The Sports Report: Bobby Wagner looking to be a big hit in L.A.
Howdy, I’m your host, Austin Knoblauch, filling in for Houston Mitchell, who’s probably tuning his trash can for the Angels’ home opener on April 7. Let’s get right to the news.
Inside linebacker Bobby Wagner always was top of mind for Rams coach Sean McVay whenever he schemed against the NFC West rival.
McVay no longer must worry about the six-time All-Pro disrupting the Rams’ offense during division games and NFC playoff matchups.
Wagner on Thursday agreed to terms with the Rams on a five-year contract, the team announced. Terms were not disclosed but the deal it is worth $50 million according to several reports.
Wagner joins the defending Super Bowl champion Rams and a defense that includes seven-time All-Pro lineman Aaron Donald, who is due to receive a new contract, and three-time All-Pro Jalen Ramsey, the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback.
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“Inspiration & motivation This defense will be elite at all 3 levels, I’m claiming it,” Ramsey tweeted.
Wagner, 31, grew up in the Inland Empire and attended Ontario Colony High before playing at Utah State. He was a mainstay for the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” defense and teams that won Super Bowl XLVIII at the end of the 2013 season and advanced to the Super Bowl the next season.
Last season, the 6-foot, 242-pound Wagner was voted to the Pro Bowl for the eighth consecutive season. But the Seahawks, in an apparent salary purge, released him in March shortly after they traded veteran quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos.
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From Dan Woike: Needing wins in the most desperate way, fighting an uphill schedule and a ticking clock, normally Frank Vogel would’ve found comfort in the recipe he and the Lakers had employed.
Twice, in some of their best basketball of the season, the Lakers have used one of basketball’s best weapons — LeBron James — to play Utah center Rudy Gobert off the court.
But with a heavily-oiled grip on 10th place in the West, Vogel felt none of that comfort before Thursday’s game with the Jazz, James not even in the same state as the Lakers as he worked to recover from his sprained ankle.
Instead, here they were again, Vogel using his 37th -different starting lineup on the season in an effort to find something that could help overcome the team’s injury issues.
The Jazz beat the latest grouping of Lakers 122-109, Vogel forced to use Trevor Ariza with Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook, Malik Monk and Stanley Johnson with the team’s two best players still unavailable.
It’s the team’s fourth straight loss and the seventh time the Lakers have been on a losing streak since the last one in early January.
From Andrew Greif: In the afterglow of Paul George’s spectacular return after a three-month layoff, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue had something else on his mind: an apology.
Lue said he sought out starting forward Marcus Morris Sr., who had made just one of his six shots in Tuesday’s win against Utah and failed to make a three-pointer for a fourth consecutive game, to say that he needed to do a better job putting Morris in better positions to help offensively, a need that was especially needed with Jackson and George dominating touches.
“I told him I got to do a better job of keeping him in the flow of the rhythm of the game, which I didn’t do,” Lue said Thursday. “Everybody was excited to get PG back and see what he can do. And he played great. But still, we need Reggie [Jackson] and Marcus to also play well.”
Morris exceeded Tuesday’s scoring within minutes Thursday in Chicago’s United Center, his scoring getting the Clippers off to their best offensive first quarter in almost four weeks. Then Jackson’s big offensive night helped push their lead to 16. And George, despite a shooting performance that wasn’t as efficient as Tuesday’s 34-point reminder of his offensive gifts, scored nine fourth-quarter points, including two free throws with 11 seconds left to put the Clippers up three.
Unless — or perhaps until — Norman Powell and Kawhi Leonard, who watched Thursday from the sideline in a White Sox hat, return this season, the Clippers’ offense and playoff potential hinges on the output of its trio of veterans, George, Morris and Jackson. Thursday offered evidence each can have their moment in the same game — and also the mistakes of focus, execution or both that unraveled all of it.
Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan scored a season-high 50 points in a 135-130 Bulls victory that seemed out of reach until the Clippers froze in the final seconds. It was only their fifth loss in 32 games this season when leading entering the fourth quarter.
Instead, the team was still in Arizona, trying to work through the kinks of a shortened spring training that manager Dave Roberts acknowledged has been a mixed bag of performances.
“Individually, there have been some guys that have had good camps. But overall, it just needs to get better. We’ll see where we’re at. The season isn’t going to wait for us.”
With barely a week to go before the club’s new opening day — on April 8 in Denver against the Rockies — here are five observations on where the team stands.
1. Bellinger ‘progressing’ with new swing
After watching the former MVP struggling with swing changes for most of the spring, Dodgers coaches finally saw some positive signs from Cody Bellinger this week. In a game Wednesday, he snapped a four-game hitless streak with a bloop single into shallow left field, but more important, he barreled up a well-struck grounder in his next at-bat.
“I think he’s found a consistent setup and stance, and now he just needs to get the repetitions,” Roberts said Wednesday, before adding on Thursday morning: “It’s a work in progress, but the main thing is we have Cody’s buy-in and understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish together.”
