South Florida’s upset of ‘Nova exposes Wildcats’ fatal flaw


NEW YORK – Anthony Crater averaged 4.0 ppg in 34 minutes during the 2010-2011 regular season.

But it was Crater, who transferred into South Florida after failing in a ten game experiment as Mike Conley’s replacement at Ohio State, who scored four points in the final 23 seconds as 15th seed South Florida knocked off 10th seed Villanova 70-69 in the Big East Tournament’s first round on Tuesday night.

With 23 seconds left, Crater stole a Maalik Wayns inbounds pass and scored on a layup. After Wayns hit two free throws at the other end of the floor, Crater crossed up Dominic Cheek, driving down the right side of the lane and finishing a wide open layup that would end up being the game winning basket.

“The last play, a screen was designed for me to come off,” Crater said after the game. “But the lane was open and I took it.”

Were you surprised the lane was that open?

“Yes, sir. Yes.”

He wasn’t the only one.

As great as it is to see South Florida, the first 15 seed to ever win a game in the Big East Tournament, pull out a victory and as refreshing as it is to see a kid like Crater, who hasn’t followed the easiest path to college, become the hero, the story here isn’t South Florida.

It’s Villanova.

Tonight was the fifth straight loss for the Wildcats. It was their seventh loss in their last nine games and ninth in the last 13. It’s gotten to the point that there’s a legitimate question as to whether this team deserves to be in the NCAA tournament.

“We were feeling good coming into this game, we had great practices and we were looking forward to coming here and playing a number of games,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “You know, this wasn’t in the plan, so I don’t have the answer right now for what we’re going to do next.”

“We came in here expecting to win and now we have to deal with what comes next.”

What comes next will, almost assuredly, be the NCAA tournament. The work that Villanova did early in the season is enough and the back end of the bubble is weak enough that they can feel safe. How long they will last is a different story.

It begs the question — what is plaguing Villanova? How can a team with size up front and two all-conference caliber guards disintegrate at the end of the season?

It certainly isn’t a lack of talent. Villanova looked as good as they have all season long in the first half. They scored 49 points in that half and shot 59.3 percent from the field. They hit 7-12 from three. Corey Stokes, Corey Fisher, and Maalik Wayns combined to go 12-22 from the field for 39 points. The problem was the second half. Villanova’s offense was atrocious. Every possession, it seemed, came down to Maalik Wayns or Corey Fisher trying to create off the dribble at the end of the shot clock. No matter how you slice, 4-18 shooting in a half is never going to get it done.

Wright wouldn’t specifically comment on the problems — when asked why the offense bogged down in the second half, Wright said “the main reason I can’t say, but the second most important reason is I thought we got tentative with the lead” — but he alluded to a deeper problem talking to reporters after the press conference.

“We’ve stuck together, we’ve remained positive, we’ve kept a great attitude, that we’ve done well,” Wright said. “Our execution, our confidence on the floor, our defense, our rebounding, those things we’ve struggled with.”

“We haven’t won a game in so long. Everybody got a little scared, a little short on their shots and we just didn’t play with confidence with the lead.”

Keep in mind, this Villanova team is essentially the same team that collapsed down the stretch last season, losing four of their last six in the regular season before flaming out against Marquette in the Big East tournament and squeaking by Robert Morris in overtime in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with the help of some beneficial whistles.

Could it be as simple as this Villanova team simply doesn’t know how to win?

I’ve said it time and time again, winning is a skill. The ability to lay in the clutch and play with a lead is a learned characteristic.

Call it what you want — guts, toughness, moxie, leadership — this Villanova team doesn’t have it.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK

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

1 Comment

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

Michael Hickey/Getty Images

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

Getty Images

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

Getty Images
1 Comment

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.