Colorado needs game-winner to serve as a catalyst for Askia Booker (VIDEO)

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After No. 6 Kansas scored the first seven points of the game, it would be difficult to blame any Colorado fans who managed to utter the words, “here we go again.” In last season’s meeting in Lawrence the Buffaloes were blitzed right out of the gates, and the end result was a 90-54 defeat that wasn’t all that close. And with the Jayhawks having won 19 straight games in this series, who could really blame anyone who saw that start and assumed that Kansas was well on its way to pushing that streak to 20.

Tad Boyle’s team did have those thoughts, instead methodically working their way back into the game with a little help from reserves such as guard Tre’Shaun Fletcher and forwards Ben Mills and Dustin Thomas. And in the end, it was Askia Booker who made the difference.

Booker properly executed a Euro step into a 28-footer that connected as time expired, resulting in Colorado winning by the final score of 75-72. The win ends Colorado’s 19-game losing streak against Kansas, but more importantly this could be the game that gets the Buffaloes’ starting two-guard out of a shooting slump he’s been mired in for about a year.

Booker entered Saturday’s game averaging 11.4 points per game, which is a respectable figure. But the percentages, 37.6% from the field and 23.8% from beyond the arc, are nowhere near where he or his teammates would like it to be. And last season he wasn’t much better, posting percentages of 36.4% and 31.2% in those respective categories. A hard-worker who spends plenty of time working on his game Booker isn’t shy when it comes to shot selection, but to limit him too much in that area would take away from his skill set.

The “quantity” will be there when it comes to Booker’s shots, but in order for Colorado to be at their best this season and potentially contend in the Pac-12 the “quality” needs to be there as well. Against Kansas Booker shot 5-for-12 from the field, not the best percentage but it represents his third-best outing of the season percentage-wise, and his 15 points tied his high for the season. Four starters finished the game in double figures, which isn’t much of a surprise when considering how balanced Colorado has been.

Xavier Johnson (14 points, six rebounds) and Josh Scott (14 points, four rebounds) held their own in the front court against Kansas’ talented interior, with highly-touted freshman big Joel Embiid going scoreless in the second half after scoring ten points in the first 20 minutes. But there were some issues for the Buffaloes that need to be corrected.

Colorado shot just 22-for-37 from the charity stripe, with misses down the stretch leaving the door open for Kansas to tie the game prior to Booker’s game-winning shot. On the season Colorado entered Saturday’s game shooting 74.1% from the charity stripe, which is a good number, but at times over the last two seasons the Buffaloes have struggled in this area late in games.

But the biggest concern moving forward has to be Colorado’s three-point shooting. Against Kansas they shot 7-for-22 from beyond the arc, and on the season Colorado ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in three-point field goal percentage (31.5%). Like Kansas Colorado’s going to see more zone looks for this very reason, and this is where Booker comes into play.

Despite struggling with his shot Booker kept plugging away, and his teammates and coaches remained confident in his ability to knock down shots. Now the hope is that Saturday’s finish will serve as the catalyst needed to get Booker back on track, because when he’s scoring consistently (and efficiently) Colorado is a tougher team to defend.

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.