Update on the latest sports


Gonzaga, UCLA reach Final Four

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Gonzaga’s countdown to perfection has ticked down to two. The top-seeded Bulldogs are back in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament, two wins from becoming the first undefeated team since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. Gonzaga got on a roll Tuesday and put on a show, moving to 30-0 with an 85-66 victory against Southern California.

Also advancing to the Final Four is UCLA. After sneaking into the NCAA Tournament off four straight losses, and barely surviving Michigan State in their First Four game, the Bruins took down top-seeded Michigan, becoming the fifth No. 11 seed ever to reach the Final Four. Johnny Juzang (JOO’-zang) poured in 28 points despite playing most of the second half on a sore ankle.

Gonzaga will face UCLA in one Final Four matchup on Saturday and Baylor, the other top seed still standing, will play No. 2 Houston in the other.


Stanford and South Carolina reach Final Four

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Stanford and South Carolina have joined UConn and Arizona in the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Zia Cooke scored 16 points and the Gamecocks used their stifling defense to advance to the Final Four for the third time, shutting down Texas, 62-34. Lexie Hull scored 21 points and Stanford reached the Final Four for the 14th time by rallying for a 78-63 victory over Louisville.

South Carolina, the 2017 national champion, plays No. 1 overall seed Stanford in Friday night’s first national semifinal, and Arizona takes on 11-time national champion UConn.


UConn’s Paige Bueckers is AP women’s player of the year

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — UConn star Paige Bueckers is the first freshman ever to win The Associated Press women’s basketball player of the year.

Bueckers was informed she won the award by coach Geno Auriemma during a team video session and broke down as she accepted it in front of her teammates.

Bueckers received 21 votes from the 30-member national media panel that chooses the weekly AP Top 25. Dana Evans of Louisville was second with four votes. The AP started the award in 1995. Bueckers is the 12th UConn player to win it.

Maryland coach Brenda Frese is The Associated Press women’s basketball coach of the year for the second time in her career.

Maryland lost five starters from last year’s Big Ten championship, but didn’t miss a beat. It won the conference for the sixth time in seven years. The Terrapins lost in the Sweet 16 to Texas.

Frese received eight votes from the 30-member national media panel that votes on the weekly Top 25. Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer and North Carolina State coach Wes Moore each received seven votes. Frese also won in 2002 when she was coaching Minnesota.


Omar Payne joins growing list of players to leave Florida

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s rebuilding project continues to grow.

Forward Omar Payne entered the transfer portal Tuesday and became the fifth player to leave coach Mike White’s program since the end of the season.

The 6-foot-10 Payne joined shooting guard Noah Locke, backup point guard Ques Glover and reserve forward Osayi Osifo in looking to play elsewhere next season. Star point guard and leading scorer Tre Mann entered the NBA draft with plans of hiring an agent, meaning he has no intention of returning to school for his junior season.

Payne, a sophomore from Kissimmee, averaged 3.8 points and 3.2 rebounds while playing close to 16 minutes a game this season. He was suspended for Florida’s opening-round win against Virginia Tech in the NCAA Tournament after getting ejected for elbowing Tennessee’s John Fulkerson in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.


High court takes up NCAA restrictions

WASHINGTON (AP) — With the March Madness basketball tournament ongoing, U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments Wednesday in a case about how colleges can reward athletes who play Division I basketball and football.

The NCAA says if the former college students who brought the case win, it could erase the distinction between professional and college sports.

Under current NCAA rules, students can’t be paid, and the scholarship money colleges can offer is capped at the cost of attending the school. The NCAA defends its rules as necessary to preserving the amateur nature of college sports.

If the Supreme Court sides with the former students, those caps on educational benefits could go away. If individual athletic conferences agree, schools could offer tens of thousands of dollars in education benefits for things such as postgraduate scholarships, tutoring, study abroad opportunities, vocational school payments. That could create a bidding war for the best players.

The former athletes who brought the case, including former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston, say the NCAA’s current rules deprive students of the ability to be rewarded for their athletic talents and hard work because most of them will never play professional sports. So far, the former players have won every round of the case. Lower courts agreed that the NCAA’s rules capping the education-related benefits schools can violate a federal antitrust law.


Opening Day just one day away

UNDATED (AP) — Major League Baseball is set to start the season Thursday and opening day brings a welcome change for fans.

Crowds are being allowed back in the ballparks again. No fans were permitted last year during a season shortened to 60 games because of the coronavirus pandemic.

All 30 teams are scheduled to play Thursday, with Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis (tah-TEES’) Jr. and Mike Trout among the stars in action. The first game of the season is at Yankee Stadium, where Gerrit Cole is set to face the Toronto Blue Jays.

Weather could be a factor in some spots. Rain is in the forecast on the East Coast and temperatures might in the 30s at Wrigley Field.

In other baseball news:

— Marlins Park will be renamed loanDepot park in a multiyear naming rights agreement announced Wednesday by the Miami Marlins. The deal provides additional revenue for the Marlins, who have operated with budget constraints and a small payroll for most of their history. They have not previously had a naming rights agreement for their ballpark, which opened in 2012. The Marlins also recently signed a new local TV contract that more than doubles their previous agreement, which was $20 million a year. Marlins CEO Derek Jeter says the team will be in a position to spend more on players in the future.

— A bat Lou Gehrig used late in his career and the original home plate from Yankee Stadium when it opened in 1923 are among the items up for bidding in an online auction this week. SCP Auctions said the Gehrig bat dates to 1938, his next-to-last season in the majors. It came from the collection of Yankees Hall of Fame teammate Earle Combs’ family. The home plate is from the original Yankee Stadium and the year the team won its first World Series championship. The Yankees previously played at the Polo Grounds, the home of the New York Giants.


USA Football recommends 8 procedures for youth safety

UNDATED (AP) — USA Football has introduced eight procedures to enhance safety and health for youth players, with all of those methods endorsed by some major medical organizations.

Using new training and practice standards, the eight recommendations include use of the two-point stance and days of rest between full-contact games and scrimmages.

USA Football, the sport’s national governing body and a member of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, put together the proposals aligned with its Football Development Model designed to develop the whole athlete based on a child’s age and stage of development. A task force comprised of leaders across football, sports science, medicine and long-term athlete development were involved.

The Athlete Health & Wellness Recommendations for youth football play have been supported by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), and the National Youth Sports Health & Safety Institute (NYSHSI).