The Sports Report: USC escapes with last-second win over Washington State

Boogie Ellis had 21 points in the game.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

From Ryan Kartje: Such little had gone according to plan through this maddening mess of a Sunday matinee, from its copious scoring slumps to the umpteen opportunities blown by both teams, but 39 minutes and 40 seconds of slogging through one of its stranger games in recent memory had still left USC with Boogie Ellis dribbling near mid-court, and the final seconds ticking down in a tied game the Trojans had, for most of the afternoon, tried their best to squander.

So many other chances had already slipped from their grasp Sunday that each of those final seconds passed in anxious succession, the whole of Galen Center holding its breath. Even Ellis had missed a baseline jumper just 30 seconds earlier to take the lead. But after a strange, sloppy afternoon, all No. 17 USC needed was for one final shot to fall, hopefully erasing the mostly unpleasant affair that came before it.


That final shot, too, seemed destined to miss when Ellis lifted off, fading away at the free throw line with little space to operate between Washington State defenders. It even clanked off the back iron before falling fortuitously forward into the hoop, allowing USC to escape amid the mess with a 62-60 victory over Washington State.

“We were fortunate to pull this one out,” USC coach Andy Enfield said.

For Ellis, it wasn’t so much good fortune as intestinal fortitude. It was the particular kind of big moment he’d talked all season of having at USC, one that would help cement his place in his new program. The transfer from Memphis had been a steadying hand for the Trojans all season, but no performance was arguably more important this season than the one he put together Sunday.

Ellis scored a season-high 21 points, capping the heroic performance with his first-ever buzzer beater. It couldn’t have come at a better time for USC, which now faces three of the Pac-12’s top four teams over its final four regular season games.

“We live for those moments,” Ellis said of his shot.


The USC women’s basketball team fell out of step with visiting Colorado and took a 67-54 loss to the Buffaloes in the Trojans’ final home game of the season. USC goes to 11-14 overall and to 4-11 in Pac-12 play, while Colorado improves to 18-7, 7-7.

Colorado made five first-half three-pointers and led it 35-27 at halftime.


How Tyler Hilinski’s former teammates champion mental-health services

Enjoying this newsletter? Consider subscribing to the Los Angeles Times

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Become a subscriber.



From David Wharton: After nearly three weeks, both joyous and problematic, this city had reason to celebrate with golden fireworks exploding across the black sky above the stadium known as the Bird’s Nest.

The Winter Olympics had delivered Nathan Chen’s redemptive victory in figure skating and Norway’s record-breaking run, among other highlights. The host country’s newest superstar, Eileen Gu, had won three medals.

“I’m so grateful to China for everything they’ve done for this event,” the new superstar of freestyle skiing said. “I think that this is a monumental moment.”

As children carried traditional lanterns across the stadium floor, dancing beneath a giant snowflake, Sunday’s closing ceremony rejoiced in the fact that thousands of athletes had convened from around the world with no significant coronavirus outbreak. Amid dire predictions, a strict “closed-loop” system had pushed daily cases to zero by the end.

“The success of the countermeasures means the success of the Games,” an organizing committee official said.

But for all the obvious triumphs in Beijing, these Olympics never escaped dark clouds that loomed overhead from the start.


No blazing downhill run could fully distract from China’s troubling human rights record. No hockey shootout could offset what happened in women’s figure skating, a premier event besmirched by doping allegations and scenes of a crestfallen young athlete harangued by her coach.

“I was very, very disturbed,” said Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee. “It was chilling to see this.”


Stephen Curry got another three-point record. LeBron James got another All-Star win.

Not a bad night in Ohio for the two All-Stars from Akron.

Curry turned boos to oohs and aahs with the greatest long-distance shooting performance in All-Star Game history, then James made a turnaround jumper that gave Team LeBron a 163-160 victory over Team Durant on Sunday night.

Curry made 16 three-pointers and scored 50 points, two off Anthony Davis’ record. He was clearly hunting it, asking on the sideline during a sizzling third quarter what the record was.

“It’s pretty special, obviously being back in Ohio,” Curry said, seconds after being handed the inaugural Kobe Bryant MVP Trophy. “The trophy is very special. Very humble, very blessed.”


He missed his final three-point attempt that would have allowed him to surpass Davis. But with James’ team needing a basket to reach the target score of 163 points, they couldn’t afford to keep feeding Curry.

