Travis, Washington lead No. 8 Kentucky past No. 9 Kansas

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Reid Travis and P.J. Washington overwhelmed an undermanned Kansas frontline, combining for 38 points and 25 boards as No. 8 Kentucky overcame a slow start to knock off No. 9 Kansas in Rupp Arena on Saturday, 71-63.

Dedric Lawson finished with 17 points and 14 boards for the No. 9 Jayhawks, but it was nowhere near enough, as a Kansas team missing Udoka Azubuike did not have nearly enough size or strength in the paint to handle Kentucky’s big men.

This win is the latest in a string of impressive victories for the Wildcats, who suddenly have the look of a team that is a very real threat to cut down the nets on March. Last Saturday, they went into Auburn and knocked off the No. 16 Tigers before picking off No. 22 Mississippi State by 21 points on Tuesday. This makes three straight wins over ranked teams and pushes Kentucky’s winning streak to six games; they’ve won nine of their last ten since the overtime loss to Seton Hall.

Perhaps the most important part of this win is the fact that it proves Kentucky can play a style that doesn’t necessarily suit their personnel. Without Azubuike, Kansas has been forced to play small, and for the most part, they’ve done it well. They lost at West Virginia and at Iowa State, but they landed four wins over top 45 KenPom opponents, including Iowa State at home.

The key to this success has been the emergence of Marcus Garrett as a scoring threat. He posted the three highest scoring games of his career in the three games prior to Kansas’ trip to Lexington, and he was the guy that looked like he was destined to be guarded by a bigger defender.

That’s exactly what happened.

And Washington, to his credit, did a magnificent job slowing him down. Garrett finished just 1-for-9 from the floor with four points, four fouls and three turnovers.

Seeing Washington emerge like this is another great sign for the Wildcats. He’s had some impressive moments this season, but Kentucky is at their best when he plays like he is their best player. Consistency has not always been Washington’s forte, but he is capable of taking a game over, especially on the nights when his jumper is falling.

That’s a trend that is starting to become the tie that binds these Kentucky guys together. The last two games have arguably been the two best games that he has played this season. Tyler Herro struggled on Saturday, but he’s found his shooting stroke and scoring touch over the course of the last couple of weeks. Ashton Hagans, as we all know, has turned into the game-changing defensive dynamo he was known as in high school, and with the way he has shot the ball of late, I think it’s clear his offense is further along than we realized. Even the much-maligned Reid Travis has shown up in big spots. He was just as dominant against Auburn as he was on Saturday.

Depth seems to be an issue — Kentucky didn’t get a single bench point on Saturday — but even that buries the lead a little bit. Nick Richards chipped in with five blocks in nine minutes, which is more or less the reason he’s on the floor, while E.J. Montgomery was never going to get major minutes with the way Travis and Washington were playing. Quickley struggled, but that’s more or less par for the course for him this year.

Point being, Cal got the minutes he needed to get out of his bench.

What matters much, much more is the fact that his best players are hitting their stride as January turns to February.

Once again, a struggling Kentucky team is streaking late in the season.

At this point, the only question is whether or not they are going to peak too soon.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.