Why losing Brandon Ashley would be a massive blow to Arizona’s title hopes

0 Comments

No. 1 Arizona’s undefeated season came to an end on Saturday night, losing 60-58 to Cal on a game-winning jumper from Justin Cobbs.

Their bid to become the first Pac-12 team to make it through the conference undefeated since the league was known as the Pac-8 is over.

That No. 1 ranking goes ‘poof’ on Monday morning, taken over by a Syracuse team coming off of a thrilling win over Duke, and Nick Johnson’s bid to be the National Player of the Year takes a blow thanks to a 1-for-14 shooting performance in which he committed five turnovers.

Yuck.

But none of that actually matters in the long run. Arizona still is in commanding position in the Pac-12 standings. They still look destined to be a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday. And Johnson is still an all-american that I would trust taking a shot with the game on the line over all but maybe five players in all of college basketball.

What matters is Brandon Ashley.

More specifically, what matters is Ashley’s right foot.

“We might have lost Brandon Ashley for the year,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said on his radio show after the loss on Saturday. He went on to say that there’s a really good chance that Ashley broke a bone in his foot, and that right now, the Wildcats are waiting to hear about the severity of the injury. “It’s more about the level of break that will be involved,” he said.

If Ashley’s injury keeps him out for six weeks, he may be able to return to the court in time for the Pac-12 tournament, which, in an ideal situation, would allow him to get back into shape for the NCAA tournament, where he wouldn’t really be needed until the second weekend.

That’s a perfect world.

But assuming that Arizona’s wold isn’t perfect, this is just a devastating blow to Wildcat’s title chances.

For starters, Ashley is arguably Arizona’s most talented player. He’s a versatile, athletic 6-foot-10 forward that can score with his back to the basket or step out on the perimeter and knock down a jumper. He averages 12.0 points and 6.0 boards and shoots 52.8% from the field and 39.3% from three. That alone makes Ashley’s loss painful.

But there’s so much more at play here:

  • Arizona’s size makes them so difficult to matchup with. With Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski up front and Aaron Gordon playing the three, they have the biggest front line in the country. Gordon can matchup with fours. He’s a mismatch against threes. Arizona loses that advantage.
  • Ashley’s ability to shoot helped spread the floor. Cal dared Gordon to shoot all night on Saturday, playing a good 10 feet off of him. With Gordon having to play primarily at the four, that allows a bigger body free roam in the paint to double-team Tarczewski.
  • That issue is two-fold. With Gordon at the four, that means Arizona will have to play either Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or Gabe York. Hollis-Jefferson is one heckuva defender, but he’s a liability offensively. York can really shoot the ball, but he’s a liability defensively. In other words, without Ashley on the floor, Arizona’s best offensive lineup looks different than their best defensive lineup. With Ashley, that’s not the case.
  • The Wildcats don’t have much depth with Ashley healthy. Without him? Yikes.

It’s too early to write this team off completely as a national title contender, not when they’re coached by someone as smart as Sean Miller and not when they have the kind of talent on the roster that Arizona does.

But if the Wildcats don’t have a healthy Brandon Ashley, the odds of this team winning a national title will take a massive hit.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
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

uconn
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
0 Comments

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
0 Comments

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.