No. 7 Florida outlasts No. 17 Gonzaga in double OT thriller

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Who said no one cared about college basketball in November?

Jalen Hudson scored 35 points and Chris Chiozza added 26 points, 10 assists and eight boards as No. 7 Florida outlasted No. 17 Gonzaga, 111-105, to take home a double-overtime win in the semifinals of the PK80 Motion bracket.

The Gators will advance to face No. 1 Duke in the finals on Sunday.

But before we get into Sunday’s action, we need to wrap up what could end up being the best game that we see in college basketball this season.

I honestly don’t know where to start, because this thing was back and forth for the entirety of the 50 minutes. Gonzaga jumped out to a 36-29 lead at the break, but the Gators caught fire in the second half, as Hudson, Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen hit a series of ridiculous threes in the second half and overtime.

But seemingly every one of those threes was answered by Gonzaga. It started with Johnathan Williams III, who looked like an all-american. He finished with 39 points, 12 boards and three assists, scoring every time he touched the ball in the second half. Josh Perkins added 17 points, seven boards and seven assists before fouling out, while Killian Tillie had 17 points of his own.

The game was won early in the second overtime, when Florida used a 9-2 run — a three from Hudson, a three from Chiozza, another three from Hudson — to break a deadlock and open a lead Gonzaga would not be able to fight back from.

It was unbelievably entertaining to watch on TV, and even better live, where the arena was packed with Gonzaga fans.

Here are the three things we can take away from that game:

1. I severely underestimated Florida coming into the season: My thought process was correct. Losing Kasey Hill, Devin Robinson and Justin Leon hurt this group defensively, and for a team that was built around their defense a year ago, that would be tough to recover from.

What I didn’t realize, however, was that Egor Koulechov and Jalen Hudson were going to take turns mimicking Klay Thompson’s stat lines while Chiozza finished his development into the best point guard in the SEC. Mike White has embraced a gun-slinger’s style of play. Florida gets out and runs, they push the ball in transition, they fire up threes and they have no conscience when it comes to bad shots.

Why?

Because White knows that he has guys on his roster that can make those shots, even when they’re bad shots. And while there will be nights where Koulechov goes 1-for-9 from the floor and Allen shoots 5-for-16 — as they did on Friday — they can be picked up by the other two players on that perimeter. White has veterans up and down his lineup. He may have the toughest point guard in the country in Chiozza. And his team still isn’t whole, as they’re waiting for John Egbunu to return from his torn ACL.

Veteran guards that can go for 30 on a given night combined with big, physical posts and a team that puts up triple-digits on the regular is the kind of team that can get to a Final Four.

I thought they were overrated as a top ten team entering the season. They may actually be underrated at No. 7.

2. The same thing can be said for Gonzaga: Did see this coming from Johnathan Williams III?

I can honestly say that I expected him to contend for the WCC Player of the Year award. We had him ranked as a top 100 player entering the year and I figured that he would end up being the leading scorer for this Gonzaga team.

But what we saw on Friday night?

An unstoppable force in the paint and around the rim?

A guy that can go for 39 points on 16-for-22 shooting?

That I did not see coming, and I can’t say that I expected Josh Perkins to be as good as he has been in Portland, either. If that duo can play anywhere near the level that they’ve played this week for the rest of the season, Gonzaga will have one of the best 1-2 punches on the west coast. Throw in a veteran roll players (Silas Melson), a couple of intriguing foreigners (Tillie, Rui Hachimura) and a freshmen class with some promising kids (Corey Kispert, Zach Norvell) and … well you pretty much have the kind of Gonzaga team that we’ve become accustomed to seeing.

They’re the favorite in the WCC once again.

How silly of us to think otherwise.

3. Mike White is a helluva coach: We knew this already, didn’t we?

That’s why he got the job that was vacated by Billy Donovan?

But what really impresses me with this group is just how different they are from last year’s team. As I said earlier, last year’s group was No. 2 nationally in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, but they could struggle to run offense and score the ball at times. This team? Well, they’ve failed to crack 100 points just once this season, are must-see TV every time they play and run their offensive differently than they did last year. White is playing to the strength of his roster, and it’s paying dividends.

4. Gonzaga fans are criminally underrated: At a Final Four last year that included North Carolina and Oregon, Gonzaga was the most impressive fan base. They traveled to Arizona en masse, partied all weekend and showed up — sunburnt, but there — in incredibly loud fashion during the games.

The same can be said for the PK80 tournament. And every home game the Zags play. They’re loud, they know their stuff and they’re annoying on twitter.

That’s the fan base trifecta.

And they should get credit for it.

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.