No. 2 Baylor holds off K-State 74-68 in Big 12 quarters

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Baylor coach Scott Drew has always believed the team that advanced the previous night in the Big 12 Tournament has the advantage in the first half over the team that had a bye into the quarterfinal round.

The team with the fresh legs has the advantage down the stretch.

That played out in the second-ranked Bears’ survive-and-advance win over Kansas State on Thursday. It took big games from the backcourt of MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler along with some crucial plays in the closing seconds for the Bears to hold on for a 74-68 victory and avoid what would have been one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.

“I thought we were a little tentative,” Drew said. “In the first game you have a little jitters. A lot of our guys hadn’t played in the Big 12 Tournament. They were really excited and sometimes that makes you play hesitant. But give Kansas State a lot of credit. I thought they had a great game plan.”

The top-seeded Bears (22-1) rolled into T-Mobile Arena after their first regular-season conference title since 1950, three straight wins over ranked teams and with a No. 1 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament nearly locked up.

Yet the Wildcats (9-20), who lost their two regular-season games to Baylor by an average of 40 points, never allowed the high-powered Bears to slip away. The plucky bunch of kids kept answering baskets until the final minute. Freshman Nijel Pack’s sixth 3-pointer got them within 70-66 with just over a minute to go.

Mitchell missed at the other end, but Kansas State couldn’t capitalize when Mike McGuirl threw a wild pass that Pack batted into the air. The Bears came down with the loose ball and Butler made a couple free throws to seal the win.

It sent Baylor into a semifinal matchup with No. 12 Oklahoma State on Friday night.

Teague finished with 24 points, Mitchell had 23 and Butler had 18 as the Bears’ starting backcourt scored all but nine of their points. But while Teague was solid with the ball, Butler and Mitchell had 13 of Baylor’s 21 turnovers.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s hard to beat a team three times,” Mitchell said. “They had a really good plan. They played really hard, really tough. They won yesterday so they had a lot of momentum, so it’s good for us in the long run.”

Pack finished with 18 points, as did Davion Bradford, as the ninth-seeded Wildcats lost their ninth straight game against the top seed in the Big 12 Tournament. Kansas State had beaten No. 10 seed TCU in the opening round.

“It felt good for us to have courage and show the improvement we had from the beginning of the year to now, so it felt good,” Pack said. “It feels like we’re a whole new team. It’s like a preview of the years to come.”

Baylor struggled after a late-season, three-week pause because of COVID-19, barely squeaking past Big 12 bottom-dweller Iowa State and losing its only game at Kansas. But the Bears appeared to get their legs – and lungs – back with an overtime win at West Virginia followed by easy wins over ranked teams Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.

They must have lost their mojo again on the way to Kansas City.

The Bears struggled to control the 7-foot Bradford in the paint. They couldn’t track down Pack on the perimeter. They coughed up a dozen turnovers by halftime, and they were slow getting to just about every loose ball.

Kansas State hung around long enough to take a 37-36 lead, its first of the game, on Pack’s 3-pointer out of the break.

The Bears slowly regained control, and when Mitchell answered Pack’s fifth 3 with one of his own – and Teague converted a three-point play moments later – they finally had some breathing room for the first time.

They needed every bit of it down the stretch.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State had the second-most starts by freshmen in the country behind Kentucky, and it showed during a 13-game losing streak amid a 5-18 start. But the Wildcats may have been the most improved team in the league down the stretch, winning four of five capped by their win over TCU in the first round of the tournament.

Baylor struggled to handle Kansas big man David McCormack in its lone loss this season, and its inability to deal with post players showed up again Thursday. Bradford is far from polished in the paint, but he managed to get a series of easy points at the the rim, and that should concern Drew ahead of the NCAA Tournament.

UP NEXT

The Bears will play the red-hot Cowboys on Friday night for a spot in the championship game.

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.