No. 3 Illinois tangles with No. 9 Ohio State to decide Big Ten

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Whether it wins Sunday’s Big Ten tournament title game in Indianapolis against No. 9 Ohio State, No. 3 Illinois has likely clinched a No. 1 seed for next week’s NCAA Tournament.

An 82-71 win over No. 5 Iowa Saturday in the semifinals was the Fighting Illini’s 12th Quad 1 win of the season — more than any other Division I team. And with a 1-2 punch of Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, it’s easy to forget this is a program that was spinning its wheels for about a decade before coming to life last year.

“When I came on my (official) visit, I saw this program as a losing program,” Cockburn said Saturday after scoring 26 points. “They lost to a really bad team when I came here. I keep saying that every time because that motivated me to come here and be a part of this change.”

With 13 wins in 14 games, Illinois (22-6) is as hot as any team not named Gonzaga. While Dosunmu (20.9 ppg, 6.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists) and Cockburn (17.6 ppg, 9.6 rebounds) are the leaders, there are enough good players around them to burn opponents who get too conscious of the two big guns.

Andre Curbelo was the third big gun on Saturday, finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds. More important, he disrupted Iowa’s potent halfcourt offense by controlling point guard Jordan Bohannon and making it harder for Big Ten Player of the Year Luka Garza to get the ball where he wanted it.

“Curbelo was outstanding on both ends of the court — again,” Illini coach Brad Underwood said.

Curbelo, Trent Frazier and freshman Adam Miller combine to score 27.6 points per game while allowing Illinois to play at a lightning-fast pace. It scored 26 first-half points inside the first seven seconds of the shot clock, using their superior speed to beat the slower Hawkeyes down the floor.

Meanwhile, Ohio State (21-8) is trying to win this the hard way. After squeaking past Minnesota 79-75 Thursday in its tourney opener, the Buckeyes blew a late lead Friday but recovered to eliminate Purdue in overtime, then edged Michigan on Saturday, 68-67, after leading by 13 with 4:19 left.

Ohio State couldn’t exhale until Michigan’s Mike Smith clanged a potential game-winning jumper off the back iron with two seconds left. The result, though, was exhilarating for a team that entered the conference tournament with a four-game losing streak.

“Every game here has been a challenge,” said Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann. “We certainly could have dropped any of them, but we also know that we dropped one or two we certainly could have won. So I give our guys credit for a phenomenal experience.”

Duane Washington Jr. scored a game-high 24 points for Ohio State, connecting on 5 of 10 3-pointers. He hit a pair from long range during a 14-2 run that gave OSU a 56-45 lead at the 8:17 mark of the second half. Washington (15.8 ppg), first team All-Big Ten pick E.J. Liddell (16.1 ppg, 6.4 rebounds) and Cal transfer Justice Sueing (10.5 ppg) provide most of the scoring punch.

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.