South Carolina Surprise: The program had never advanced beyond the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but that didn't stop Frank Martin and his Gamecock team from believing they could get to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond. They're now headed to Phoenix with a lot of confidence and a defense that can pretty much stop anyone, including a pretty complete Gonzaga team. In defeating seeds two, three and four, South Carolina gave up an average of 67 points a game to teams familiar with scoring a lot more than that. At the end of the season, the 'Cocks limped into the SEC tournament and lost their first game in ugly fashion to Alabama. Many believed their seven seed was somewhat of a gift, but they proceeded to prove their naysayers wrong with a convincing twenty point win over Marquette in the first round. Although they were 19 - 4 at one point in the season, they only won three of their last nine and I doubt anyone but the staunchest Gamecock supporters believed they could make the kind of run they did, especially in a region with Villanova and Duke. Can they go all the way? Absolutely, especially if you believe that Duke is at least as good as anyone left in the field, and they blasted the Blue Devils back to Durham with a scorching second half after trailing by five at the break.
DJ With a WGC Slam: Okay, it's not exactly the Tiger Slam or even a career Grand Slam, but when Dustin Johnson parred the eighteenth hole on Sunday to win the WGC Match Play, he accomplished something Tiger Woods never did. Even though Woods was dominant in World Golf Championship events, winning a total of 18, he has thus far failed to win the WGC - HSBC championship. After all of the talk of Tiger's crown being taken by Jordan Speith, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, and more recently Justin Thomas and Hidecki Matsuyama, DJ appears to be in the process of making a case as the heir to the former number one player in the world. Since his U.S. Open win at Oakmont, Johnson has won five times, including his last three tournaments. He's on quite a roll, not unlike a basketball team from his native state of South Carolina. In the past, DJ was generally regarded as a long hitter that lacked the short game to consistently win on tour. But in the past couple of seasons, his play around the greens and his putting have dramatically improved. Add some increased confidence, and it creates a pretty tough guy to beat heading to Augusta National and the Masters in two weeks. Something that isn't widely discussed, but is a notable accomplishment, is that he has won at least tournament every season he's been on tour, now his tenth year. His fifteen total wins is also significant and if he starts to add some majors, there's a chance he'll make a case for being the best player of his generation, even if he is getting a bit of late start at age 32.
Bruce Arena Finds Magic: The U.S. Men's National Soccer Team entered Friday night's match with Honduras in San Jose on a very hot seat. After an embarrassing 4 - 0 loss to Costa Rica in November that resulted in the firing of coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. found themselves at the bottom of the standings in the last stage of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. What made matters worse was the five goal differential they had accumulated, making a win Friday night almost mandatory if they were to climb back into qualifying contention. New coach Bruce Arenas made some lineup changes, including the addition of midfielder Sebastian Lletget of the LA Galaxy, with whom Arenas is particularly familiar with as the Galaxy coach. The move immediately paid dividends as Lletget scored on a rebound of a Christian Pulisic shot in the fourth minute to give the Americans a much needed lead. Forward Clint Dempsey, back on the field after a heart condition kept him sidelined, added a hat trick as the Hondurans got run over by a U.S. freight train. Stalwart captain Michael Bradley and eighteen year-old phenom Pulisic also scored in the 6 - 0 win that not only gave the U.S. some momentum headed to Panama for Tuesday night's matchup, but it also erased their entire goal differential, an important tie breaker. I'm a little of a late comer to soccer, but the team I saw on the field in San Jose looked remarkably different than the one that virtually gave up against Costa Rica. They were aggressive, sharp and appeared to be playing very well together. Pulisic is an absolute superstar in the making. His assist on Clint Dempsey's first goal was a thing of beauty, flicking the ball over a Honduras defender and onto the shoulder of Dempsey, who then buried the shot past the goalkeeper and into the back of the net. The Americans, not content to sit on a 3 - 0 halftime lead, scored on a Pulisic run and shot just 15 seconds into the second stanza. At that point, it was pretty much game over and the only drama would be how much they would win by and whether the shutout could be preserved. Can the momentum be sustained in Panama? We'll see Tuesday night, but my guess is they won't be giving up, even if they can't pull out a victory.
Hear my recent interview with legendary sports agent Leigh Steinberg,
where we discussed his agency, concussions, franchise relocation and
philanthropy at http://thechtonsports.com/cold-hard-truth-sports-radio-show-1242017/
listen to our conversation with author and sports journalist Mike
Carey, as we discussed his latest book "Bad News" about Marvin Barnes
and reminisced about Mike's coverage of the Boston Celtics during their
glory years with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge and Robert
Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" at Amazon.com and listen to me Friday's at 8:40 am EDT/ 7:40 am CDT on Lou in the Morning, streaming live on www.WPFLradio.com, 105.1 FM. Also check out www.thechtonsports.com for our podcasts and live broadcast on Tuesday's at 8:30 pm EST. I can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.