No. 7 Gamecocks hold off Alabama 75-63 at SEC Tournament

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GREENVILLE, S.C. – Zia Cooke knows things have changed for South Carolina. She and her teammates took the first step at changing them back at the SEC Tournament.

For most of Cooke’s two seasons, the seventh-ranked Gamecocks have been the Southeastern Conference’s dominant program. Last Sunday, though, it was No. 2 Texas A&M that claimed the regular season title after a showdown victory over South Carolina. It’s the Aggies who came to the league tournament a clear-cut favorite.

“Right now, we’re experiencing something new,” Cooke said. “We’re underdogs. No one likes that.”

Cooke scored 22 points, Aliyah Boston had 16 points and 13 rebounds, and No. 7 South Carolina withstood a late charge by Alabama for a 75-63 victory Friday night.

The Gamecocks (20-4) led by 27 halfway through the second quarter but saw most of that margin disappear down the stretch after Ariyah Copeland drew the Crimson Tide (16-9) within 66-59 with 5:07 to go.

But Destanni Henderson followed with her third 3-pointer and Cooke added a bucket to build back the double-digit edge as South Carolina advanced to the tournament semifinals for the sixth time in seven years.

Cooke says there’s an upside to being outside the spotlight, and she believes the Gamecocks have embraced that this week.

“While they’re asleep, you get a chance to wake them up,” she said. “That’s definitely our plans right now, wake the world up and let them know who we are.”

South Carolina will play No. 14 Tennessee on Saturday night for a spot in Sunday’s championship game after the Vols beat Mississippi 77-72 later Friday.

“At this time of year, whether we play Ole Miss or whether we play Tennessee, we’ve just got to make more plays,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said.

South Carolina was running Alabama out of the building with a 12-0 start and led 39-12 before the Crimson Tide’s steady surge nearly caught the Gamecocks napping. Still, they finished things off for their 19th straight win over Alabama – including three this season.

Staley vowed her team, which faded in the third quarter of the 66-57 loss to Texas A&M, would show off an improved, efficient offense at the league tournament.

The Gamecocks paid attention – at least for 15 minutes. They hit five of their first six shots and led 39-12 after Henderson’s 3-pointer with 4:44 to go before the half.

They wouldn’t be the Gamecocks, though, without an offensive drought. That showed up the final four minutes before halftime as they missed their final five field goals and Alabama closed with a 14-3 burst to cut things to 42-26 at the break. The Crimson Tide kept closing into the final quarter.

“I’d rather be at this point of not playing our best and living to play another day,” Staley said.

Jordan Lewis scored 25 points, 17 coming in the third and fourth quarters, to lead Alabama. Copeland, who had 22 points and 10 boards in an 82-74 win over Missouri here Thursday night, added 17 points.

Alabama coach Kristy Curry wasn’t happy with the big, early margin. But she thought in the final 25 minutes, her team “showed who we are, what we’re about. We just dug ourselves a really big hole.”

Henderson finished with 18 points and Boston had her 13th game this season with double figure points and rebounds.


Alabama: The Crimson Tide have had a breakout season and are projected to end a 22-year NCAA Tournament drought when the selections are announced March 15. With Lewis, Copeland and Jasmine Walker all significant players, Alabama will be a difficult out should they advance past the early rounds.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks are still trying to figure out their offense. South Carolina played a stellar 15 minutes (16-of-26 shooting) to take control. But they were just 14 of 36 the rest of way, relying on their defensive strength to hold off a major upset bid by Alabama.


Cooke said it took her a bit to get used to the atmosphere in Greenville and the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, about two hours north of campus. “We were very tired,” Cooke said. “The air here is crazy.”


South Carolina improved to 16-1 in SEC Tournament play since 2015. The Gamecocks are looking for their sixth tournament title in the past seven years.


Alabama appears to be headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.

South Carolina will face Tennessee in the SEC semis on 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.