Gonzaga holds off late charge by South Carolina, advances to final

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Their star guard was outstanding. Their big men dominated inside. Still, it came down to some last-second strategy for Gonzaga to move on to the NCAA Tournament championship game for the first time.

Nigel Williams-Goss scored 23 points, Gonzaga’s big men combined for 27 and the Bulldogs kept South Carolina from taking a game-tying shot in a 77-73 victory Saturday night in a matchup of first-time teams at the Final Four.

“Just an awesome, awesome basketball game, with just how hard both teams competed,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It took everything we had to hold them off and come back.”

The Bulldogs’ 7-footers, senior Przemek Karnowski and freshman Zach Collins, took care of things on both ends of the court, combining for 18 rebounds. Collins also had a career-high six blocks.

“That’s my job is to go in and rim protect,” said Collins, who had 14 points and 13 rebounds. “I had four fouls today. But I thought, you know, getting those blocked shots would help us.”

Gonzaga (37-1), the top seed in the West region of the NCAA Tournament, will face the winner between North Carolina and Oregon for the title on Monday night.

“To be playing the last game of the year, that’s crazy cool,” Few said.

Williams-Goss missed a shot with 12.7 seconds left and South Carolina rebounded and called a timeout, trailing 75-72. South Carolina passed the ball around and Gonzaga fouled Sindarius Thornwell before he could shoot with 3.5 seconds left. Thornwell made the first free throw and missed the second on purpose in hopes of his teammates grabbing an offensive rebound. Killian Tillie rebounded for Gonzaga, was fouled and made two free throws to cement the game.

“We had been practicing it all year and we always want to foul under 6 (seconds),” Few said. “Josh Perkins did a job being really patient and not fouling on the shot. The second part is you’ve got to get the rebound, and that’s what’s been difficult for us at times. They executed great.”

Thornwell said the idea was to get in position for one last quick shot.

“The plan was to miss it left and hopefully Chris (Silva) could tap it out to somebody,” he said.

Williams-Goss, a second-team All-American, led the Bulldogs to a 14-point lead in the second half but it disappeared quickly as the Gamecocks (26-11) went on a 14-point run to grab a 67-65 lead with about 7 minutes to play.

“When things got tough we banded together and pulled through,” said Williams-Goss, who had six assists and a brief injury scare after turning an ankle underneath the basket.

“There was no way I was going to come out of the game. This is the last two games of the season,” Williams-Goss said. “Now we’re 40 minutes from a championship.”

Collins and Karnowksi then accounted for the next 7 points, including a 3-pointer by Collins and a thundering dunk by Karnowski.

South Carolina still wasn’t done. The seventh-seeded Gamecocks scored 5 straight to get within 74-72 with just over 2 minutes left.

“Since the beginning of the season that’s what we worked for, moments like this,” Silva said. “And we try to do our best to respond the way we learn how to respond.”

PJ Dozier led the Gamecocks with 17 points and Thornwell, the leading scorer in the NCAA Tournament at 25.8 points per game during the first four rounds, finished with 15 on 4-for-12 shooting after starting slow.

“They just crowd the paint,” Thornwell said. “They forced me to pass it out on my drives. And just protecting the rim real well.”

Karnowski went down on the court in the first half after being poked in the right eye as he took a shot underneath the basket. He left for the last 5 minutes of the half, but Collins picked him up, finishing with 8 points at halftime.

“I got blocked but he just put the finger in my eye,” Karnowski said. “I had blurry vision, a little bit shadow. I couldn’t really open it.”

“Throughout the whole second half it was getting better and better,” he said.

BIG PICTURE

South Carolina: The Gamecocks entered the tournament having last won a game in 1973. They had four wins to reach the Final Four, including victories over the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 seeds in the East region.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs now have a chance to play for a title after already getting further than ever before in the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga had made three Elite Eights without advancing to the Final Four.

BLOCK PARTY

The teams combined for 14 blocked shots, eight by Gonzaga. Collins had six and Silas Melson had two for the Bulldogs. Silva had three for the Gamecocks, while Thornwell had two and Dozier had one.

THREES ABOUND

Gonzaga, which had a school-record 12 3-pointers in the regional final win over Xavier, went 9 for 19 from beyond the arc Saturday. Jordan Mathews was 4 for 8 while Williams-Goss and Melson had two each and Collins had one.

NUMBERS

Silva had 13 rebounds for the Gamecocks. … South Carolina shot 37.9 percent (25 of 66) for the game while the Bulldogs were 29 of 60 (48.3 percent). … Gonzaga committed 12 turnovers and the Gamecocks had just five.

UP NEXT

Gonzaga meets the winner of the North Carolina-Oregon game for the national championship on Monday night.

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.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.