Friday, April 19, 2024
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Caitlin Clark, Iowa advance after grueling second round; Shohei Ohtani addresses betting scandal

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🏀 Good morning to everyone but especially …

THE WOMEN’S SWEET 16

Bumped, bruised and bloodied — and far from their best — Caitlin Clark and top-seeded Iowa are onto the Sweet 16 after earning a gritty 64-54 win over No. 8 seed West Virginia.

Clark scored 32 points, but those eight field goals did not come easily. The Division-I all-time leading scorer — whose 1,113 points this season are also now a single-season record — was hounded all night by an aggressive, physical Mountaineer defense. She shot 8 for 22 (5 of 14 from 3), had six turnovers and just three assists. Jack Maloney wonders if the Mountaineers put together a game plan others can try to replicate — Iowa’s 64 points were its fewest in a win this season.

But March is about surviving above all else, and the Hawkeyes did just that. They made 25 of 30 free throws compared to just three of five for West Virginia, and endured challenge after challenge. West Virginia tied the game three times, including at 52 with under three minutes left. Then a Gabbie Marshall block on a Mountaineers’ 3-point attempt led to Sydney Offalter converting an and-one, and the Hawkeyes never looked back.

Later Monday, top-seeded USC ensured all four No. 1 seeds would reach the Sweet 16, pulling away from No. 8 seed Kansas for a 73-55 win behind 28 points and 11 rebounds from JuJu Watkins. Also heading to the second weekend is No. 3 seed UConn, which beat No. 6 seed Syracuse, 72-64, behind 32 points and 10 rebounds from Paige Bueckers. Jack says Bueckers has not only reclaimed her superstardom but has become the clear favorite to go No. 1 in the 2025 draft. 

So, yeah, the stars shined bright. So did the top teams, like South Carolina, Iowa — and those Pac-12 schools that are going to rep the conference until someone turns off the lights, notes Isabel Gonzalez in her winners and losers from the first two rounds.

  • Gonzalez: “The conference has the best winning percentage in the women’s tournament with a 12-2 record after the second round. This is the last season of the conference as we know it and it has been quite the farewell tour. The Pac-12 got seven teams in the NCAA Tournament, which tied a conference record. Also, for the first time in Pac-12 history, three teams were seeded No. 2 or better. “

😃 Honorable mentions

🏀 And not such a good morning for …

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JONTAY PORTER AND THE NBA

Raptors forward Jontay Porter is under investigation by the NBA due to multiple instances of betting irregularities.

The NBA is looking into two particular instances: Jan. 26 against the Clippers and March 20 against the Kings.

  • On Jan. 26, in a game vs. the Clippers, Porter’s over/under prop bet totals were set at 5.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 0.5 3-pointers, roughly in line with his recent averages at that point. Porter played four minutes before exiting due to what the Raptors called a re-aggravation of an eye injury that came against the Grizzlies four days earlier. His final stat line for the Clippers game was zero points, three rebounds, one assist and zero 3-pointers.
  • DraftKings Sportsbook reported that the “under” total on Porter’s 3-pointers was the biggest money winner among all NBA player props that night.
  • In the March 20 game, Porter’s props were set at 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds, and considering the Raptors were extremely shorthanded, those numbers made sense, too. Porter played three minutes, recorded zero points and two rebounds before leaving with what the Raptors called an illness.
  • The next day, DraftKings reported that Porter props were once again the top moneymakers from that night’s NBA games.
  • Porter played 20+ minutes in Toronto’s next game, on March 22. He missed the next night’s game and was listed as out due to personal reasons last night.

Another sportsbook reported similar irregularities, including multiple accounts attempting to make unusually large bets (in the tens of thousands of dollars) on Porter unders. Porter, who is on a two-way contract, has played in 26 games for the Raptors this season, averaging 4.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists. He is the younger brother of Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. 

Long story short, sportsbooks receiving several huge bets on the under for a little-known role player who then leaves those particular games early caught the league’s eye.

This, obviously, is a potential major problem for Jontay Porter and the league as a whole, pending the results of the investigation. As Sam Quinn notes, “All NBA employees, players or otherwise, are prohibited from betting on any league event. Fines, suspensions and termination of contracts are all possible punishments for violations of this policy.”

😢 Not so honorable mentions

⚾ Shohei Ohtani: ‘I never bet on baseball or any other sports,’ interpreter ‘has told lies’

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Shohei Ohtani spoke to the media Monday for the first time since MLB opened an investigation on a betting scandal in which Ohtani and his representatives allege now-former interpreter Ippei Mizuhara stole millions of dollars from the Dodgers superstar to cover gambling debts through an illegal bookmaker.

Here are the key points from Ohtani’s statement, which he read and which was translated by Dodgers interpreter Will Ireton:

  • “I never bet on baseball or any other sports. I have never asked anybody to do that on my behalf. I have never gone through a bookmaker to bet on sports. Up until a couple of days ago, I didn’t know this was happening. Just to go over the result, Ippei has been stealing money from my account, and has told lies.”
  • “The first time I knew about this gambling — Ippei’s gambling — was after the first game [in Korea] when we had the team meeting in the clubhouse.”
  • “Obviously I never agreed to pay off the debt or make payments to the bookmaker. And finally, when we went to the hotel and talked one to one, that was when I found out he has massive debt, and it was revealed during the meeting that Ippei admitted that he was sending money using my account to the bookmaker.”
  • “When I was finally able to talk to my representatives, that’s when my representatives found out Ippei has been lying the whole time. And that’s when I contacted the Dodgers and my lawyers.”

Mizuhara originally told ESPN that Ohtani had paid off his gambling debts. Mizuhara then changed his story and said Ohtani did not know about the betting, a story that falls in line with Ohtani’s statement. The Dodgers fired Mizuhara immediately after the story broke. Ohtani is not facing any discipline and remains an active player.

This story has been full of twists and turns, and there will be more to come. Our MLB writers have done a terrific job covering every angle:

🏀 Hawks stun Celtics with largest comeback in franchise history

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Down 30 points to the Celtics — the league’s best and hottest team — the short-handed Hawks could have been forgiven if they packed it in. Instead, Atlanta pulled off the biggest comeback in franchise history, turning a 68-38 deficit just before halftime into a 120-118 win.

Overall, it’s the 10th instance on record of a team overcoming a 30-point deficit.

The comeback started with a 9-0 Atlanta run to end the first half and ended with De’Andre Hunter‘s 3-pointer off a Clint Capela offensive rebound to put Atlanta up four with under 10 seconds left. Without Trae Young, Atlanta got an outstanding team-wide effort, with six players scoring double-digit points and Hunter’s 24 leading the way. It’s a huge win with the Hawks in the play-in race (5.5 games ahead of the Nets for 10th in the East, 1.5 games behind the Bulls for ninth).

This is also yet another concerning collapse for Boston, Sam Quinn writes.

  • Quinn: “It was less than three weeks ago on March 5 that Boston blew a 22-point lead to the Cavaliers in a humiliating nationally televised defeat. Boston has lost only 15 games all season, but has blown double-digit leads in more than half of those games (eight). … This kind of inconsistency can be the difference between survival and elimination in the postseason. Even if the Celtics don’t lose often, it’s not a great sign that so many of their losses seem to come in the same fashion.”

📺 What we’re watching Tuesday

🏀 Lakers at Bucks, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
🏀 Mavericks at Kings, 10 p.m. on TNT

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