UConn’s AP top five streak ends
NEW YORK >> UConn’s record streak of top five appearances in The Associated Press women’s basketball poll is over. The Huskies fell to sixth on Monday, ending a run of 253 consecutive weeks as one of the first five teams in the Top 25. That historic stretch dated back to Feb. 5, 2007. Connecticut’s run dwarfs the No. 2 all-time mark of 96 set by Louisiana Tech in the 1980s.
The longest current streak is now held by No. 1 South Carolina at 11. The Gamecocks had a hand in ending the Huskies’ run by routing UConn last Monday night. The Huskies’ three losses this season have come to the Gamecocks, No. 2 Baylor and third-ranked Oregon. South Carolina earned 27 first-place votes from the national media panel. Baylor received two and Oregon one.
UConn’s streak may have continued had fourthranked Stanford not had a miracle finish to beat Colorado on Sunday. The Cardinal moved up four spots in the poll. Louisville moved into fifth after knocking off then-No. 4 N.C. State on Thursday.
TOP OF AP POLL STEADY AS BAYLOR, KANSAS SET COLLISION COURSE >> Baylor and Kansas just keep winning, setting up a monumental showdown Saturday between the top-ranked Bears and No. 3 Jayhawks that could help decide not only the Big 12 title but the No. 1 overall seed for the NCAA Tournament. The two teams were separated once again by Gonzaga in the latest college basketball poll from The Associated Press on Monday. The Bears (23-1) had 48 first-place votes from the 63-member media panel, while the Bulldogs (26-1) had 14 first-place nods and the Jayhawks (22-3) had the only remaining firstplace vote.
RATINGS FOR NBA ALL-STAR GAME RISE BY 8 PERCENT >> Ratings for the NBA AllStar Game were up 8% over last year, with an average of 7.3 million viewers watching Sunday night’s broadcast on TNT. About 8 million viewers were tuned in for the end of the game, where LeBron James’ team defeated Giannis Antetokounmpo’s team 157-155 in the first target-score format in All-Star history. The fourth quarter was untimed and was broadcast commercial-free.
TNT’s pregame coverage, which included tributes to Kobe Bryant, averaged 6.3 million viewers. That figure represented a 19% increase over viewership for the same show last year.
For the weekend — including Friday’s Rising Stars game and Saturday’s showing of the Skills Competition won by Miami’s Bam Adebayo, the 3-point contest won by Sacramento’s Buddy Hield and the dunk contest won by Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. — Turner Sports said ratings were up 15% from last year.
WNBA FINALS MVP EMMA MEESSEMAN IS STAYING IN WASHINGTON >> The Washington Mystics re-signed the forward on Monday. She averaged 13.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and a career-best 3.2 assists last season while shooting 55% from the field. She raised her game in the playoffs, averaging 19.3 points to help Washington win its first title. A native of Belgium, Meesseman returned to the Mystics last season after missing all of the 2018 season to play for the Belgium national team. She helped them qualify for the Olympics earlier this month. Meesseman was drafted 19th by the Mystics in 2013. Washington resigned league MVP Elena Delle Donne last week to a four-year deal, but lost star guard Kristi Toliver to free agency.
TOKYO MARATHON LIMITED TO ELITE RUNNERS BECAUSE OF VIRUS >> Tokyo Marathon organizers drastically reduced the number of participants for this year’s race on Monday out of fear of the spread of the virus coming from China. The general public is being barred from the race on March 1. It will now be limited to a few hundred elite participants, organizers said. The marathon is the latest large sports event to be impacted by the virus. Almost all sports events in China over the next few months have been called off, including next month’s world indoor track and field championships and a Formula One race in April.
The cancellations in China have a domino effect on Olympic qualifying, both in China and elsewhere, and muddle the picture for thousands of hopeful Olympians, families, and their travel plans.
MICKEY WRIGHT, GOLF GREAT AND EARLY LPGA FORCE, DIES AT 85 >> Mickey Wright, the golf great with a magnificent swing who won 13 majors among her 82 victories and gave the fledgling LPGA a crucial lift, died Monday of a heart attack. She was 85. She had been hospitalized in Florida the last few weeks after a fall, said her lawyer, Sonia Pawluc.
Wright joined the LPGA in 1955 and the Hall of Famer’s 82 wins place her second on the all-time list behind Kathy Whitworth, who won 88. The Associated Press in 1999 named Wright the Female Golfer of the Century and Female Athlete of the Year in 1963 and 1964.
A Golf Magazine poll of experts in 2009 called her the best female golfer ever, and men’s champions Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson said Wright had the best swing they ever saw. in 1952 at 17 won the USGA Girls’ Junior Championship. In 1954, she won the World Amateur.
She studied psychology for a year at Stanford before dropping out in 1955 to pursue a professional golf career.
DAYTONA 500 >> The Daytona 500 resumed Monday afternoon after “The Great American Race” was postponed for just the second time in 62 years. Rain halted the event at just 20 laps, with pole-sitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. out front the entire way at Daytona International Speedway. They did get a chance to race, an uneventful 20lap parade in which the top five never changed positions. Then the rain came again. Monday, the race began oncemore.
SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. >> Gabe Kapler stood in front of all 72 players in Giants camp on Monday with the opportunity to give his first “Let’s shock the world,” speech.
Instead of giving a passionate, fiery address to a team that’s in a rebuilding phase, Kapler said he kept his message “short and sweet,” and allowed some of his veteran players to address the room too.
