No. 19 Creighton rolls past No. 5 ‘Nova behind Zegarowski

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
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OMAHA, Neb. — The Marcus Zegarowski who showed up against Villanova on Saturday was the Marcus Zegarowski that Creighton had been waiting to see.

His timing couldn’t have been better.

Zegarowski scored a season-high 25 points to lead the 19th-ranked Bluejays in an 86-70 rout of No. 5 Villanova in a meeting of the Big East’s top two teams.

The performance was a long time coming. Zegarowski was the conference’s preseason player of the year, but he hasn’t been 100% while battling through injuries the last 11 months. He missed the end of last season with a knee injury that required offseason surgery, and he was bothered by a hamstring injury in January.

“It takes time to get your sea legs back,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “He’s done an unbelievable job managing some of the injury issues he’s had this year. I’ve seen him gradually get where he could be, and today was the pinnacle of a lot of hard work he’s put in to get back.”

Zegarowski led an offense that was at its high-tempo best. He scored 17 points in the first half. Mitch Ballock stepped in with 17 of his 20 points in the second.

Zegarowski was a constant throughout and bested Collin Gillespie in the highly anticipated matchup of two of the nation’s top point guards.

“I try to stay aggressive as much as possible, whether that’s scoring or making plays for my teammates,” Zegarowski said. “My teammates got me going early on, and that opened things up for them as well. It was a great team win.”

Creighton (16-5, 12-4 Big East) won for the sixth time in seven games and knocked off a top-five opponent for the first time since beating Villanova in February 2018.

The Wildcats (13-3, 8-2) sustained their most lopsided loss since a 25-point defeat to Ohio State in November 2019.

The Bluejays had their best shooting first half of the season (65.4%) and finished at 59.3%.

Ballock made three of his six 3-pointers during a 13-2 run that extended the Bluejays advantage to 67-48.

Zegarowski had struggled with his shot the previous three games. He made three 3s in the first half, including one that gave Creighton the lead for good. He also accounted for the prettiest play of the game when he drove baseline on Gillespie for a reverse layup.

Early in the second half, Zegarowski made a move to get Gillespie to go the other way, then swished a one-handed floater in the lane.

“He totally controlled the game,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We had different types of coverages on him. None of them worked. I think it’s because he’s so smart. He read every change we made and really sliced us.”

Christian Bishop, the Bluejays’ 6-foot-7 center, made six of seven shots and scored 16 points, and converted two lobs from Zegarowski and one from Denzel Mahoney into first-half dunks.

Villanova came to Omaha off its best offensive game, scoring a season-high 96 points in a blowout of Marquette. The Wildcats had shot 70% in the second half of that game and a season-best 63% overall.

The Wildcats weren’t nearly as good at CHI Health Center, shooting 33% in the second half and 37.5% for the game.

Justin Moore had 21 points and Jermaine Samuels added 16 for Villanova.

Jermaine Robinson-Earl, who came in shooting 56% and averaging just under 20 points over his previous four games, was 3 of 13 and held to eight points.

“Creighton was just outstanding right from the get-go,” Wright said. “Defensively they played extremely well. Their energy level was outstanding. Offensively, when they get going like that, they’re as dangerous as anybody in the country.”

BIG PICTURE

Villanova: Defense has been a concern for coach Jay Wright, and this game exposed it. If the offense isn’t operating at a high level, the Wildcats can’t count on their defense to bail them out.

Creighton: With the supporting cast around him, Zegarowski can lead the Bluejays on a deep postseason run if he keeps playing at or near the level he did Saturday.

GOOD, AND BAD, CROWD

This was only the second game Villanova has played with fans in attendance. The other game was at Texas. The crowd was about 2,500 at the CHI Health Center, about 12% of capacity.

Wright said he enjoyed the atmosphere, to a point.

“They had just a little crowd today, but even their little crowd, it was a little different. I hate to say it, but it was nice, the energy in the building. Unfortunately, it was for them. I think that lights a fire in them. When they get going with their speed, it’s impressive.”

UP NEXT

Villanova hosts Connecticut on Saturday.

Creighton hosts DePaul on Feb. 24.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.