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Weekend Sports in Brief

March 14, 2022 GMT

MEN’S COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Any hoops fan hungering for a return to normal this March might have looked at the bracket when it finally came out and wondered what ever changed.

Gonzaga is the tournament’s top seed. Kansas and Arizona are No. 1s, as well. Duke and Kentucky are right up there as No. 2s and the defending champion, Baylor, is the other top seed and a force to be reckoned with again, too.

But all that sameness felt like more of a celebration when the pairings were set this Selection Sunday. The most-anticipated reveal of the year felt like a party again, even if it might have been pushed down a notch on the ticker by the unexpected return of Tom Brady to the NFL in an announcement that came just as Dick Vitale and Co., were starting to break down the 68-team draw.

“This was a really special year because we all realized what we missed,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said.

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For the first time since 2019, the teams will scatter across the country to eight cities for 48 games over the first four-day weekend of America’s unofficial hoops holiday. Then, they will move to four cities for the Sweet 16. And they will cut down the nets in New Orleans, where the Final Four runs April 2-4.

WOMEN’S COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Dawn Staley and South Carolina are once again a No. 1 seed in the women’s basketball NCAA Tournament — a familiar role for the Gamecocks.

South Carolina earned the the top overall seed in this year’s tournament field, which was announced Sunday night. The Gamecocks have been No. 1 in a region six times since 2014.

The women’s tournament itself also is getting back to a familiar setting. For the first time since 2019, the tournament will feature games on campus sites with fans in the stands.

North Carolina State, Stanford and Louisville are the other No. 1 seeds. UConn is a No. 2 seed in this year’s competitive field.

PRO FOOTBALL

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Tom Brady’s retirement lasted 40 days. He said Sunday he’s returning to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for his 23rd NFL season.

The seven-time Super Bowl champion announced his decision on Twitter and Instagram, saying he has “unfinished business.” The news stole the spotlight from the NCAA’s Selection Sunday.

“These past two months I’ve realized my place is still on the field and not in the stands,” Brady wrote. “That time will come. But it’s not now. I love my teammates, and I love my supportive family. They make it all possible. I’m coming back for my 23rd season in Tampa.”

The 44-year-old Brady led the NFL in yards passing (5,316), touchdowns (43), completions (485) and attempts (719) in 2021, but the Buccaneers lost at home to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings and quarterback Kirk Cousins have agreed to a one-year contract extension.

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Cousins was scheduled to carry a salary cap charge of more than $45 million. That made it imperative for the Vikings to reduce that number either by trading him or extending him with a deal to flatten out his guaranteed money.

The Vikings opted to keep Cousins for at least the near future, with new head coach Kevin O’Connell on board. O’Connell and Cousins developed a strong relationship when they were with Washington together in 2017.

PRO BASKETBALL

BOSTON (AP) — With a couple of curses, a primal scream, and a few tears, too, Kevin Garnett helped hoist his No. 5 to the TD Garden rafters on Sunday alongside the 2008 NBA championship banner he helped win after arriving in Boston.

On a day that featured live and video tributes from ex-teammates, former Celtics greats, other NBA A-listers — and even musician Kenny G — Garnett became the 24th person in franchise history have is number retired.

Wearing a dark suit and a black turtleneck, with a Ukrainian flag ribbon on his lapel and a Celtics green pocket square, Garnett came onto the court with his daughters and was greeted by former teammate and current broadcaster Brian Scalabrine.

With the championship trophy on a table behind them, Scalabrine asked where Garnett got the passion that propelled him from the fifth overall draft pick out of a Chicago high school to the basketball Hall of Fame.

“Nobody tells you how to use your superpower,” Garnett said, adding that he watched his mother work hard to raise him. “It’s in my DNA. I figured it out.”

PHOENIX (AP) — Anthony Davis had a few words to say about the Los Angeles Lakers’ playoff loss to the Phoenix Suns last season before the teams played Sunday night. The Suns got the last word.

Devin Booker scored 30 points, Deandre Ayton had 23 points and 16 rebounds in just 27 minutes and the NBA-leading Suns routed the Lakers 140-111.

Booker also had 10 assists and four steals. Mikal Bridges added 18 points to help Phoenix move 40 games over .500 at 54-14. The 140 points were a season high for the Suns.

LeBron James led the Lakers with 31 points, seven rebounds and six assists. James reached his 10,000th career assist in the second quarter on Carmelo Anthony’s 3-pointer. James is the only player in NBA history with at least 30,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 10,000 assists.

BASEBALL

VENICE, Fla. (AP) — Braves manager Brian Snitker held court in front of a “2021 World Champions” banner, peaking occasionally at the nearby bullpen, where World Series hero Charlie Morton threw a side session. Around the corner, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Cristian Pache pulled up in matching, glitzy-gold SUVs and posed for a photo.

“It’s like the first day of school,” October star Tyler Matzek said.

With one notable absence: All-Star free agent Freddie Freeman.

Big leaguers filed into camps across Florida and Arizona on Sunday for the first official day of spring training following a 99-day lockout. Fans rejoiced over sights familiar and new — Astros ace Justin Verlander returning from injury, All-Star Marcus Semien fielding grounders in Rangers red and blue.

