Axios Sports

A large foam finger.

April 03, 2023

👋 Good morning! We got one championship game yesterday and get another today? Pretty good deal.

Today's word count: 1,350 words (5 minutes).

Let's sports...

1 big thing: 🏀 LSU shoots its way to first title

Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

LSU delivered a performance for the ages in Dallas to win the school's first basketball national championship, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

Driving the news: The Tigers crushed Iowa, 102-85, on Sunday afternoon, setting the record for points scored in a title game.

  • The Tigers shot 54% from the field and a blistering 65% from deep (11-17), tying their season-high with 11 made threes.
  • Not bad for a team who'd gone 7-38 (18%) from behind the arc across its previous three games.

The stars: Angel Reese, named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player, recorded her 34th double-double of the year (15 pts, 10 reb) — the most ever in a single season.

  • Jasmine Carson scored 22 points off the bench (7-8 FG, 5-6 3PT, 3-4 FT) after scoring just 11 total in the tournament's first five games.
  • Starters Alexis Morris (21 pts, 9 ast) and LaDazhia Williams (20 pts, 5 reb) gave the Tigers a trio of 20-point scorers to round things out.

The backdrop: Kim Mulkey won her fourth championship (three with Baylor), breaking a tie with Stanford's Tara VanDerveer for third-most behind UConn's Geno Auriemma (11) and Tennessee's Pat Summitt (8).

  • The Louisiana native led an epic turnaround, winning a title just two years after taking over a nine-win program — and one year after losing almost her entire team.
  • LSU had nine new players this season, with Reese, Carson and Williams all coming via the transfer portal.

Impressive in defeat: Player of the Year Caitlin Clark put on another show for the Hawkeyes, scoring 30 points and dishing out eight assists.

  • Clark's 191 points, 60 assists and 32 3-pointers are all records for a single women's NCAA tournament.
  • She was responsible for 63% of Iowa's offense in the tournament through either scoring or assists.

The big picture: Sunday's game lacked the drama of the two semifinals, but still put a stamp on a tournament that could be looked back on in the future as an inflection point for the sport.

  • The Iowa-South Carolina Final Four matchup drew an impressive 5.5 million viewers, an ESPN record for a women's semifinal.
  • The momentum entering next season — with Clark, Reese and other stars set to return — should be through the roof.

Looking ahead: The long-undervalued rights to the women's tournament are up for bid next year. Couldn't ask for better timing.

Go deeper: The refs wrecked the national title game, but LSU rose above it (Slate)

2. ⚾️ How the clock is changing pitch selection

A PitchCom transmitter. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The pitch clock is doing more than just speeding up at-bats. In some cases, it's changing how pitches are selected, Jeff and I write.

State of play: PitchCom — the device introduced last season that allowed catchers to electronically call pitches in an effort to combat sign stealing — can now be used by pitchers, too.

How it works: The wristband-like device has buttons for different pitch types and locations. When pressed, the call is relayed to the receiver, an earpiece worn by up to five defensive teammates.

  • Last season, the catcher would make the call, and the pitcher would receive it before either shaking off that pitch or gearing up to throw it.
  • This season, the pitcher can make the call — a necessary change with the advent of the pitch clock, which gives pitchers less time to shake off signs.

The intrigue: After decades of catchers making suggestions, pitchers can now call their own games.

  • Look no further than Shohei Ohtani's first start: He wore the device and was so fast that he was issued a warning for pitching before the batter was set.
  • Ohtani wore the device under his sleeve near his armpit instead of on his wrist or forearm, memorizing the keypad to seamlessly call his own pitches.

The big picture: The pitch clock is working as intended, with games so far 28 minutes shorter than last season. But it's also creating games-within-the-game.

3. 🚨 Still thinking about that shot

lamont butler rises up for shot

Photo: Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Lamont Butler's buzzer-beater on Saturday was just the fifth in Final Four history — and the first in which the team was trailing before the shot.

The others:

What he's saying: Butler's sister, Asasha Lache Hall, was shot and killed in January 2022. Speaking Sunday, Butler said he felt her presence during the biggest moment of his life.