So James pulled up from deep on the right side for the winning bucket, making him 5-0 in the format where the leading vote-getters in each conference draft teams.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 30 points, and James finished with 24 in his old home. Joel Embiid led Team Durant with 36 points.


NBA All-Star weekend PSA: LeBron James is the Kid from AKRON, not Cleveland

Smith: I promise, this is the real story of how LeBron James is saving Akron


From Mike DiGiovanna: A Genesis Invitational tournament that began with a first-shot salute to Charlie Sifford ended with a 23-year-old rising star from Chile matching a rare feat last accomplished by the trailblazing Sifford more than five decades ago.


Joaquin Niemann sank his mitts deep into the iconic Riviera Country Club course on Thursday and did not let go, shooting an even-par 71 on Sunday to fend off the late-charging Collin Morikawa and the pesky Cameron Young and become the first wire-to-wire winner at Riviera since Sifford in 1969.

With fans packing the natural amphitheater green on the 18th hole, Niemann tapped in for par for a two-shot victory over Morikawa, the La Cañada Flintridge native and second-ranked golfer in the world, and Young, a rookie vying for his first PGA win.

Niemann, who earned $2.16 million with his second career PGA Tour victory, pumped his right fist, hugged his caddie and hurled his ball into the crowd, the look on his face a mixture of joy and relief.

“When I finished, it was like, ‘Hell yeah, it took forever, we’re finally done and I can have a smile on my face and just think about it like it was a fun day,’ ” said Niemann, whose 19-under-par score of 265 was one short of Lanny Wadkins’ course record 264 in 1985. “Oh my God, this weekend took forever. It felt like a month.”


From Ben Bolch: His team forced to play practically every other day, UCLA coach Mick Cronin wasn’t going to take it sitting down.

He sat a player as a countermeasure.

Cody Riley was the first Bruin to get a new kind of DNP-CD — Did Not Play-Coach’s Defiance. Cronin called it load management in a term familiar to NBA fans accustomed to seeing their favorite players shut down to manage their workload.


Cronin also limited starting guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. to 17 minutes and used his bench liberally Saturday night at Pauley Pavilion during the No. 13 Bruins’ 76-50 victory over Washington. Nobody played more than David Singleton’s 31 minutes off the bench, time the UCLA guard put to good use by scoring a career-high 22 points.

It was effective pushback against a late-season schedule in which the Bruins are in the midst of playing six games in 12 days after two games were added because of earlier COVID-19 disruptions. Cronin made it clear last week that he wasn’t pleased with what he called the hypocrisy of Pac-12 officials claiming to prioritize mental health while also making students endure such a busy stretch of games.


The UCLA women’s basketball team (11-11, 6-8) lost, 75-70, to Utah (16-9, 7-6) in a Pac-12 game played in Pauley Pavilion. It was the last regular season home contest for eight Bruins – Chantel Horvat, Kayla Owens, Kiara Jefferson, Gina Conti, Natalie Chou, IImar’I Thomas, Jaelynn Penn and Eliana Sigal. Thomas led a trio of UCLA seniors in double-digits with 20 points and added nine rebounds. Chou chipped in with 15 points and Penn totaled 11.


From Megan Garcia: Heading into the WNBA free-agency period, Derek Fisher knew which pieces of the puzzle were needed to put the Sparks back on course for a championship quest.

The coach and general manager had several issues to address after missing the playoffs in 2021: improve three-point shooting, reinforce defensive leverage and establish a veteran presence.

Players voiced their desires to be a championship-caliber team following their 12-20 record last season. Fisher had a two-year plan to revitalize the team following Candace Parker’s departure, but injuries to sisters Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver were roadblocks in the first leg of that journey.


So, with the front office’s sights set on myriad free agents and players available in trades, the newly acquired reinforcements rapidly formed one of the deepest rosters in the WNBA.

The offseason additions of Liz Cambage, Jordin Canada, Katie Lou Samuelson and Chennedy Carter have significantly bolstered an organization with three WNBA titles and high expectations, to realize another championship is in the realm of possibility.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play for the Sparks,” Canada said. “I never knew when it would happen. I knew that I wanted it to happen at some point in my career, I just didn’t know when.”


From Kevin Baxter: the young, retooling United States women’s national soccer team finally found its footing Sunday, thumping New Zealand 5-0 in a SheBelieves Cup game in which it benefited from three first-half own goals by Kiwi defender Meikayla Moore.

In the second game, unbeaten Iceland downed the Czech Republic 2-1. Iceland and the U.S. will play for the tournament title Wednesday in suburban Dallas.

