Breaking down UConn’s offense: Why Kemba’s Ballhogging is less important than you think

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Its no secret that UConn is going to go as far as Kemba Walker takes them this season.

Its what was predicted by every writer in the preseason. Its what became abundantly clear as Kemba carried the Huskies to a top ten ranking in December and early January. But it may also be what dooms the Huskies in March.

Kemba Walker scored 27 points against Marquette last Thursday when the Golden Eagles visited the XL Center, but UConn ended up losing that game. At Cincinnati on Sunday, Kemba finished with just 16 points, but UConn ended up winning that game on the road largely because he was able to get his teammates involved throughout the game.

The UConn supporting cast has really grown as the season as gone along. Alex Oriakhi is not as consistent as would be ideal, but he’s developed into one of the better big men in the Big East. Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier have both become playmakers capable of creating shots. Jamal Coombs-McDaniel has come back to earth a bit from the three game stretch where he averaged 20.3 ppg, but he’s proven — both to opponents and, more importantly, to himself — that he is a scoring threat that’s must be identified.

No longer is this a one man show. The Huskies now have options. Kemba is the star, he’s the focal point of what they want to do offensively and what their opponents are going to try to do defensively.

But its when he trusts his teammates and allows them to make plays is when UConn is at their best.

I went back and watched a bunch of tape of the Huskies past few games, specifically the end of the Marquette loss and the Georgetown and Cincinnati wins, to try and deduce precisely what the Huskies issues were.

In the last five minutes of regulation and overtime against Marquette, there was only one possession (not including the final 30 seconds when UConn was scrambling to score down five) in which the Huskies didn’t immediately run a high ball-screen or an isolation for Kemba. Even on the possession where the Huskies ran a set, the ball ended up in Kemba’s hands at the end of the shot clock.

The issue wasn’t necessarily that Kemba didn’t pass the ball, which is what the majority feeling was after the game on Thursday. Kemba didn’t have anywhere to pass to. The other four players on the court simply didn’t move. Each possession started in a 1-4 set, meaning Kemba had the ball up top while the two wings were buried in the corners and the big man that wasn’t setting the screen would stay on the block:


Walker ends up splitting the double team and getting himself into the teeth of the defense, where he is surrounded by three Marquette defenders with all five sets of eyes on him. Notice where his four teammates are on the floor. Ton have moved from where they were in the first image:


This possession actually worked out. The pass you see Walker throwing should have been stolen, but it bounced around and into Oriakhi’s hands for a layup.

This is what every possession looked like for the Huskies down the stretch. Its tough to pin the blame directly on Kemba. Even on the turnovers he had late in the game, the blame falls on his shoulders as much as it does his teammates that stood 30 feet away from him without moving while he was getting double teamed.

The issue with UConn isn’t necessarily that Kemba is a ball hog. The issue is the lack of movement they get on the offensive end. So much of what they do offensively is centered around Kemba’s ability off the dribble, and rightfully so. Its impossible to stay in front of him and he’s so dangerous once he gets into the paint. The risk involved is that the rest of the Huskies have a tendency to stand and watch Kemba instead of moving into an open spot. Not only does that limit the passing angles Kemba can find, it also makes it much, much easier to play help defense. In other words, a stagnant UConn offense makes it easy to collapse on Kemba in the paint.

Part of that blame has to fall on the shoulders on the players. They are the ones actually on the court, standing and watching. But the coaching staff is also at fault as well. There are ways to incorporate a high ball screen into an offensive set. Here is a perfect example from UConn’s win over Georgetown.

Kemba had passed the ball up the right side of the floor to Lamb, who is standing on the right wing:


As Kemba cuts through the defense to the left wing, Coombs-McDaniel, who was standing on the left wing, cut under the basket to the right corner. Lamb swung the ball up top to Smith who swings it again to Kemba:


Oriakhi comes and sets a ball screen from Kemba, who attacks the middle off the bounce. At the same time, Coombs-McDaniel comes off of a staggered screen being set by Lamb and Smith. The help comes at Kemba, who finds Coombs-McDaniel open on the wing for a three when his defender got hung up on a screen:


For UConn to win games in March, the Huskies cannot rely simply on Kemba Walker going one-on-one.

They are going to need his supporting cast to step up. The best way to do that?

Keep them moving on the offensive end of the floor.

Kemba’s a ballhog, yes, but that is just a symptom of a bigger problem for the Huskies.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.