The Sports Report: Nothing easy about Saint Peter’s miracle run
Howdy, I’m your host, Austin Knoblauch, filling in for Houston Mitchell, who’s probably busy crafting a homemade Freddie Freeman bobblehead. Let’s get right to the news.
From Bill Plaschke: Saint Cinderella shows up for its Elite Eight news conference in wrinkled practice jerseys, mismatched protective masks, and the widest eyes.
“It’s unthinkable,” says KC Ndefo.
Saint Cinderella is asked about the star center on upcoming opponent North Carolina, but says it has never heard of the guy.
“I don’t even know who Edey is,” says Hassan Drame.
Um, there is nobody on North Carolina named Edey.
“We don’t really know those names,” says Hassan’s twin brother, Fousseyni. “All we see is a player.”
Saint Cinderella is asked if it has fully realized what it’s accomplished, and it admits, no way.
“I’ll say it man, it’s a dream,” says coach Shaheen Holloway. “I don’t want to wake up, and these guys don’t want to wake up.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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In the past two weeks it is America that has been awakened, to the greatest underdog story in the NCAA tournament, to the most lovable tale in recent sports memory, to the miracle of Saint Peter’s.
“Yes, it’s a Cinderella story,” says Holloway, later adding, “Stories like this don’t really happen.”
They literally don’t really happen. The 15th-seeded Peacocks became the lowest seeded team in tournament history to advance to the Elite Eight with a stunning 67-64 victory over Purdue on Friday night at the rollicking Wells Fargo Center.
Saint Peter’s had already beaten heavily favored Kentucky and favored Murray State. With the victory over the heavily favored Boilermakers, the Peacocks unimaginably moved to within one game of the Final Four, that game being Sunday’s East Regional Finals here against the bluest of blue blood North Carolina.
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From Ben Bolch: Sequels rarely live up to the original.
UCLA ran it back with everyone from its 2021 Final Four run, only to careen into heartache two wins short of a return trip to college basketball’s biggest stage.
The antagonists from a season-ending loss to North Carolina in an East Region semifinal were numerous. Heroes from last season stumbled. Rotations that prioritized offense over defense were questionable. Perhaps, most importantly, the Bruins ran into another team that created its own destiny with wild shot-making and an acrobatic inbounds save that could replay in their minds for eternity.
In theory, next season could become the final chapter in a trilogy. Everyone on UCLA’s roster has remaining eligibility. Yet times change, people move on and newcomers arrive.
At least three players must leave to clear spots for freshmen Amari Bailey, Adem Bona and Dylan Andrews as part of a recruiting class ranked No. 8 nationally by 247Sports despite its relatively small size.
Seniors Cody Riley, Jules Bernard and David Singleton were honored before UCLA’s final home game, suggesting a farewell. But coach Mick Cronin said Singleton might return for the extra season of eligibility granted by the NCAA in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Elite Eight — Saturday’s results
No. 2 Villanova 50, No. 5 Houston 44
No. 2 Duke 78, No. 4 Arkansas 69
Today’s Elite Eight schedule
No. 10 Miami vs. No. 1 Kansas. 11:20 a.m., CBS
No. 15 Saint Peter’s vs. No. 8 North Carolina, 2:05 p.m., CBS
Sweet 16 — Saturday’s results
No. 1 North Carolina State 66, No. 5 Notre Dame 63
No. 1 Louisville 76, No. 4 Tennessee 64
No. 2 UConn 75, No. 3 Indiana 58
No. 3 Michigan 52, No. 10 South Dakota 49
Today’s Elite Eight schedule
No. 10 Creighton vs. No. 1 South Carolina, 4 p.m., ESPN
No. 2 Texas vs. No. 1 Stanford, 6 p.m., ESPN
Monday’s Elite Eight schedule
No. 2 UConn vs. No.1 North Carolina State, 4 p.m., ESPN
No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 1 Louisville, 6 p.m., ESPN
From Bill Shaikin: Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer is engaging in a “witch hunt” against the woman who accused him of sexual assault by pursuing an “unauthorized subpoena” for her cellphone records, attorneys for the woman argued in a court filing Friday.
