No. 23 Virginia beats Notre Dame 66-57 in ACC opener

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Virginia’s momentary shakiness against surging Notre Dame reminded Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett of a toy from the 1970s.

“Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down,” Bennett said after the No. 23 Cavaliers relinquished almost all of an 11-point second-half lead, then pulled away late for a 66-57 victory over the Fighting Irish on Wednesday night.

“Our young guys don’t know what that is,” Bennett said of the old-time toy, “but we wobbled a couple times, but we didn’t fall down.”

Kihei Clark had 19 points and five assists as No. 23 Virginia continued its string of dominance over Notre Dame.

The Cavaliers (5-2, 1-0) improved to 12-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference openers under Bennett and 10-0 in ACC regular-season matchups against the Irish.

Jay Huff scored 15 points for Virginia. Sam Hauser added 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Notre Dame (3-5, 0-2) fell despite a career-high 28 points from Nate Laszewski. The junior forward hit 8 of 11 shots from the field with four 3-pointers to go with 8 of 10 at the line.

Juwan Durham added 19 points for the Irish.

“Durham and Laszewski hurt us,” Bennett said. “We’ve got to kind of shore up against some of these good fours and fives (positionally).”

“Our two big guys did play great,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “We’ve got to build on that even though we didn’t win the game.”

The Cavaliers led at every count except 2-2 and were up 35-24 by early in the second half, but the Irish twice clawed within one point, the last time at 47-46 with 8:26 remaining.

Notre Dame also had a chance to tie it at 54, but Cormac Ryan’s wide open 3-pointer rimmed around and softly out.

“I thought Cormac’s 3 in the corner that was halfway down was key,” Brey said after Ryan finished the night scoreless on four attempts. “We missed that one, (then) they made one (a 23-footer by Trey Murphy III), and that was kind of our last shot.”

BIG PICTURE

Virginia: The Cavaliers, after plunging from No. 4 in the preseason poll to No. 23 in the latest one, bounced back on the heels of their 98-75 loss against No. 1 Gonzaga on Saturday. Now they play six of their next eight at home as they look to climb back up the rankings.

Notre Dame: The Irish extended their dubious program record for consecutive losses against ranked teams to 25, including 0-4 this season. They’ve not defeated a Top 25 club since edging No. 6 Wichita State 67-66 in November 2017. Five currently ranked teams are on ND’s remaining schedule, too, although none higher than Florida State at No. 18.

BENCH BOOSTERS

Bennett praised the supportive noise coming from the Virginia bench after he felt his team went flat on the sideline as well as on the court against Gonzaga.

The Cavaliers had even practiced a couple cheers going into Wednesday’s game.

“We went old school,” Bennett said. “We asked some of the guys what were some of your best chants when you were in AAU or high school.”

With largely empty arenas during the pandemic, bench noise has a chance to become more pivotal, according to Bennett.

“This is unlike anything as far as atmosphere,” Bennett said. “(Bench noise) is really important.”

WERTZ INJURED

The Irish, trailing 30-23 at the time, lost starting guard Trey Wertz to a left ankle injury with 30 seconds to go in the first half.

Brey estimated that Wertz might miss “a couple weeks.”

The junior transfer from Santa Clara just gained eligibility on Dec. 16. He had averaged 12.7 points and 3.3 assists over his first three games for Notre Dame.

Wertz had just one point against the Cavaliers before getting hurt.

UP NEXT

Virginia: The Cavaliers host No. 24 Virginia Tech on Saturday in a showdown between rivals smack next to each other in the rankings.

Notre Dame: The Irish are scheduled to play Saturday at Pittsburgh, but the game remains in jeopardy after the Panthers’ contest against Duke on Tuesday was postponed when Pitt announced a positive COVID-19 test within its program.

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.