Josh Jackson, No. 3 Kansas outlasts No. 2 Baylor

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Josh Jackson finished with a career-high 23 points and 11 boards and Frank Mason added 17 points and five assists in an off-night as No. 3 Kansas protected their home floor and gave themselves the inside track to winning their 13th straight Big 12 regular season with a 73-68 win over No. 2 Baylor on Wednesday.

Landen Lucas was terrific for the Jayhawks, finishing with 11 boards and two huge baskets over Baylor’s massive front line late in the second half.

Johnathan Motley had 14 of his 16 points in the first half, but Kansas did an excellent job of taking him away down the stretch. Manu Lecomte added 16 points for the Bears, who turned the ball over with 1.3 seconds left in a game that they trailed 71-68.

Here are five things we can take away from this game:

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 01: Manu Lecomte #20 of the Baylor Bearspasses as Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks defends during the game at Allen Fieldhouse on February 1, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

1. Josh Jackson is officially the best player on Kansas: I’m not sure it’s much of an argument anymore, either. He had 23 points, 11 boards and two blocks on Wednesday. He shot 8-for-13 from the floor and hit a pair of threes. He spent much of the game defensively dealing with the much larger Johnathan Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil, a pair of seven-footers that wanted nothing more than to bully Jackson as much as they could, and he more than held his own. Acuil had just 10 points and eight boards while Motley was totally ineffective in the second half.

What’s more is that the Jayhawks just finished the toughest three-game stretch of their season, and possibly of anyone’s season. They played at West Virginia, at Kentucky and at home to Baylor, going 2-1 in three games against top ten KenPom teams. Jackson, in those three games, averaged 21.7 points, 8.0 boards and 2.7 assists while shooting 57.1 percent from the floor and 61.6 percent from three. The difference on Wednesday was that Jackson was totally locked-in on both ends of the floor. Against West Virginia, he just wasn’t good defensively. That was not the case against Baylor.

At this point, he’s absolutely played himself into the discussion for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and is almost certainly going to end up being a top five pick.

Frank Mason III is still the Kansas MVP. He’s the emotional leader of that group. He’s the guy who makes the important decisions and will get shots on the most important possessions. He’s our leader for National Player of the Year for a reason.

But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s no longer the best player on Kansas.

2. If anyone still doubts Baylor, you should stop: If going into Phog Allen and putting together this kind of a performance doesn’t sell you on the idea that the Bears can get to a Final Four and are the only threat to the Jayhawks in the race for the Big 12 title, nothing well.

You don’t win in Phog Allen. You just don’t. And Baylor had the ball with a chance to tie on their final possession in a game where they were outshot from the free throw line by 21 foul shots. And yes, Kansas has been challenged in that building before. No, it’s not always by a good team. (See: State, Kansas.) But when you combine the fact that A) Baylor has arguably the best résumé in the sport, B) is considered by just about every metric to be one of the nation’s elite teams and C) they put together this kind of a performance in that building, even the most diabolical hater west of the Mississippi will struggle to nitpick them.

So I ask you, in all seriousness, if you don’t believe in this Baylor team by now: What else do you need to see?

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 01: Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. #0 and Johnathan Motley #5 of the Baylor Bears watch a loose ball during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse on February 1, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

3. The zone is here to stay: For the second straight games against a fellow Final Four contender, Bill Self’s zone defense changed the game in the second half. The Jayhawks didn’t play strictly zone – there were possessions of man-to-man thrown in there as well – but I’m not sure there’s a way to justify not playing it. We’ve been over the reasons why it works for Kansas numerous times by now, but to recap: It protects Landen Lucas, who is essentially the only big man on the roster; it saves the legs of the Jayhawk guards, who are being asked to play crazy amounts of minutes; and, with the length, athleticism and mobility of their wings, it’s actually pretty effective defense, especially if Josh Jackson is going to get double-digit rebounds.

4. Landen Lucas was awesome: He finished with 11 boards, four offensive, and five points, but his numbers don’t do his impact on this game justice. After a first half where Motley gave the Jayhawks 14 points and six boards, Lucas turned in a stalwart performance in the paint. He changed shots at the rim. He cleaned the defensive glass. He got his hands on passes in the lane. What Kansas needs out of him more than anything else is for him to be big, tough and physical in the paint without fouling, and he played that role to perfection Wednesday.

And that wasn’t it. Lucas had two huge baskets down the stretch and, on the final possession, played terrific defense on not one, but two ball-screens, helping to force the game-clinching turnover.

5a. Baylor is still winless in Phog Allen Fieldhouse in program history: They’re 0-14 in the building since joining the then-Big Eight in 1996, but that’s not uncommon. The Jayhawks don’t lose at home, not under Bill Self. He is now 9-0 at home in games against top five teams. Hell, Self has lost nine games in Phog Allen Fieldhouse in his 14-year career as the head coach at Kansas. To put that into perspective, Baylor head coach Scott Drew has now lost 10 games at Phog Allen.

5b. Maybe there’s a reason for that: Kansas shot 27 free throws. Baylor shot six. I guess the Jayhawks just play harder …

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.