No. 5 Illinois dominates Minnesota 94-63 for 7th win in row

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MINNEAPOLIS — From pregame warmup drills though the pickup-game vibe of the second half, the Illinois players kept filling Minnesota’s mostly empty arena with chants and cheers.

There’s a fun and relentless energy around the Fighting Illini, making an already talented team even tougher to beat.

Ayo Dosunmu had 19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his second triple-double of the season, Kofi Cockburn scored 22 points in 24 minutes, and No. 5 Illinois cruised past Minnesota 94-63 Saturday for its seventh consecutive victory.

“I always tell my teammates, `Enjoy this moment,” Dosunmu said. “Don’t let COVID or not being able to see your family affect it, because this is memories that’s going to last for a lifetime.”

Trent Frazier added 15 points and six steals to help the Illini (15-5, 12-3) stay in second place in the bruising Big Ten with two weeks to go in league play. The Illini had a 31-8 edge in fast-break points, shot 56% from the floor and forced 18 turnovers, as Frazier stifled Gophers star Marcus Carr.

“You’ve got to have guys who are enjoying doing what they’re doing and enjoying doing it with each other,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said.

Freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr. led Minnesota (13-10, 6-10) with 16 points and six rebounds, with his father, former NBA player Jamal Mashburn, watching in person for the first time in his college career. Nothing beyond that was worth remembering for the sputtering Gophers.

“Just have a sense of pride. We can’t let guys come in like today and just do what they want to do,” backup forward Eric Curry said.

Whether a thunderous one-handed dunk by the 7-foot, 285-pound Cockburn or a slick lob pass from Dosunmu to Giorgi Bezhanishvili for a slam, the Illini had a lot to smile about.

“It was special,” Frazier said, “just hearing the energy from the bench.”

Dosunmu added yet more fuel for his national player of the year candidacy.

“I have no idea who in the hell anybody thinks is any better than him right now,” Underwood said.

AILING GOPHERS

The best-shooting team in the Big Ten used a 27-6 run over a six-minute stretch bridging halftime to dominate Minnesota for the second time this season – after a 92-65 victory on Dec. 15.

The Gophers couldn’t have looked more deflated or flustered. When Carr wasn’t ready for a pass along the perimeter by Tre’ Williams in the closing seconds, Frazier intercepted it and flung a half-court shot that swished at the buzzer for a 48-33 lead.

On the first play of the second half, Cockburn rebounded a missed 3-pointer in front of fellow 7-footer Liam Robbins and dunked it with no resistance.

Robbins, playing through a sprained ankle, had four blocks and four assists but went scoreless in 13 minutes. The Gophers were also missing Gabe Kalscheur, their best defender and third-leading scorer, because of a broken finger on his shooting hand. Carr and Brandon Johnson each had 12 points and Williams scored 11 points for Minnesota, which has lost six of its last eight games.

“We certainly seem a little bit disjointed with those two guys out, but we’ve got to find a way,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said.

This was Minnesota’s third-worst defeat at home in program history, behind a 39-point loss to UCLA in 1968 and a 34-point loss to Purdue in 2018.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: With a seventh Quad 1 win, as defined by the NCAA’s formula for strength of schedule, the Illini matched Gonzaga for the second-most in the country. They’re coming in hot for a No. 1 seed, with five road wins in a row and their best Big Ten record since the national runners-up in 2005.

Minnesota: Despite wins over Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan – three of the top four teams in the Big Ten and all ranked in the top 11 of the latest AP poll – the Gophers are nowhere near a lock for the NCAA Tournament. Winning their last four regular season games might be necessary to get in.

UP NEXT

Illinois: Visits Michigan State on Tuesday. With a game against Nebraska rescheduled for Thursday, the Illini will play four games in eight days ending with a trip to Wisconsin next Saturday.

Minnesota: Hosts Northwestern on Thursday, a game moved up two days to make room for a rescheduled matchup at Nebraska that will now be played next Saturday.

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.