No. 5 Creighton beats 12th-seeded UCSB 63-62 with clutch free throws

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INDIANAPOLIS — Creighton’s Christian Bishop is not a good free-throw shooter.

You never would have known it when he went to the line with 16 seconds left for a one-and-one with the BlueJays down a point to UC Santa Barbara on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The 57% shooter barely touched the rim while sinking two shots to give fifth-seeded Creighton the lead, and the Bluejays hung on to beat the 12th-seeded Gauchos 63-62 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“It felt really good to step up to the line and hit those two big free throws,” Bishop said. “I’ve been practicing every day so it’s nice to see the hard work pay off.”

The last three weeks for Creighton (21-8) have been have been anything but ordinary since coach Greg McDermott made a racially insensitive remark in the locker room to his players after a game. He received a one-game suspension and returned for the Big East Tournament last week.

“We’ve been through a lot and the reason we’ve been through a lot is on me,” McDermott said.

The Bluejays’ season will continue Monday in the West Region against 13th-seeded Ohio thanks to some unlikely clutch foul shooting.

Bishop was fouled by Amadou Sow on the floor after grabbing an offensive rebound and went to the line with the Gauchos (22-5) up 62-61. The junior delivered like Stephen Curry.

“Just being in the situation, I never thought I’d be here, so playing in March Madness is a dream come true and being the one to hit the big shot at the end at the end of the game was even better,” Bishop said. “So I’m excited to see what we’ve got in store.”

Bishop finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds.

“I thought he really elevated his game and as a result got us back into the game, on both ends,” McDermott said.

The Gauchos (22-5) came right down and put the ball in the hands of their best player, JaQuori McLaughlin. The Big West player of the year split a double-team behind the 3-point line and found Sow in the lane, but the 6-foot-9 junior couldn’t finish at the rim.

“I was looking to come off and shoot it, but they were on me, double-teaming me and Amadou was wide open,” McLaughlin said. “So I made the right pass right there, and he’s money in the paint.”

Not this time.

Shereef Mitchell rebounded the miss for Creighton and was fouled with a second left. He missed the front of his one-and-one, but it didn’t matter as UCSB’s full-court heave was way off the mark.

Sow scored the last four points for UC Santa Barbara, including two free throws for the lead with 37.9 seconds left, and finished with 12 points. McLaughlin led UCSB with 13 points.

The Big West champions with a beachside campus were making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011 and nearly won in the Big Dance for the first time in 31 years.

“Our guys competed as well as they can compete,” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said.

Marcus Zegarowski scored 17 to lead Creighton.

The Bluejays won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since 2014, when they reached the second round for the third straight season behind McDermott’s son, Doug McDermott.

It seemed hardly certain the elder McDermott would lead the team into the tournament this year after he created a firestorm by twice using the term “plantation” as part of an analogy urging team unity.

He was suspended for the final game of the regular season, apologized multiple times and was reinstated. Creighton reached the Big East tourney final before being blown out by Georgetown.

Neither team could break away in this one.

Miles Norris had a blocked shot that led to his transition 3 in a 13-2 surge for the Gauchos that put them up 50-49 with 9:46 left.

Creighton grabbed the lead back with 3:08 remaining when Bishop finished a pick-and-roll with a reverse two-handed dunk to make it 59-58. After a long UCSB possession that produced no points, Zegarowski made a straight-on jumper with 1:39 left to make it 61-58.

BIG PICTURE

UC Santa Barbara: The Gauchos started fast, making nine of their first 12 shots and taking a 23-15 lead. After grabbing a six-point led in the second-half on McLaughlin’s 3, UCSB tried to run the clock and shorten the game, but they didn’t get enough good looks down the stretch.

Creighton: McDermott said between Bishop’s free throws and Sow’s miss, it might have been a little divine intervention.

“We were lucky,” he said. “We had a great fan that passed away six or seven weeks ago. Christian was her favorite player. Bette Walker was her name. And I think she slid that layup out of the rim and I think she steered Christian’s two free throws into the basket from heaven today.”

UP NEXT

Creighton will play for its first Sweet 16 appearance since 1974.

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.