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Baylor ends Gonzaga’s perfect season with a Texas-sized storybook finish

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Baylor ends Gonzaga's perfect season with a Texas-sized storybook finish

Baylor’s national championship season cannot be lost in perfection.

It’s true that perfection was lost: The Bears ended Gonzaga’s run at a 32-0 season with an 86-70 blowout victory in the NCAA Tournament national championship game. Baylor — whose own bid for perfection ended on Feb. 27 with a 71-58 loss to Kansas — spoiled the Bulldogs’ chance to become the first undefeated team since Indiana in 1975-76.

The Bears (28-2) accomplished that with the near-perfect two-way performance that capped a stretch of brilliance in a tournament where COVID-19 was an ever-present backdrop.

“After 30 days in the bubble, you start not wanting to be around each other,” Baylor guard Jared Butler said. “I don’t know how we got through it, but we got through it. We loved each other. We played so many games of Connect Four.”

MORE MARCH MADNESS: Live scores | Updated bracket | TV schedule

The Bears found the winning combination at the Final Four. Baylor beat Houston 78-59 in the national semifinal and finished with a two-game margin of victory of 17.5 points per game. The only schools in the expanded bracket era that were better on that stage were 2015-16 Villanova (23.5 points per game) and 1989-90 UNLV (19.5 ppg). That is prestigious company worth keeping.

This was supposed to be the long-awaited Gonzaga national championship coronation. The Bulldogs beat UCLA in the Final Four on Jalen Suggs’ overtime buzzer-beater for a 93-90 victory on Saturday. That was one of the greatest shots in one of the greatest games in tournament history. Monday seemed like a logical spot for a coronation for one of the sport’s greatest teams.

Yet Baylor coach Scott Drew took inspiration from the school’s greatest football player to motivate this team.

“One thing I can tell you about our guys is when the best is needed, the best is usually provided,” Drew said. “As (Robert Griffin III) would always say, ‘No pressure. No diamonds.’ Our guys, the better the opponent, the better they play. They love to be the first. First to win a conference since 1950. First to win a national championship. That really motivated them.”

With that, Baylor enjoyed the greatest start possible in the national title. The Bears jumped out to a 9-0 lead, then an 11-1 lead, in the first segment — with the help of two quick fouls on Suggs. It was the largest deficit Gonzaga faced the entire tournament. Baylor extended that lead to 33-14 with 7:51 in the first half, at which point it had committed zero turnovers.

The Bears built that lead with the new-age championship combination of defense and the 3-point shot. Baylor hit 7 of 12 from 3-point range in the first half, with MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell combining for 24 points. Gonzaga was just 1 of 7 from that range, but the Bulldogs still managed to get back within 10, cutting Baylor’s lead to 47-37 at halftime.

“We’re really good defensively, and I thought we made things tough tonight,” Drew said. “Gonzaga missed some shots that they probably normally make. I really credit our guys for making it difficult.”

Butler hit back-to-back 3-pointers to start the second half as part of a remarkable performance in which he finished with 22 points, seven assists and six rebounds. Gonzaga trimmed the lead to nine, but Baylor effectively put the game away with a 7-0 run that ended with a perfect sequence.

Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert drove to the basket, but his shot was blocked by Mark Vital. Adam Flagler kicked the rebound to Butler to start the break, and he returned a cross-court pass to Flagler — who buried a 3-pointer for a 67-51 lead with 12:52 remaining.

MORE: Breaking down the 1-minute, 36-second stretch that ended Gonzaga’s title hopes

Gonzaga never threatened Baylor again. The Bears ended the Bulldogs’ perfect season, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a big story. After all, everything is bigger in Texas, right?

“Hey Texas, we have a national championship, too,” Baylor coach Scott Drew shouted during the presentation. “The state deserves it.”

It came from the most unlikely place. The Bears became the first Texas school to win a national championship since Texas Western — now UTEP — shocked Kentucky 72-65 in 1966. Baylor (1948) and Houston (1983, 1984) were the only other Texas schools to even play in the national championship game before Monday.

The Bears also legitimized the Big 12 and became the first school other than Kansas to win a national championship since Oklahoma A&M, now Oklahoma State, in 1946. Baylor dominated the tournament with an eight-man rotation, high-scoring offense and half-court defense that smothered its six opponents by an average margin of victory of 15.3 ppg. The best comparison would be Michigan State, which won its six games by the same margin in 2000.

For Drew, it was the culmination of an 18-year run that began with an 8-21 season in his first season in 2003-04.

Baylor also won the first national championship since the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the cancellation of the 2020 men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. It was the unexpected result in an unprecedented time in our country’s history, and a reminder that perfection isn’t always what it seems. There should be nothing lost in that — even if it came at Gonzaga’s expense. The NCAA crowned a first-time champion, just like it did with Virginia in 2019.

From Connect Four to the Final Four. That is how Butler, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, will remember this run.

“I think it’s harder to win it this year than ever before,” Butler said. “The stoppages, the testing and the sacrifices to your social life just so you can play basketball games. … I’m just thankful we were able to play and the tournament still could go on. It’s just cool to say we could do this in the midst of adversity.”

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White Sox’s Carlos Rodon completes no-hitter after losing perfect game in 9th to HBP

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White Sox's Carlos Rodon completes no-hitter after losing perfect game in 9th to HBP

Carlos Rodon went through elbow surgery two years ago and shoulder issues last year. The White Sox non-tendered him last offseason and then re-signed him about two weeks before the start of spring training.

He was perfectly healthy for his second start of 2021, to the point he almost made history.

