Virginia and Texas Tech deliver a classic title game

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MINNEAPOLIS — Jarrett Culver and Chris Beard stood in the corner of the raised floor, embracing, commiserating and consoling as their opponents celebrated the national championship they so desperately wanted just a few feet away. Beard wrapped his arms around Culver, and told the sophomore star he loved him.

Then, Tony Bennett, moments after a game that will redefine his career and legacy, made his way to that corner, around his team and toward the two Red Raiders.

“He told me to keep my head up, keep pushing,” Culver recalled, “and, ‘great game.’”

One of the greatest, even.

Virginia completed one of the best comeback stories in the history of sports when the confetti fell on its 85-77 overtime victory against Texas Tech in a game that featured all-time performances and historic moments in a classic 45 minutes of basketball.

Anyone fretting that pitting two of the country’s best defenses against each other on the biggest stage might lead to a monumental flop need not have worried.

Texas Tech and Virginia gave us one of the best final nights of the season in the game’s history. It was absolutely that good.

It featured two of the sports unquestioned best teams, a pair of elite coaches, a couple lottery picks and more drama than we deserved. It wasn’t perfect, but it was fantastic.

“It was, Bennett said, “a terrific game.”

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

It was a game of stories and a game of moments, with the latter informing the former.

The final 6 minutes of regulation was what made this game go from great to all-timer. Virginia led by eight, a monster lead given its soul-snatching defense and time-sucking offense. But when Kyler Edwards’ bucket trimmed it to six and Matt Mooney’s triple halved it to three, the prospect of a Red Raider comeback – and Virginia collapse – seemed possible.

Then Ty Jerome clanked a 3, and Norense Odiase, who has spent the last five years in a Texas Tech jersey, banged home a layup and was fouled. His and-one tied the game, and set U.S. Bank Stadium ablaze.

“We started making plays,” Culver said, “and that opened up the door.”

Virginia did not wilt, however, getting buckets from De’Andre Hunter and Kyle Guy to go back up four. The game, unsatisfied to follow a clean trajectory, whipsawed back to Texas Tech, which got a triple from Davide Moretti and a layup from Culver to take the lead for the first time since the last minutes of the first half. When Odiase made two free throws seconds later, Texas Tech had a three-point cushion and 22 seconds to kill to claim its first national title.

Instead, Hunter reached legend status.

Jerome penetrated into the paint and looked like he might try the same floater he missed just a possession earlier, but instead floated a pass out to the corner to Hunter, who caught the ball near his head, reloaded it into his shooting pocket and fired away, splashing a triple with 14 seconds left to tie the game.

“I just took my time and shot it,” Hunter said. “I just was standing there. I just stood there. I didn’t move, really.”

Some guys run into history, Hunter stood and shot his way there. It’s that make he’ll be remembered for, but his night of 27 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in 44 minutes make for one of the best title-game performances ever.

We could have scrambled at him and ran at him a little bit more, and that might be a coaching mistake, but we were dialed in,” Beard said. “We knew who he was. He just hit a lot of tough shots.”

Still, Texas Tech had a chance to tie it after what nearly became the most infamous attempted timeout since Chris Webber in 1993.

Culver’s potential go-ahead 3 missed its mark with 5 seconds remaining and Hunter corralled the rebound. He looked to pass the ball up ahead to Guy, but the hero of Saturday’s semifinal win wasn’t using his hands to catch a pass. Instead, he was signalling for timeout when Hunter’s pass sailed out of bounds with 1 second remaining, giving Texas Tech one last chance to head home to Lubbock with snipped nets and a trophy in tow.

Instead, Braxton Key blocked Culver’s fadeaway attempt and the country was gifted with an additional 5 minutes of a beautiful basketball game.

I had the mindset to get downhill, create,” Culver said, “and I saw a switch. I felt like I had an open shot so I shot it.”

Overtime provided only a fraction of those final 6 minutes of regulation, with Texas Tech taking a three-point lead that would be overtaken by the Cavaliers and never returned. It ended with Hunter launching the ball into the Minneapolis air as a champion.

“I see guys do it all the time, and it looked cool to me,” he said, “so I wanted the ball and I wanted to throw it up.”

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

In the end, the game lived up to the two teams’ reputations as defensive juggernauts, but delivered the drama that some thought would be impossible to create with two teams who care more for stops than buckets.

That, though, missed the truth of this matchup. Yes, Virginia and Texas Tech are two of the best defenses in the country – and maybe that the sport has seen in recent years – but their offenses were far from disasters. Quite the opposite. Both had bucket-getters. Both had lottery picks. It had overtime for the first time since 2008.

It made for a cocktail that was both sweet and intoxicating.

It’s the greatest feeling I’ve ever felt in basketball,” Guy said.

On a stage that can crush or elevate, and both teams rose to the moment to create a crowning game that will forever rank among the best.

“It was everything and more. You dream as a kid to play in something like this,” Culver said.

Virginia’s rise to the pinnacle of the sport comes just a year after reaching its nadir against UMBC. Much the same team, a wholly different result. From historic loss to storybook redemption.

You have a scar, and it reminds you of that, but it’s a memory,” Bennett said. “Does it go away completely? No, I wish it wouldn’t have happened in some ways. Now I say, well, it bought us a ticket here. So be it.”

Virginia walked through the blue and orange confetti that littered the championship floor with Jerome carrying the national championship trophy back to the locker room. Mamadi Diakite sat there with a piece of net tied around his finger, a placeholder for the ring that will eventually adorn his hand. Guy smiled and cameras with a hat that read “CHAMPIONS” across the brim.

Virginia was the laughingstock of the sport last year, and came through to the other side as champions. The Cavaliers survived Carsen Edwards in the Elite 8. Guy’s free throws in the final second beat Auburn in the Final Four. Hunter’s late 3 and a steely resilience beat Texas Tech.

No laughingstock now. No doubts about system or style. No peers now.

Virginia is the national champion.

“It’s a great story,” Bennett said. “That’s probably the best way I can end this. It’s a great story.”

One of the greatest, even.

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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.