Championship Week recap: Day 8’s best game, top player

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Over the next 13 days, the brackets will start to take shape. Teams with no at-large aspirations will make one final push at the post-season. Teams on the bubble will look to assert themselves as worthy members of “The Big Dance”, and contenders will start priming their engines for a national Championship run. While “March Madness” officially begins following Selection Sunday, the real madness starts now.

Until Sunday, March 11,  this will be your home for Championship Week recaps and previews. The players and teams are starting to prepare for March Madness, so you should too.

Game of the Night: Davidson 93, Western Carolina 91 2OT
Western Carolina trailed by seven points with 46 seconds left, but James Sinclair and Trey Sumler hit back to back 3-pointers, and Keaton Cole sank three consecutive foul shots to send the game in to overtime. The teams traded baskets in overtime, but both squads missed chances to win the game. In double-overtime, Clint Mann scored on a transition dunk to put Davidson up 93-91, and Western Carolina missed both their chances to tie the game. Davidson punched their dance ticket for the firs time since the Steph Curry era.

– They were good too: Virginia Commonwealth 59, Drexel 56
The Dragons trailed by 13 points at halftime and were down 11 points with five minutes to go, but freshman Damion Lee led a furious comeback, scoring eight points in a three-minute span to cut the lead to four. After Chris Fouch hit a 3-pointer to trim the lead to just one, VCU junior Troy Daniels converted both of his foul shots, and Frantz Massenat missed a 3-pointer as time expired.

Player of the Night: Nate Wolters, South Dakota State
The Summit League sensation scored 30 or more points for the sixth time this season, as the Jackrabbits defeated Southern Utah 64-47 in the Summit League semifinals. In addition to shooting 59 percent (10-of-17) from the field, he grabbed seven rebounds and had six assists.

Team of the Night: Saint Mary’s Gaels
This was the first time in school history that the Gaels won the outright regular season championship and the conference tournament. The Gaels had lost to Gonzaga in the WCC tournament championship two out of the last three years. The Gaels dropped two of their final four regular season games, but enter the NCAA Tournament with plenty of momentum following the season-defining win over their arch-rivals. West Coast Conference Player of the Year Matthew Dellavedova lead the team with 22 points and Rob Jones added 18 points while grabbing nine rebounds.

– They were good too: Western Illinois
The Leathernecks knocked off the top-seeded Golden Eagles 54-53 in the Summit League semifinals, thanks to Terrell Parks’ jumper with 26 seconds left. Oral Roberts led by eight points with seven minutes to go, but Western Illinois held them scoreless for the final four minutes of the game. Parks led the way with 14 points, and added eight rebounds, four blocks and two steals. The Golden Eagles were the prohibitive favorites to win the Summit League tournament, but thanks to the shocking upset, will probably be on the outside looking in. The Leathernecks are just one win away from reaching their first NCAA appearance in school history.

Monday Results

Colonial Athletic Association Finals
#2 Virginia Commonwealth 59, #1 Drexel 56

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Finals
#2 Loyola (Md.) 48, #4 Fairfield 44

Mid-American Conference First Round
#12 Northern Illinois 55, #5 Eastern Michigan 52
#11 Central Michigan 54, #6 Bowling Green 53
#8 Western Michigan 69, #9 Ball State 63
#7 Toledo 60, #10 Miami 53

Southern Conference Finals
#1S Davidson 93, #3N Western Carolina 91 2OT

Summit League Semifinals
#4 Western Illinois 54, #1 Oral Roberts 53
#2 South Dakota State 63, #6 Southern Utah 47

Sun Belt Semifinals
#7 Western Kentucky 67, #3 Denver 63
#5 North Texas 76, #9 Arkansas State 72

West Coast Conference Finals
#1 Saint Mary’s 78, #2 Gonzaga 74 OT

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.