Brandon Ashley’s versatility once again a key factor for No. 3 Arizona

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TUCSON — It’s been said on multiple occasions that the 2013-14 season for the Arizona Wildcats hit a significant bump in the road on the night of February 1, when starting forward Brandon Ashley suffered a season-ending foot injury in the team’s loss at California. With Ashley the Wildcats hadn’t lost a game, his diverse skill set giving head coach Sean Miller a player capable of causing mismatches on most night.

Without him the Wildcats no longer had that luxury, and as one would expect their offense sputtered as a result. A season that very well could have ended in Arlington, Texas, on the first Monday night in April came to a painful end at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim in the Elite 8.

With No. 9 Gonzaga in town Saturday afternoon Ashley and his fellow front court contributors were faced with a difficult matchup, as the Bulldogs were able to counter with starters Przemek Karnowski and Kyle Wiltjer and freshman reserve Domantas Sabonis. Karnowski played well on both ends of the floor for Gonzaga, accounting for 10 points and 11 rebounds, and Wiltjer led the way offensively for the Bulldogs with 15 points while also grabbing seven rebounds.

But Arizona managed to erase a six-point deficit over the final 4:05 of regulation, going on to win 66-63 in overtime thanks to some exceptional defense and big plays made down the stretch by senior point guard T.J. McConnell.

It also must be said, however, that without Ashley’s contributions, Arizona would not have been able to get the game into overtime, much less come away with the win.

Ashley, who struggled offensively in each of Arizona’s two games prior to the win over Gonzaga, tallied 14 points, five rebounds and two assists on Saturday. All six of his points in the second half were critical, as they were the final six points Arizona scored in regulation. Ashley’s ability to step out onto the perimeter and make sound decisions, whether its with his jump shot or as a facilitator, is one of the keys for Arizona offensively and that was the case down the stretch against Gonzaga.

Interestingly enough, Ashley did the majority of his scoring in the final three minutes of the first two halves, as he scored five points in the final three minutes of the first half and six in the final three minutes of the second. It was during those stretches when the trouble that comes with defending a player like Ashley was most evident.

“We had been sagging and plugging in the middle, and we knew that his best shot was the 17-foot face-up,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said of Ashley following the game. “We wanted our guys to get in the gaps and help and then close out to him, but we just played him a little too soft.”

One of the benefits of having a big man capable of scoring on the perimeter is that they can force opposing centers into situations they aren’t used to defending.

“They were stressing our defense because they were posting up Hollis-Jefferson and Johnson, so we had to come with help,” Few continued. “And anytime you come with help you’re exposed somewhere, rotating out, and we just didn’t rotate far enough. And it’s a big rotating; usually it’s your guards rotating out, so it was just a little different.”

As mentioned above Ashley entered the game having scored a total of 13 points in wins over No. 18 San Diego State and Gardner-Webb, shooting 6-for-14 from the field. While that percentage (42.9%) isn’t bad it’s well below Ashley’s field goal percentage for the season (52.9%), and there’s also the matter of him averaging seven field goal attempts in those two wins. Ashley attempted 11 shots on Saturday, and his overall performance was a difference-maker for the Wildcats.

“In Maui, I didn’t think he was as good of a player as he really is and that’s to be expected; we know that,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller noted. “I’m trying to tell him that, but it’s not always easy on his end to accept that, ‘wow, I’m starting my season and I’ve waited a long time to get back, and I want to play better than I’m playing.'”

“There’s a process with everything. [Saturday] you saw what he’s really capable of, his big field goals made in the second half and just his overall play,” Miller continued. “No turnovers and [five] rebounds, he was one of our team’s best players and a big reason we won the game. I think he’ll continue to grow and hit his stride as the season unfolds.”

Arizona certainly doesn’t lack for talent, as evidenced by the fact that three players (Ashley, Hollis-Jefferson and Johnson) on the early season lists for both the Naismith and Wooden awards, and players such as McConnell and Kaleb Tarczewski can’t be ignored either. But if there’s one player whose skill set demands that opponents adjust the things they do defensively it’s Brandon Ashley.

The scary thing?

He still hasn’t reached the point where he was prior to suffering the injury that led to his sophomore season ending prematurely.

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.