No. 14 Abilene Christian ousts Texas 53-52

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INDIANAPOLIS — Joe Pleasant slowed his breath and calmed himself.

In the most pressure-packed moment of his college career, the Abilene Christian junior forward was perfect on two free throws from a spot where he’d struggled in the past.

When he picked off a final desperation pass by Texas at midcourt, Pleasant and his teammates erupted in a celebration that nearly spilled into the stands.

Another double-digit seed is moving on in the NCAA Tournament, and this one at the expense of the flagship school in Abilene Christian’s home state.

“We just beat the University of Texas. Little ol’ Abilene Christian out in West Texas built a program that went toe-to-toe with the University of Texas and it’s an incredible story,” Wildcats coach Joe Golding said. “It’s what March is about.”

Abilene Christian and its frantic, havoc-causing defense bounced coach Shaka Smart and the Longhorns out of the NCAA Tournament in the first round yet again, as the 14th-seeded Wildcats stunned No. 3 seed Texas 53-52 on Saturday night.

Pleasant, a 58.8% foul shooter on the season, made two from the line with 1.2 seconds left, and the Wildcats took down their in-state rivals in the first meeting between the schools.

Pulling off one final upset in a first round filled with two years’ worth of excitement, Abilene Christian (24-4) became the fourth team seeded 13th or lower to reach the round of 32 in this NCAA Tournament, joining 15th-seeded Oral Roberts and No. 13 seeds Ohio and North Texas.

“We needed March Madness, man. We needed some type of normalcy to our country,” Golding said. “We needed people to fill out brackets. We needed people to cheer for the underdog.”

There was plenty of cheering for the Wildcats by their fans clad in purple as they caused all kinds of headaches for the bigger, more talented Longhorns and got just enough offense to pull off their first NCAA Tournament victory in their second appearance.

Pleasant finished with 11 points as did Coryon Mason for the Wildcats. Abilene Christian was blown out by Kentucky two years ago when it made its first trip to the NCAAs.

Now, the Wildcats will face No. 11 seed UCLA in the second round Monday.

“I felt like two years ago, we were kind of happy to be there as a first-time experience,” Pleasant said. “Then this team, we’re ready to take on another challenge, not just to be here but to compete, to get some wins.”

Andrew Jones scored 13 points for Texas (19-8) and was nearly the hero. Jones hit two free throws with 56 seconds left and his 3-pointer with 14 seconds remaining put the Longhorns in front 52-51.

ACU had one more chance. Damien Daniels drove to the basket but his shot was blocked by Kai Jones. Pleasant was first to get his hands on the rebound and Matt Coleman III was called for a foul, causing Smart to drop to his knees on the sideline.

“It was a loose ball. We both went for it. He got to the ball first and he threw it up and they called a foul on me. The ref called foul so I guess it was a foul,” Coleman said.

After a timeout, Pleasant calmly hit both free throws. Then he intercepted a long pass by Texas, turning it into the Longhorns’ 23rd turnover of the game and setting off a wild celebration that carried all the way off the court.

Pleasant waved his arms toward the crowd, egging on fans to make some noise and cupping his hand to his ear before being mobbed by teammates. Other players flexed toward ACU supporters in the stands of Lucas Oil Stadium that were definitely not socially distanced during the celebration.

“I was visualizing the free throws going in before I shot them,” Pleasant said. “I was just trying to key in on the rim, just lock in and block out the noise.”

There were heroes throughout for the Wildcats. Daniels, all of 5-foot-7 and 140 pounds, missed his first eight shot attempts but muscled through a foul to score on a drive with 3:42 left. The three-point play gave the Wildcats a 50-47 lead. Reggie Miller made one of two free throws to push the lead to four.

Texas went nearly four minutes without scoring before two free throws by Jones with 56 seconds left – foul shots that needed a pause to clean blood off the court.

Miller committed a turnover on ACU’s next possession and Jones’ 3 seemed set to be a perfect March moment after the Texas junior missed time earlier in his career after being diagnosed with leukemia.

Instead, the Longhorns are headed home with their third first-round exit under Smart, which will only raise the heat on his standing in Austin.

“A lot of tears in the locker room right now,” Smart said. “A lot of guys extremely upset about the way the game ended, the fact that we have to go home now. Really disappointed, everybody is.”

Texas was rolling coming into the NCAA Tournament after winning the Big 12 Tournament for the first time in school history. The Longhorns had won five straight overall and eight of 10 following a midseason slump.

But the Longhorns were too careless and too impatient against the Wildcats’ swarming defense.

It was ugly, physical basketball, exactly the formula for the Wildcats to pull off the upset. They had the seventh-best scoring defense in the country this season, giving up just 60 points per game, and led the nation in forcing turnovers. They smothered Nicholls State 79-45 in the Southland Conference title game.

Texas was held 23 points below its season average. The 23 turnovers were the most for the program in eight years, and the Longhorns took 27 fewer shots than ACU.

“It just doesn’t feel real. I feel like I’m trying to wake up from a bad dream,” Coleman said.

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.