USC shuts down Oregon 82-68 to end 20-year Elite Eight wait

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INDIANAPOLIS — Southern California’s dark days lasted far longer than the Trojans would have liked.

A once-elite program had fallen into into mediocrity, losing seasons mixed in with short-lived trips into the NCAA Tournament.

A two-week run of playing their best at just the right time has the Trojans turning the corner – possibly toward the Final Four.

Isaiah White scored 22 points and USC shut down Oregon’s potent offense to reach the Elite Eight for the first time in 20 years with an 82-68 win in the West Region semifinals Sunday night.

“We’re making history and it just means a lot to this program,” White said. “As a team, we’re just super excited and we worked for this, so I’m glad that it’s paying off.”

Pac-12 After Dark Indy-style turned into a lights-out performance by USC.

The Trojans (25-7) clipped the high-flying Ducks with their length on the perimeter and 7-footer Evan Mobley in the middle. Offensively, the region’s No. 6 seed bobbed and weaved through the holes in Oregon’s defense, shooting 57% and 10 of 17 from 3.

The all-around domination put USC in the Elite Eight for the second time in 60 years and three Pac-12 teams in the regional final for the first time since 2001.

Next up is a shot at undefeated Gonzaga in the regional final Tuesday.

“We believe we can beat anybody,” White said.

Oregon certainly had no answer for the long-armed Trojans.

The seventh-seed Ducks (21-7) floundered after USC switched to zone early on, unable to find holes or get much of anything to drop over it until a late rally that came up short. The Pac-12’s best 3-point shooting team (38%) went 5 of 21 from the arc.

Eugene Omoruyi had 28 points 10 rebounds, and Chris Duarte scored 21 for the Ducks.

“I let the guys down. I didn’t have them ready for that zone,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “I thought we were, but their length and athleticism really bothered us.”

Oregon and USC have been a big part of the Pac-12’s unexpected success in the Circle City.

Picked to be the worst among the major conferences, the big league out West opened the NCAA Tournament with nine straight wins and got four teams through to the Sweet 16.

Oregon State and UCLA already advanced, so the showdown between the Ducks and Trojans meant a Pac-12 trio in the Elite Eight.

Oregon was in a familiar position, running this deep into March for the fourth time in five NCAA Tournaments. USC had to reach back to the 2006-07 team with Nick Young and Taj Gibson for its last Sweet 16 ride.

The Trojans won the teams’ lone regular-season meeting 72-58 by getting off to a fast start.

They did the same in the rematch by slowing the fast-moving Ducks.

Normally free flowing on offense, Oregon had a hard time solving USC’s zone between the big guards up top and the shot-swatting Mobley anchoring the paint.

Offensively, USC looked more like the Ducks than they did, pouring in 3s and getting shots at the rim, using a 17-2 run to go up 14. The Trojans led 41-26 at halftime.

USC stretched the lead to 20 in the opening 3 1/2 minutes of the second half before the Ducks finally came to life. An 11-0 run cut USC’s lead to 69-60, but the rally ran out of steam.

Oregon turned it over, failed on a lob attempt and then Mobley threw down a two-handed dunk over Franck Kepnang.

“When you’re trying to come back from the deficit that we had you just can’t have those mistakes,” Altman said.

OMORUYI’S FINALE

Omoruyi played just one season at Oregon after transferring from Rutgers, but it was a special one.

The 6-foot-6 forward from Ontario was the Ducks’ do-everything player during the season, scoring, rebounding and getting his nose dirty on defense.

When he checked out of Sunday’s game in the final minute, the emotions came pouring out. He shared a hug with Altman walking off the floor and with other team members behind the bench.

“I’m going to miss this group,” he said. “This is definitely my favorite group to play with. We’re just a family on and off the court. It’s a heartbreaking moment right now.”

MOBLEY’S DOMINATION

Mobley was USC’s fourth-leading scorer with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting.

His impact went far beyond his point total.

The 7-foot freshman dominated both ends, grabbing eight rebounds, dishing out six assists and blocking two shots while altering several others.

“He takes what the defense gives, he has confidence in his teammates,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “When your most talented offensive player is your most unselfish and most willing passer, you can win a lot of games like that.”

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.