BASKETBALL

Matt Ryan scored 30 points to lead the Maine Celtics to their third straight win, 122-117 over the Greensboro Swarm on Thursday night at Greensboro, North Carolina.

The Celtics erased a four-point halftime deficit with a dominating third quarter, outscoring the Swarm, 41-19.

Denzel Valentine had his second straight triple-double for the Celtics with 16 rebounds, 12 assists and 10 points.

Malik Fitts chipped in with 19 points and Sam Hauser had 16 for Maine, which ends its regular season on Saturday at Lakeland, Florida.

GOLF

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PGA: Russell Knox recorded four straight birdies on the back nine and fired a 7-under 65 for a one-shot lead after the opening round of the Valero Texas Open at San Antonio.

Knox closed out his round with a 7-foot putt to save par at the par-5 18th at TPC San Antonio, and was one shot ahead of Rasmus Hojgaard.

Hojgaard fired a 66 despite a double bogey on his final hole. Matt Kuchar is another stroke back after an opening 5-under 67 and is among a group that includes Denny McCarthy, Aaron Rei and J.J. Spaun.

Defending champ Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy finished at even-par 72. They were outside the top 60 after one round and could flirt with the cut line on Friday.

LPGA: Jennifer Kupcho shared the lead in The Chevron Championship in her second – and last – start at Mission Hills, the tree-lined layout she has quickly fallen in love with.

Kupcho shot a 6-under 66 in sunny and calm morning conditions to join fellow early starter Minjee Lee atop the leaderboard after the first round of the final edition of the major championship at Mission Hills at Rancho Mirage, California.

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Unable to find a sponsor willing to remain at Mission Hills, the tournament that started in 1972 as the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle and became a major in 1983 is shifting to Houston next year under a deal with Chevron.

SOCCER

WORLD CUP: The United States received a boost for the World Cup draw and Canada took a hit in the updated FIFA rankings.

The Americans, who failed to qualify for the last World Cup, will be in Pot 2 after being ranked 15th in the world.

Canada, which won the North American qualifying group and will play at the tournament for the first time in 36 years, missed a chance for a rankings boost by losing at Panama 1-0 in its final qualifier.

Instead, Canada will be among the lowest seeded teams in Pot 4.

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The eight groups for the tournament in Qatar will be drawn Friday from four pots.

Qatar gets the top-seeded slot given to the World Cup host nation despite being ranked No. 51.

The other top-seeded teams are Brazil, Belgium, defending champion France, Argentina, England, Spain and Portugal.

PREMIER LEAGUE: Premier League teams will be able to use five substitutions per game beginning next season in a change announced following a shareholders meeting.

The switch to five subs – up from three – brings the Premier League in line with other major competitions in Europe.

AUTO RACING

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FORMULA ONE: It’s been 40 years since Formula One last ventured into Sin City for back-to-back Las Vegas races staged in the parking lot of the Caesars Palace hotel.

The European-headquartered series raced in Las Vegas in 1981 and 1982, then packed up with little incentive to return. Then came new ownership, slick marketing, a Netflix docuseries and a historic championship battle that all helped F1 explode in popularity throughout the United States.

The U.S. will be the only country on the 2023 calendar to host three F1 races in one season following Wednesday’s announcement of a Saturday night race down the famed Las Vegas Strip. F1 has raced at Circuit of the America’s in Austin, Texas, since 2012, and in May it will make its debut in Miami.

Barring any surprises, existing races in Mexico City and Montreal will bring F1 to North America five times next season.

• Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel is “fit to race” after recovering from COVID-19, the Formula One team said.

The four-time world champion will make his season debut at the Australian Grand Prix on April 10.

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The 34-year-old German missed the first two races of the F1 season – in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia – because of his coronavirus infection.

TENNIS

MIAMI OPEN: Hubert Hurkacz, seeded eighth, moved two wins away from defending his Miami title by wearing down the top-seeded Daniil Medvedev 7-6 (7), 6-3 in a men’s quarterfinal at Miami Gardens, Florida.

Had Medvedev prevailed, he would have overtaken Novak Djokovic on Monday and returned to No. 1 in the world rankings.

Instead, he will stay No. 2 in the world.

Hurkacz, who is from Poland, will next meet No. 14 Carlos Alcaraz of Spain in the semifinals. Alcaraz defeated unseeded Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (5) in the last men’s quarterfinal.

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The other semifinal pits sixth-seeded Casper Ruud of Norway against unseeded Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina.

Unseeded Naomi Osaka defeated No. 22 Belinda Bencic 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the women’s semifinals. She’s in a championship match for the first time since the 2021 Australian Open, and will meet either No. 16 Jessica Pegula or No. 2 Iga Swiatek on Saturday.

GAMBLING

CALIFORNIA: A former minor league pitcher ran a major league illegal sports betting operation in California that used other former pro athletes to take bets and took wagers from players still in the game, federal prosecutors said.

Wayne Nix, who threw for Oakland Athletics farm teams, used his connections to recruit three former Major League Baseball players and a former pro football player as fellow bookies, prosecutors said.

The MLB began looking into the matter when it learned of it, but was unaware any of those involved other than Nix, a spokesman said.

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Court records offered no names of the players who worked for Nix or those who placed bets with his business, but they provide a glimpse of the kind of money being wagered, earned and lost.

A professional football player paid Nix $245,000 for gambling losses in 2016. An MLB coach paid $4,000 in losses that same year. It was not disclosed if either bet on their own games or their own sports.

MLB prohibits players from betting on baseball or gambling illegally on sports. They can bet on other sports if it’s legal. The National Football League policy bars all personnel from betting on football games.

A Los Angeles check cashing business that has agreed to plead guilty to failing to prevent money laundering in the scheme cashed over $18 million in checks from two single bettors, prosecutors said.

One client wagered $5 million on the Super Bowl but it was not revealed if that gambit paid off.

Sports betting is legal in 30 states, but not in California. However, voters will have a chance to legalize it at the polls in November.

Nix, 45, has agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to run an illegal gambling operation and faces up to eight years in prison. He also admitted he failed to report $1.4 million in income in 2017 and 2018. He has agreed to pay back taxes and interest of $1.25 million and forfeit $1.3 million seized from bank accounts.

Nix began the sports bookmaking business about 20 years ago after his six-year minor league career – with stops in Arizona, Texas and California – ended, prosecutors said.

His client list was created from contacts he had made in the sports world and included current and former pro athletes. The agents he hired helped expand that clientele.


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