LSU-Iowa, UConn-USC live up to ballyhooed billing, plus the Astros’ shocking no-hitter

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Good morning! Just try to keep Caitlin Clark under 40 points today.

Starry Nights: What an evening

The hype entering yesterday’s Elite Eight games was nearly unreachable. Four teams and four superstars — Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, LSU’s Angel Reese, UConn’s Paige Bueckers and USC’s JuJu Watkins — battling for two Final Four spots. In a transformative year for women’s college basketball, the day had national-championship vibes. 

Reader, it lived up. Both of these games were tied at halftime

  • It feels weird to type about UConn — UConn! — beating a higher-seeded team, but last night’s 80-73 win over USC and Watkins qualifies as such. There may be no team more dangerous than the Huskies, led by a rejuvenated Geno Auriemma in his 23rd Final Four. Bueckers — who scored 28 points in the win — might be one of the most underrated superstars the sport has seen, simply because of the time and place in which she has played, not to mention the injuries she’s endured. The Huskies have made it this far with a thin bench, too. 
  • Meanwhile, Caitlin Clark got a bit of revenge. Iowa raced past the defending champion Tigers (sigh) in the second half of a title game rematch, winning 94-87 behind Clark’s absurd 41-point performance. The game began frenetic, as LSU largely kept up with Iowa’s scoring pace early, but — shocker — Clark simply kept hitting 3-pointers. She made nine in total, which elicited this extremely understandable reaction from Hailey Van Lith:

What a night, as Nicole Auerbach wrote. Clark re-emphasized her place atop women’s college basketball, while Watkins, scoring 29 in a loss, proved the sport won’t lack star power next season after Clark leaves. 

And don’t forget: This wasn’t actually the national championship. Undefeated South Carolina plays NC State on Friday for a chance to face either Clark or Bueckers in the actual title game.

News to Know

A no-hitter, already
The MLB season is just more than a week old, and we already have the season’s first no-hitter, from a most unlikely place. Astros starter Ronel Blanco — making just his eighth MLB start — no-hit the visiting Blue Jays over 105 pitches in a 10-0 rout. Before last night, Blanco had never pitched more than six innings or more than 100 pitches in an MLB game. Chandler Rome has a great look into Blanco’s incredible rise.

Davis dead at 35
Former Colts defensive back Vontae Davis was found dead in his Florida home yesterday, police said, adding that foul play was likely not involved. Davis played parts of 10 seasons in the NFL, mostly for the Colts, making the Pro Bowl twice. He also notably retired in 2018 during halftime of a Week 2 game. Read more details here.

Star in the portal
Virginia Tech star Georgia Amoore has entered the transfer portal, sources told The Athletic, another disappointing update for a program that went to the Final Four a year ago. Don’t be surprised if Amoore follows former Hokies coach Kenny Brooks, who left for Kentucky last week. Plus, there may be more departures on the way.

More news

Omens? Pew pew?

I would bet a lot of money the “pyrotechnics” that flanked Cubs starters yesterday during intros came from a grand plan. Maybe there were supposed to be more of them. Maybe they were supposed to be brighter. Instead, for the Cubbies’ home opener at Wrigley Field, players trotted onto the field with … this:

The Athletic’s Jon Greenberg captured that, and if Chicago hadn’t won 5-0 yesterday (and seen a killer debut from Shota Imanaga), I’d make some grand assumption about the season being cursed. Maybe it still is. Let’s just figure out the pregame stuff first, OK?

Watch This Game

NHL: Capitals at Sabres
7 p.m. ET on ESPN+
We have a break from college hoops for a few days, so it’s back to Standings Watch in hockey. Washington is clinging to a playoff spot for now in a crowded Metropolitan division, thanks to Charlie Lindgren’s breakout season at 30 years old. Just nine games left. 

NBA: Mavericks at Warriors
10 p.m. ET on TNT
More standings here. Dallas has been great lately, but Golden State still has Houston — 11-1 in its last 12 — just two games back of leapfrogging the Warriors for the West’s final Play-In spot. Just seven games left for both teams.

Pulse Picks

A good sign for the Detroit Red Wings’ playoff chances? Fans are throwing octopi on the ice again. One of sport’s unique traditions is so back. 

Fresh off the presses this morning: new MLB Power Rankings, which salute the 4-0 New York Yankees

A further follow-up on the Shohei Ohtani-adjacent gambling situation: former Angels manager Joe Maddon joined Jayson Stark and Doug Glanville on the Windup podcast to talk about Ohtani and his relationship with interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. Really insightful stuff. 

Tyronn Lue called the Clippers soft just in time for them to rediscover some toughness

What’s up with the NIT, and why did so many teams pass on participating? Justin Williams analyzes where the once-proud tournament fits into today’s landscape

WrestleMania approaches. Chris Vannini explained the Vince McMahon lawsuit that’s still plaguing WWE

Most-clicked in the newsletter yesterday: Andy McCullough took us inside the illegal gambling world that lured Ohtani’s interpreter. I’ll read every story on this saga. 

Most-read on the website yesterday: Meet the Ukrainian runner who just won the world’s toughest 100-mile race.

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(Photo: Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

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