In asking a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to throw out the subpoena, the attorneys claimed Bauer continues to fight in a restraining order case that was decided seven months ago and wrote: “Mr. Bauer’s harassing and abusive conduct in retaliation must stop.”
A hearing is set April 4. Bauer is on leave from the Dodgers through at least April 16.
The woman’s request for a restraining order was denied, and the Los Angeles County district attorney subsequently declined to charge Bauer with a crime. Major League Baseball can suspend Bauer for violating its sexual assault policy, even in the absence of any charges.
ALSO: Clayton Kershaw is tinkering with a changeup again. Is this the year he sticks with it?
From Broderick Turner: The crowd stood as one, chants of “De-fense … De-fense … De-fense” rising inside Smoothie King Center, the fans urging the New Orleans Pelicans to make one last stand against the San Antonio Spurs.
When the Pelicans forced San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray into a missed shot late in the fourth quarter of a tense two-point game, the fans erupted because they knew New Orleans had another opportunity. But when rookie guard Jose Alvarado missed a three-pointer, which then led to layup for San Antonio’s Keldon Johnson, the fans sighed.
As the Pelicans walked off the court, a tough defeat in hand, one fan could be heard saying, “That’s all right. We got the King, LeBron [James] coming to town tomorrow. Let’s get those Lakers.”
The fan was right. It was time for the Pelicans to move on. The Lakers are up next Sunday and positioning for the NBA’s play-in tournament is at stake when the two teams link up for an important Western Conference matchup.
The Pelicans’ 107-103 loss to the Spurs meant that the Lakers are currently the ninth seed in the West, half a game above 10th-seeded New Orleans. San Antonio is in 11th place after its third consecutive victory, one game behind the Pelicans.
From Kevin Baxter: In the last World Cup qualifying cycle five years ago, the U.S. went into its penultimate game, in Orlando, Fla., needing a win over Panama to all but ensure a spot in the tournament.
The Americans won that game, but four days later they lost in Trinidad and Tobago, setting off a chain of bizarre events that ended with the U.S. missing the World Cup for the first time in 32 years.
Gregg Berhalter remembers viewing that last game helplessly from his living room in Columbus, Ohio.
“I was on my couch watching it with a group of people,” he said Saturday. “And obviously we were disappointed with it.”
He’ll have a better view Sunday when, as coach of the national team, he’ll be on the sidelines as the U.S. again plays Panama in its penultimate qualifier of this cycle with a chance to get back to the World Cup.
But history, he said, won’t be on his mind or the minds of his players.
“I know there are similarities to last time,” he said “but we’re looking forward. I don’t think this is a group that looks back. We acknowledge what happened in the past; it’s part of who we are as the U.S. men’s national team.
“We have to forge your own path. And tomorrow’s a good time to do it.”
From Andrew Greif: The quiet was the first thing Clippers assistant coach Larry Drew noticed about Jason Preston last summer. It wasn’t until a month later, after the team left Las Vegas’ Summer League and returned to its Playa Vista training facility for offseason pickup games, that the second-round draft pick truly announced himself with a play that Drew still talks about, eyebrows raised, months later.
“The action hadn’t even developed,” Drew said. “But he saw it before it developed, and he made the play before it developed.”
Drew has coached NBA point guards for 30 years and played the position in the league for 10. Not every point guard can see the play before it develops, he said. But for Preston, confidence in his vision seemed to be hard-wired.
A high school benchwarmer who was not recruited out of prep school, Preston envisioned a future in basketball before anyone else saw such a career for him. After losing his mother to cancer at 15, he chose to see hope. Amid six months of recovery from an injury he never saw coming in late September, a wrong landing that virtually ended the rookie season he had fought so hard to reach before it began, he has taken the long view.
