The Hit Up – Sports News & Highlights #6

The highly-anticipated trans-Tasman cricket series opener was a one-sided fizzer, while Australia has a new UFC champion, Lamar Jackson and Kevin de Bruyne packed out the highlight reels, and LeBron Jr. proved the apple doesn’t fall from the tree in a hectic week of sport around the world.

Kiwis Crushed in Perth Cauldron

Australia’s rollicking start to the summer of cricket continued with a comprehensive 296-run thumping of New Zealand inside four days at Perth’s Optus Oval.

The hosts laid the platform for victor by racking up 416 in the first innings of the day/night Test, led by Marnus Labuschagne’s third consecutive century. Ross Taylor (80) was the only Kiwi to offer any resistance and Mitchell Starc picked up a five-wicket bag as New Zealand crumbled to 161 all out.

Tim Southee (5/69) and Neil Wagner (3/59) then launched a short-pitched assault on the Aussies, who declared at 9/217 on Sunday to set a fanciful fourth-innings target of 468. Man-of-the-match Starc (4/45) brutalised the visitors again in a sorry batting effort of 171 all out, while Nathan Lyon also claimed four wickets.

The match was a war of attrition for the respective bowling attacks in searing heat after Black Caps debutant quick Lockie Ferguson and Aussie pace spearhead Josh Hazlewood both succumbed to injury early on. The tourists – who came into the series as the second-ranked Test nation behind India, a position now occupied by Australia – are sweating on Trent Boult’s return for the Boxing Day Test, while James Pattinson shapes as Hazlewood’s likely replacement in Melbourne.

Lamar Puts One Hand on MVP Crown

The Baltimore Ravens remain the NFL’s team to beat after their 42-21 thrashing of the New York Jets on Thursday Night Football extended their winning streak to 10 games.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson – who now must be an unbackable favourite for season MVP honours – lit it up yet again with five touchdown passes, taking his tally to a league-high 33. But the 22-year-old created an even more indelible mark on the record books with his running game.

Jackson ran for 86 yards on eight carries to shatter Michael Vick’s mark for the most rushing yards in a season by a quarterback.

The Ravens finish their regular-season campaign with assignments against the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, ahead of a seemingly inevitable AFC Championship showdown with the New England Patriots. 

Aussie Vokanovski Claims Featherweight Belt

Alexander Volkanovski is Australia’s second UFC champion after winning a unanimous decision over American Max Holloway in the Featherweight Championship bout in Las Vegas. The 31-year-old’s relentless leg kicks brought Holloway undone, joining middleweight Robert Whittaker on the brief list of UFC’s Aussie champs.

Born in Shellharbour, Volkanovski was a handy rugby league player in the South Coast competition before charting a course in mixed martial arts. His professional record now stands at 21-1.

Kamaru Usman TKO’d the polarising Colby Covington in the fifth round to retain his welterweight title in UFC 245’s main event. Nigerian-born American Usman knocked down Trump-loving Covington twice with brutal punches before finishing him off on the ground. Covington suffered a broken jaw in the onslaught.

City Ground Jets

Goals were at a premium in a largely dour round of A-League action with just five scored in the first four games of Week 10. But Melbourne City FC produced some belated highlights with a 4-0 beatdown of the Newcastle Jets on Sunday afternoon. Adrian Luna notched a first-half brace, before Javier Cabrera and Jamie Maclaren completed the rout with goals in the second stanza.

Melbourne City sit second on the A-League ladder – five points adrift of defending champions Sydney FC, who held off cellar dwellers Central Coast Mariners 1-0 on Saturday night.

De Bruyne Torches Arsenal

It’s been an uncharacteristically tough month for two-time defending Premier League champs Manchester City, whose hopes of a title threepeat have disintegrated after blockbuster losses to Liverpool and Manchester United along with a shock draw against Newcastle.

But a dazzling display from midfield talisman Kevin De Bruyne carried the Citizens to a heartening 3-0 win at Arsenal. The Belgian superstar netted two goals in the first half and provided an assist for Raheem Sterling as City consolidated third place on the ladder.

Arsenal, meanwhile, are languishing in ninth with just one win from their last nine games. Liverpool beat Watford 2-0, extending their lead at the top of the EPL table to 10 points after second-placed Leicester City’s eight-game winning streak was halted via a 1-1 draw at home to Norwich. Chelsea’s slump continued with a 1-0 defeat to AFC Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge – the fourth-placed Blues’ fourth loss in five games.