On Thursday, Dodgers hitting coaches Brant Brown and Robert Van Scoyoc echoed that optimism.
From Mike DiGiovanna: It took only a few days with his new club for Angels pitcher Noah Syndergaard to grasp the eminence of Shohei Ohtani, the two-way phenom who was a unanimous choice for American League most valuable player last season.
“Man, the aura around him … ” Syndergaard said during the first week of spring training. “You can definitely tell that there’s a greatness to his presence.”
Syndergaard saw the highlights from 2021 and marveled at Ohtani’s freakish ability to throw a baseball 100 mph and hit one 450 feet. He was in awe of the numbers Ohtani posted in what was arguably the greatest all-around season in baseball history.
And this spring, after signing a one-year, $21-million deal with the Angels in November, Syndergaard got a look under the hood at the engine that drives Ohtani, a work ethic that has become almost legendary and is fueling what seems like an impossible dream for 2022:
That Ohtani can be even better.
“I know how he’s wired, how he’s built, and it’s different,” Angels general manager Perry Minasian said of the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Ohtani. “It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“He accomplished a lot of the things he wanted to accomplish [last] season, and I know these are lofty expectations, and I know this sounds crazy, but I still think there’s another gear in there, another level. As amazing as last year was, I think he can reach higher levels.”
She danced. Then the Olympic silver medalist stuck her bars dismount.
Postseason pressure rattled other top teams, but No. 14 UCLA danced, chanted and smiled its way to Saturday’s NCAA regional final by winning its semifinal round in Raleigh, N.C., on Thursday. With a 197.8, the Bruins notched their second-best score of the season in a wire-to-wire victory over defending national champion Michigan (197.4), Maryland (196.025) and North Carolina (195.15).
“We have known that we can do this,” coach Chris Waller said. “We have trained like this. … To have the team put a day together like this, it’s a huge celebration for them and all the work that they put in.”
Now the Bruins have to do it again.
Scores reset for Saturday’s regional final, which will feature No. 3 Michigan, No. 11 Missouri and Iowa. The top two finishers advance to the NCAA championships in Fort Worth on April 14-16.
The Bruins inched closer to nationals before even competing Thursday night. No. 6 Louisiana State, the second-ranked team in the eight-team regional, failed to advance out of the first semifinal. LSU’s third-place finish left one fewer ranked team in UCLA’s path toward nationals.
UCLA WOMEN’S BASKETBALL
From Marisa Ingemi: In a season marked by adversity, UCLA’s disappointment became opportunity. Even as the season ended on Thursday in the WNIT Final Four, the Bruins held optimism through the perseverance of a difficult season.
The Bruins trailed with seconds left at South Dakota State and could force overtime, as they did in Wyoming less than a week ago in a three-overtime thriller.
The Bruins didn’t make that final shot this time and lost 62-59 to end their season.
“We used that [experience], in several timeouts,” Bruins coach Cori Close said. “‘We’ve been here so many times, we’ll be fine.’ There was never that panic. ... In steadiness and poise, there was no difference this game than the game in Wyoming or at Oregon State.”
Close described the last two seasons as the hardest of her career, and for her players, with COVID taking away five of their games this season, and several injury problems.
That adversity became a comfort zone for the Bruins. Dealing with three road games in some of the toughest gyms in the league in the WNIT was just another challenge they didn’t shy away from.
“We always say, lean into the hard,” Close said. “That’s when you grow the most.”
From J. Brady McCollough: The last time Chip Kelly stood in front of a microphone and answered questions about his UCLA football program, it was late December, and the Bruins were one day away from playing North Carolina State in the Holiday Bowl.
Kelly, who had led UCLA to its first winning season since 2015, still did not know if he would be back for a fifth season, even after an 8-4 campaign that included a 62-33 demolition of rival USC at the Coliseum. The assumption was that the Holiday Bowl would be quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s last college game, and there was certainly a chance that star running back Zach Charbonnet would be joining him in the NFL draft.
Of course, the bowl game would be canceled due to issues with COVID-19 within the UCLA program, leading to some mild controversy. But ultimately, the Bruins were stripped of a major opportunity to put an exclamation point on a 2021 season that felt restorative to some UCLA fans but still somewhat lacking to others.
UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond clearly decided it was good enough, announcing in January that Kelly and the school had agreed to a four-year contract extension that would pay him $22 million during that period (per year, that would be less than the $5.6 million he was paid in 2021).
Kelly stepped back in front of reporters once again Thursday morning before UCLA’s second spring practice, and, in his mind, not much had changed since he and the school renewed their commitment to each other.
Alex Iafallo and Viktor Arvidsson scored in regulation for the Kings, who moved to within five points of Pacific Division-leading Calgary and increased their second-placed lead over Edmonton to three points. The Flames have three games in hand.
Johnny Gaudreau and Erik Gudbranson scored for Calgary, which lost consecutive games for the first time since early January. After a stretch of winning 15 of 17 home games, Calgary has won only two of its last six (2-2-2) at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
The Kings and Flames meet again in at Crypto.com Arena on Monday night.
