Week in Review: Team of the Week

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Player of the Week

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Team of the Week: New Mexico Lobos

What a week for New Mexico. In all honesty, I’m not sure if I can think of a single team that has had a better week this season than what the Lobos managed to pull off. Playing the two other contenders in the Mountain West, New Mexico won both games in dominating fashion, going into Viejas Arena and leaving with a 77-67 win before knocking off UNLV 65-45 at home. Throw in UNLV’s loss to TCU and SDSU’s loss to Air Force, and all of a sudden the Lobos have a dominating two-game lead in the conference. In other words, New Mexico went from the team no one in the country was talking about to three wins from a regular season league title in a matter of four days.

At this point, I think it is safe to say that New Mexico is the best team out west right now. When Drew Gordon is playing the way he’s been playing of late — he averaged 22.0 ppg and 18.5 rpg while scoring in the low-post — and New Mexico’s perimeter attack is shooting the ball well, this becomes a dangerous basketball team because they are able to lock up on the defensive end of the floor as well as anyone in the country.

Teams deserving a shoutout

Butler: We all thought the Bulldogs were done as they sat at 7-6 in the Horizon League incapable of hitting a jumper from the perimeter, but as Brad Stevens is wont to do, he’s got Butler heading in the right direction at the right time. After wins over Loyola (IL) and Indiana State this past week, Butler has pushed their winning streak to four games and moved into a tie for third place in the conference standings. Anyone want to bet against this team come March?

Creighton: Creighton had lost three games in a row, including a 21 point drubbing in Omaha at the hands of Wichita State, and the Bluejays looked like they were on the verge of collapsing down the stretch of the season. But on Tuesday, Creighton found the shooting touch that had evaded them the previous three games and followed that up with a tough, come-from-behind win over a talented Long Beach State team. Defensive prowess is going to be the question mark we all have with this Creighton team, but when doug McDermott is playing like he did on Saturday (36 points, 11 boards) and if they Bluejays can get back to being a consistent three-point shoot team, they’ll be a threat come March.

Loyola Marymount: The WCC has an outside shot of sending four teams to the NCAA Tournament this season thanks to the resurgence of LMU down the stretch. After beating Valparaiso on Friday night, which followed a 15 point win over St. Mary’s, the Lions are finally healthy and have won six of their last seven games. This is a very talented group, particularly when Drew Viney and Ashlee Hamilton are healthy, and will absolutely be a threat to be a bid thief late in the season. If you haven’t seen him play, be sure to check out Anthony Ireland, LMU’s point guard.

Air Force: The Falcons fired their head coach on February 8th. They were mired in a six game losing streak, sitting next to last place in the Mountain West Conference. In their first game under interim head coach Dave Pilipovich, Air Force lost to the team that had been in last place in the league, Boise State. That should give you an idea of just how impressive this past week was for the Falcons as they went into Wyoming and beat the Cowboys and followed that up with a win over San Diego State at home.

South Florida: The Bulls are currently sitting at 10-4 in the Big East, putting them in a tie with Georgetown for fourth place in the league standings and giving them a real shot at earning a double-bye for the Big East Tournament. That said, I’m still not ready to buy this team, even after wins over Pitt and Villanova this past week. Why? Because they still haven’t beaten anyone. Not in league play and not in non-conference play. The Bulls close the season like this: at Syracuse, Cincinnati, at Louisville, West Virginia. Talk to me in two weeks.

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

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

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.