Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Stephen Curry, Sabrina Ionescu, Damian Lillard shine in NBA All-Star weekend dud; Ohio State stuns Purdue

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🏀 Good morning to everyone but especially …

THE OHIO STATE BUCKEYES AND THE NO. 1 UCONN HUSKIES

In a season full of upsets, UConn and Purdue had seemingly settled in as the top two teams. For the past five consecutive AP polls, they were No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. In Saturday morning’s bracket reveal, the Boilermakers actually edged the Huskies for the No. 1 overall seed.

Then Sunday happened. Four days after firing its coach, Ohio State topped the Boilermakers, 73-69, a remarkable debut for interim head coach Jake Diebler.

  • Bruce Thornton and Jamison Battle combined for 41 points, and the Buckeyes committed just six turnovers.
  • Purdue star Zach Edey had his customary big numbers — 22 points and 13 rebounds — but also had six turnovers. I was impressed by the Buckeyes’ game plan against him. Overall, Purdue had 14 turnovers, which Ohio State turned into 22 points. 
  • Ohio State entered the day 14-11 (4-10 Big Ten) and fired Chris Holtmann on Wednesday. Diebler — older brother of former Ohio State star Jon — became the first coach to beat a top-two team in his school debut since Steve Alford led Iowa to beat No. 1 UConn to open the 1999-2000 season.

A day earlier, UConn showed everyone it’s far and away the nation’s best team. The Huskies battered No. 4 Marquette, 81-53, the largest win in a conference game between two top-five teams ever. The offense is precise and full of versatility in every key aspect. The defense locked down an elite opposing attack.

Speaking of good defense, I wouldn’t classify No. 22 Kentucky‘s as that, but it’s certainly much improved. The Wildcats went into The Jungle and beat No. 13 Auburn, 70-59. The Tigers had won 16 straight at home, but a renewed defensive effort resulted in Kentucky’s best win this season, Matt Norlander writes.

  • Norlander: Ole Miss was a step in the right direction. Auburn is a leap. If John Calipari is going to pull off a late-season defensive turnaround, there can’t be major setbacks moving forward. Don’t expect THIS Kentucky defense every game, but at least we know it’s capable of winning in more than one style.”

Here’s more from the weekend.

😁 Honorable mentions

🥱 And not such a good morning for …

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THE NBA ALL-STAR WEEKEND

Wake me up when NBA All-Star Weekend ends.

Let’s start with the Dunk Contest, which is supposed to be the most exciting event. It wasn’t. Most of the dunks, and the judging of said dunks, underwhelmed. Mac McClung rightfully repeated as champion, but arguably the best dunk of the night — his unprecedented midair toss-and-catch slam — was woefully under-appreciated and nearly cost him a spot in the final. That was far from the only questionable call. Jaylen Brown making it out of the first round at all was … uh … generous. 

But the biggest issue? The contest is out of ideas, writes Sam Quinn.

  • Quinn:We’ve seen it all, and the ‘who’ wouldn’t change that. Maybe Ja Morant could jump from slightly further back. Maybe Anthony Edwards could make a slightly crazier spin. But ultimately, the problem with the Dunk Contest is that there isn’t much left that we haven’t already seen, and these events rely on novelty.”

Things weren’t much better in the Skills Competition, where Edwards didn’t even shoot with his dominant hand. And while the 3-Point Contest delivered with Damian Lillard capturing his second straight title in Dame Time fashion, the real winner of the night was Stephen Curry vs. Sabrina Ionescu in their own 3-point competition.

Curry won, 29-26, but the result was far less important than the fact that it happened at all. Both contestants really cared and had a blast competing. It was fun, it was cool, it was something we should see more in the future. Sam has ideas on potential matchups.

It’s no coincidence the best event of the weekend was two players organized. The “traditional” events were milquetoast at best.

That was confirmed by the All-Star “Game” on Sunday night. Hours after Larry Bird urged the players to actually try, they didn’t. The Eastern Conference beat the Western Conference with a score that more resembled Indianapolis 500 speed trial times — 211-186. Unlike in previous iterations, players didn’t even reach the low bar of trying in the fourth quarter because the East took a 24-point lead into the final frame.

Lillard continued his hot shooting, scoring 39 points and becoming the first player to win All-Star Game MVP and the 3-point contest in the same weekend. The weekend’s biggest winner might be the Bucks, who will hope this springboards Lillard to better shooting — he’s at just 34% on 3-pointers this season.

The losers were the people who watched the festivities. Unlike Lillard, they were full of misses, duds and the same old frustrations this weekend continues to produce.

😔 Not so honorable mentions

🏌 Hideki Matsuyama rallies, makes history to win Genesis Invitational

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Hideki Matsuyama wasn’t among the headliners on the first three days of the Genesis Invitational. Tiger Woods withdrew. Jordan Spieth was disqualified. Will Zalatoris won a car with a hole-in-one. Nor was Matsuyama among the leaders entering the final round, as he trailed Patrick Cantlay by six strokes.

That all changed on a magnificent Sunday. Matsuyama fired a 9-under 62 — the lowest final round in the history of Riviera Country Club — to win the Genesis Invitational by three strokes.

At one point Sunday, Matsuyama was one of five golfers tied at 14-under. A wild finish beckoned. Instead, Matsuyama’s great round turned historic as he birdied 15, 16 and 17. His putting was terrific all tournament, but he hardly needed the flat stick down the stretch: He hit his approach on 15 to 8 inches and his tee shot on 16 to 6 inches.

Matsuyama’s $4 million payday is the largest of his career, and his ninth PGA Tour win adds to a strong trophy case, Patrick McDonald notes.

  • McDonald: “Matsuyama’s win at Riviera adds to an impressive résumé of triumphs at some of the nation’s top courses: Augusta National, Muirfield Village, Firestone Country Club. The 31-year-old now holds a major championship, two World Golf Championships and a signature event to his name. … Matsuyama’s final round was reminder enough of the type of golfer — and champion — he can be. Grade: A+

👊 UFC 298: Ilia Topuria knocks out Alexander Volkanovski for featherweight title

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Ilia Topuria talked the talk and walked the walk. Now, he wants more. The 27-year-old knocked out longtime featherweight title holder Alexander Volkanovski in the second round to claim the title for himself.

Topuria took the post-fight spotlight to call out Conor McGregor. We’ll never say never, but that seems like a long shot, so Shakiel Majouri has other options for Topuria’s next opponent.

While we wait for future plans, it’s clear Topuria has star potential, Brian Campbell writes.

  • Campbell: “Topuria is clearly a different breed as he broke typical fighter protocol during fight week by posing for pictures with the championship belt before the bout and boldly predicted an early knockout. It was the fact that his precision and technique were just as dangerous as his fight-ending power that Topuria was able to command the center of the cage against a former pound-for-pound king and have him backpedaling throughout with such noticeable unease.”

Here’s more:

📺 What we’re watching Monday

🏒. Maple Leafs at Blues, 1 p.m. on ESPN
🏒 Red Wings at Kraken, 3:30 p.m. on ESPN
🏎 Daytona 500, 4 p.m. on Fox
🏀 Colgate at Lafayette (M), 6 p.m. on CBS Sports Network
🏀 No. 21 Virginia at Virginia Tech (M), 7 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 No. 16 Notre Dame at Duke (W), 7 p.m. on ESPN2
🏀 No. 13 LSU at Texas A&M (W), 7 p.m. on SEC Network
🏀 No. 10 Iowa State at No. 3 Houston (M), 9 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Kansas State at Texas (M), 9 p.m. on ESPN2

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