Good morning to everyone but especially to...
THE SWEET 16 WINNERS
- Seventeen years ago, UCLA's desperate rally stunned Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 and left Adam Morrison sobbing on the court, an iconic moment in NCAA Tournament history.
- Eight years ago, Gonzaga got a sliver of revenge with a double-digit win in the Sweet 16.
- Two years ago, the drama returned, and Jalen Suggs etched himself into postseason lore with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to top the Bruins in the Final Four.
The two teams delivered once again on Thursday night, this time with Julian Strawther playing hero as Gonzaga rallied -- and then overcame a UCLA rally -- for an instant-classic 79-76 victory.
- UCLA led by as much as 13, but Gonzaga patched up a leaky defense and, behind Drew Timme and Malachi Smith, surged to a 10-point lead with 2:40 remaining.
- Still up nine with 74 seconds left, it was Gonzaga's turn to collapse. Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored an and-one. After the teams traded free throws, UCLA forced a turnover, and Jaquez converted another and-one to cut it to three.
- Anton Watson made one free throw, and Jaquez made another layup to cut it to two. Then Timme missed two free throws, and Amari Bailey nailed a 3-pointer. The Bruins went from down nine to up one within a minute.
- But Strawther had the last laugh, burying a 3-pointer from the halfcourt logo. Smith stole the ball late, Strawther hit a free throw, and Tyger Campbell's desperation heave was off the mark. The play that the Zags ran to get Strawther the ball for the game-winner was quite similar to the Kris Jenkins play that won Villanova a national title in 2016.
Gonzaga fans, if you were having deja vu from 2006, I don't blame you. UCLA fans, if you are having deja vu from 2021, I also don't blame you. What a game. You can read more about it here. Oh, and before we move on... Drew Timme. What a player. He had 36 points and 13 rebounds, and somehow it took me until now to mention that. That's how good this game was.
As for the team Gonzaga will face in the Elite Eight, no one has gotten there in more impressive fashion than UConn. The 4-seed Huskies demolished 9-seed Arkansas, 88-65, to make their first Elite Eight since 2014, when they went on to win the championship.
- Jordan Hawkins scored 24 points, and Adama Sanogo had 18 points and eight rebounds.
- This game was hardly as close as the final score suggests, and that's saying something. UConn led by 17 at halftime and by as much as 29 in the second half. The Huskies outscored the Razorbacks 42-24 in the paint.
- All this happened despite UConn having to switch hotels after finding "dirt, vomit ... and worse" in their original hotel.
With three teams in the Sweet 16 and three more hiring new coaches -- Rick Pitino to St. John's, Ed Cooley to Georgetown and Kim English to Providence -- this is a huge week for the Big East, as I wrote Thursday. The Huskies certainly lived up to the billing. As our Gary Parrish explains, they're playing their best ball at a great time.
If UConn was the most impressive team of the night, Markquis Nowell easily had the most impressive individual effort: 20 points and an NCAA Tournament-record 19 assists in 3-seed Kansas State's 98-93 overtime win over 7-seed Michigan State. The Harlem native showed out at Madison Square Garden, earning high praise from our Matt Norlander, who was there to witness it.
Finally, 9-seed Florida Atlantic took down 4-seed Tennessee, 62-55, after outscoring the Volunteers 40-28 in the second half. The Owls -- who had zero NCAA Tournament wins entering March -- will face Kansas State in what should be a really fun game. Here's Matt on FAU's remarkable run.
- Tom Brady acquired ownership stake in the Aces.
- Good news, Astros fans: Jose Altuve doesn't plan on going anywhere anytime soon.
- Isaac Okoro nailed a game-winner for the Cavaliers.
And not such a good morning for...
RHYS HOSKINS AND THE PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
It's yet another major preseason injury for a key player on a title contender. Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins tore the ACL in his left knee during a Spring Training game.
The team hasn't announced a timetable for any potential return for him yet, but as our Mike Axisa noted, "the injury presumably means he'll miss the entire 2023 season."
- Hoskins, 30, was ranging back to field a sharply hit ground ball, bobbled the ball and collapsed while trying to retrieve it. He was carted off the field.
