No. 7 Houston to AAC title game with 76-74 win over Memphis

Ben Ludeman-USA TODAY Sports
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FORT WORTH, Texas — Quentin Grimes kept making big shots for No. 7 Houston, and then Justin Gorham secured a third consecutive appearance for the Cougars in the American Athletic Conference Tournament championship.

Gorham scored Houston’s last six points on a nifty one-handed reverse layup and four free throws, and the Cougars held off Memphis for a 76-74 semifinal win Saturday.

“He’s the heart and soul of our team. I don’t know where we would be without Justin,” Grimes said. “He’s a magnet to the ball. Wherever the ball is it seems like he’s right there. His hands are like a magnet to the ball.”

Grimes had 21 points with five 3-pointers for the Cougars (23-3), who are already a lock for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Gorham finished with 15 points, and Marcus Sasser had 14.

Boogie Ellis scored 27 points for Memphis, but he had a huge turnover with 49 seconds left. He fell down with the ball when trying to respond to the Gorham layup that put the Cougars back in front 72-71.

Gorham added his free throws before Ellis made a running 3-pointer just before time expired. The last free throws for Gorham came after being fouled rebounding a missed 3 by Ellis with 4 seconds left.

DeAndre Williams had 16 points for Memphis (16-8), an NCAA bubble team which overcame a 12-point halftime deficit and led by four with just over five minutes left. That was only seven days after losing in Houston on a game-ending banked 3-pointer after tying that game with 1.7 seconds left.

“It’s crazy right now,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said of his emotions postgame. “Just hard to accept having the game won and knowing what was at stake, and not being able to pull it through.”

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said he knew both of those games would be difficult against the Tigers.

“We could have won both, and we did. We also could have lost both, but we didn’t,” he said. “So the fact that we’ve found a way to win different ways, Memphis has got some really talented kids.”

Hardaway, in his third season coaching at the school where he was a standout player, said he is “just praying” that the Tigers have shown enough to be an at-large selection Sunday.

“It’s a tough loss. The whole season we’ve been working to try to get to the NCAA Tournament,” Ellis said. “This game, we needed it bad.”

The Cougars are looking for their first conference tournament title since 2010 in Conference USA when Tom Penders was their coach. They play Sunday against fifth-seeded Cincinnati, which beat regular-season champion Wichita State 60-59 in Saturday’s other AAC semifinal.

Cincinnati (12-10) won the last two AAC title games over Houston, 69-57 in 2019 and 56-55 in 2018. Last year’s NCAA and AAC tournaments were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Both teams are playing for a championship tomorrow, not the automatic qualifier,” Sampson said.

Williams had 10 points when Memphis opened the second half with a 17-5 run, getting even at 46-all on his jumper with 10:45 left that ended his personal 6-0 run.

Grimes had a fast-break dunk with 17 minutes left, but the Cougars missed seven shots in a row until Grimes made a 3-pointer with 8:55 left, right after Ellis made a 3. Ellis and Grimes traded quick 3-pointers again only a couple of minutes later.

“Quinn Grimes was a man,” Sampson said.

BIG PICTURE

Memphis: The Tigers were again without guard Alex Lomax because of a left ankle injury. Memphis hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2014. Memphis is 7-2 since January, with the only losses in that span being to the AAC’s only ranked team within a week.

Houston: The Cougars converted eight Memphis turnovers into 14 points before halftime, the last on a buzzer-beating breakaway dunk by Grimes after he stole the ball from Ellis. … Houston had an early 11-0 run bookended by a pair of 3-pointers by Sasser.

UP NEXT

The AAC championship game Sunday in only the second meeting this season between the teams. Houston beat the Bearcats 90-52 at home on Feb. 21.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.