Rated the second-best passer in the draft class by the Clippers, Preston played so well during pickup runs that one staffer called him the most impressive of the team’s three rookies, “by far.”
“The way he was picking things apart, the way he was setting us up, he wasn’t playing checkers on the court,” veteran point guard Reggie Jackson said. “He was playing chess.”
From Ryan Kartje: If it weren’t for Dave Nichol, Lincoln Riley will tell you, he might not have made it as a college football coach.
It was Nichol who gave him his shot as a walk-on quarterback at Texas Tech and taught him the intricacies of the Air Raid offense. When Riley hung up his cleats to be a student assistant with the Red Raiders, it was Nichol who showed him the ropes, who answered his incessant questions, who taught him all that it meant to be a coach.
It was Nichol who first believed in him, and Riley would never forget that. When he was hired as USC’s coach in November, there was no doubt in Riley’s mind he’d ask Nichol to join the staff.
“Without him I really didn’t have any other ins into this business, and this business is hard to get into,” Riley said. “I look back on it now and think, ‘Man, had Dave not taken a vested interest in some no-name walk-on coming in there, I probably wouldn’t be here right now.’ So myself, my family, we really owe everything to the guy.”
Nichol, 45, died Friday after a battle with cancer, leaving behind a trail of coaches and players whose lives he’d touched along the way. That legacy would live on not only in Riley, but in so many other coaches Nichol met through a coaching career that took him to every corner of the country, from Lubbock, Texas, to Greenville, N.C., and finally to Los Angeles, where he’d spent the last four months as USC’s inside receivers coach.
From Jorge Castillo: It was 9:30 a.m. on a Friday, the morning after St. Patrick’s Day, and a man in a yellow dress shirt and brown tie was going berserk.
“Make it 10 again!” he yelled at one of the umpteen television screens around him. “Make it 10 again! No more easy baskets!”
Kevin Burkeen’s voice boomed through the hushed area, muting the persistent din of slot machines in the background. Seconds later, Ohio State scored a bucket to take a 31-21 lead over Loyola Chicago. Burkeen was shouting again.
“Double digits! I told you!”
Burkeen, 55, enjoys gambling on sports. Really enjoys it. He enjoys it so much he said he once moved three hours north to Bullhead City so he could frequently bet on games legally across the Colorado River in Nevada.
“I got a job at Denny’s just to have a job,” he said.
Burkeen doesn’t live in Bullhead City anymore. He said he moved back to the Phoenix area once sports gambling was legalized in Arizona. And he’s often at a sportsbook when he isn’t driving people for his limousine company.
On this day, after dropping off a client at a car auction nearby, he was inside Desert Diamond Casino, five miles from the Dodgers’ spring training home in the West Valley. He was there to place bets on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, living a gambler’s dream.
Several people were plopped down in La-Z-Boys stationed in front of a wall of televisions. Occasionally, a few would place bets at the kiosks along the wall. Employees in referee shirts, á la Foot Locker, roamed the area. Everyone was required to wear masks. The bar at the sportsbook hadn’t yet opened; the drinks would start pouring at noon.
“We finally got sports betting here, bro,” Burkeen said. “It’s about time.”
From Sam Farmer: The NFL is in a good place as owners head into their annual meetings this week.
Games are moving at a quicker pace. People are generally happy with instant replay. Onside kick recovery numbers are back up in an acceptable range. And heading into the final week of last season, 18 teams were still alive in the playoff race, tied for the second-most ever.
A problem is overtime rules, and those will be the primary focus as owners, coaches and executives convene to tinker with the game they love.
A pivotal moment came in the AFC playoffs, when Kansas City beat Buffalo 42-36, in an epic game that came to an abrupt end in the extra period when the Chiefs scored a touchdown on their opening possession. The football world bristled that the Bills never got a chance to touch the ball.
