No. 7 South Carolina women top No. 14 Tennessee, reach SEC final

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GREENVILLE, S.C. – Aliyah Boston thinks No. 7 South Carolina played a complete game – finally.

Zia Cooke scored 17 points, Aliyah Boston had 15 points and 11 rebounds and the Gamecocks rolled past No. 14 Tennessee 67-52 on Saturday night and into the SEC Tournament title game for the sixth time in seven years.

South Carolina opened a large lead in the first quarter and never let up, something they’ve struggled with down the stretch of the regular season when they had leads against at No. 1 UConn, No. 14 Tennessee and No. 2 Texas A&M, yet lost all three.

Facing the Lady Vols (16-7) again with a large lead, South Carolina didn’t let this one slip away.

“I think from the start we were locked in,” said Boston, the 6-foot-5 sophomore. “We were playing great defense and offense was moving, so I would say that this is the first game where we played a complete 40 (minutes).”

They’ll likely need another such effort when the Gamecocks (21-4) take on No. 16 Georgia, which upended top-seeded and No. 2 Texas A&M in the the other semifinal.

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, whose prodded her group all year about consistency on offense, is seeing results.

“I was impressed with our team,” she said. “I think our team is growing and they’re learning. It took us probably to lose some basketball games, our offense stagnant in some games, to understand what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Unlike the first meeting between these teams – Tennessee rallied from 16 down to hand South Carolina its first SEC loss in two seasons – the Gamecocks kept the pressure up throughout.

Tennessee was trying for its first finals appearance since 2015. That year it lost the title to upstart South Carolina, the beginning of Gamecock dominance over the SEC that doesn’t appear to be ending yet.

Boston and Cooke made that clear with their play throughout this one.

Boston showed off her outside game with a pair of 3-pointers to go along with three assists, two blocks and a steal.

Cooke also had a pair of 3s and continually buzzed through the Tennessee defense for baskets.

South Carolina took control with its early run. The Lady Vols were in front 11-10 on Rennia Davis’ 3-pointer midway through the period when the Gamecocks took off on their game-breaking surge.

Boston began the run with a 3-pointer, just her ninth of the season, and Cooke closed it with a 3-pointer and three free throws to put the Gamecocks up by 16.

The Lady Vols appeared to be dragging a bit after a hard-fought, 77-72 win over Mississippi on Friday night, coming from six points down in the fourth quarter.

Davis, who had 33 points and 14 rebounds against Ole Miss, finished with nine points on 3-of-12 shooting.

Jordan Walker and Jordan Horston had 11 points each to lead the Lady Vols. Tennessee was held to its fewest points of the season.

Boston’s double-double was her second straight in the tournament and 27th of her career.

THE BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Lady Vols used to own this event, winning 17 times between 1980 and 2014. Now, their run of missing the finals has grown to six straight years. Tennessee will have some work ahead to prepare for what they hope is a deep NCAA Tournament run.

South Carolina: While the Gamecocks have a 13-game win streak over Georgia, the Bulldogs are showing patience, versatility and their own ability to regroup quickly as they did to defeat Texas A&M.

PREPPING FOR TITLE GAME

South Carolina’s Staley said the job of prepping her players for a quick turnaround Sunday (the title game is some 17 hours after it ended) is up to the team’s medical and conditioning staff. “It’s out of my hands at this point,” she said.

BEATEN EARLY

Tennessee coach Kellie Harper said her team struggled against South Carolina’s physical play early and it cost them dearly. She said her team wasn’t getting stops and the Gamecocks cleaned up missed shots with put-back baskets. “South Carolina did a great job getting physical, and we’ve got to be able to handle that a little bit better.”

UP NEXT

Tennessee will await its NCAA Tournament pairing.

South Carolina goes against No. 16 Georgia for the SEC Tournament title Sunday.

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.