No. 12 Oklahoma St beats No. 2 Baylor 83-74 in Big 12 semis

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Confidence has never been a problem for Oklahoma State freshman Cade Cunningham.

That came in handy Friday night.

With the No. 12 Cowboys trying to rally from a second-half hole against second-ranked Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament, Cunningham calmly responded with back-to-back 3-pointers to give his team the lead. Then, he stepped to the foul line and calmly made a series of free throws down the stretch that clinched an 83-74 victory in the semifinal round.

“I’m a confident player. I feel like every shot I shoot is supposed to go in,” said Cunningham, the projected No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft. “I try to shoot them with confidence and make plays that my teammates need.”

His teammates didn’t let him carry the load alone.

Avery Anderson III added 20 points, including the go-ahead three-point play with just over two minutes to go, and Rondel Walker had 11 as the No. 5 seed Cowboys (20-7) advanced to play No. 13 Texas for the title Saturday night.

The third-seeded Longhorns advanced earlier Friday when their semifinal against No. 11 Kansas was canceled because of a positive COVID-19 test that forced the Jayhawks to withdraw from the tournament. While the Cowboys have two Big 12 tourney titles to their credit, Texas has never won the event in six appearances in the finals.

The Bears have never won a conference tournament title, either – and won’t this year. They’ll remain 0-3 in the Big 12 title game for at least another year after winning their first regular-season league championship since 1950.

MaCio Teague scored 17 points and Jared Butler had 16 for the Bears (22-2), who had won 10 of their last 11 against the Cowboys after sweeping them in the regular season. Davion Mitchell also had 13 points for coach Scott Drew’s team.

“You have to give Oklahoma State a lot of credit,” Drew said. “They made a lot of big-time plays.”

Top-seeded Baylor led 65-60 with just under six minutes to go when Cunningham hit back-to-back 3s to give Oklahoma State the lead. That began a back-and-forth affair until Anderson drove for a layup and was fouled by Baylor’s Mark Vital with 2:09 to go. Anderson made the free throw to give the Cowboys a 73-72 lead, and they never trailed again.

They wound up going 21 of 26 from the foul line, making 13 of 14 when the game was on the line in the second half.

“Nobody thought we would get to this point right now,” Cunningham said. “We have fun on the court, we compete – everybody wants to win. We want to prove everybody wrong.”

The Bears struggled coming out of a three-week pause for COVID-19, beating Iowa State and losing their only game at Kansas, before getting on track with three straight wins over ranked opponents leading up to the tournament.

That momentum disappeared in a sluggish 74-68 quarterfinal win over Kansas State.

It was still missing in the first half Friday night.

The Bears did get off to a quick start, but Oklahoma State answered and gradually pulled ahead. Anderson led the way, continuing his torrid postseason – he scored 17 points in a quarterfinal win over No. 10 West Virginia – by pouring in 13 first-half points. His buzzer-beating layup gave the Cowboys a 35-30 lead at the break.

Teague and the Bears started to heat up in the second half. The sharp-shooting senior hit a 3-pointer and jumper in quick succession, and then his putback off Butler’s miss gave Baylor its biggest lead at 60-52 with 7 1/2 minutes to go.

Cunningham answered for the Cowboys, hitting back-to-back 3s a few minutes later as they regained the lead.

The teams swapped the lead four more times over the final four minutes before the Cowboys put it away.

“I don’t want to say it like this, but we needed that loss in a way,” Baylor’s Mark Vital said. “Everybody says that, but we do. We came here with the mindset we were already champions of the Big 12. We have to change our mindset to get back to being hungry. Now that we’ve been thrown, we have a chip on our shoulder. We have to come back from a loss.”

BIG PICTURE

Oklahoma State improved to 3-0 against Baylor in the conference tournament, and the Cowboys did it by once again showing poise down the stretch. They improved to 15-4 in games decided by 10 points or fewer.

Baylor has been through a tough late-season stretch after its COVID-19 pause as it tried to squeeze in as many makeup games as possible. The Cowboys were their sixth ranked opponent in the last six games.

UP NEXT

The Cowboys face Texas in the championship game. Oklahoma State split the season series with the Longhorns, losing a 77-74 nail-biter in December before winning a 75-67 double-overtime thriller early last month.

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.