No. 16 Kentucky lands largest win over Louisville since Pitino’s first season with Cards

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It was over before the first TV timeout of the second half.

Kentucky used a 36-16 surge to close the first half and opened the second half on a 26-9 run, opening up a lead that climbed as high as 32 points as the No. 16 Wildcats cruised to their most impressive win of the season, humiliating a beaten-down Louisville team with a 90-61 win.

The last time the Wildcats won by more than 20 points in this rivalry came back in 2001, exactly 16 years ago to the day, when the Cardinals lost 82-62 to No. 6 Kentucky in Rick Pitino’s first season as Louisville head coach and his first trip back to Rupp Arena since leaving Kentucky for the Boston Celtics.

Here are four things we can take away from that beatdown:

1. SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER PLAYED HIS BEST GAME TO DATE

I’ve been as hard on SGA this season as anyone for one, relatively simple reason: For a team that can struggle on the offensive end of the floor, he can be a limiting factor. He wasn’t on Friday afternoon, finishing with a career-high 24 points to go along with five boards, four assists and three steals off the bench. It wasn’t just in transition, either, which is where a lot of his offense has come from this year. He was beating Louisville defenders off the dribble. He showed an ability to navigate taller defenders in the paint. He was more than just a straight-line driver. He was terrific. I’m not sure how much more there is to add.

And that’s significant because he already is an excellent presence on the defensive end of the floor given his 6-foot-6 size, length and athleticism. We know what he provides on that end. It’s why he’s in the conversation as a potential first round pick whenever he does end up heading to the professional ranks. But to see him provide this kind of spark offensively? I think this raises the ceiling of what Kentucky can be for one, simple reason: Before today, I didn’t know if it was possible to close the gap between Kentucky’s best offensive five and their best defensive five.

Well … they did.

2. KENTUCKY’S DEFENSE WAS TERRIFIC

Prior to the start of the season, the big concern that everyone had with this Kentucky roster was on the offensive end of the floor. Would they be able to score efficiently enough and shoot consistently enough to be a Final Four contender? We had that concern because the general consensus was that, with the size and athleticism that John Calipari had at his disposal, he would find a way to make the Wildcats one of the nation’s best defensive teams.

That was not the case for the first six months of the season. While the Wildcats were good enough offensively – they entered Friday with the 27th-best offensive, according to KenPom, while shooting 36 percent from three and grabbing 37 percent of their own misses, all numbers that, in a vacuum, should be enough – they struggled on the defensive end of the floor. Virginia Tech put up 86 on them. UCLA put up 83. Even Vermont’s guards were able to torch the Wildcats in a game earlier this year, and it’s not like they overwhelmed the likes of Harvard, or Troy, or East Tennessee State.

On Friday, Kentucky’s defense looked like the defense we thought the Wildcats would be capable of playing this year. The Cards shot 34.8 percent from the floor, 3-for-25 from three and scored all of 0.91 points-per-possession, which included a flurry of offense once the game was decidedly in hand. Some of that, however, might have been due to Louisville being #notgood, but we’ll get to that in a second.

3. WILL LOUISVILLE MAKE THE NCAA TOURNAMENT?

This is a legitimate question that needs to be asked at this point. The Cardinals finished non-conference play at 10-3, and none of their losses are all that bad – at Purdue, at Kentucky, Seton Hall at home. All three of those teams have legitimate Final Four upside.

It is concerning that their best win in the non-conference came against a six-loss Indiana team that has been beaten at home by a combined 41 points by Fort Wayne and Indiana State, but what’s more concerning is that this Louisville team just does not look like they are good enough to collect the wins that they need to collect in order to put together a profile strong enough to get a tournament bid in the ACC.

Yes, this is recency bias rearing up, but you tell me, Louisville fans: Are you confident in your team’s ability to nick a win off of, say, Duke, or North Carolina, or Miami? What about Notre Dame? Or even someone like an 11-1 Clemson team?

4. ALL THIS SHOULD GO TO SHOW YOU JUST HOW GOOD OF A COACH RICK PITINO IS

Here’s something crazy that I remembered today: In the first iteration of the 2017-18 Preseason Top 25, the one that we released on the night of the national title game, when Donovan Mitchell was returning to school, Miles Bridges seemed like a one-and-done player and Marvin Bagley III was thinking about junior prom, the Cardinals were No. 1.

Let me repeat: Nine months ago, I thought Louisville would be the best team in college basketball this season.

Yes, losing a potential Rookie of the Year in the NBA changes a lot of things, but the Cardinals were still the No. 16 team in the preseason AP Poll even after everything they’ve gone through in the last two months. They still have players like Quentin Snider, Deng Adel, Anas Mahmoud, Ray Spalding and V.J. King, guys that were expected to play a major role regardless of who was their head coach.

Padgett was put into an impossible position and has performed about as well as you could have asked him to.

So maybe that should shed some light on why we keep referring to Pitino as one of the best to ever coach the game of basketball.

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.