Like G.O.A.T., Like Son

At 34, LeBron James is still arguably basketball’s dominant individual force – and it may not be too long before we see his offspring in the NBA.

Sierra Canyon High School freshman LeBron ‘Bronny’ James Jr., 15, produced the game-winning layup to cap an MVP performance against his old man’s alma mater, St Vincent-St Mary’s. LeBron Sr. jetted to Ohio to watch his son’s game after the Lakers’ win over the Heat.

‘Bronny’ counts Zaire Wade – son of LeBron’s right-hand man in Miami, Dwyane Wade – among his Sierra Canyon teammates.

Meanwhile, the 23-3 Lakers are steaming towards the NBA Western Conference top seed with James and Anthony Davis in imperious form. The Lakers’ 113-110 eclipse of the Heat was their 13th straight win on the road.

Running Loses a Legend

New Zealand is mourning the loss of one of its greatest-ever athletes and a giant of middle-distance running, with Sir Peter Snell passing away in Dallas, Texas at the age of 80.

Part of famed coach Arthur Lydiard’s stable, Opunake-born Snell shot to stardom by winning the 800 metres gold at the 1960 Rome OIympics, then set a new Olympic record in the 800 metres four years later in Tokyo and collected the 1500 metres gold – the last runner to complete the double. He also broke Australian legend Herb Elliott’s long-standing mile world record in 1962.

Snell was named New Zealand’s ‘Sports Champion of the 20th Century’ and was one of 24 foundation inductees when the International Association of Athletics Federations Hall Of Fame opened in 2012.

Stud of the Week

The No.3 role has been a problem spot in Australia’s batting line-up since a declining Ricky Ponting was bumped down the order in 2011. The likes of Shaun Marsh, Shane Watson and Usman Khawaja have tried and failed to nail down the position at first drop.

The search appears to be over, however, with Marnus Labuschagne rapidly firming as the star of the Australian summer. After back-to-back big centuries against Pakistan, the 25-year-old owned the New Zealand bowling attack with 143 and 50 in Perth.

Labuschagne, who scored four straight half-centuries after coming into the Australian line-up as Steve Smith’s concussion replacement during the Ashes, boasts a batting average of 58.05 after 12 Tests. Only three players in the past 50 years have reached 1,000 Test runs quicker than the South African-born phenom’s 18 innings.

Stat of the Week

Dallas Mavericks talisman Luka Doncic continues to astound the basketball world on a nightly basis, playing with maturity way beyond his 20 years. The Slovenian second-year sensation – who is averaging 29.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 8.9 assists this season – created more records with his 41-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist performance against the Detroit Pistons in Mexico City.

Doncic became only the second NBA player after LeBron James to record two 40-point triple-doubles before their 21st birthday. But the high-flying Mavs are reeling from an ankle injury that is expected to sideline Doncic for a couple of weeks.

Not to be outdone, fellow MVP contender James Harden broke new ground by becoming the first player to produce back-to-back 50-point performances with 10-plus three-pointers, lighting it up from beyond the arc against the Cavaliers and Magic.

The Houston Rockets sharpshooter already has five 50-point games to his name this season and needs just nine more to overtake Kobe Bryant (25) and Michael Jordan (31) and climb to second place for the most in an NBA career – though Wilt Chamerlain’s ridiculous 118 still tops the all-time list.

This Week in History

The incomparable Brian Lara plundered the only century of the match – a sparkling first-innings 182 off 235 balls – but a 36-year-old journeyman guided Australia to a six-wicket win over West Indies in Adelaide during the 2000-01 summer.

Michael Slater (83) and Ricky Ponting (92) helped the hosts to a 12-run first-innings lead, before veteran off-spinner Colin Miller’s five-for – giving him 10 wickets for the match – skittled the Windies for just 141 in their second dig.

Man-of-the-match Miller claimed the prized scalp of Lara in both innings in the highwater mark of an 18-Test career, but he arguably became better known for turning up to the New Year’s Test at the SCG with blue hair.

Big 5 for the Week Ahead

12pm (AEDT), Tue 17th Dec – NBA: Milwaukee Bucks v Dallas Mavericks
7.10pm (AEDT), Tue 17th Dec – BBL Season Opener: Brisbane Heat v Sydney Thunder
7pm (AEDT), Sat 21st Dec – A-League: Melbourne City FC v Melbourne Victory
2am (AEDT), Sun 22nd Dec – Premier League: Manchester City v Leicester City
8.30am (AEDT), Sun 22nd Dec – NFL: New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills