Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The national championship game is signaling a significant evolution in coaching styles. Instead of process-oriented, brand-obsessed task masters, Clemson's Dabo Swinney and LSU's Ed Orgeron embrace their role as personable, relationship-based leaders. That's not to say hard-nosed coaches such as Alabama's Nick Saban care less about their players or engender a lower degree of loyalty in those they are leading. And that's certainly not to say that more approachable coaches such as Swinney and Orgeron are slacking on the details and discipline every great program must have. But Swinney and Orgeron have clearly brought a different feel to this game.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Clemson had to knock off a dynasty to win two of the last three national titles. Now coach Dabo Swinney's Tigers are on the cusp of joining exclusive company in college football history. No. 3 Clemson will try to become the fourth team since The Associated Press began crowning college football national champions in 1936 to win three titles in four seasons when it faces No. 1 LSU on Monday night at the Superdome. Clemson is also trying to become just the seventh major college football program since 1950 to win at least 30 straight games.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — LSU senior linebacker Michael Divinity says he's blessed to return for the biggest game of his career and in his hometown. Personal problems caused Divinity to miss the majority of one of the most extraordinary football seasons in LSU history. The team's 2018 co-leader in sacks even briefly quit the team. But he decided to come back knowing his remaining punishment would prevent him from playing college football again unless LSU advanced to Monday night’s national championship. Divinity had three sacks in the five games he played. Now he's back for No. 1 LSU's title tilt with No. 3 Clemson.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Clemson linebacker Chad Smith has saved his best college football season for last. The fifth-year senior became a starter this fall and will be one of the Tigers key defenders when they face LSU for the College Football Playoff championship Monday night. Smith had mostly played on special teams since arriving in 2015. Family values — including loyalty and service — helped Smith stick things out when other players might have looked to transfer. But he was enjoying his college experience even with limited playing time. Smith says teammates, coaches, classes and the quality football made him want to stay.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is hopeful injured starting defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney can play against No. 1 LSU in the College Football Playoff championship game. Pinckney hurt his left ankle in Clemson's 29-23 victory over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 28. Pinckney has started 13 games this season and has 27 tackles and two sacks. Swinney says Pinckney will be limited even if he is healthy enough to play Monday night. Backup tackle Jordan Williams will likely see more action in Pinckney's absence. Clemson is seeking its 30th straight win and second straight national championship.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Zia Cooke scored 17 points to lead five in double figures as the fourth-ranked South Carolina women routed Vanderbilt 93-57 to position the Gamecocks for a possible move up to No. 1 for the first time this season. Top-ranked UConn lost to Baylor, No. 2 Oregon lost to Arizona State and Arizona State upset No. 3 Oregon State earlier. The Gamecocks came in and simply dominated from the start on their way to a 10th straight win. They improved to 12-2 against Vanderbilt under coach Dawn Staley, including all six at Memorial Gym in this stretch.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Rhyne Howard had 22 points on an off day, Chasity Patterson added a career-high 20, and No. 14 Kentucky pulled away in the second half to defeat Florida 65-45. Howard, who hit seven 3-pointers in each of the last two games and scored a total of 80 points, including a school-record tying 43, was 0 of 3 from 3-point range and ended a streak of five-straight games with 25 points. Kentucky shot 26.5% in the first half and only led 28-23. Kiara Smith had 16 points for the Gators but freshman Lavender Biggs was held to two points, ending her streak of double figure games at 14.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Chelsea Dungee scored a season-high 38 points, Taylah Thomas added a double-double and No. 21 Arkansas overcame a slow start to defeat Missouri 90-73. The Tigers scored the first six points of the game and had a 10-point lead in the first quarter, which ended with the visitors on top 22-14. Dungee had 10 points in the second quarter, including the last eight, and had 17 at the break, when the Razorbacks led 34-30. Thomas scored 10 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Hayley Frank led the Tigers with 19 points. There were 54 fouls in the game and the teams combined to shoot 56 free throws.