Arizona women in 1st Sweet 16 since ’98 after win over BYU

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN ANTONIO — Aari McDonald came back for another season at Arizona to do something special. Adia Barnes returned to her alma mater as coach for the same reason.

How sweet it is for McDonald, the reigning Pac-12 player of the year, and the current coach who was the league’s top player in 1998, the only other time the Wildcats got this far in the women’s NCAA Tournament.

McDonald had 17 points and 11 rebounds, along with a game-sealing steal, and Arizona outlasted BYU 52-46 on Wednesday night to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since Barnes’ senior season.

“Aari came back, came on a mission,” said Barnes, in her fifth season coaching the Wildcats and under contract through 2025-26. “She decided to not go pro. … She wanted to leave her mark, leave her legacy and take this team on her back and take us to great things. And she’s done that.”

The third-seeded Wildcats (18-5) are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005. They would have made it last season, when they were 24-7 before the tourney was canceled because of the pandemic.

Arizona finally went ahead to stay on a 3-pointer by Sam Thomas with 3:47 left, not long after McDonald’s 3 cut their deficit to one. No. 11 seed BYU (19-6) had matched its biggest lead of the game on a layup by Shaylee Gonzales with just over five minutes left.

“I looked up at the clock and I was like, `OK, we’re up four. We’ve got five minutes left. We can do it.’ I totally believed in my team. … It’s very frustrating to have that lead and to lose it,” Gonzales said. “Lots of people thought that we didn’t deserve to be in this NCAA Tournament, but I hope these couple of games really proved to everyone what kind of team we are.”

Second-team All-American McDonald capped the Mercado Region game when she stole the ball from Gonzales, the co-West Coast Conference player of the year, and drove for a layup with 3 seconds left.

“Definitely didn’t want to end my season, didn’t want to go home,” McDonald said. “I’m proud of this team because the year before we would have got rattled. … But we were cool, calm and collected. We came together and we played together.”

The Wildcats stayed on the court at UTSA for more than 15 minutes after they finished to watch the Texas A&M-Iowa State game on the video board to see who they would play in the Sweet 16. They left the court when that game went to overtime, before the Aggies won 84-82.

Texas native Cate Reese had 12 points for Arizona, and Trinity Baptiste had 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Gonzales had 16 points for BYU. Tegan Graham had 13.

DIFFERENT AS A COACH

Asked how different the feeling was to get to the Sweet 16 as a coach as opposed to when she did it as a player, Barnes responded, “coaching is a lot harder than playing. Because as a player, you’re kind of oblivious to a lot of things. You just kind of go out and play.”

Barnes said it is also more meaningful and gratifying, getting to watch the players being rewarded for their hard work.

BIG PLAYS

Arizona went ahead in the third quarter after an impressive spurt by Reese, the 6-foot-2 forward and first McDonald’s All-American to play at Arizona after a standout prep career in Cypress, Texas – almost 200 miles from San Antonio. Reese screamed going back down the court after a tiebreaking 3-pointer from the top of the key. After a three-point play by Gonzales put BYU up by one, Reese took an inbound pass and cut back inside for a strong layup, and added another 3 soon after getting whistled for a 3-second violation.

NO SWEET FINISH

BYU went to the Sweet 16 in coach Jeff Judkins’ first season in 2002, and again in 2014, but missed a chance to get there again.

The Cougars may have been the last team put in the 64-team field after a last-second loss to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Tournament championship game. The Cougars opened the NCAA tourney with a 69-66 upset of Rutgers, with Gonzales making the last of her six straight free throws with 13.4 seconds left.

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.