That’s So Angel: Miami’s Rodriguez lead the Canes to the Sweet 16

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

We got the full Angel Rodriguez Experience on Saturday afternoon, as the Miami point guard went for 28 points, five assists and four steals — to go along with seven turnovers — in a 63-57 win for the No. 3 Hurricanes over No. 11 Wichita State.

Miami will advance to the Sweet 16 to take on the winner between No. 2 Villanova and No. 7 Iowa.

Rodriguez scored 16 of Miami’s first 23 points, hitting his first seven shots from the floor as he led the way to an early, 27-6 Miami lead. Then, in a four-minute stretch midway through the first half, Rodriguez committed five of his seven turnovers, which led to the Shockers finally gaining a bit of confidence and finding a rhythm on the offensive end of the floor.

Wichita State would cut the led to 32-19 at the half and, after Miami pushed the lead to 17 points, go on a 22-4 surge that would give the Shockers their first lead of the game at 43-42. And that’s when Rodriguez, after disappearing for 15 minutes of game-time, made the play that changed the game, a “no-no-no-YES” half-court alley-oop to Shelden McClellan to give the Hurricanes the lead — and the momentum — back.

That is a not exactly a smart pass to throw, not when your team just fully blew a 21-point lead. It’s not an easy pass to throw, either. Markus McDuffie is about half-an-inch from turning that into Rodriguez’s eighth turnover of the game.

Instead, we get one of the best highlights of the first weekend of the tournament.

That’s so Angel.

That dunk would spark a 10-2 run that opened up a 52-45 lead for the Canes. Wichita State’s ball-pressure did not let up, as the Shockers would continue scrapping their way back into the game, but it again was Rodriguez that made the game-changing plays.

He found Davon Reed on the wing for a three that pushed Miami’s lead back to seven points after Reed blocked a layup attempt that, ironically enough, was him cleaning up the mess from a Rodriguez turnover. With just over two minutes left in the game, after a Ron Baker layup cut the Miami lead to 55-53, Rodriguez banked in a runner to push the lead back to four. On the ensuing Miami possession, he drilled the dagger, a three that put Miami back up by seven.

His five free throws down the stretch iced the game.

“It’s about this little guy right here,” Miami head coach Jim Larrańaga said after the game on the CBS Broadcast. “You’ve gotta rename the Dunkin’ Donuts Center [in Providence, where the game was played] Angel Rodriguez Park. He took over the game and carried us for a while. He made huge shots, free throws, threes, played great defense on VanVleet.”

“He’s got this huge thing right here and it keeps pounding out of his chest.”

And that’s what makes Rodriguez so unique. At times, his decision-making borders on the schizophrenic, to the point that he’s a detriment to his team. We saw that on Saturday. That stretch where he committed five turnovers in four minutes not only breathed some life into the corpse that was Wichita State in the first 10 minutes, but it kept Miami from putting the nail into the Shocker coffin. Score on three of those five possessions, and suddenly Miami is up nearly 30 points.

Wichita State was always going to make a run, but it was those turnovers that ensured that the Shockers would remain within striking distance.

But when Rodriguez is playing well? When his confidence is flowing and his shots are going down? He’s as capable of taking over a game as any point guard in college basketball not named Tyler Ulis, Kris Dunn or Yogi Ferrell. And if there is one thing we can always count on with Rodriguez, it’s that he is going to want the ball in his hands in the biggest moments.

“He always has tremendous trust in me,” Rodriguez said of his coach, “even when I struggle.”

On Saturday, that trust was rewarded. Whether or not it will be come next weekend is kind of a moot point right now.

Because what matters is that Rodriguez will have the chance to play in that game.

And if he hadn’t shown up on Saturday, that would not be the case.

“It’s survive and advance, baby,” Larrañaga said.

“And we survived.”

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK

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

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK

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


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

Michael Hickey/Getty Images

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

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.