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USATSI

Happy Wednesday, all!

Let's get right to it.

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Good morning to everyone but especially to...

THE UCONN HUSKIES

No coach, no problem. UConn showed last night it can hang with -- and beat -- just about any team in the country. In front of an electric home crowd -- and without head coach Dan Hurley, who was ejected in the first half -- the No. 21 Huskies took down No. 8 Villanova in a 71-69 thriller.

Here's what happened down the stretch:

  • UConn outscored Villanova 6-0 in the final 21 seconds.
  • After a Tyler Polley 3-pointer, R.J. Cole forced a jump ball and scored a tough layup with his right (non-dominant) hand on the ensuing possession.
  • Cole then drew a charge to all but seal the win. Andre Jackson made a free throw to give the game its final scoreline.

It was UConn's first win over Villanova since 2014. The Huskies have won four straight, and are in third place in the Big East with the conference tournament two weeks away. But last night proved their goals can be much bigger than that: UConn checks a lot of boxes for the NCAA Tournament, too.

  • Adama Sanogo (20 points and six rebounds last night) can dominate the middle.
  • Cole is the type of veteran guard who's vital in the postseason, as evidenced by last night.
  • The Huskies have plenty of long, athletic wings who fill key roles.
  • UConn shoots a solid 35.5% from three.

Honorable mentions

And not such a good morning for...

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ZION WILLIAMSON...

Since they drafted Zion Williamson first overall in 2019, the New Orleans Pelicans have played 203 games. Williamson has played in 85. His absence this season in particular has frustrated many, and the latest news -- that Williamson did not reach out to new teammate C.J. McCollum until recently -- led to former teammate J.J. Redick calling out Williamson.

  • Redick: "This is a pattern of behavior with Zion that we are seeing again and again. I was his teammate. I can describe him as a detached teammate. That is an accurate statement. This is basic level of humanity being a teammate. Send a text to a guy when he gets traded to your team. That is just normal behavior. That's the bare minimum that you have to do. And the Pelicans yesterday sent out an email for season tickets for next year, and guess whose name was not in the email? Zion's. What the heck is going on in New Orleans?"

That last line remains unanswered. Williamson has not played this season, reportedly suffering multiple setbacks following foot surgery. He has mysteriously rehabbed away from the team, in Portland. All this comes after a report over the summer saying Williamson's family was not happy with the direction of the organization.

When the Pelicans surprisingly won the draft lottery in May 2019, team staffers jumped for joy knowing they'd land a franchise-changing talent. Since then, though, that "franchise-changing talent" has played less than half of his team's games and -- according to one former teammate -- created rifts in the very organization he was expected to lead.

... AND ALSO NOT SUCH A GOOD MORNING FOR PHIL MICKELSON

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Phil Mickelson has been the talk of the golf world for the last week -- and not in a good way. Now he's trying to clean up the mess he created.

As a refresher, Mickelson, has been very open about how interested he is in leaving the PGA Tour for the Saudi Arabia-backed Super Golf League. However, he took several swings at that very league last week.

  • Mickelson called the people backing the Super Golf League "scary motherf---ers to get involved with."
  • He later added: "We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates."

This past weekend, many big PGA stars spoke out against the league and took issue with Mickelson's comments specifically. On Tuesday, Mickelson issued a lengthy apology for his "reckless" words and said that they were spoken "off the record" (which interviewer Alan Shipnuck vehemently denied). Mickelson concluded by saying...

  • Mickelson: "The past 10 years I have felt the pressure and stress slowly affecting me at a deeper level. I know I have not been my best and desperately need some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be."

Still, he did not commit to the PGA Tour, nor did he disavow the SGL. Oh, and Mickelson's comments didn't just irk other golfers. KPMG ended its partnership with Mickelson after 14 years.

Pulisic scores, McKennie hurt in Champions League Round of 16 action ⚽

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It's been an up-and-down season for Christian Pulisic at Chelsea, but yesterday's performance against Lille in the UEFA Champions League was a major "up." The 23-year-old American star started and scored a goal in the Blues' 2-0 win in the first leg of the Round-of-16 matchup.

The performance earned a 7/10 rating from our soccer reporter James Benge:

  • Benge: "For a long while this felt like a frustratingly familiar Pulisic game, full of bright flashes like two dribbles early in the second half but without that headline-grabbing contribution. Then came the goal, just his fourth of the club season, elegantly taken and at a decisive moment."

Elsewhere, Villareal and Juventus drew 1-1. The biggest headline from an American perspective was not a good one: Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie suffered a broken foot and will miss the USMNT's final three 2022 World Cup qualifiers next month. It's a massive loss for the club and especially USMNT, writes our soccer expert Chuck Booth.

There are two more matches today, both at 3 p.m. on Paramount+: Benfica vs Ajax and Atletico Madrid vs Manchester United.

Is Freddie Freeman's time in Atlanta coming to an end? ⚾

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The MLB lockout is still ongoing -- they're working on it, we promise! -- but the hot stove has a major rumor regarding a former MVP. There's a "growing belief" that Freddie Freeman will not re-sign with the Braves after the lockout ends.

If this happens, it would be an abrupt ending to Freeman's time in Atlanta just months after he led the Braves to their first World Series title since 1995. Over the last four seasons, Freeman has become a superstar:

  • Most hits, runs and games played in NL
  • 2nd-most RBI in NL
  • 2020 MVP

Losing Freeman would be a huge blow for the reigning champions, and, quite frankly, it would be downright strange to see him in any other uniform. While no one could truly "replace" Freeman -- a beloved figure on and off the field -- the Braves have options if he does indeed leave, writes our MLB expert R.J. Anderson.

  • Anderson: "Matt Olson is the both the most obvious and the most appealing candidate to replace Freeman. He's a two-time Gold Glove Award winner who has homered 89 times since the start of the 2019 season. Additionally, he's coming off a season that saw him greatly reduce his strikeout rate (from 31.4 percent to 16.8 percent), suggesting his career-best 153 OPS+ could be the beginning of a sustained run of MVP-caliber play rather than a one-off career year."

What we're watching Wednesday 📺

Benfica vs Ajax, 3 p.m. on Paramount+
Atletico Madrid vs Manchester United, 3 p.m. on Paramount+
🏀 Xavier at No. 11 Providence, 7 p.m. on CBS Sports Network
🏀 LSU at No. 6 Kentucky, 9 p.m. on ESPN