Agbaji scores 26, No. 11 KU holds off No. 25 Oklahoma 69-62

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas was never rattled when it learned that big man David McCormack and backup forward Tristan Enaruna had been caught up in COVID-19 protocols, knocking both of them out for the entirety of the Big 12 Tournament.

The Jayhawks weren’t rattled after blowing most of a 20-point halftime lead against Oklahoma, either.

Ochai Agbaji scored a career-high 26 points, Marcus Garrett added 17, and the 11th-ranked Jayhawks leaned on their smaller lineup and fill-in big man Mitch Lightfoot to make enough plays down the stretch and escape with a 69-62 victory over the 25th-ranked Sooners in the quarterfinal round Thursday night.

“I really didn’t say anything,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said upon learning McCormack and Enaruna were out. “I don’t think the guys thought, `Oh, no.’ They probably thought, `Well, this is going to be a little harder now.”‘

It wasn’t in the first half, when the second-seeded Jayhawks (20-8) raced to a 35-15 lead. But that was probably the case when the seventh-seeded Sooners (15-10) closed within 62-59 with 3 1/2 minutes to go, when Elijah Harkless followed a miss by Austin Reaves with a bucket of his own to raise the intensity a notch inside T-Mobile Center, which had roughly 3,000 fans inside.

Kansas buckled down defensively, though, and the Sooners didn’t get another field goal until the final minute. By that point, the Jayhawks were on their way to playing No. 13 Texas or No. 20 Texas Tech in the semifinals Friday night.

“The first half we were great. We got everything we wanted,” Self said. “The second half we didn’t play nearly as well, but they were as good as we were the first half in the second half. They made shots and we made some bonehead plays.”

Reaves and Brady Manek scored 19 points apiece to lead Oklahoma, which ended a four-game skid with its first-round win over Iowa State but couldn’t capitalize on the momentum. Harkless added 15 points before fouling out.

“You can’t have a half like that against a really good ballclub,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “I’m proud of our guys’ response. they came out the second half much more like themselves – moved the basketball, made plays for each other, played better on each end of the floor. But we dug a big hole for ourselves and couldn’t get out of it it.”

Without McCormack at his disposal, Self opted for a four-guard starting lineup with nobody taller than 6-foot-8 forward Jalen Wilson, and the smaller Jayhawks spent the first half buzzing around Oklahoma’s backcourt like a bunch of gnats.

After Manek gave the Sooners a 6-4 lead in the opening minutes, they only managed one more field goal – a 3 from Manek – over the next 10 minutes. And after Reaves curled in another 3-pointer to get them within 18-12, the Sooners went six more minutes without another field goal.

Oklahoma was 6 of 20 from the field with 13 turnovers, and its 15 points set a season low for scoring in a half.

It may have taken the Sooners 20 minutes to dig a 20-point deficit, but they needed just 10 to erase most of it.

The Jayhawks grew stagnant on offense with Agbaji and Garrett the only ones able to get anything to go, and their once-stingy defense became downright generous. Manek and Reaves took advantage of the newfound open looks with a barrage of 3-pointers, which opened up the lane for Harkless and De’Vion Harmon to slice to the basket.

By the time Reaves drilled a 3-pointer with 5 minutes to go, and Harkless followed Reaves’ miss with a layup a few minutes later, the Sooners were within 62-57.

Mitch Lightfoot’s basket with 2:22 left was the first in the second half by anybody but Agbaji and Garrett for Kansas, and Garrett answered Reaves’ free throw moments later with one of his own to make it 65-60 with 1:36 to go.

Reaves misfired from the top of the arc on the Sooners’ next possession, allowing Kansas to hang on during the final minute.

“Coach did a good job of keeping us confident, playing with a free mind,” Agbaji said. “We all know we don’t have our David, throwing the ball in the post, but we just kept aggressive on the outside, kept shooting and kept being confident about it.”

BIG PICTURE

Oklahoma finished with a season-high 18 turnovers. The Sooners also got just four points off the bench, and their inability to take advantage of McCormack’s absence in the paint was noticeable all game.

Kansas has struggled at the foul line much of the season, but Self’s team was 9 of 11 from the stripe Thursday night. Wilson made a couple free throws in the final seconds that ultimately sealed the victory.

UP NEXT

The Jayhawks will face the Texas Tech-Texas winner for a spot in the championship game.

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.