The first full-squad workout is traditionally a chance for a manager to set the stage for spring training, inspire his players and introduce the main themes of camp. Kapler stressed versatility, competition and energy to the Giants and his coaching staff, but didn’t feel compelled to turn his opening message into a long-winded State of the Franchise.
“I think the one focus this camp for us is going to be, if I had to use one word, I would say unity,” veteran third baseman Evan Longoria said.
Longoria was Kapler’s teammate with the Tampa Bay Rays from 2009-2010 and said he was one of the players who vouched for Kapler when Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi asked for his input about hiring him. After Kapler was fired from his first gig following a two-year stint with the Philadelphia Phillies, he was brought in to succeed Bruce Bochy and lead a Giants team through a challenging transitional phase.
At Monday’s team meeting, Kapler made a point to introduce players to members of the organization behind the scenes including front office personnel, minor league coaches and others to emphasize how the Giants’ success depends on more than just what transpires on the field at Oracle Park.
One of the primary reasons Kapler kept the meeting to about 35 minutes was because he knows the team will meet four-to-five times a week before workouts anyway and players are hungry to hit the field. EARLY BATTING PRACTICE IMPRESSIONS >> Giants position players took batting practice on the main field at Scottsdale Stadium for the first time Monday and it was easy to see why so many members of the organization believe in Jaylin Davis’ ability.
Davis, who was acquired from the Twins at last year’s trade deadline, hit 35 home runs in the minor leagues last season but struggled in limited opportunities with the Giants in September. The power Davis showed last year is legitimate and it was on display during an impressive batting practice Monday. Davis launched balls as high as the lights on the tower in outfield and landed a few balls beyond the trees on the left field berm.
The biggest question Davis will face is whether he can consistently hit major league pitching, but it’s unlikely anyone in Giants camp can hit the ball farther than the rookie outfielder.
“We have a lot of faith in Jaylin’s ability to drive the baseball,” Kapler said.
Another standout from Monday was Pablo Sandoval, who swung exclusively from the left side of the plate as he continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Sandoval whacked pitches all over the diamond and showed the all-field approach that has made him so successful throughout his career.
The Giants have said they hope Sandoval will be ready to take a few at-bats in Cactus League games by the end of spring training and based on Monday’s showing, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him hit earlier than expected.
It’s often hard to spot slight adjustments players are making to swings with the naked eye, but free-agent signee Hunter Pence’s swing looks much more compact than it did during his 2018 season with the Giants. Pence appears to be quicker through the zone and seems to have cut down on some of the pre-pitch movements he used to do in the batter’s box.
“I think it’s impressive when players who are established and have had long track records of success are willing to make adjustments,” Kapler said. BILLY HAMILTON'S WORST MOMENT >> New Giants outfielder Billy Hamilton spoke to reporters Monday for the first time since signing a minor league deal with the club this offseason.
Hamilton has hundreds of stories of terrorizing pitchers with his world-class speed on the basepaths, but the former Reds center fielder opted to share a more humorous memory when asked if he can remember any interactions with current Giants starters.
When veteran Jeff Samardzija pitched for the Cubs, Hamilton recalled an at-bat in which he registered the worst swing of his career.
“When he was with the Cubs, he threw a pitch and it was 3-2 in a battle and it was one of those ones I thought would come in,” Hamilton said. “And I just dropped the bat. The ball was already in the mitt. I didn’t want to go down with a backward K, so I just tried to throw the bat down.”
Hamilton’s swing was so non-competitive that the Cubs’ TV broadcast showed replays from three different angles. It also ended up on ESPN for the whole baseball world to see.
“It was funny, they had it on ESPN for like the next three or four days,” Hamilton said with a laugh. “That’s what I remember about Samardzija.”
A NEW CLUBHOUSE FEATURE >> During the first fullsquad workout, the Giants planned to continue every player’s favorite spring tradition of practicing bunt defense.
When players arrived at Scottsdale Stadium on Monday, most of the televisions in the clubhouse displayed a computer animation showing exactly how the coaching staff wanted players to defend bunts. The animation included various scenarios including where defensive players would rotate when hitters bunted up the first base line or third base line and where they should go when different bases were occupied by runners.
The animations included instructions in English and Spanish and while a play unfolded, speaking bubbles appeared next to certain players such as the catcher to simulate the communication that’s expected to take place.
After the animation finished, videos of major league teams —including the Giants— putting successful bunt defense in action played to provide players with another visual component.
Bunt defense animations are a small detail, but another example of the ways the new coaching staff is trying to use technology as a teaching tool.
AROUND THE DIAMOND >> When the Giants lined up for infield drills on the main field Monday, all of the team’s incumbent starters and returning players assumed their regular positions. Buster Posey was behind the plate, Evan Longoria lined up at third, Brandon Crawford manned shortstop and Brandon Belt played first.
The Giants had Mauricio Dubón and non-roster invitee Yolmer Sánchez split reps at second base while free-agent signee Wilmer Flores and corner infielder Pablo Sandoval took reps behind Belt at first base. Halfway through the drill, Sánchez moved over to play behind Longoria at third while Flores also played some second base.
It’s too early to say the Giants have established an unofficial depth chart, but infielders Abiatal Avelino, Donovan Solano and Kean Wong were all presumably working on the same drill on one of the team’s back fields.
The Giants didn’t do much outfield work on the main field Monday, but Dubón and Mike Yastrzemski took flyballs in center field after each player hit during batting practice.
Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma reacts during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against South Florida, Sunday, in Tampa, Fla.