked opponents.
"I think we really get a boost of confidence when we come in," Beggs said. "We think we have the team that's capable of doing it. We just go out and play our game and don't let anything affect us, and we've been doing well with that."
If Beggs keeps on pitching the way he did Saturday night, he and the Wildcats will have a few more big wins under their belt before his senior season comes to a close.
Bud Dupree was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 22nd pick in the NFL Draft. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
By the time the Pittsburgh Steelers were finally on the clock with the 22nd pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Kentucky outside linebacker Bud Dupree was not a name experts anticipated to be still available.
When Thursday night proved otherwise, the six-time Super Bowl champions wasted no time in making Dupree the newest member of their storied franchise.
"It's a great experience right now," Dupree said. "I'm so blessed to be in this situation. I can't wait to get to Pittsburgh and get to work."
Riding high off the momentum of 7.5 sacks in a first team All-SEC senior season, Dupree became a household name among NFL general managers following his performance at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. The 6-foot-4 former Georgia high school basketball state champion recorded a remarkable 4.56-second 40-yard dash and 42-inch vertical leap.
"This young man has some measurables," said ESPN analyst and Super Bowl winning head coach Jon Gruden. "He can jump right out of the gym. ... I like the way he competes."
Dupree joins a once-historical Steelers defense in desperate need of youthful rejuvenation. Pittsburgh saw longtime defensive standouts Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor, as well as 27-year-old Jason Worilds, retire this offseason. The Steelers ranked 18th in total defense in 2014.
"He has position versatility," Gruden said. "Keith Butler, the new defensive coordinator, has to be happy that Bud Dupree fell this far down the board. Hard to find a young man with this type of strength, speed, and power."
Dupree becomes UK's 14th first round selection in program history, and the first since 2003. The one-time tight end joins Danny Trevathan, Wesley Woodyard, and Avery Williamson as the fourth Kentucky linebacker in the NFL.
"They expect me to come in and have an impact right away," Dupree said. "I just have to prove them right and go in, work hard, listen to the older guys and the coaches and I'll be good."
While it was no secret that the Steelers would be looking toward the defensive side of the ball when making their first round selection, Pittsburgh GM Kevin Colbert shed light on the situation shortly before Thursday's big night.
"I think the cornerback group is good," Colbert said. "The outside linebacker types, which for us is a 4-3 defensive end for some 4-3 teams, this is probably as good a group at that position as I've seen in 10 to 15 years. It's really an exceptional group with a lot of impact-type guys."
Combined with the college statistics and the athletic measurements to back it up, Dupree's work ethic has football fans excited for the possibilities he brings to the table.
"He said he wore No. 2 (at Kentucky) because 'I'm trying to be No. 1, but I'm working like I'm No. 2,'" said ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. "You've got to like that attitude, you've got to like that approach of Alvin 'Bud' Dupree."
UK Athletics hosted the 2015 CATSPY Awards on Monday night in Memorial Coliseum. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
When the Kentucky men's basketball team brought home the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship in March, UK Athletics completed the goals set forth in the 15 by 15 by 15 Plan.
Mitch Barnhart didn't wait long to issue the next challenge to the department he leads.
Delivering his speech at the CATSPY Awards - UK's annual celebratory awards show - Barnhart described the successor to 15 by 15 by 15, which called on UK Athletics to win 15 conference or national championships, finish in the top 15 of Directors' Cup standings and achieve a cumulative student-athlete grade-point average of 3.0 by 2015.
It's called 1-3-5.
The goals are as simple as they are lofty.
1 - By the year 2022, Barnhart wants all of UK's 22 teams to win a conference or national championship.
3 - He's calling for a department-wide grade-point average of 3.0 for UK student-athletes each and every semester.
5 - Finally, he's asking UK Athletics to pursue a top-five Directors' Cup finish in the next seven seasons.
"This won't be easy," Barnhart said. "I know that. But 15 by 15 by 15 seemed just as ambitious seven years ago. We didn't let that stop us from pursuing greatness. We went after it anyway. Now, I challenge you to do the same with 1-3-5 because I know we can do it. I know we can become elite."
The word "elite" was a common thread throughout Barnhart's remarks.
The 13th-year athletics director reflected on the start of his UK tenure at the CATSPYs, commenting on the fan support and tradition that drew him to the job in the first place. UK, he said, was a good athletics department that embraced the task of becoming great.
Now it's about taking the next step.
"We're here to take on the challenge to go from great to elite," Barnhart said. "To me, being elite means we are in the conversation for the best athletics department in the country. Individually, it means each of us pursues being the best of ourselves."
Barnhart, an avid climber, likened UK's journey to elite status to scaling a mountain. "I've thought about this over the last month and I keep coming back to one of my greatest passions: mountain climbing," Barnhart said. "Becoming what we are today has been quite a climb already. It's brought us to within a few thousand feet of the summit, but those final few thousand feet of the climb are the toughest."
To make the final leg of the climb and reach the summit, Barnhart said everyone involved with UK Athletics will have to go to the next level, starting with the student-athletes.
"Are you committed to working, to becoming the best version of yourself?" Barnhart said. "You were brought here because you possess unique gifts. It's on you to develop them."
"Are you willing to embrace the expectations that come with being at Kentucky? The resources that go into supporting you, the facilities you play in and the fans that cheer you on demand excellence. It's on you to make it happen.
"Are you able to put yourself out there? You will never reach the heights you're capable of if you're not willing to make yourself uncomfortable. You're going to have to risk failure to succeed the way I know you can."
Barnhart, ever committed to the growth of UK student-athletes as people, was sure to point out the answers to those questions will determine more than just the department's success over the next five years.
"This is the start of your climb in life and this is the start of our climb to becoming elite," Barnhart said.
(1) Golden State Warriors def. (8) New Orleans Pelicans (Anthony Davis), 4-0
Despite 31.5 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks per game in Davis' postseason debut, the Pelicans were swept by the top-seeded Warriors. New Orleans stayed competitive in each contest, including in holding a 20-point fourth quarter lead that led to an overtime loss at home in Game 3. Golden State will face either the Memphis Grizzlies or the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round.
After playing just 10 minutes in Dallas' Game 2 loss in Houston, Rondo has been ruled out for the remainder of the postseason with a back injury. Meanwhile, Jones continues to thrive in the Rockets' starting lineup despite having played in only 33 games during an injury-riddled regular season. The 23-year-old has averaged 12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds over the series' first four games. Houston claimed the first three matchups by an eight-point average margin of victory, but failed to complete the series sweep Sunday night in Dallas. Game 5 will take place in Houston on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on TNT.
(5) Washington Wizards (John Wall) def. (4) Toronto Raptors (Patrick Patterson), 4-0
In a battle of former collegiate teammates, Wall's Wizards defeated Patterson's higher seeded Raptors 4-0 in Washington's first series sweep in franchise history. Wall led the way with an average of 17.3 points and 12.5 assists over the four-game stretch. Poor field-goal shooting notwithstanding, Wall made his living at the free-throw line with a 24-for-28 (.857) performance. Patterson shined for Toronto, posting a 10.3 scoring average (3.0 points higher than in the regular season) and a 7-for-15 (.467) three-point field goal total. Chuck Hayes, who is also on the Raptors roster, logged zero playoff minutes. The Wizards will face the winner of the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets in the second round.
(3) Chicago Bulls (Nazr Mohammed) vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks, CHI 3-1
Like Hayes and James Young (whose Boston Celtics were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs' opening round), the 17-year veteran Mohammed has not seen the floor this postseason. Game 5 in Chicago is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. on TNT.