No. 1 Gonzaga rallies to beat BYU 88-78 in WCC title game

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports Images
2 Comments

LAS VEGAS — Gonzaga was out of sorts for one of the few times this season, falling into its biggest halftime deficit in three years.

Corey Kispert got the Bulldogs back in it. Jalen Suggs finished it off.

The undefeated season is intact. The NCAA Tournament is next.

Suggs hit two late 3-pointers and scored 23 points, helping top-ranked Gonzaga survive its biggest test of an undefeated season to beat Brigham Young 88-78 in the West Coast Conference Tournament title game on Tuesday night.

“We needed a game like that,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We had some adversity and got punched in the face. We got together at halftime and the guys just stuck with the plan.”

The Bulldogs (26-0) had been unstoppable all season, winning all but one of their games by double digits as they advanced to the WCC title game for the 24th straight year.

The Cougars (20-6) made the lopsided losses list twice, but exposed Gonzaga’s lone weakness in the first half at Orleans Arena: its defense.

BYU shot confidently, using an early 11-0 run to build a 12-point halftime lead.

The Zags responded by locking down defensively and getting back to their efficient ways on offense.

Kispert hit three early 3-pointers and scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half. Suggs took charge down the stretch, hitting consecutive 3-pointers to put Gonzaga up by nine with 1:28 left.

“I’ve been dreaming of playing college basketball all my life,” Suggs said. “I was practicing on my Little Tikes hoop for these exact moments and for it to play out like this is crazy.”

Gonzaga has won a school-record 30 straight games over two seasons and will be the first team since Kentucky in 2015, and 16th overall, to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated. The Zags won their eighth WCC title in nine years and 17th under Few.

Trevin Knell led BYU with 20 points.

“They’re really good,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “They played a great game and competed the whole way. They do a terrific job.”

The Cougars were the last team to beat Gonzaga, 91-78 on Feb. 22, 2020.

Gonzaga won the first meeting this season by 17 points, but the second was 82-71 – one of the closest games these Zags have played.

BYU’s best chance to win the third go-round was to outshoot the Zags.

The Cougars did just that to start the game, hitting 10 of their first 16 shots to take a 26-19 lead. BYU continued to go right at the Zags, hitting 9 of 13 from beyond the arc to lead 53-41 at halftime. Knell had 15 points and was 4 of 5 from 3.

“We couldn’t stop them,” Few said. “They had us on roller skates.”

Gonzaga looked like more the the nation’s No. 1 team to start the second half, getting out to BYU’s shooters and putting the ball in Kispert’s hands.

The preseason Associated Press All-American shot 1 of 6 in the first half, but made three 3s in the opening three minutes to pull Gonzaga with 55-52. It stayed close as the teams traded runs, then Suggs hit a 3-pointer with 2:20 left and another on Gonzaga’s next possession to make it 82-73.

“Gonzaga responded in the second half,” said BYU guard Alex Borcello, who had 15 points. “We had a really good first half, some shots didn’t fall in the second half, we didn’t grab a couple of rebounds and Gonzaga pulled away.”

BIG PICTURE

BYU showed it can hang with anyone when the shots are falling. Expect the Cougars to be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.

Gonzaga got a jolt from the Cougars, which could work out well. Being tested this late after a season full of blowouts could help the Zags if things get tight in the tournament.

KNELL’S NIGHT

Knell entered the title game averaging 5.8 points per game, but got some open looks against Gonzaga’s pressure. The sophomore guard took advantage, particularly in the first half, finishing 5 of 10 from 3-point range.

“Trevin is not lacking for confidence,” Pope said. “He had a great night for us.”

PURSUIT OF PERFECTION

Gonzaga has shied away from talking about becoming the first team since Indiana in 1976 to finish a season undefeated.

Six games away from the perfection, the Zags realize how close they are.

“We finally acknowledged this is a big deal,” Few said. “It puts us in some incredible company. It’s a heck of an accomplishment.”

UP NEXT

BYU should be a lock to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. A strong showing against the No. 1 team in the country should boost their seeding, too.

Gonzaga will be a No. 1 seed next week as the tournament gets underway in Indianapolis.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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

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

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
1 Comment

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

uconn
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
0 Comments

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

Getty Images
0 Comments

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.