I think about her every day. Ever since she passed. She was one of my biggest supporters, and I know she's up there happy right now, watching me play the game that I love.
And I think she was with me with that shot. She probably guided the ball in a little bit. I miss her, and I'm just happy I'm able to do this for her.

Go deeper: A buzzer-beater for teammates, family and a fallen sister (SI)

4. ⚡️ Lightning round

timberwolves and trail blazers

Photo: David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

🏀 Massive upset: The Trail Blazers (missing four starters) pulled off the largest NBA upset in 30 years on Sunday by beating the Timberwolves as 19.5-point underdogs.

🏒 60 wins: The Bruins won their 60th game on Sunday, joining the 2018-19 Lightning, 1995-96 Red Wings and 1976-77 Canadiens as the only teams to do so.

🎾 Miami winners: Daniil Medvedev and Petra Kvitová won the Miami Open, picking up hard court titles ahead of tennis' clay court season.

⚾️ Absolute bomb: Maryland shortstop Matt Shaw, a likely first-round pick in June, hit a 507-foot grand slam this weekend. Yes, you read that correctly. 507 feet!!!

5. 🏀 Stat du jour: Kings of mediocrity

Photo: Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The 2022-23 Atlanta Hawks are, quite literally, the definition of average.

By the numbers: The Hawks are 39-39 and have scored 9,209 points while allowing 9,210.

  • They're 24-24 against the East and 15-15 against the West.
  • They've been within one game of .500 for 72 consecutive days.

6. 🇺🇸 Photos across America

rose zhang holding a rose
Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Reigning NCAA champion Rose Zhang held on to win the Augusta National Women's Amateur, defeating fellow American Jenny Bae in a playoff.

orioles ryan mckenna drops fly ball
Photo: Nick Grace/Getty Images

BOSTON — The Orioles suffered one of the worst losses imaginable on Saturday. After Ryan McKenna dropped a routine fly ball that would have been the final out, the very next batter, Adam Duvall, hit a walk-off, two-run blast to give the Red Sox a 9-8 win.

orlando guardians fan
Photo: Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

ORLANDO — The previously winless Orlando Guardians beat the previously undefeated D.C. Defenders, 37-36, on Saturday in an XFL instant classic that featured five second-half lead changes.

7. 🌎 Photos around the world

bayern's thomas müller
Photo: S. Mellar/FC Bayern via Getty Images

MUNICH — Bayern beat Dortmund, 4-2, in Saturday's Der Klassiker to leapfrog their Bundesliga rivals atop the table and give new manager Thomas Tuchel a victory in his first home game.

max verstappen
Photo: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

MELBOURNE — Max Verstappen (Red Bull) won Sunday's chaotic Australian Grand Prix, holding off Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) and Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) in a race that featured three red flags and was completed behind a safety car.

karim benzema leaping celebration
Photo: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

MADRID — Reigning Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema scored a hat trick in the span of just seven minutes during the first half of Real Madrid's 6-0 thrashing of Real Valladolid on Sunday.

8. 📺 Watchlist: The road ends here

Bracket: Axios Visuals
Bracket: Axios Visuals

UConn and San Diego State face off tonight in Houston (9:20pm ET, CBS) for the national championship.

  • State of play: The Aztecs have never played in a title game. The Huskies have played in four, winning all of them.
  • Odds: Spread: UConn -7.5 | O/U: 132.5 | Money: UConn -345, SDSU +270 (via FanDuel)

More to watch:

9. 🏀 College hoops trivia

uconn celebrating 2014 title

UConn celebrates after winning the 2014 title. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

With a win tonight, UConn would tie Duke and Indiana for the fourth-most men's basketball championships, with five.

  • Question: Which three schools have more?
  • Hint: Only one has won in the past 10 years.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🍿 Top plays: Weekend edition

lamont butler buzzer beater

Photo: Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Get me Kim Mulkey's stylist" Baker

Trivia answer: UCLA (11), Kentucky (8), UNC (6)

🙏 Thanks for reading! Follow us for more (@kendallbaker and @jeffreytracy). Friends can sign up here. Thanks to Carolyn DiPaolo for copy edits.