It wasn’t pretty, but UNC outlasts Wisconsin

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Its easier to slow a game down than it is to speed a game up.

Remember that. Controlling pace is as much of an equalizer as the three-point shot, particularly for a team playing on the road. You limit the number of possessions, you keep your opponent from getting into a rhythm and, if you’re playing on the road, you keep the crowd from getting into the game.

And that is why it wasn’t until an 18-5 run midway through the second half that North Carolina, who was the No. 1 team in the country prior to their loss to UNLV in Vegas on Saturday, was able to gain control in Wednesday’s 60-57 win over Wisconsin.

No team in the country is able to control the flow of a game like Wisconsin can. Want proof? Wisconsin went into Chapel Hill as the slowest team in the country. Literally. They were averaging just 58.9 possessions per game. North Carolina? They were the fifth-fastest team in the country at 73.9 possessions per game.

And this game? It had 59 possessions. In other words, the ball changed hands once every 20-or-so seconds.

That’s what Wisconsin does. That’s how they win. That’s why Bo Ryan can always put a team on the floor that is going to win 25 games and finish in the top three or four in the Big Ten without the aid of future first-rounders. That’s why every fall, Wisconsin is picked lower in the preseason than where they finish the year.

When the Badgers are playing their best basketball, they are taking 20-25 seconds off the shot clock before they even look at the rim. They then run one of their sets, and if nothing is open, the ball is put into the hands of their all-american point guard Jordan Taylor, and they allow him to make a play. They protect the basketball and avoid turnovers as well as any team in the country, and, more often than not, they end up getting a good look at the rim after forcing you to defend for most of the shot clock.

And on Wednesday, after weathering an early flurry from UNC — the Tar Heels took a 19-10 lead in the first nine minutes of the game and looked to be on the verge and blowing the Badgers out — that is precisely what Wisconsin did. For the next 19 minutes of game-time, the Badgers executed to perfection, taking the air out of the ball and hitting big shot after big shot. The only difference was that the guys making those shots were Ben Brust, Ryan Evans, and Jared Berggren, not Taylor.

At the 11:44 mark of the second half, Wisconsin had turned that 19-10 deficit into a 36-31 lead, using a 26-12 surge over the course of both halves to take complete control of the game.

UNC was on their heels. They were completely out of rhythm offensively and looked lost defensively. The performance was bad enough that it had people asking just how good this team actually is.

But Wisconsin gave the Heels an opening, and Roy Williams’ team struck.

The Badger’s next five shots all came way too early in the shot clock. At the same time, Harrison Barnes hit back-to-back jumpers to get UNC into a bit of a rhythm offensively, and that sparked their 18-5, game-changing run as they were able to open up the floor a little bit. Barnes had 10 of his game-high 20 points in that run, and when Dexter Strickland hit a seventeen-footer from the wing with 5:36 left to put the Heels up 49-41, this game was over for all intents and purposes.

That’s why this is an impressive win for the Heels.

UNC had an off-night against a top ten team — a team that is going to win 25 or 30 games and give Ohio State its stiffest test in the Big Ten — and had allowed that team to take complete control of the game, but their best player made a couple of big shots and the Heels were able to strike when given an opening. Good teams win games even when they don’t play their best, and UNC did just that on Wednesday night.

What we learned:

Wisconsin:

– The Badgers are going to cause a lot of people a lot of problems if they are able to hang with North Carolina on the road while getting a subpar effort out Jordan Taylor and Mike Bruesewitz. Yes, the all-american finished with 18 points, four assists and four rebounds, but he shot 6-20 from the floor and padded his stats with a couple buckets late in the game. Taylor struggled a bit when Dexter Strickland was switched onto him, but he also missed a bunch of open looks that he will knock down the majority of the time.

– Bruesewitz, on the other hand, was a no-show. He was in foul trouble which may have made it difficult for him to get into a rhythm, but off the top of my head, I cannot think of one good thing that he did for the Badgers tonight. That cannot happen, especially when Bruesewitz could have been a matchup problem for UNC’s big men at the offensive end.

– That was the best that I’ve ever seen Ryan Evans play. He was active on the glass, he made some shots and he picked up a couple of blocks.

– Jared Berggren will be able to fill the role of the pick-and-pop center for Bo Ryan. He finished with 14 points and eight boards, which included a couple of triples and two gorgeous drives to the rim from the three point line.

– Ben Brust needs to rein in his shot-selection at times — its a rule of basketball that you can’t take heat-checks on back-to-back possessions if you miss the first — but he’s a talented kid that can shoot the ball and is fun to watch. Badger fans should be confident that they’ll have another talented playmaker to follow in the footsteps of Taylor and Trevon Hughes.

North Carolina

– Dexter Strickland is probably a better defender than I realized. He’s got length, he’s quick laterally, he’s athletic and he looks like he genuinely enjoys defending. His development will be important, because Kendall Marshall — hell, the rest of the Tar Heel perimeter rotation — has trouble defending a stop sign. Strickland’s foul trouble is where you saw Leslie McDonald’s value; the only time Taylor really got it going was at the end of the first half when Kendall Marshall was guarding him.

– I really hope that Harrison Barnes becomes a killer. And not in the Charles Manson sense of the word, in the Tu Holloway sense of the word. His height makes his pull-up jumper unguardable for perimeter defenders at this level. He came up big on Wednesday, hitting the two jumpers that sparked UNC’s run.

– I don’t think struggling is the correct word for North Carolina’s half court execution. Clueless is a better word, as in they look like they’ve never even diagrammed a half court set on the whiteboard, let alone gone over it in practice. They stand around and swing the ball on the perimeter until someone over penetrates or settles for a jumper.

(because…)

– Roy Williams is famous for his secondary break, which is essentially a system to run once the ball has been pushed in transition but no shots have opened up. The beauty of the secondary break is that it can be run off of makes as well as misses. When UNC gets bogged down offensively its the result of a breakdown in their secondary break.

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

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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.