VIDEO: Rick Pitino speaks out on Louisville’s escort scandal, flipping the bird, skipping pressers

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Rick Pitino was fed up.

Over the course of the last three months, ever since Katina Powell’s book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen,” was published, the Louisville head coach has been at the epicenter of a firestorm that isn’t going to stop burning until he’s no longer roaming the Yum! Center sidelines.

For four years, a Louisville staff member named Andre McGee had allegedly been throwing parties for recruits that included strippers and hookers in Billy Minardi Hall, a building that Pitino had named after his brother-in-law that died in the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Pitino has maintained that he knew nothing about the allegations, that there was no way that he would allow that to happen in his program, in that dorm.

And for three months, he’s been taken to task for that stance, getting clobbered by the local — and national — media. Some have said that there’s no possible way he didn’t know. Some have said that not knowing, failing to properly oversee his program, is just as bad as actually knowing what was happening. Some have said that he should step down. Some have called for him to be fired.

Nowhere in the world is as passionate about college basketball as the state of Kentucky, and there are very few, in any, rivalries that are filled with more hatred than the one between Wildcat and Cardinal fans. Pitino heard and read about it everywhere. So did his family, his coaching staff, his players.

He couldn’t escape it, not in Louisville.

And just when the scandal finally looked like it was dying down, when his team seemed like it would be good enough to make people focus on a potential ACC title race, Pitino went and threw gasoline on the embers, appearing to flip-off Kentucky fans after a loss in Rupp Arena and before skipping the postgame press conference.

On Friday, Pitino met with the media for the first time since the head Cardinal flipped the bird, and after getting asked a question about the veracity of those allegations — Pitino said “I did not” flip off the fans — he spent the next 15 minutes on a tangent, discussing the allegations levied by Katina Powell, how it’s been covered by the media and why he decided not to go to the post-Kentucky press conference.

(You can watch the full interview, courtesy of the Louisville Courier-Journal.)

Perhaps most notable was that Pitino acknowledged, for the first time publicly, that he believes that McGee did something wrong.

“Now, did one person do some scurrilous things? I believe so,” Pitino said. “From what I know now, I believe so. The only thing I don’t know, I don’t know why he did it. I just, for the life of me, can’t figure out — he knew better, he was taught better, by his parents and by me.”

He did not, however, cop to knowing anything about the allegations that were levied, specifically targeting Rick Bozich, a sports columnist for WRDB in Louisville that has been covering the program for a long time. Bozich wrote that he didn’t believe it was possible Pitino was truly in the dark because of how meticulously the coach keeps an eye over his program.

“Soon as this happened, I went ballistic on everybody,” Pitino said. “‘Wait a second. You didn’t know one, single thing?’ The security person. ‘You never saw a thing in four years and you worked for four years around the clock?’ No. Well the answer’s obvious isn’t it, Rick, isn’t the answer obvious? The reason that nobody saw anything, they knew that all hell would break loose if I found out that one, single thing was going on. That would be the obvious thing to me.”

“I guarantee if a chair gets broken at Minardi Hall and I find out about it, there’s going to be a problem,” Pitino added. “So you can bet if something like that was going on I’d be the last to find out about it, Because all hell would pay. Right away. The moment it happened. All hell would pay.”

I actually believe this. Rick Pitino is not a dumb human being, and what is alleged in the book to have taken — getting that woman to bring those girls into that dorm — is incredibly stupid. There is no way Pitino would have allowed his name to be attached to this in any way, not after what he went through with the Karen Sypher trial.

And while Pitino did acknowledge that something probably did happen in that dorm, he took issue with the details that were laid out in the book. He referenced a meeting that took place between Louisville director of compliance John Carns and sports information director Kenny Klein and the publishers of Powell’s book. In that meeting, they discussed the veracity of the journal that Powell kept which was used as the source material for the book, which was written by a former investigative reporter.

“No, no, we wrote it. She can’t complete two sentences the right way to write a book,” the publishers said of the journal, according to Pitino and Klein, who was on the podium with him. “So you mean to tell me a book was written, a four-year record was kept? There was no four-year record. You’ve got to be kidding me. So nobody goes after, ESPN doesn’t go after, are you telling the truth? Did you keep a four year journal? Did you write it? Or was it written just to get this book out?”

This was the frustration that has been building for Pitino, who admitted that he had been told by the NCAA not to comment on the matter, that his public statements were intimidating witnesses. That’s why he skipped ACC Media Day. That’s why he decided to skip the post-Kentucky press conference.

“I wasn’t doing the press conference because it’s a very emotional game for me,” he said. “When we go into a press conference in a neighborhood like that, I don’t want to hear about the scandal, OK? I don’t want to hear about that. That has bothered me every single night.”

But the criticism he received for doing so led him to speak out on Friday.

“I’m not going to say no comment. I’m not going to say it. I’m too old. I don’t care, OK? So I’m not going to say it. There’s only one good thing about being 63, is you don’t care what people think anymore.”

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.