It’s been over a decade since Freeman wasn’t in Atlanta’s camp, but the 2020 NL MVP remains a free agent — one reportedly being courted by the big-money Dodgers and Yankees. New York made its first post-lockout move, acquiring former AL MVP Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa from Minnesota for catcher Gary Sánchez and third baseman Gio Urshela.

PHOENIX (AP) — It was an impressive holdout for the National League, which made it nearly 50 years staving off a full-time designated hitter rule that the American League implemented before the 1973 season.

“We’ll continue to play by baseball rules,” NL President Chub Feeney famously said back then.

Well, the rules have finally changed.

Among the most noticeable switches in MLB for the 2022 season will be that all 30 teams will use the designated hitter, eliminating pitchers hitting and changing one of the long-standing different quirks between the two leagues.

The extra hitter won’t be a completely new concept in the NL: The league used the DH in the coronavirus-shortened season in 2020, in interleague games when visiting AL parks and in the postseason. There’s also the reality that nearly every level of baseball — from high school to college to the minor leagues — usually uses the DH.

AUTO RACING

AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Chase Briscoe raced to his first NASCAR Cup Series victory, executing two great restarts over the final 20 laps to pull away from Ross Chastain and Tyler Reddick on Sunday at Phoenix Raceway.

It was an intense late battle between three drivers who had never won in the Cup Series. It’s more evidence of the parity across the series in the Next Gen cars, with four drivers winning the first four races this season. Chastain and Reddick — both driving Chevrolets — made things interesting but Briscoe’s Ford was simply too strong.

On the final restart with four laps left, the 27-year-old Briscoe started on the inside, dipped low on the dogleg apron, and was able to hold off the rest of the field.

GOLF

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The longest week at The Players Championship moved closer to a conclusion Sunday without much clarity amid ever-changing names in the chase.

Anirban Lahiri of India finished off more than 12 hours of action at the TPC Sawgrass with a two-putt birdie from 30 feet on the par-5 11th hole to reach 9-under par.

Moments earlier, Harold Varner III hooded a wedge with so much side spin that it raced left across the ninth green and settled inches away for a tap-in birdie. Three short blasts of the horn sounded, not in celebration of Varner’s shot but to signal the end of the day due to darkness.

Tom Hoge finished out the ninth hole by making a 25-foot birdie putt that pulled the Pebble Beach winner within one shot of Lahiri. Sam Burns is right behind.

The third round will finish Monday morning, followed by the final round in pursuit of the $3.6 million payoff to the winner, along with three-year exemptions to the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open.

TENNIS

About 1 1/2 months after the last match of Sergiy Stakhovsky’s professional tennis career, the 36-year-old Ukrainian left his wife and three young children in Hungary and went back to his birthplace to help however he could during Russia’s invasion.

“I don’t have the words to describe it. I would never imagine in my life that it would come to this — that I would be in my home city ... with a gun in my hands,” Stakhovsky said Saturday, rubbing his left cheek with his palm during a video interview with The Associated Press from what he said was a residential building in Kyiv, Ukraine’s beleaguered capital.

“A lot of people are saying that they’re waking up and hoping ... it was just a bad dream. But, you know, on Day 16, (that) doesn’t work anymore,” he said.

Stakhovsky turned pro in 2003, won four titles in singles and another four in doubles, and earned more than $5 million in prize money. Highlights included rising to a best ATP ranking of No. 31 in 2010, reaching the third round of Grand Slam tournaments six times and pulling off one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history when he ended Roger Federer’s record streak of 36 consecutive major quarterfinal appearances by beating him at Wimbledon in 2013.

In January, Stakhovsky walked away from the sport after losing to American J.J. Wolf in the first round of qualifying for the Australian Open. Retirement did not go as planned. On Feb. 24, Russia began attacking Ukraine. In the wee hours of Feb. 28, Stakhovsky arrived in Kyiv.

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) — Rattled by a derogatory shout from a spectator, Naomi Osaka went on to lose 6-0, 6-4 to Veronika Kudermetova in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open.

Osaka trailed 3-0 in the first set when a woman in the stands apparently shouted, “Osaka, you suck.”

After the match, Osaka spoke to the crowd with tears streaming down her face.

“To be honest, I’ve gotten heckled before, like it didn’t really bother me, but heckled here,” she said, her voice trailing off. “I watched a video of Venus and Serena (Williams) getting heckled here, if you’ve never watched it you should watch it. I don’t know why, but it went into my head and it got replayed a lot. I’m trying not to cry.”

Osaka has said she struggled with depression after winning the 2018 U.S. Open in a controversial final against Serena Williams. She withdrew from last year’s French Open to tend to her mental health.

HOCKEY

DENVER (AP) — The Colorado Avalanche say captain Gabriel Landeskog is scheduled to undergo knee surgery Monday and there’s no timetable for his return.

The Avalanche are in firm control of the top spot in the Western Conference standings and are eyeing their second straight Presidents’ Trophy, which goes to the team with the NHL’s best regular-season record.

Landeskog has a team-leading 30 goals this season. It’s the second time in his career he’s reached the 30-goal plateau.

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