No. 13 Texas beats No. 12 Oklahoma St for first Big 12 title

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Texas finally won the Big 12 Tournament championship.

Don’t try telling the Longhorns they didn’t earn it.

After getting a free pass through the semifinals when Kansas withdrew due to a positive COVID-19 test, and avoiding mighty Baylor once they reached the title game, embattled coach Shaka Smart’s bunch took advantage of the situation Saturday night with 91-86 victory over No. 12 Oklahoma State.

Matt Coleman poured in a career-high 30 points, Jericho Simms had a career-best 21 to go with 14 rebounds, and the third-seeded Longhorns stayed poised during the tense final minutes to win for the first time in seven trips to the finals.

“This is a gift to everyone, whether they’ve supported us or not,” said Smart, whose future at Texas was in question after last season. “And there’s a lot of people that have supported us, and we’re grateful for it. But the most important thing is our guys stayed connected, and I’m just happy they get to experience this feeling.”

It’s the first conference tournament title for Texas since winning the old Southwest Conference in 1995.

“We’ve earned just a little bit of respect from, well, anybody, you know?” Coleman said. “And not that we’re searching for respect. We knew in each other what we had, what we could do.”

Freshman star Cade Cunningham had 29 points to lead fifth-seeded Oklahoma State (20-8), including a pair of 3-pointers in the final minute, the second of them pulling his plucky team within 89-86 with 6 seconds to go.

The Cowboys immediately fouled Andrew Jones, and he calmly made two free throws to clinch the game.

Isaac Likekele added 13 points and Kalib Boone had 12 for the Cowboys, who fought past No. 10 West Virginia and the second-ranked Bears the previous two days to reach their first Big 12 Tournament title game since 2009.

“It’s so valuable having gone through this,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton said, “and the thing I will remind them of probably every day until we play, the next time we have this feeling losing a game, it’s over.

“We need to make sure we have an understanding of that.”

While the Cowboys looked weary early on, the Longhorns appeared fresh from their day off.

They tracked down every loose ball, were quicker in transition and spent most of the first 20 minutes above the rim with a series of alley-oop dunks. Sims and Kai Jones did most of the damage with their size inside, but the Texas backcourt that was so good in the quarterfinals provided plenty of balance.

Coleman and Co. helped the Longhorns (19-7) stretch a 29-25 lead into a 43-33 advantage by halftime.

“They were the aggressors the whole first half,” Boone said. “They looked like they wanted to win. We looked like we just wanted to hang in there for a second.”

It didn’t help Oklahoma State’s cause that it went 0 for 9 from beyond the arc.

Cunningham finally hit the Cowboys’ first 3-pointer in the opening minutes of the second half, and the All-Big 12 forward kept pouring it on. Cunningham added another moments later as Oklahoma State whittled an 11-point lead to 52-48. And when Texas stretched the lead again, he fed Anderson with a nifty pass to get within 66-59 with 8 minutes to go.

Foul trouble began to set in, though. Cowboys forward Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe was the first to foul out, and Anderson joined him on the bench when he picked up his fifth foul with Texas clinging to an 81-75 lead and 1:16 to go.

Of course it would be Coleman that helped put the game away.

After hitting the go-ahead foul shots with 1.8 seconds left in a 67-66 quarterfinal win over No. 20 Texas Tech, the senior guard calmly made two more to give the Longhorns an 83-75 lead with 1:15 to go in the championship.

The Longhorns held on from there for their seventh win over a Top 25 opponent this season.

“I can’t even explain it. Nobody knows how much it means for myself and for coach,” Coleman said. “Since the day we stepped on campus, we got the whole team here, I looked to my left and my right and said, `We’ve got some guys. We’ve got the makeup to do something special this season.”‘

BIG PICTURE

Oklahoma State finished the season on a roll, winning eight of its last nine before the Big 12 title game with a pair of OT victories. The Cowboys beat six ranked teams in the past two weeks to build some NCAA Tournament momentum.

Texas is starting to hit its stride, too, after playing just six games in 35 days due to positive COVID-19 tests in January and February. All seven of the Longhorns’ losses this season have come against teams that were ranked at the time.

UP NEXT

The teams will remain in Kansas City to learn their NCAA Tournament seeding – both should land around the 3-line in the bracket Sunday – and continue with daily COVID-19 testing before departing for Indianapolis.

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.