Iowa’s Clark, UConn’s Bueckers dominating women’s tourney

Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN ANTONIO — Paige Bueckers and Caitlin Clark seem to be playing a personal game of horse on the national stage. After one delivers a highlight-filled performance, the other has a top-this moment.

The captivating basketball exploits by the heralded freshmen have created a buzz around the women’s NCAA Tournament, including one of event’s most anticipated matchups: Bueckers and Clark will play their first college game against each other in the Sweet 16 on Saturday in front of a national television audience.

“This was the potential matchup that raised eyebrows when the brackets came out,” ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo said. “Fans have been having the debate all season long: who is the best freshman in the country. This game won’t decide that, but it will be highly entertaining for all basketball fans. We need Iowa and UConn to play each other the next three years!”

“It’s awesome, just for us to both be on the big stage,” said Bueckers, who had 24 points in UConn’s opening round win – the most ever by a Huskies player in an NCAA debut. “We haven’t really talked about it. I know my mentality is just focusing on one day at a time.”

The only downside to Saturday’s matchup is that it comes in the Sweet 16 and not the championship game, depriving fans of more top-this moments over the next couple of weeks in the Elite Eight and Final Four.

Clark led the nation in scoring and was second in assists for Iowa, while Bueckers helped UConn to the No. 1 ranking in the poll and became just the third freshman to earn first-team All-America honors.

“I love her game,” Bueckers said of Clark. “We’re really big fans of each other and I’m excited to play that game.”

Everyone seems to be falling in love with the games of both players.

Including Brooklyn Nets All-Star and NBA champion Kevin Durant.

Clark outscored Kentucky in the first half of Iowa’s second-round win on Tuesday with 24 of her 35 points. In a response to a comment about Clark’s game against the Wildcats, Durant posted on his Instagram account that “She belongs in the league right now.”

That won’t happen anytime soon for these two college standouts. Unlike the NBA, when players can turn pro after their freshman year, these young stars won’t be eligible to enter the WNBA draft for a few years because of league rules.

Not that either Bueckers or Clark are thinking about anything past Saturday.

“Going up against her would obviously be a great opportunity,” Clark said after the win against Kentucky. “Obviously a good friend of mine, a tremendous player. We would both say, we’re not going to win it alone, no matter who wins that game.”

The talented teenagers know each other well and don’t consider one another rivals. They started playing against each other in middle school in AAU tournaments and played together on USA Basketball’s Under-19 team in 2019.

“We played together and competed at the USA basketball trials and then obviously just seeing each other at tournaments a whole lot,” Bueckers said. “Minnesota and Iowa are really not that far apart so we saw each other at different AAU tournaments, so we kind of just built our relationship from there.”

Louisville coach Jeff Walz was the coach of that U-19 team and is excited to see the matchup – if his team isn’t playing at the same time.

“Caitlin and Paige are two great players who have a passion for the game,” he said, adding that he is “looking forward to them going head to head in the Sweet 16. It’s going to be a fun game to watch.”

Both players say this weekend is about their teams and not an individual matchup.

“I think me and Paige would give you the same answer,” Clark said. “It’s not Caitlin Clark versus Paige Bueckers, it’s Iowa versus UConn.”

That’s true, but most basketball fans are looking forward to Clark versus Bueckers.

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.