McCormack helps No. 3 seed KU survive E. Washington, 93-84

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) David McCormack gave third-seeded Kansas a spark when the big man returned from his COVID-19 quarantine in time to practice for its NCAA Tournament opener.

When the first round game against Eastern Washington began, McCormack gave the Jayhawks much more than a boost of energy.

Put on the ropes early by Tanner Groves and the Big Sky champs, McCormack responded by piling up 22 points and nine rebounds in 25 minutes of work to help slow-starting Kansas rally from a 10-point second-half deficit and beat the No. 14 seed Eagles 93-84 on Saturday to advance to the second round.

“David brought us energy from the time he arrived yesterday,” said Marcus Garrett, one of his closest friends, who fought through foul trouble to add 20 points. “He was just happy to be with us, happy to be back on the court.”

Ochai Agbaji contributed 21 points, Dajuan Harris Jr. scored 13 and Christian Braun overcame a poor shooting day to score 12 as the Jayhawks (21-8) survived the scare to play sixth-seeded Southern California for a spot in the Sweet 16.

Kansas has now won 14 consecutive first-round games in the NCAA Tournament.

“We told our guys you have to play well so your teammates get a chance to experience this,” said Kansas coach Bill Self, whose team is still missing Jalen Wilson and Tristan Enaruna due to COVID-19.

“We didn’t talk about what we did not have, we talked about what we had, that we had to play well, and what we had was enough.”

Tanner Groves scored a career-high 35 points and younger brother Jacob Groves had 23 for the Eagles (16-8), whose third trip to the NCAA Tournament ended just as quickly as the first two – though not without putting up a fight.

The aptly named “Groves Bros” got Eastern Washington off to a flying start. The pair of All-Big Sky forwards combined to score the first nine points of the game and forced Jayhawks coach Bill Self to burn through early timeouts.

Kansas settled down and put together a 17-5 run and suddenly looked again like the big boys out of the Big 12. But Shantay Legans’ motley crew of underrated and overlooked sharp-shooters finished the half on a 24-10 charge.

The Groves kids were at it again. They combined for 3-pointers on three straight trips down floor, then Tyler Robertson added a fourth from the top of the key to give Eastern Washington a 46-38 lead headed into the locker room.

“I just thought Tanner had the advantage all game long and he came up big for us,” Legans said. “He came up aces.”

Compounding problems for Kansas: Garrett, one of the nation’s best defenders, picked up his third foul before the break.

Self turned to McCormack to bail the Jayhawks out. Even though he was only expected to play about 10 minutes a half after his bout with COVID-19, the big guy went to work in the paint as if he hadn’t missed a day. He scored their first eight points of the second half, trying to keep Kansas alive until his teammates could find their shots.

They finally did midway through the second half.

Still trailing 63-59, Agbaji threw down a dunk in transition to begin a game-changing 14-3 run. Seldom-used Harris drained back-to-back 3-pointers, McCormack added back-to-back buckets inside, and Garrett – who is hardly known for his outside shooting – hit the first of his three second-half 3s as the Jayhawks took a 73-66 lead.

McCormack, who tested positive for the coronavirus before last week’s Big 12 Tournament, continued to score in the post down the stretch, helping the Jayhawks avoid the same fate that befell top-four seed Ohio State and Purdue on Friday.

“We came up short but that’s alright. I’m just really happy with the performance our team put together,” Tanner Groves said. “It feels really cool that we were able to keep it really close with Kansas – make it a game, give them a little scare.”

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Washington followed the recipe for an upset perfectly: It shot 50% from the field, hit 10 3-pointers, protected the ball and battled the Jayhawks to a standstill on the glass. But the Eagles’ defense let them down in the second half, when Kansas began getting open looks and knocking them down.

Kansas could get Wilson back for the next round, though the timing will be tight. The Jayhawks’ leading rebounder is due to finish his quarantine period on Sunday, meaning he would not get to practice before their next game. Enaruna would not be cleared to return until the middle of next week.

UP NEXT

The Jayhawks will face the Trojans on Monday for a spot in the West Region semifinal game.

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.