NCAA women’s basketball tournament ‘wide-open a year as any’

© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

SAN ANTONIO – This year’s women’s NCAA Tournament may be one of the most-wide open in years, with nearly a dozen teams having a good chance to win the championship.

The uncertainty seems apropos after a pandemic-stressed season of stops, pauses and cancellations.

The top seeds Stanford, South Carolina, N.C. State and UConn are definitely the favorites to win the title on April 4 at the Alamodome. The four No. 2s also are among the favorites to win it all with Louisville, Maryland, Baylor and Texas A&M all title contenders.

“This is as wide-open a year as any. Last year maybe it was Oregon or people might say South Carolina,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “Past years there’s been Baylor with Brittney Griner or Connecticut with Maya Moore but I think this year is wide open. There are a lot of different teams that could win this tournament. I think it will be very exciting and great for TV.”

History is on the side of the top teams. A one or two seed has won every women’s tournament title since 1997, including the last eight by a No. 1.

Texas A&M coach Gary Blair, who led the Aggies to the 2011 national championship, said his advice is always to play the game with “no fear”.

“That’s how you advance in the NCAAs. If you come in thinking that this team is No. 1 or No. 2, you have no chance,” said Blair, whose Aggies are a two-seed. “But if you come in with a no-fear attitude, Cinderellas happen all the time.

“I’ve been a lower-seeded team at Arkansas. I’m still the lowest-seeded team that ever made the Final Four when I was at Arkansas as a No 9 seed. We had the opportunity out at Stanford to see a No 16 beat a No 1 … That’s always been a great teaching lesson to me.”

Even if that trend doesn’t change, there are more teams capable of pulling off upsets and at least reaching the Final Four especially since there were fewer regular season games and practices than there would be during normal year.

The talent also seems to be more spread out now.

A look at the AP All-America team and for the first time ever there were 15 different schools represented on it. Throughout the season, the No. 1 team in the poll changed four times- the second most all-time. N.C. State and Stanford both lost games to unranked teams this season.

Also, with all the NCAA Tournament being played on neutral courts there’s a better chance that there will be more upsets as lower-seeded teams won’t have to win on a higher-seeded squad’s homecourt to advance to the Sweet 16.

Any team that will make a deep run will have to deal with the mental aspect as well. A school that wins the national championship will have spent nearly three weeks in San Antonio cooped up in their hotel.

Stanford, the overall No. 1 seed, might be in the best position to overcome that. The Cardinal spent nine weeks away from home because of the virus. If they can, VanDerveer could win her first national championship since 1992.

“I think it helps,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “We’re used to testing every day and used to eating in our rooms. It has prepared us for this. We’ve been her done this, we can handle it.”

VanDerveer tells her players their middle name has to be “flexible.”

Some other things to watch for in the tournament:

FRESH FACES:

There are a lot of talented freshmen and sophomores who are making their debuts in the NCAAs. Iowa’s Caitlin Clark led the nation in scoring at 26.7 points per game and Paige Bueckers of UConn became the third freshman to ever earn first-team All-America honors.

South Carolina sophomore Aliyah Boston, also an All-American, will be playing in her first NCAA Tournament after last season’s was wiped out by the pandemic.

FIRST TIMERS:

Four teams will be making their NCAA Tournament debuts, although they will all have a tough task to make it a long stay. Bradley, High Point. Stony Brook and Utah Valley. As an 11-seed Bradley has the best chance to make it out of the first round as the other three teams would need to pull off monumental upsets as 15 and 16 seeds.

MISSING THEIR LEADER:

UConn, which has made the Final Four every tournament since 2008, will be missing coach Geno Auriemma for the first two games because he contracted the coronaviru s last week. Auriemma should be back for the Sweet 16.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
1 Comment

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

uconn
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
0 Comments

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

Getty Images
0 Comments

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

Getty Images
1 Comment

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.