Michigan completes sweep of Michigan State to advance to Big Ten title game

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NEW YORK — The biggest shot of the game came with 2:48 left on Saturday afternoon.

30-feet away from the rim with the shot clock down to two, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman rattled home a three that kissed the rim three different times, dying against the glass before falling through the net.

The biggest defensive play of the game came just 15 seconds left, when Abdur-Rahkman drew an offensive foul on Miles Bridges. Michigan had the ball back, up 62-54 with just over two minutes as Madison Square Garden turned into Crisler Arena. By the time the final buzzer had sounded, Michigan had upset top-seeded Michigan State in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament, 75-64, completing a season sweep of the Spartans and advancing to the finals of the Big Ten tournament for the second time in as many seasons.

For John Beilein, who took the Wolverines to the 2013 national title game were they lost to Louisville nobody, he’s on the verge of another feather in the cap for what has been a sensational career as a tournament coach. He reached the Sweet 16 last season. He reached the Elite 8 the year after he lost Trey Burke. He took West Virginia to the Elite 8 and the Sweet 16 in back-to-back seasons, and also won the NIT with the Mountaineers. He won a game as a No. 14 seed with Richmond way back in 1998.

So seeing Beilein win three games in three days, sweeping their in-state rivals in the process, to end up playing for the right to call themselves back-to-back Big Ten tournament champions is not necessarily a surprise.

What may actually be a surprise is that the Wolverines may have just played their way into a position where getting seeded above Michigan State, one of the preseason favorites to cut down the nets, is a realistic possibility.

While that probably says more about the strength of the Big Ten and the randomness that comes with a league that doesn’t play a full round-robin schedule than anything else, it does present an interesting conversation to have: Just how good is Michigan State?

And is there something that the Spartans can fix over the course of the next 12 days to fix that?

The answer to the first question is easier to answer: Really good, and in the context of a season where the best teams in the country are all flawed in some major way, the Spartans could very well be college basketball’s best. To put it another way, they are not going to be a team that any No. 1 seed wants to draw in their region.

“The one thing that I would remind everybody, this team has won 12 games in a row and 29 games this season,” head coach Tom Izzo said after the game. “And through some trying times.”

“Now, do we have to get it back on track? Yeah, we do.”

Cassius Winston was not himself this weekend, particularly against Michigan, where he finished 3-for-10 from the floor and struggled to break down Michigan off the dribble. Winston entered NYC shooting 56.5 percent from three. He’ll leave having made just one of 11 from beyond the arc in the Garden.

Nick Ward wasn’t himself, either, as his issues defensively and with immobility against teams that can play small limited him to 25 minutes in the two games. Josh Langford hasn’t played well for two months, and Michigan State’s experiment with playing small — Jaren Jackson at the five, Miles Bridges at the four — seems to have died on the vine.

And all of that came while losing a game that resulted in a sweep against their in-state rival.

“We’re just going to try and move on,” Bridges said.

“It was a big game, but it’s not the end of our season,” added Winston. “There’s still another big goal that we’re very capable of achieving.”

There will be time to figure this out. If Michigan State gets put into a pod where they play Friday-Sunday, they will be looking at a 13-day layoff between the end of their Big Ten tournament run and the start of an NCAA tournament run. Izzo may not need to reinvent the wheel, but he’ll certainly have enough time to do so.

“I haven’t ever been through that,” Izzo said, meantioning that the team might head to Chicago to see Denzel Valentine play. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. And the best part is we’re on spring break next week. So we might just go to the beach in East Lansing, see if we can play a little beach basketball.”

“It will be the one time in my life the NCAA has no rules on us. We’re on break and we don’t have any games. That doesn’t happen very often. It’s never happened to me, so knowing me, I’m going to take advantage of that.”

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.