Rodon on Wednesday threw a no-hitter against Cleveland, beating the Tribe 8-0 on a 45-degree night in Chicago. He was two outs away from becoming the 24th MLB pitcher to throw a nine-inning perfect game.

MORE: Teams’ most recent no-hitters

Unfortunately for him, he lost the perfecto when he hit Cleveland catcher Roberto Perez on the foot with a breaking ball with one out in the ninth. Perez did not make much of an effort to avoid the pitch but there was no argument from the White Sox.

After that, the 28-year-old left-hander struck out Yu Chang and retired Jordan Luplow on a ground ball to third baseman Yoan Moncada to complete the no-hitter. Rodon threw 114 pitches (75 strikes), his highest pitch count since throwing 116 on July 29, 2018 (per Baseball-reference.com). 

Rodon almost lost his perfecto bid on the first batter of the ninth. Josh Naylor hit a slow bouncer to first baseman Jose Abreu, who slid into the bag to barely beat a diving Naylor. First base umpire Brian Knight, who was no Jim Joyce on this night, called Naylor out. A rapid replay review upheld the call.

“That was a hell of a play, man, hell of a play,” Rodon told the White Sox TV crew in an on-field interview.

Rodon rejoined the Sox on Feb. 1 — he said it was a “pretty easy” decision to come back, knowing that Chicago was set up to win now — and then pitched his way into the rotation in spring training. Wednesday’s start was just his fourth since suffering the elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery in May 2019. He threw 95 pitches over five innings in his 2021 debut, April 5 vs. the Mariners.

He almost became the fourth White Sox pitcher to throw a perfect game; he would have joined Philip Humber (2012), Mark Buehrle (2009) and Charlie Robertson (1922). Instead, he completed the 20th no-hitter in franchise history (rotation mate Lucas Giolito no-hit the Pirates last Aug. 25).

And he threw the second no-no in MLB in less than a week. Joe Musgrove threw the first no-hitter in Padres history Friday night against the Rangers in Texas.

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PSG star Neymar wants to be professional poker player when he retires from football

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PSG star Neymar wants to be professional poker player when he retires from football

PSG star Neymar has expressed his desire to become a professional poker player when he retires from football.

The 29-year-old started playing poker during the 2014 World Cup and has developed a passion for the game since then. 

Neymar said he played with Gerard Pique during his time at Barcelona and now counts Keylor Navas and Leandro Paredes among his poker rivals at PSG.

What was said?

When asked by CNEWS if his goal was to be a professional poker player when he retires from football, Neymar said: “It’s true, it’s true. It’s one of the things I love to do the most. 

“I feel very comfortable and I think that after playing football I will be able to do tournaments, travel to play tournaments that I have always wanted to participate in and could not do because of my agenda and my career. 

“So when I finish my football career, that’s one of the things I’m going to do, travel to play this type of tournament.

“Among the similarities between poker and football, I think focus is one of them. The way you read your opponent and the game is also very important. 

“I think one of the most important things in football, and what I do on the pitch, is to read the game, read your opponent, and see where you can attack, where you can move to create a chance for your team. 

“And in poker it’s the same, you have to read the game, read your opponents and know the right time to attack your opponent.”

What’s next for Neymar?

The Brazilian still has plenty to accomplish on the pitch before his playing days are over, starting with his quest for a treble with PSG this season.

Neymar helped PSG past Bayern Munich in the Champions League this week, setting up a semi-final clash with Manchester City.

PSG are also three points back of first-place Lille in Ligue 1, while they have a French Cup quarter-final date with Angers later this month.

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‘Heading into one’s arm is not punishable’ – Dortmund boss Terzic slams penalty decision vs Man City

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'Heading into one's arm is not punishable' - Dortmund boss Terzic slams penalty decision vs Man City

Borussia Dortmund manager Edin Terzic hit out at a crucial penalty call that went against his side on Wednesday in their Champions League elimination against Manchester City.

With Dortmund leading 1-0 on the night and poised to advance to the semi-finals on away goals, Emre Can was whistled for a handball in the box 10 minutes into the second half. 

Can headed the ball off his outstretched arm, which Terzic insisted meant the spot kick should not have been awarded. Riyad Mahrez would convert the ensuing penalty to send City on their way to the last four.

What was said?

“To be fair, you have to congratulate Man City,” Terzic told Sky Germany. “They played brilliantly and deservedly go one round further.

“After three of four halves, however, we were through – then it’s annoying that we end up conceding two goals like this. At the referee training it is clearly stated that heading into one’s arm is not punishable.

“Let me put it this way: We weren’t very lucky with decisions in the two games. We had a big dream, it is now unfortunately over.”

What other decisions went against Dortmund?

Jude Bellingham had what appeared to be a valid goal taken away in the first leg after he stole the ball from Ederson and rolled it into an empty net.

The referee ruled the teenager had fouled Ederson and blew his whistle before Bellingham put the ball into an empty net, meaning the play could not be reviewed by VAR. 

Replays showed that Bellingham had robbed the ball in mid-air from Ederson while hardly making contact with the goalkeeper.

What happened after Mahrez’s goal?

The Algerian drew City level on the night after Bellingham’s opener for Dortmund, and his spot kick put City ahead 3-2 on aggregate. 

City would then go on to control possession as they looked to take away the Germans’ chances of equalising.

With 15 minutes to play, Phil Foden then grabbed another goal to put the tie out of reach for Dortmund as City advanced with a 4-2 aggregate win.

What’s next for both teams?

Dortmund will face Werder Bremen on Sunday as they continue their pursuit of a top-four spot in the Bundesliga, currently sitting in fifth place. 

City take on Chelsea in a FA Cup semi-final on Saturday before they face PSG in the Champions League semi-finals later in April.

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