Kispert leads No. 8 Gonzaga over Alabama State 95-64

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SPOKANE, Wash. — Corey Kispert is the only returning starter for No. 8 Gonzaga from last year’s Elite Eight team, and he knows many of his young teammates are looking for leadership.

He provided it Tuesday.

Kispert scored a career-high 28 points as Gonzaga used a second-half surge to beat Alabama State 95-64 in the season opener for both teams.

“Setting the tone for the team is kind of what I am trying to do,” Kispert said after making 10 of his 13 shots, including five from 3-point range.

“I was in rhythm, not thinking too much,” Kispert said. “I let it come to me. That’s when the best things happen.”

Kispert knows he has to take a leadership role on a team that lost four starters to the NBA.

He said he learned how to be a leader from former teammates Johnathan Williams two years ago and Josh Perkins last year.

“I played with guys who did it well,” Kispert said.

Filip Petrusev added 15 points, Admon Gilder scored 12 and Ryan Woolridge had 11 for depleted Gonzaga, which is down to nine scholarship players. The Bulldogs have won 16 consecutive season openers dating to 2003.

Jacoby Ross scored 16 points and Brandon Battle had 10 for Alabama State in the first meeting between the teams.

Gonzaga led 42-30 at halftime behind 13 points from Kispert. Alabama State was hampered by 12 turnovers in the first half that led to 14 Gonzaga points. Gonzaga had just three turnovers in the first.

Consecutive 3-pointers by Ross allowed the Hornets to cut Gonzaga’s lead to 50-41 early in the second.

“It was a complete breakdown in our coverage,” Kispert said. “We’ve got to tighten up.”

Gonzaga replied with 15 straight points, while holding Alabama State scoreless for nearly six minutes, to take a 65-41 lead and was not threatened again. Kispert had nine points in that run.

Alabama State coach Lewis Jackson said the 24 fouls called on his team were a big problem.

“We wanted to come out aggressively on defense, but we picked up too many fouls,” Jackson said. “They got too many points off the free-throw line.”

Gonzaga sank 17 free throws, to just seven for the Hornets.

“Jacoby played really well,” Jackson said. “He was aggressive on defense and played with a lot of poise.”

SHORT-HANDED ZAGS

Forward Killian Tillie is still recovering from knee surgery and did not play, while freshman guard Brock Ravet, who was expected to contribute, has temporarily left the team for personal reasons. Gonzaga coach Mark Few said Tillie is the team’s most experienced player, despite missing much of last season with various injuries. “It’s frustrating for him,” Few said. “Hopefully we’ll get him back.”

TURNOVER TROUBLE

Alabama State was plagued by 21 turnovers that led to 29 Gonzaga points. The Zags committed just eight turnovers.

STATS

Gonzaga won the rebounding battle 34-25 and shot 57.6% to 49% for the Hornets.

BIG PICTURE

Alabama State: The Hornets are starting the season with 15 consecutive road games. They do not play at home until January. Jackson is seeking his 200th career victory.

Gonzaga: The Zags are picked to win an eighth consecutive West Coast Conference regular-season title. They have averaged 33 wins per season since 2014-15, tops in the nation.

UP NEXT

Alabama State plays at Missouri State on Sunday.

Gonzaga hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday.

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.