Sports News of the Week: Historically Good & Bad Basketball, Kyle Larson Wins in Fontana, and Ukrainian Boxing Champs Fight For Their Country

by Chris Haney
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Another week has passed, and that means there’s plenty of sports news to catch up on and talk about as we head into March. This past week we saw good and bad on the basketball court from a historical standpoint. James Harden put up all-time great numbers in his first two games with the Philadelphia 76ers. On the other hand, the Top 6 college teams in the nation all lost on the same day for the first time ever. Kyle Larson took home his second victory at Auto Club Speedway, Major League Baseball is still in a lockout, and Derek Jeter has stepped down as Miami Marlins CEO.

While these are all huge stories in the sports world, they pale in comparison to the ongoing events in Ukraine. Yet Russia’s invasion of the neighboring country has made an impact across the globe, and that includes the sporting world as well. International soccer organizations FIFA and UEFA have suspended Russia from the 2022 World Cup and European competition. Additionally, a pair of the greatest professional boxers in the world have paused their careers to return home to Ukraine to fight against the Russian invasion.

At times like these, sports seem more trivial than ever. But for many, sports are a small reprieve that can be shared with family and friends or enjoyed solo during these difficult times. We all need a temporary break from the real world here and there. So for those that may have missed these recent storylines, here’s a quick recap of the last week in sports.

What to Watch For This Week In Sports

  • Another huge week for college basketball fans to enjoy. Conference tournaments begin play this week for many schools along with numerous rivalry games to end the regular season. That includes Coach K’s last Duke-UNC matchup at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night.
  • The Pennzoil 400 Presented By Jiffy Lube at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is up next on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule.
  • UFC 272: Las Vegas will welcome the UFC back to town with a stacked card of fights on Saturday night. The fights are headlined by the main event featuring welterweights Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal.
  • If the MLB and the Players Association don’t agree on a new deal this week, the regular season could be delayed.

In Case You Missed It

  • For the first time ever, the Top 6 college basketball teams in the AP Poll all lost on the same day.
  • NBA star James Harden is off to a historic start in Philadelphia with his new team.
  • Driver Kyle Larson took the checkered flag at the Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
  • Major League Baseball delayed spring training once again, Derek Jeter calls it quits with the Marlins.
  • FIFA suspends Russia from competing in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
  • Ukrainian world champion boxers Oleksandr Usyk and Vasiliy Lomachenko pause their careers to fight against Russia’s invasion of their homeland.

Upsets Galore! Top 6 College Programs Beaten On the Same Day

Men’s college basketball didn’t wait on March for the madness to begin. On Saturday, for the first time in NCAA history, the top-six ranked teams in the AP Poll all lost on the same day.

In a lengthy series of upsets over the weekend, several of the nation’s best programs took losses that are shaking up the rankings late in the season. No. 1 Gonzaga lost to No. 23 St. Mary’s by 10. No. 2 Arizona got dominated by unranked Colorado 79-63. No. 3 Auburn lost to No. 17 Tennessee after the Vols had a second half 17-2 run and held on late.

No. 4 Purdue loses to unranked Michigan State 68-65. No. 5 Kansas fell to No. 10 Baylor by 10 points as well. Finally, No. 6 Kentucky lost to No. 18 Arkansas by only a bucket as Razorbacks guard JD Notae dropped 30 points on the visiting team.

We still have conference tournaments to play, but March Madness has arrived slightly early this year. If this week’s games are any hint of things to come, we have another exciting NCAA Tournament on the way soon.

James Harden Off to a Historic Start With the Philadelphia 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers recently pulled off a blockbuster trade when they finally shipped off Ben Simmons to the Brooklyn Nets for James Harden. After dealing with a hamstring issue, “The Beard” made his debut on Friday before playing in his second game with the team on Sunday. It’s only been two games so far, but they were a near-perfect start with his new club.

Harden dropped 27 points, eight rebounds, and 12 assists in his first game in a 76ers jersey. He followed that up two days later with a historic game of 29 points, 10 rebounds, 16 assists, and five steals. The 32-year-old became the first player in NBA history to have at least 25 points and 10 assists in both of his first two games with a new team. In addition, he’s already broken a Sixers franchise record as well. He’s the first player in Philly’s history to have at least 25 points, 10 rebounds, 15 assists and five steals in a game.

Kyle Larson Wins the Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway

Following a two-year break because of Covid-related restrictions, NASCAR made its return to the historic Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. The Wise Power 400 came down to the very end after drivers were faced with track issues throughout Sunday’s race.

Recently, track officials attempted to mend cracked and worn asphalt at the speedway with a resin traction compound. While it may have worked, it added the extra challenge of forcing drivers to create fresh racing grooves on the track as they raced.

It didn’t seem to impact Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, and Joey Logano though. Those five were in it to win it in the final laps as it seemed to be anyone’s race for the taking. With three laps to go, Suarez took over first place from Larson, but the No. 5 car fought back. Larson retook the lead with two laps left. Following a crash by the No. 31 car, Larson would hold on in the last lap to take the checkered flag in Fontana for the second time in his career.

Ukrainian Boxing Champions Put Careers On Hold to Fight For Their Country

There’s been numerous harrowing stories coming out of Ukraine in the last week. Many highlight the sacrifices Ukrainians from all walks of life are making as they protect their country from Russia’s invasion. We’ve all heard about Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky who has chosen to stay in his country and fight along with troops and citizens alike. His now-famous quote of “I need ammunition, not a ride” emphasizes his dedication to his country in the face of imminent danger.

Zelensky is now being joined by other prominent figures who are making the ultimate sacrifice to protect their homeland. Current heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk recently joined a territorial defense battalion in Ukraine. The Olympic gold medalist is now the second current pro boxer to take up arms against Russia. He has a rematch against British heavyweight Anthony Joshua in May or June. But for now everything else is on hold as Usyk defends his homeland.

Usyk’s longtime friend and fellow Ukrainian, Vasiliy Lomachenko, also joined a territorial defense battalion this weekend. Lomachenko is a two-time Olympic gold medalist boxer who has been a world champion in three weight classes. He held belts as a featherweight, junior featherweight, and lightweight.

The pair join two brothers, Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, who are each legendary heavyweight boxers who have joined the fight against Russia. The Ukrainian brothers are each former heavyweight champions and both are in the Boxing Hall of Fame.

Following his boxing career, Vitali Klitschko got into politics and is the current mayor of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. On Thursday, as Russia attacked, Vitali announced that he’d stay in Kyiv and defend against Russian forces. His brother, Wladimir, also enlisted in Ukraine’s reserve army earlier this month in anticipation of Russia’s invasion.

All four of these men have the money and influence to be anywhere else in the world right now. But they’re fighting for something much bigger than championship belts these days. The utmost respect goes to each of these men as they fight for their country’s freedom.

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