Gillespie, Robinson-Earl lead No. 10 Villanova past UConn

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VILLANOVA, Pa. — Villanova had an easy fix for its recent defensive struggles – just practice it.

Collin Gillespie scored 20 points and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 17 points and 11 rebounds to lead the No. 10 Wildcats to a 68-60 victory over UConn on Saturday.

Justin Moore and Jermaine Samuels each added 11 points for the Wildcats (14-3, 9-2 Big East), who clamped down defensively in the second half.

James Bouknight, in his second game back after missing eight due to elbow surgery, scored 21 points for the Huskies (10-6, 7-6).

Villanova was coming off its worst defensive performance of the season in last Saturday’s loss at Creighton, a game in which the Wildcats gave up a season-worst 86 points while allowing the Bluejays to shoot 59% from the field. That defeat dropped the Wildcats five spots in the Associated Press Top 25.

With a week of practice to prepare for UConn, coach Jay Wright put most of the emphasis on defense.

“We didn’t allocate enough time to defense,” Wright said of previous sessions. “It shows what you emphasize, they’re going to be good at.”

It sure did.

The Wildcats held UConn’s star, Bouknight, to seven points in the second half as the Huskies shot 30% (8 for 27) from the field and committed seven turnovers after halftime. It took until 34.7 seconds remained for Bouknight to make a second-half field goal.

“They did a good job of loading up on whoever had the ball and trying to make plays,” Bouknight said. “They’re a very good team defensively. We were just a step slow, and we made too many mistakes.”

A projected first-round NBA draft pick this year, Bouknight had 18 points in 24 minutes in Tuesday’s 73-61 win over Providence in his return. He came out hot, scoring nine of UConn’s first 12 points and ended up with 14 in a competitive opening 20 minutes that ended with the Wildcats ahead 34-32.

Villanova kept UConn and Bouknight in check the rest of the way.

“They were really loading up to James,” Huskies coach Dan Hurley said. “The ball can’t just end up in James’ hands trying to bail us out. Collectively, we have to have a better approach.”

The Huskies went up 42-41 on Adama Sanogo’s basket from close range with 14:06 left. Villanova answered with 12 of the next 15 points, taking its biggest lead, 53-45, on Robinson-Earl’s elbow jumper with 7:42 to play.

And the advantage hit double digits, 57-47 with 4:25 left, on Moore’s dunk after an assist from Gillespie.

When the Huskies got close, Villanova always had an answer.

“This is one of the best teams in the country, the class of our league,” Hurley said. “Their mindset is championship level.”

BACK IN THE BIG EAST

The teams renewed their Big East rivalry. A charter member of the conference in 1979-80, UConn spent the last seven seasons competing in the American Athletic Conference.

While the Huskies were gone, Villanova dominated the conference and rose to a consistent national championship contender. The Wildcats claimed six regular-season conference titles over those seven seasons while capturing NCAA titles in 2016 and 2018.

UConn, which shares the Big East record with Georgetown for conference tournament titles with seven, dropped off its usual level among college basketball’s elite.

THIRD TIME’S A CHARM

The teams also were supposed to meet in Storrs, Connecticut, in January, but twice had games postponed due to COVID-19 issues.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: The Huskies are on the NCAA bubble but are in good position to get a first-round bye in the Big East tournament, which goes to the top five teams in the league standings. UConn entered fourth in the conference, two games ahead of sixth-place Xavier, with four scheduled conference games remaining.

Villanova: The Wildcats are primed for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, but Wright knows they’ll have to play better. They have four regular-season games remaining to get to the level Wright would like to see.

“Our habits and concepts, we’re not where we normally would be,” Wright said prior to the game. “We have a long way to go defensively.”

Saturday’s win was a start.

UP NEXT

UConn: At Georgetown on Tuesday night.

Villanova: Hosts St. John’s on Tuesday night. The Wildcats lost 70-59 at St. John’s on Feb. 3.

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.