- Hoskins hit 30 home runs and racked up 79 RBI last season. He also clubbed six playoff home runs -- tied for second-most in a single postseason in franchise history -- as Philadelphia made it all the way to the World Series.
- The Phillies will also be without Bryce Harper for a significant part of the season as he comes back from Tommy John surgery.
Where can the Phillies turn now? Our Dayn Perry has several options, but it might take a bit to get a concrete solution.
- Perry: "A somewhat unconventional approach may be to give Harper some time at first base once he returns from elbow surgery. ... The trade deadline figures to provide other opportunities, of course (possibles include C.J. Cron of the Rockies or Christian Walker should the Diamondbacks flail in the first half)."
Here's the fantasy impact of the injury.
Not so honorable mentions
- There's yet another turn -- this one maybe the strangest -- in the Lamar Jackson story.
- Did the Panthers reveal their plan for the No. 1 pick?
- Adam Wainwright will begin the season on the IL.
- San Diego announced football coach Dale Lindsey retired. That was news to him.
Ranking the top 100 MLB players ⚾
MLB Opening Day is under one week away, and that means time for Dayn's annual top 100 players.
Here's the top five:
- 1. Shohei Ohtani, Angels: "Undaunted prediction: His walk year of 2023 will yield his second AL MVP award."
- 2. Aaron Judge, Yankees: "The 2022 season will likely stand as Judge's career year, but even if he takes a modest step back this year he's going to remain MLB's leading force of nature at the plate."
- 3. Mike Trout, Angels: "Injuries remain a concern for Trout, especially as he moves deeper into his thirties. However, when healthy he's still among the very best in baseball."
- 4. Mookie Betts, Dodgers: "Betts, 30, remains the most complete player in the game today."
- 5. Juan Soto, Padres: "Consider him to be a strong NL MVP candidate."
A few things stand out to me, and the first one is obvious: After having two players in the top three, the Angels have no one else on this list. Can the two superstars lift their team to the postseason? It will be one of the biggest questions hanging over the season, especially with Ohtani's free agency on the horizon. The Yankees and Padres also placed two players in the top 10.
Another thing that stands out? Injured stars not on the list, including Edwin Díaz, Harper and Altuve, the latter two of whom got hurt in the World Baseball Classic. That got our experts thinking: Should the WBC be played at a different time of year? The short answer is "no."
Previewing Friday's men's Sweet 16 action 🏀
The rest of the men's Elite Eight will be decided tonight, and we have four terrific games on tap. Here's all you need to know to get ready:
- Top storylines
- Expert picks
- Keys to upsets
- Houston is two games from the Houston-hosted Final Four.
- How Jim Larranaga has taken Miami to historic heights
- Rodney Terry deserves the full-time job at Texas.
Reseeding the women's Sweet 16: Who's second after South Carolina? 🏀
Just like we did with the men's Tournament, we've reseeded the teams in the Sweet 16 teams in the women's Tournament and -- surprise -- South Carolina is still on top.
The Gamecocks are undefeated, won it all last year and have been No. 1 in the AP Poll seemingly forever. With two other No. 1 seeds (Indiana and Stanford) already gone, here's who our Isabel Gonzalez sees as the second-best team left:
- Gonzalez: "2. Iowa -- The strength of Iowa is the fact that when Caitlin Clark isn't scoring, she is facilitating the offense through dropping dimes. She and the rest of the team lead the country in assists, which has helped the Hawkeyes have the top offense in the nation at 87.4 points per game."
You can see the entire rankings here.
What we're watching this weekend 📺
🏀 We're watching the men's NCAA Tournament. Here's how.
🏀 We're also watching the women's NCAA Tournament. Here's how.
🏀 Pacers at Celtics, 7 p.m. on NBA TV
⚽ Grenada vs. USMNT, 8 p.m. on TNT
🏀 76ers at Warriors, 10 p.m. on NBA TV
🏒 Capitals at Penguins, 8 p.m. on ABC
🏀 Bucks at Nuggets, 9 p.m. on NBA TV
🏀 Grizzlies at Hawks, 6 p.m. on NBA TV
🏀 Timberwolves at Warriors, 8:30 p.m. on NBA TV