Pat Summitt pupils making an impact in NCAA Tournament

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Kyra Elzy and Kellie Harper won a lot of NCAA Tournament games together while teammates at Tennessee

The former roommates, who celebrated championships together in 1997 and 1998, this week both advanced into the second round as head coaches in the River Walk regional.

The Wildcats 71-63 win over Idaho State, was Elzy’s first NCAA Tournament game as a head coach, a job she got in November after the sudden retirement of Matthew Mitchell. Her fourth-seeded Wildcats take on fifth-seed Iowa in the second round.

Harper, who also has a ring from the 1996 Tennessee team title team, took over at her alma mater last year. She is hoping to get to Lad Vols back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2016 when they play Michigan on Tuesday.

Both say they have had their former coach, the late Tennessee legend Pat Summitt, on their minds this week.

“I know she’s looking down, so proud,” Elzy said. “I write on my card every game, `Left foot, right foot, breathe, repeat,’ and that was one of her mottos.”

Harper said that while she has been mostly focused on her own team during the tournament, she’s also following the job Elzy is doing.

“She’s coaching them with discipline and everyone knows that’s what Pat did,” she said. “I would love to step in and watch Kyra lead a practice, because I’m sure I could see some similarities.”

Elzy, who calls her relationship with Harper a sisterhood, said she’s also been thinking this week of Mitchell, who gave her the reigns after suffering a major concussion in the offseason that required brain surgery.

“I actually sent coach Mitchell a text message, telling him how much I miss him, couldn’t wait to catch up,” she said. “And he sent me a text message that said, `I look forward to catching up with you, but I hope it’s a long time from now. Enjoy Texas.”‘

Tennessee and Kentucky would only meet if both advance to the regional final.

Some other things to watch along the River Walk:

SHE’S BACK

Michigan’s Leigha Brown was averaging more than 20 points a game before a series of coronavirus-related pauses at the school, including her own bout with COVID-19, caused her to miss 35 days in the middle of the season.

“Being off for that long, it’s really hard to come back,” she said. “There’s going to be some rust that shows.

Brown shook off that rust Sunday, scoring 28 points to help the Wolverines beat Florida Gulf Coast 87-66 and advance to that second-round matchup with Tennessee. The Nebraska transfer needs just two points against on Tuesday to reach 1,000 for her career.

Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said having Brown at full strength or near full strength will be important if the Wolverines are going to make a deep run in the tournament.

“It has kind of taken her a minute to get back where she was,” the coach said. “But she’s an incredible, incredible guard, an incredible wing. She has great length. She’s super fast in transition. She’s great in the open court. She can score the basketball. She can pass the basketball. She can rebound and she can defend.”

DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS

The top seeds in the region, UConn and Baylor, are also among the top teams in the country when it comes to defense.

UConn is ranked No. 3 in the nation, giving up just 50.5 points per game. The Huskies’ opponents are shooting just 33.1% from the floor.

Baylor heads into their second-round matchup with eighth-seed Virginia Tech holding teams to 31.8% shooting, tops in the country.

“I think we’re the best defensive team in the country, so whether that’s inside or outside, I think that we can do it all,” Baylor guard Moon Ursin said.

The Hokies said the key to upsetting the Lady Bears Tuesday will be taking the best shot possible each time down the floor.

“We have to value every possession and not waste any opportunities,” center Liz Kitly said. “We can’t afford to have turnovers. We need to get shots whenever we can and we need to hopefully get extra possessions on the rebounding end on offense.”

FAMILIARITY

UConn and Syracuse, which used to battle every year in the old Big East, meet Tuesday in what has been a one-sided rivalry.

The Huskies have won 25 straight against the Orange dating back to 1996, including an 82-51 blowout in the 2016 national championship game.

Syracuse women’s coach Quintin Hillsman said he won’t be using that underdog role as motivation for his team.

“We can’t use that anymore because we’re an underdog every game,” he said . “It is what it is. We just go out and play our game and let the critics be surprised when we win.”

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.