Andersson was the Kings’ first player in the shootout and scored by squeezing a shot through Jacob Markstrom’s pads as he cut in off the wing. The goal stood as the winner with Petersen denying Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk and Gaudreau.
After giving up six goals in his last start, Petersen rebounded with a terrific performance to improve to 19-11-1. During one stretch in the first period, he kicked out a pad to get a toe on Backlund’s shot, then stretched out his glove to deny Blake Coleman on the rebound.
From Michael Finnegan and Bill Shaikin: Five men have agreed to plead guilty to federal crimes for their roles in an illegal Southern California sports betting operation that took wagers from professional athletes, authorities said Thursday.
The ring was led by Wayne Nix, 45, a former pitcher in the Oakland Athletics minor league system who lives in Newport Beach.
Around 2001, Nix started using his professional sports contacts to build a gambling business, developing a client list that included unnamed professional athletes, the former ballplayer admitted in court papers.
It eventually expanded into a major enterprise that employed three former Major League Baseball players as agents who recruited bettors. Password-protected accounts were set up for clients to place bets on a website run by Sand Island Sports, a company based in Costa Rica. Betting on the outcome of sporting events is legal in some states, but not California.
Nix acknowledged receiving $245,000 from a professional football player and $4,000 from a Major League Baseball coach, in both cases to cover gambling losses in 2016. Both were unnamed in the court records.
Another client placed a $5-million bet on the 2019 Super Bowl in Atlanta, where the New England Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Rams. A few weeks later, Nix agreed in a text exchange to reactivate the account of a sports broadcaster who told him he was refinancing his home mortgage so he could repay his gambling debts.
Nix said he also let the business manager of a professional basketball player bet up to $25,000 per NBA game.
Saturday’s Final Four schedule (all times PDT)
No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 1 Kansas, 3:09 p.m., TBS
No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Duke, 5:49 p.m., TBS
Friday’s Final Four schedule (all times PDT)
No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 1 South Carolina, 4 p.m., ESPN
No. 2 UConn vs. No. 1 Stanford, 6:30 p.m., ESPN
On this date
1938 — Joe Louis knocks out Harry Thomas in the fifth round in Chicago to retain his world heavyweight title.
1940 — Governor Herbert Lehman of New York signs the Dunnigal bill, which legalizes pari-mutuel wagering and outlaws bookmakers at the state’s racetracks.
1972 — The first collective player’s strike in major league history begins at 12:01 a.m. The strike lasts 12 days and cancels 86 games.
1973 — Boston’s John Havlicek connects on 24 field goals and finishes with 54 points the Celtics defeat Atlanta, 134-109, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
1984 — Southern Cal beats Tennessee 72-61 for the NCAA women’s basketball title.
1985 — Villanova shocks Georgetown with a 66-64 victory to win the NCAA basketball title. The Wildcats, led by Dwayne McClain’s 17 points, shot 79 percent from the field, making 22 of 28 shots, and added 22 of 27 free throws.
1989 — Jim McAllister of Glassboro State hits four home runs and drives in nine runs in four at-bats in a 21-5 five-inning rout of Delaware State.
1990 — Betsy King holds on for a two-stroke victory over Kathy Postlewait to win the LPGA Dinah Shore tournament.
1991 — Duke ends years of frustration with a 72-65 victory over Kansas for its first national title in five championship game appearances and nine trips to the Final Four.
1992 — A week before the Stanley Cup playoffs are set to begin, the NHL players strike for the first time in the league’s 75-year history. The strike lasts 10 days.
1996 — Kentucky wins its first national title in 18 years with a 76-67 victory over Syracuse.
2000 — Michelle Kwan wins her third World Figure Skating title by pushing through all seven triple jumps. The triple toe-triple toe lifts Kwan above Russians Irina Slutskaya and last year’s champion, Maria Butyrskaya.
2002 — With Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter leading the way, Maryland wins its first national championship with a 64-52 victory over Indiana.
2007 — Morgan Pressel becomes the youngest major champion in LPGA Tour history with a game well beyond her 18 years, closing with a 3-under 69 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Pressel plays her final 25 holes over Mission Hills without a bogey as Suzann Pettersen blew a four-shot lead with four holes to play.
2011 — Jarome Iginla scores his second goal of the game with 5:03 left to reach 1,000 points and help Calgary rally to beat St. Louis 3-2.
2018 — Arike Ogunbowale hits a 3-pointer with a tenth of a second left to give Notre Dame a 61-58 win over Mississippi State and its first women’s national championship since 2001. Notre Dame, trailing 30-17 at halftime, pulls off the biggest comeback in title game history, rallying from a 15-point deficit in the third quarter and a five-point deficit in the final 1:58.
The Forum in Inglewood has a new name. Staff writer Kenan Draughorne has everything you need to know about the name change to the one-time home of the L.A. Strings, Aztecs, Lazers and Blades (oh, and the Lakers, Clippers, Kings and Sparks).
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