No. 1 Gonzaga blows out Saint Mary’s 78-55 in WCC semifinals

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LAS VEGAS — Gonzaga was at its free-flowing best on offense and shut down Saint Mary’s on the defensive end.

Another dominating performance, another trip to the West Coast Conference Tournament title game.

Win one more and the Zags will enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated.

Drew Timme scored 18 points, Joel Ayayi added 16 and top-ranked Gonzaga racked up another lopsided win, blowing past Saint Mary’s 78-55 in the WCC semifinals on Monday night.

“These guys have shown all year how competitive they are and as we moved toward the NCAA Tournament – it was taken away from them last year – I think we’ll get even an increased effort moving forward,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.

The Bulldogs (25-0) dominated from a big opening run and led by 18 at halftime to cruise into their nation-best 24th conference tournament title game. Gonzaga shot 53% as it tied the school record with its 29th straight win, dating to last season, and has won 22 straight games by double digits.

Jalen Suggs scored 15 points for the Zags, who will play BYU on Tuesday night for a chance to win their ninth WCC title in 11 years.

All but assured of a No. 1 seed, Gonzaga has a chance to become the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated since Kentucky in 2014-15.

“This thing about this team and this system is it doesn’t matter who scores,” Timme said. “Anybody can score on any given night. I don’t care, the guys don’t care. We just care about winning.”

The Gaels (14-9) were little more than a speed bump against Gonzaga’s ultra-efficient offense and struggled to get their own shots to fall, shooting 2 for 20 from 3-point range.

Logan Johnson led Saint Mary’s with 15 points.

“We’re going to have to have an `A’ game to play them close and we didn’t,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “We shot the ball bad.”

Gonzaga won the two regular-season meetings by double digits.

The Zags had to overcome a slow start to win 73-59 in Moraga, California, but won 87-65 in Spokane, Washington, on Feb. 17 to secure their 10th regular-season WCC title in 11 years.

Gonzaga got off to a quick start in the third go-round, going up nine in the opening 4 1/2 minutes while putting on an offensive display in a dominating first half.

The Zags hit 18 of 28 shots and Timme had 15 points in 17 minutes to give his team a 44-26 halftime lead.

The Gaels spent most of the first half struggling to get into their offense, repeatedly forcing up shots late in the shot clock.

Gonzaga pushed its lead to 27 in the first five minutes of the second half and, despite a short letup that had Few fuming, won another lopsided game.

“Defensively, that’s what we prided ourselves on this year and they’re just a tough team to stop,” said Saint Mary’s Tommy Kuhse, who had 13 points.

BIG PICTURE

Saint Mary’s has given the Zags trouble in the WCC Tournament in previous years, but doesn’t have the firepower to hang with them this season.

EFFCIENT TIMME

Timme has played well all season and was dominant on Monday night.

The 6-foot-10 sophomore used his impeccable footwork to maneuver up, under and around the Gaels, hitting 8 of 11 shots. Timme also had eight rebounds, four assists and a steal.

“I’m on him a lot in practice and I probably don’t tell him enough how good he is,” Few said. “He’s a joy to coach and I think he’s getting better on the defensive end. I’m proud of him in that area.”

DOMINATING INSIDE

Led by Timme, Gonzaga dominated the paint.

The Bulldogs had a 54-32 scoring advantage inside and grabbed 13 more rebounds.

EMPTY ARENA

Orleans Arena is typically filled with roaring fans during the WCC Tournament, particular when Gonzaga is playing.

The compact arena was all but empty this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, with the sounds of yelling coaches and players echoing off the rafters.

“It’s a tough way to play. It’s like a scrimmage,” Bennett said. “It’s not all about the fans, but the fans do make it fun.”

UP NEXT

Gonzaga will face the BYU in Tuesday’s championship game.

Saint Mary’s is hoping to get an NIT invite.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.