The odds are good of those situations happening with increased frequency, seeing as six of the final seven games in the postseason were decided by three points or fewer.
In the 12 overtime playoff games since the current rule took effect in 2010, the team that won the coin toss at the beginning of the extra period won all but two of those games — seven on the opening drive.
From the Associated Press: Jordan Spence scored his first NHL goal and captain Anze Kopitar had a goal and an assist in the Kings’ 4-2 victory over the Seattle Kraken on Saturday night.
Gabriel Vilardi scored his first goal in five months and Sean Durzi ended a 29-game goal drought for the Kings in their second win over the expansion Kraken this season.
Cal Petersen made 23 saves as Los Angeles solidified its hold on second place in the Pacific Division by earning at least a point for the ninth time in 12 games.
Daniel Sprong scored in his second straight game since joining Seattle, and Philipp Grubauer stopped 23 shots for the Kraken during their debut in downtown Los Angeles. Morgan Geekie tacked on another goal with four seconds to play.
From the Associated Press: Timo Meier had a hat trick, Marc-Edouard Vlasic added a goal, and the San Jose Sharks defeated the Ducks 4-1 on Saturday night.
James Reimer had 27 saves for San Jose, which sent the Ducks (27-29-11) to their ninth consecutive loss.
Meier scored his 28th, 29th and 30th goals this season to match a career high as the Sharks (29-28-8) won for the third time in four games after losing 18 of their previous 24.
Gerry Mayhew scored for the Ducks. Ducks rookie goalie Lukas Dostal turned back 19 shots in his fourth career appearance and third start.
THIS DATE IN SPORTS
1939 — Oregon beats Ohio State 46-33 in the NCAA’s first national basketball tournament.
1942 — Joe Louis knocks out Abe Simon in the sixth round at Madison Square Garden to retain his world heavyweight title.
1945 — Oklahoma A&M beats New York University 49-45 for the NCAA basketball championship.
1951 — Bill Spivey scores 22 points to lead Kentucky to a 68-58 win over Kansas State for the NCAA basketball title.
1960 — The Boston Celtics score a then NBA Finals record 76 points in the first half a 140-122 win over the St. Louis Hawks. Tom Heinsohn (24), Bill Sharman (23), Frank Ramsey (22) and Bob Cousy (20) each score 20-or-more points to win the series opener.
1971 — UCLA beats Villanova 68-62 for its fifth NCAA basketball title.
1978 — Jack Givens scores 41 points to lead Kentucky to a 94-88 victory over Duke for the NCAA basketball title.
1983 — Larry Holmes wins a unanimous 12-round decision over Lucien Rodriguez to retain his world heavyweight title in his hometown of Scranton, Pa.
2005 — Annika Sorenstam shoots a final-round 68 to finish at 15-under to win the Nabisco Championship by eight shots over Rosie Jones. It’s he 59th victory of the Swedish star’s LPGA Tour career — and her eighth major championship win.
2010 — Long shot Al Shemali wins the $5 million Dubai Duty Free, pulling away from a crowded field to pull off a surprisingly easy win in the Dubai World Cup. Al Shemali, at 40-1, starts slow then duels it out with Bankable before taking the lead for good.
2011 — Jamie Skeen scores 26 points as Virginia Commonwealth delivers the biggest upset of the NCAA tournament, a 71-61 win over No. 1 seed Kansas in the Southwest Regional final.
2014 — The Philadelphia 76ers tie the NBA record for futility with their 26th straight loss, falling 120-98 to the Houston Rockets. Philadelphia matches the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers for the NBA’s worst skid.
2017 — UConn’s women’s basketball team advance to its 10th consecutive Final Four with a 90-52 victory against Oregon. The victory moves coach Geno Auriemma past Pat Summitt for the most NCAA Tournament victories at 113.
USC football coach Lincoln Riley paid tribute to his friend and colleague Dave Nichol, who died at the age of 45 Friday, in a video he posted to social media. You can watch it here.
Until next time...
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