Intense No. 4 Illinois makes statement, drubs No. 2 Michigan

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Trent Frazier, Andre Curbelo and No. 4 Illinois arrived at Crisler Center ready to make a point.

“We’re the hardest-playing team in the country. That’s our statement,” Frazier said. “Even without our best player, we’ve got a lot of guys on this team.”

Duly noted.

Frazier led the way with 22 points, Curbelo scored 11 of his 17 in the first half, and the Illini dismantled No. 2 Michigan with a smothering defensive performance, routing the Wolverines 76-53 on Tuesday night.

Kofi Cockburn added 12 points for Illinois. Playing again without injured star Ayo Dosunmu, the Illini (19-6, 15-4 Big Ten) kept Michigan from clinching the conference title and boosted their own chances at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“I would be challenged to find a better win in college basketball this year – a better road win anyway. I mean, in all the analytics, they’re up there,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “So I think it’s got to make a pretty solid statement.”

Eli Brooks scored 11 points and was the only player in double figures for Michigan. The Wolverines (18-2, 13-2) looked physically overwhelmed for much of the night, unable to create good shots and unable to keep the Illini off the boards. It was an eye-opening blowout – especially since Michigan has rolled to similar margins of victory against other good teams this season.

Both teams had a hard time scoring in the first half, but Curbelo’s ability to drive to the basket helped Illinois to a 33-22 lead at the break. Then the Illini kept pouring it on.

“They played with great activity from the jump of the ball. They hit us first. We weren’t prepared,” Michigan’s Isaiah Livers said. “It felt like they were on a run the whole game.”

Illinois outscored Michigan 22-5 in second-chance points and held the Wolverines to 35% shooting from the field.

The Big Ten confirmed before the game that it will use winning percentage to determine the league champion. Michigan can still wrap that up with a win in either of its last two regular-season games – or if Illinois loses its last game this weekend.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini still have an uphill climb to win the Big Ten, but if they finish a game or two behind Michigan in the loss column, their fans will likely be heard from on the topic. The Wolverines are scheduled to play three fewer games than Illinois, and the size of this blowout – without Dosunmu – will resonate. Dosunmu has missed the past three games after breaking his nose, but the Illini have won them all. Underwood said Dosunmu has also been in concussion protocol.

Michigan: It’s only one game, and the Wolverines had been remarkably consistent in their dominance of the Big Ten this season – but Michigan looked so lacking in energy and offensive poise Tuesday that it will be interesting to see the team’s response later this week.

“We will learn from a loss like this, and the type of performance that we gave tonight was not acceptable at all,” coach Juwan Howard said. “We’re going to come in tomorrow, watch film and see what areas where we can improve on. It’s going to be, I call it a horror film.”

MOTIVATION

This game was originally supposed to be played Feb. 11, but it was moved after Michigan’s athletic department paused for coronavirus-related reasons. The Illini didn’t go into too much detail about whether that – or the fact that Michigan is in position to win the Big Ten while playing fewer games – was a motivator, but they certainly seemed charged up for this one. The Illinois bench was noisy throughout, and with good reason.

“Obviously the past month, with everything going on between the two teams, we wanted to come in with a chip on our shoulder,” Frazier said. “The energy tonight was incredible. It was so special out there tonight.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

This is a tricky one to evaluate. Michigan may drop behind No. 3 Baylor. Illinois could certainly pass Michigan as well after this game, but the Illini still have four more losses than the Wolverines. Plus, both Michigan and Illinois have more tests to come before the next poll.

UP NEXT

Illinois: The Illini play at No. 7 Ohio State on Saturday.

Michigan: The Wolverines finish the regular season with a home-and-home series against rival Michigan State, starting Thursday night in Ann Arbor.

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.