Williams, Bueckers lead UConn past Iowa 92-72

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SAN ANTONIO — The game was billed as a marquee matchup of uber-talented freshmen Paige Bueckers and Caitlin Clark. While those two didn’t disappoint, it was Christyn Williams and UConn’s other upperclassmen who stepped up and helped the Huskies advance.

Williams scored 27 points and Bueckers added 18 to lead No. 1 UConn to a 92-72 win over fifth-seeded Iowa on Saturday in the Sweet 16 of the women’s NCAA Tournament.

“The fact there was so much hype on those two kids. Part of it was unfair and comes with the territory,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “Like I told the team before the game, in all these matchups, it comes (down) to somebody else. … Our defense as bad as it was at times, was really, really good when it had to be. Christyn Williams, Evina Westbrook and Olivia (Nelson-Ododa), our three juniors were amazing, played the way you wanted your upperclassmen to play. It was not going to be easy on either Caitlin or Paige to play their normal game.”

Bueckers and Iowa’s Clark had taken the women’s basketball world by storm this season. Bueckers became the third freshman ever to earn All-America honors. Clark led the nation in scoring and came into the regional semifinals averaging 29 points in the tournament.

“I was super excited for this game, just because of the spotlight on it,” said Bueckers, who also had nine rebounds and eight assists. “And I know everybody hyped it up to be Caitlin versus Paige, but I was so excited for our team because I knew that people were going to come and notice and watch our whole team play.”

Evina Westbrook just missed the 18th triple-double in NCAA women’s tournament history, with 17 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds for UConn (27-1). Nelson-Ododa added 11 rebounds and seven assists along with four points. Freshman Aaliyah Edwards added 18 points.

“I kind of knew that they were going to be extra aggressive, especially on (Williams) and Paige, so that kind of makes it easier on the rest of us with them being a big focus,” Westbrook said.

Clark, shadowed on defense by Williams on almost every possession, finished with 21 points – below her nearly 27-points-per-game average. She was 7 for 21 from the field.

“I thought we played a great team basketball game,” Williams said. “I think we were working on all cylinders today. So, I don’t want to get all the credit, because this was a total team effort.”

The game marked the return of Auriemma, who missed the opening two rounds while recovering from the coronavirus. Auriemma arrived in San Antonio on Wednesday.

Associate head coach Chris Dailey, who guided the team through the opening two wins, moved back to her customary seat at his side where she’s been for their entire time at UConn.

Williams missed five of her first seven shots before getting going on offense. She made six straight in the second quarter, to give UConn a 49-35 halftime lead. The junior wing had 14 of her points in the period.

Iowa (20-10), behind Clark, was able to get within nine twice in the fourth quarter but Bueckers answered with a 3-pointer each time and Iowa could get no closer.

“This season was truly special, and I think for this team it’s only up from here. I know a lot of girls dream about going to all those blue bloods but I think playing for your home state is really something special and creating something is really special and that’s my goal here,” Clark said. “Obviously I still have three years left to do a lot of special things.”

UConn, which was playing in its 27th straight Sweet 16, faces Baylor – which beat Michigan 78-75 in overtime – on Monday night in the River Walk regional final.

For the first time in the tournament, the general public was allowed to attend the Alamodome. Each game was allowed to have 17% of capacity, which was around 4,800 fans. In the previous two rounds, teams were given six tickets per person in the travel party.

LAST LAUGH

While Bueckers didn’t guard Clark much at all in the game, on Iowa’s last possession, she drew a charge on her friend and patted her on the butt as the two exchanged smiles when the Hawkeyes freshman helped her up.

“Obviously me and Caitlin are good friends, so just me taking that charge on her, yeah, we exchanged some words, I guess,” said a giggling and smiling Bueckers.

UNSELFISH

UConn had 30 assists on its 40 baskets, which led to the Huskies shooting nearly 55% (40 for 73) from the field.

STILL OUT

UConn freshman guard Nika Muhl missed her second straight game while recovering from a sprained right ankle she injured in the opening round win over High Point. She was averaging 5.0 points, 2.7 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals.

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

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.