The U.S. had the oldest team in last summer’s Tokyo Olympics, and it looked its age in stumbling to a bronze medal. So last fall, coach Vlatko Andonovski began refreshing his roster in preparation for the July tournament in Mexico that serves as qualifying for the 2023 World Cup Cup and the 2024 Olympics.


That process continued this winter, with the players he started in the SheBelieves opener last week averaging 25 years of age, the youngest lineup for the women’s national team in almost four years. They rewarded Andonovski with a disjointed, inefficient and ultimately scoreless draw against the Czech Republic, the Americans’ fifth goalless effort in their last 13 games and their second shutout at home since 2007.

Sunday’s lineup was a mix of veterans and youngsters, and the difference was noticeable. Playing before a friendly, sun-bathed crowd of 16,587 at Dignity Health Sports Park, the U.S. controlled the ball for 52 of the 90 minutes, outshot New Zealand 19-6 and outpassed it by an even wider margin.

The coach’s reaction?

“We still have a lot of areas to build on,” he said.


Austin Cindric drove his brand new NASCAR ride to victory in the Daytona 500 to celebrate team owner Roger Penske’s 85th birthday.

“Oh, my God. I’ve got so many people to thank,” a stunned Cindric said after climbing from his car and saluting the capacity crowd of some 120,000 spectators.

“First and foremost Roger Penske, happy birthday!”

Cindric drove a masterful race at Daytona International Speedway and the Ford drivers synched their strategy all week, then executed their plan to perfection Sunday night. The blue oval drivers pushed each other over 500 miles and were bunched together for the final restart in overtime.

Cindric was the leader on the restart from the top lane and pulled out to a sizable gap. He then ducked down to the bottom line in front of his Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney so that Blaney and Cindric could work together over the final two-lap sprint to the finish.


Blaney on the final lap made his move for the lead, and Bubba Wallace ducked low for his own look at the front. Cindric slid up to block Blaney, but still had to hold Wallace off in a drag race.

“Appreciate Ryan being a great teammate,” Cindric said. “Obviously, he wants to win this one.”


1931 — In the first major league night game, the Chicago White Sox play the New York Giants in a 10-inning exhibition in Houston.

1952 — The Boston Celtics and the Fort Wayne Pistons tip off at midnight in a “Milkman’s Special” following an Ice Follies performance at Boston Garden. Bob Cousy of the Celtics scores 24 points before 2,368 fans in a 88-67 win.

1952 — Dick Button performs the first triple jump in a figure skating competition.

1953 — In college basketball’s longest game, Niagara beats Siena 88-81 in six overtimes.

1960 — Philadelphia Warriors rookie Wilt Chamberlain sets an NBA record with his fourth 50-point game of the season, scoring 58 in a 129-122 victory over the New York Knicks.

1970 — Bobby Hull scores two goals, including the 500th of his career, in the Chicago Blackhawks’ 4-2 win over the New York Rangers.


1970 — Pete Maravich of LSU scores 64 points in a 121-105 loss to Kentucky. Dan Issel scores 51 for the Wildcats.

1976 — New York’s Red Holzman becomes the second NBA coach, after Red Auerbach, to win 500 games with a 102-98 victory over New Orleans.

1992 — Kristi Yamaguchi wins America’s first Olympic gold medal in women’s figure skating since 1976. Midori Ito of Japan takes the silver and Nancy Kerrigan of the United States wins bronze.

1996 — The Philadelphia 76ers have the worst NBA offensive performance in 41 years in their 66-57 loss to Miami. The 76ers tie the record for fewest points, set Feb. 27, 1955, by Milwaukee in a 62-57 loss to Boston during the first season of the 24-second clock.

2002 — In Salt Lake City, U.S. figure skater Sarah Hughes jumps from fourth to first to win the Olympic gold while teammate Michelle Kwan settles for bronze. The powerful U.S. women’s hockey team loses 3-2 in a gold-medal game to a Canadian team it had beaten eight consecutive times.

2003 — Michael Jordan becomes the first 40-year-old in NBA history to score 40 or more points, getting 43 in the Washington Wizards’ 89-86 win over the New Jersey Nets.


2014 — Mikaela Shiffrin becomes the youngest Olympic slalom gold medalist. The 18-year-old American is 0.53 seconds faster than Austria’s Marlies Schild.

Supplied by the Associated Press

And finally

Mikaela Shiffrin wins slalom gold in 2014. Watch and listen here.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.