No. 3 North Carolina sweeps season series with win over No. 4 Duke

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North Carolina claimed a share of the ACC regular-season title on Saturday night as the No. 3 Tar Heels notched a 79-70 win over No. 4 Duke. Sweeping the regular-season series over the rival Blue Devils, North Carolina continues to put itself in position to potentially earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Freshman Coby White led a balanced North Carolina effort with 21 points while senior guard Kenny Williams made plays on both ends of the floor to finish with 18 points and six rebounds — while doing an admirable job of making life tough on Duke freshman scorer R.J. Barrett (26 points, 10-for-27 shooting).

And even though Duke fell on the road in Chapel Hill, there were still able to stay in a game during in which they basically played without Zion Williamson or Marques Bolden.

Here are three takeaways from this one.

North Carolina’s guard play dictates the ceiling of this team

It’s important to note that North Carolina won both games over Duke with Zion Williamson relegated to the bench. Duke fans and anti-North Carolina people will express this sentiment whenever they can. And there’s something to be said for that.

But even with the Blue Devils missing Williamson and Bolden (more on that below), North Carolina’s guards had a very solid game against Duke. With senior forward Luke Maye (seven points, 3-for-13 shooting, 16 rebounds) having an off-night shooting the ball, the Tar Heel offense had to rely mostly on White and Williams to make plays. Both players delivered results for the first 34 minutes of Saturday’s game.

White had some dazzling moments knifing through traffic and making tough shots, garnering praise from NBA Draft gurus in the process. The second half opened up in large part due to White’s ability to do what he wanted with the ball in his hands.

Williams had a sound 7-for-15 shooting night in which he was 4-for-7 from three-point range. On the defensive end, Williams also helped draw three first-half fouls on R.J. Barrett as he frustrated the freshmen into some bad offensive possessions.

It has to be comforting for North Carolina that they can beat a very good team like Duke even with Maye having an underwhelming shooting night. If North Carolina’s guards continue to play like this, and Maye plays up to his normal capabilities, then North Carolina is as dangerous as any team in the country.

What does Duke do if Marques Bolden is out?

The injury bug continues to bite Duke late in the regular season. Williamson has missed the past five games. Tre Jones briefly left the second half of the Wake Forest win with what was labeled a bruised right thigh. Cam Reddish appeared to be favoring his knee at times on Saturday.

But the potential loss of junior big man Marques Bolden is a major subplot to follow for the Blue Devils over the next few weeks. Bolden went down with a knee injury in the opening minutes of Saturday’s game as he was helped to the locker room by teammates after colliding with the basket stanchion. He didn’t return to the contest as Duke had to roll with a smaller lineup to face North Carolina. Postgame, Coach K told reporters that Bolden suffered an MCL sprain.

Without Bolden in the lineup, the Blue Devils were missing the team’s second-best rim protector besides Williamson. Although Bolden has had an up-and-down career at Duke, his size and athleticism on the defensive end is unmatched on this Blue Devil roster — particularly if Williamson isn’t on the floor to help as a freakish weakside shot blocker.

Javin DeLaurier did a solid job playing an energy role in finishing with eight points and 10 rebounds, but he can’t protect the rim, or defend bigs in the post one-on-one nearly as capably as Bolden can. If Bolden misses any sort of significant time, it puts even more pressure on a limited Duke rotation that can’t get consistent production from players outside of Barrett, Reddish and Williamson.

And since Reddish can be maddeningly inconsistent in his own way, it means players like Alex O’Connell (0 points, 0-for-4 shooting) can’t have nights where they provide next to nothing. With the way Jack White has also struggled to shoot late this season, Duke’s depth continues to take hits heading into the postseason. For their sake, the Blue Devils desperately need Bolden back as a stabilizing force at the rim whenever Williamson gets a rest.

Should we worry about North Carolina’s late-game offense?

Although North Carolina won on Saturday, a troubling late-game stretch of offense will be something to monitor going forward.

After developing a comfortable double-digit with a little under seven minutes left, the Tar Heels took the foot off the gas and struggled to score the rest of the game. Going nearly six minutes without scoring, and the final 6:47 of the game without a field goal, North Carolina allowed Duke to crawl back into the game to make it tight at the end.

Many offensive possessions ended in contested shots or turnovers as North Carolina’s half-court offense was stagnant much of the time. Not known to run many plays, Tar Heel head coach Roy Williams has already had to adjust his offensive tendencies during the Miami win earlier this season.

While it didn’t get that dire in this one, North Carolina’s offense clearly lost a lot of confidence down the stretch against an undermanned Duke team playing without a true rim protector. For as brilliant as North Carolina can look, they can also have some puzzling stretches of bad offense. That kind of sustained stretch of poor offense could haunt this team in the postseason.

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.