No. 1 Gonzaga remains undefeated with impressive win at No. 20 Saint Mary’s

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Przemek Karnowski scored 15 of his 19 points in the first half and Johnathan Williams III added 17 points as No. 1 Gonzaga remained undefeated on the season with a 74-64 win at No. 20 Saint Mary’s on Saturday evening.

Gonzaga jumped out to an early 10-point lead and led by as many as 15 points late in the second half. The Gaels had a couple of runs in them but they never got within five points in the second half.

Nigel Williams-Goss had 14 points for Gonzaga while Jock Landale finished with 24 points and nine boards for Saint Mary’s.

Here are four things to take away from that game:

1. Gonzaga is probably going to go undefeated: It seems incredibly unlikely that the Zags will lose at some point during the rest of conference play. They have yet to play a game in league play that was kept in the single digits. They won by ten at BYU. They beat Saint Mary’s by 23 at home before Saturday’s win. They play three of their last four games at home.

Put simply, if the Zags can get passed Saint Mary’s, a legitimate top 25 team, why should we expect that San Diego and Pacific will be able to make things interesting?

What that means is that Gonzaga’s success in the WCC tournament will likely carry some weight for them heading into the NCAA tournament. In today’s bracket reveal, Gonzaga was given a No. 1 seed, but they were ranked as the fourth No. 1 seed, meaning that any slip-up in a conference where everyone other than Saint Mary’s is looked at as a bad loss is the kind of thing that can cost them dearly when the first -place team in the ACC is a No. 1 seed.

The Zags have earned a No. 1 seed and, barring some kind of insanity down the stretch of the season, I fully expect them to get it come Selection Sunday.

2. The reason Gonzaga can win it all is that this is Mark Few’s best defensive team: The discussion of whether or not this is Gonzaga’s best team usually centers around whether or not this group is better than the team that featured Kelly Olynyk and Kevin Pangos in 2013, and there are some worthwhile points to be made on either side. What’s inarguable, however, is that this is the first time that Mark Few has had a team that ranks in the top five in defensive efficiency. As of Saturday, Gonzaga was fourth nationally in KenPom’s offensive and defensive efficiency metric. Prior to this season, the best finish Gonzaga’s ever had in KenPom’s defensive rankings was 18th.

The irony there is that the biggest concern about this team is their defense. Saint Mary’s was able to expose one of the issues early on in the game: the ability of Przemek Karnowski to defend in ball-screens. The Zags opened up a double-digit lead early in the first half, but the Gaels were able to fight back and tie the game as they exploited that very aspect of Gonzaga’s defense.

The other issue is with the back court. As well as Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins have played this season, what happens when they have to go up against one of the nation’s elite back courts, one that includes, say, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk or Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham.

We won’t get an answer about whether that’s truly the case until the NCAA tournament, but to date, this has not cost Gonzaga a game.

3. Yes, Gonzaga can win it all: I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this at this point, but I do. That’s what happens when you play in the league Gonzaga plays in and you have the tournament success that Gonzaga has had. The same things were said about Bo Ryan and Wisconsin before they got to their first Final Four in 2014. The same things were said about Jim Calhoun before he beat Gonzaga in 1999 and got to a Final Four. Eventually, the same things are going to be said about Sean Miller.

That’s how it works with fans. That’s the danger of a sport where the champion is determined by a single-elimination tournament involving college kids.

But trust me when I tell you that this Gonzaga team can win it all. They have size. They have depth. They have balanced scoring. They have two point guards that can play together and can both makes threes. They have an elite coach in Few. They are elite defensively. They rank No. 1 in KenPom, a predictive metric that is supposed to determine who would win in a game played on a neutral court.

The most important thing about this team, however, is consistency. Everyone else in college basketball has slipped up at some point this season, many more than once. Gonzaga? They haven’t been tested in months despite playing road games against Saint Mary’s and BYU. I’m not saying this team will be the one to do it – never make a guarantee before March Madness – but there is no doubt in my mind that they’re good enough to.

4. Saint Mary’s looks like they’re good, but what have they done to prove it?: Gonzaga’s best win this season is at Dayton in a game where Dayton, who is not a lock to make the NCAA tournament as is, was short-handed. Their second-best win? Beating a young Nevada team at home in their season-opener. After that, they beat BYU … and that’s it. The Gaels don’t have another top 100 win, according to KenPom.

They do, however, have two losses to the Zags by an average of 16.5 points. They also have a 14-point home loss to UT-Arlington, and they still have to play at BYU this season.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Saint Mary’s is on the bubble this season, but I’m not going to sit here and tell you that this team can afford to slip up down the stretch. 22-3 is 22-3, but that record wouldn’t look nearly as impressive with losses to, say, BYU and Santa Clara.

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.