George Washington’s upset of No. 6 Virginia key for a March run

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — It’s amazing the difference that one year makes.

Last season, when George Washington made the drive down Route 29 to visit Charlottesville, Virginia beat the brakes off of the Colonials, winning 59-42 in a game that didn’t feel that close in the second half. Last season, when GW center Kevin Larsen was asked to try and handle the big-to-big double-teams that Virginia throws at opposing post players, he … well, he wasn’t good.

“Kevin had the worst game of his career last year,” Patricio Garino said with a laugh on Monday night. It was a message that he and GW his teammates relayed to Larsen over and over again in the lead-up to the rematch.

Point taken.

George Washington kicked off the 24-Hour Tip-Off Marathon in style, picking up the biggest win of Mike Lonergan’s tenure as they knocked off No. 6 Virginia, 73-68, at the Smith Center. Garino and Wake Forest transfer Tyler Cavanaugh both finished with 18 points, but it was Larsen who turned in the most valuable nine-point, seven-board, five-assist stat line that you’ll ever see.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett runs the Pack-Line defense that his father founded. It’s tough, it’s physical and its core tenets are to eliminate paint touches; no penetration and no post-ups. In order to get the ball out of a post player’s hands, they double-team hard and they double-team immediately. Larsen knew the trap was coming this year just like he knew it was coming last year. The difference was on Monday night, when he passed out of the double-team, the ball ended up in the hands of an open teammate instead of the third row.

“We want Kevin to get double-teamed,” GW head coach Mike Lonergan said after the win. “Last year, he got nervous and threw the ball all over the gym. But he’s the best passing big man I’ve ever coached.”

That showed in the first half, as Larsen twice set up Cavanaugh dunks and twice found point guard Joe McDonald for open threes. Larsen’s passing — and Virginia’s ineffectiveness rotating — forced the Cavs to do something that they almost never do: They changed their defense.

They stopped double-teaming the post.

That opened up scoring chances for Larsen on the block, which softened UVA’s defense, boosted GW’s confidence, created driving lanes and opened up opportunities for second-chance points.

“They hurt us in the post-trap and when we didn’t post-trap they hurt us,” Bennett said. “We got outplayed and out-executed.”

Virginia only led for a grand total of 46 seconds in the second half, with Garino providing the answer both times the ‘Hoos pulled ahead. With 12:45 left, he answered a London Perrantes three with a three of his own. Four minutes later, after Evan Nolte hit a go-ahead three, Garino responded with a driving and-one layup. That bucket would spark a 10-0 in which Garino scored seven of the points.

Virginia never got closer than four after that.

It was a statement win for the Colonials, one that, on paper, makes them look like the favorite to win the Atlantic 10 this season. Think about it. Rhode Island lost E.C. Matthews for the season. Dayton is still waiting on Dyshawn Pierre to return. Davidson is Davidson, but they were taken to the brink at home by a Central Florida team that is not going to contend in the American.

George Washington just beat the team that has won back-to-back ACC titles.

I’ll take it one step further: this win gets George Washington into the NCAA tournament.

I know.

That’s a ridiculous thing to say at this point in the season. I’m not even going to pretend that it’s not.

But let’s assume that the Colonials do what we expect them to do the rest of the year. Win 20-something games. Defend their home court against the likes of Seton Hall, Tennessee, Rutgers and, in league play, Davidson, VCU and Rhode Island. Avoid too many of those pesky road losses that always pop-up in the throes of conference play. Finish around 13-5 in the Atlantic 10, somewhere in the top four.

That’s a resume that is going to get them on the bubble.

But with this win?

A win over a top ten team, a team that, in all likelihood, is going to be in the thick of the ACC race?

That’s the difference-maker. One marquee can be the difference between a No. 10 seed and a trip to the NIT.

GW got their’s before the season was a week-old.

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.