West Coast Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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In recent years the regular season champion of the West Coast Conference would arrive in Las Vegas feeling secure about its chances of landing an NCAA tournament bid even if they didn’t managed to grab the league’s automatic bid. Things aren’t as comfortable this time around for either Saint Mary’s or Gonzaga, as their non-conference slates either lacked the challenging games (Saint Mary’s) or quality wins (Gonzaga) needed to provide some breathing room. That, along with the presence of BYU and Pepperdine, should make for an intense “long weekend” at the Orleans Arena, where the WCC will hope that this event can produce two NCAA tournament teams.

The Bracket 

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When: March 4-8 (no games Sunday, March 6)

Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas

Final: March 8, 9:00 p.m. EST

Favorite: Saint Mary’s

The Gaels surprised many by winning a share of the regular season title, as they were picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll. They’ll be the top seed this week thanks to their season sweep of Gonzaga, and with guards Emmett Naar and WCC Newcomer of the Year Joe Rahon leading the way head coach Randy Bennett has the pieces needed to win the tournament. Forwards Calvin Hermansson and Dane Pineau shouldn’t be overlooked either, as they’re second and third on the team in scoring behind Naar and 6-foot-10 freshman center Evan Fitzner was productive in both wins over Gonzaga (16.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg).

And if they lose?: Gonzaga

Mark Few’s Bulldogs are led by one of the best front court tandems in the country in senior Kyle Wiltjer and sophomore Domantas Sabonis. Wiltjer’s a face-up four with range well beyond the three-point line, thus providing Sabonis with the room he needs to operate from 15 feet and in. The question mark throughout this season has been the development of their perimeter rotation, but there has been progress. Josh Perkins was named to the WCC’s all-freshman team, and Eric McClellan the conference’s best defender. How that group, which includes Silas Melson and Kyle Dranginis, performs will be key for Gonzaga as they look to win the WCC tournament for the fifth time in the last six years.

Other Contenders:

  • BYU: They’ve got the WCC Player of the Year in versatile guard Kyle Collinsworth, and fellow guards Chase Fischer and Nick Emery can fill it up scoring-wise. And even with their ability to put up points, BYU led the WCC in defensive efficiency in conference games per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers.
  • Pepperdine: The Waves can make a claim no other WCC team can make this season: they swept Saint Mary’s. Marty Wilson’s group, led by forward Stacy Davis and guard Jeremy Major, is capable of making a run in Vegas.

WCC Player of the Year: Kyle Collinsworth, BYU

The NCAA’s all-time leader in career triple-doubles (11), Collinsworth is the “straw that stirs the drink” for BYU. In WCC games he ranked in the top five in rebounds (third), assists (first) and steals (first), and at 15.6 points per game the senior ranked 13th in the conference in scoring. At 6-foot-6 he’s a tough matchup for opposing teams from a size standpoint, and his ability to find the likes of Chase Fischer and Nick Emery makes BYU a tough team to slow down offensively.

WCC Coach of the Year: Randy Bennett, Saint Mary’s

Saint Mary’s exceeded expectations this season, going from a team pegged by many as the one likely to fall out of a top three slot to one that grabbed the top seed in the conference tournament. For that Bennett should be praised, as the backcourt of Emmett Naar and Joe Rahon has meshed well and the front court has accounted for the graduation of Brad Waldow as well.

First-Team All-WCC:

  • Kyle Collinsworth, BYU
  • Emmett Naar, Saint Mary’s
  • Stacy Davis, Pepperdine
  • Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
  • Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga

CBT Prediction: Saint Mary’s beats Gonzaga in a thriller.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

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.