Aari McDonald propels Arizona over Texas A&M 74-59

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SAN ANTONIO — As a player, Arizona coach Adia Barnes led the program on its deepest march into the women’s NCAA Tournament in program history.

Until this year, that is. Her current Wildcats team has gone even farther.

Aari McDonald, the Pac-12 player of the year, scored 31 points No. 3 Arizona beat No. 2 Texas A&M 74-59 on Saturday night in the Sweet 16, sending the Wildcats to the regional final for the first time.

Arizona poured in 13 team 3-pointers with McDonald making six from long range.

“We are peaking at the right time,” McDonald said. “We are ready to make more history.”

The program had made only one previous trip to the Sweet 16 when Barnes was playing for the Wildcats in 1998. Now they advance to Monday night’s Mercado Region final against No. 5 Indiana, which upset top-seed North Carolina State earlier Saturday.

“I was 20 when I graduated and we left our legacy,” Barnes said. “So I always tell these young women, `Leave your legacy, leave your mark.’ And all these players came when no one believed in Arizona.”

McDonald had a game for the ages for Arizona (19-5) on both ends of the court. The conference defensive player of the year led the effort to shut down Texas A&M guard Jordan Nixon, whose late-game heroics carried the Aggies through the first two rounds.

Nixon scored 35 points in the second round, but managed just three points against the Wildcats. Aaliyah Wilson scored 17 points to lead Texas A&M (25-3).

“If we wanted to win, I had to shut her down,” McDonald said. “It starts with her. I had to lock her down.”

McDonald came in averaging 19.6 points and scored 19 by halftime in carrying Arizona to a 35-32 lead. That stretched to 13 by the end of the third quarter as Arizona made four 3-pointers, three by McDonald, in the period.

Her third one, bounced on the front of the rim, tipped to backboard and fell in to put Arizona ahead 56-44 as McDonald clenched both fists and gave a yell. And just to put an exclamation point on the quarter, Helena Pueyo sprinted back on defense to block a fast break layup.

Texas A&M had won its first two games by a total of six points and now had to make a desperate bid to rally in front of a small but boisterous Aggies crowd in the Alamodome, just a three-hour drive from campus.

The Aggies cut the lead to 59-48 on Ciera Johnson’s layup to start the fourth. But three Texas A&M turnovers and consecutive 3-pointers from Sam Thomas and Cate Reese had the Wildcats in total control with 4:41 to play.

“When they made their roll, we couldn’t answer back because of turnovers,” Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. “But we missed a lot of layups. We missed a lot of post play. We didn’t have the 3-point shooters that Arizona had.”

STAT LINE

Texas A&M was just 2-of-8 shooting on 3-pointers and committed 19 turnovers that Arizona turned into 28 points.”

“We are a very good defensive team. We are going to grind you out,” Barnes said. “We felt A&M hadn’t been pressured like we could pressure.”

STILL A TROPHY WINNER

Wilson, a senior, said she’ll most remember her season with the Aggies for winning the program’s first regular-season Southeastern Conference championship and not the earlier-than-expected NCAA Tournament exit.

“We kept fighting and we fought every night, every game,” Wilson said. “We won the regular season SEC championship. We hadn’t done that. We made history this year.”

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.