Cooke, No. 1 South Carolina women beat No. 5 NC State 66-57

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The top-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks sure looked ready for their marquee season-opening matchup of Final Four contenders. They got off to a quick start, played with composure to protect the lead and never let fifth-ranked North Carolina State look comfortable.

Zia Cooke scored 17 points and South Carolina never trailed in its 66-57 win against N.C. State on Tuesday night, earning an impressive road win that ended the Wolfpack’s long nonconference home winning streak.

The Gamecocks scored the first six points and had a response any time the Wolfpack tried to make a move. Cooke paced an offensive team effort that shot 49%, while preseason Associated Press All-American Aliyah Boston controlled the paint and helped shut down Elissa Cunane – N.C. State’s star and the preseason Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year.

“I thought we came in just well-prepared,” Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said. “We didn’t know how many points we were going to be able to score because of what they were going to do as far as sagging (inside). So we just had to make sure that we locked down.”

Boston finished with eight points, six rebounds and five blocks for South Carolina, which blocked nine shots total.

Raina Perez and Jakia Brown-Turner were the only Wolfpack players to find any rhythm, each finishing with 18 points. Cunane finished with eight points on 4-for-11 shooting with three rebounds despite failing to hit a basket until the third quarter – a major problem for an offense that relies on her as the interior presence surrounded by capable shooters.

N.C. State shot 41% overall, never managing to consistently string together enough stops or solid scoring possessions to catch South Carolina. Not even having a loud home crowd again in Reynolds Coliseum helped.

“That’s why they’re No. 1 in the country,” Wolfpack coach Wes Moore said. “They just really defensively took us out of anything. We looked very lost out there most of the night.”

The Wolfpack got within a point three separate times in the third quarter, the last coming at 37-36 on Brown-Turner’s baseline drive. But South Carolina countered by scoring on five straight possessions and seven of eight to end the third quarter.

The Gamecocks went on their finishing kick early in the fourth, with Cooke knocking down a transition 3-pointer near the South Carolina bench to push the margin to 51-41 with 7:57 left. Destanni Henderson (14 points) added a jumper with the shot clock winding down, then Boston scored inside against Cunane while being fouled for a 55-41 lead with 4:51 left.

It also helped that South Carolina committed zero fourth-quarter turnovers. N.C. State got no closer than eight, ending a 40-game home nonconference winning streak.

“We just wanted to come in with a great mindset and just trust each other and play hard throughout four quarters,” Henderson said.

BIG PICTURE

South Carolina: All 11 members of the Gamecocks’ Final Four team returned this year, and the team added yet another stellar recruiting class under Staley, who recently received a seven-year, $22.4 million contract that makes her the sport’s highest-paid Black head coach and one of the highest overall. It increases the expectations on this perennial power, which was playing its highest-ranked season-opening opponent ever — not to mention a team that had beat the Gamecocks on their homecourt last year.

N.C. State: Moore’s program entered the season with its highest expectations in recent memory with the return of the top eight scorers from a two-time ACC Tournament champion that went on to earn the program’s first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. N.C. State got limited work from Kayla Jones, who came off the bench in her recovery from knee surgery, and is without Jada Boyd due to a hand injury. Moore said the team is “still a work in progress” when it comes to blending in new transfers Diamond Johnson (Rutgers) and Madison Hayes (Mississippi State).

“Probably not a great night to play the No. 1 team in the country,” Moore said.

TOUGH NIGHT

Johnson had a bumpy start to her N.C. State tenure. After averaging 17.6 points last year, she scored four points on 2-for-12 shooting and missed all six 3-point tries.

UP FRONT

Syracuse transfer Kamilla Cardoso (6-7) and junior Laeticia Amihere (6-4) made things difficult inside for the Wolfpack alongside Boston. Cardoso finished with two points and four rebounds while Amihere had nine points and five boards, helping South Carolina finish with a 35-30 rebounding edge.

UP NEXT

South Carolina: Return home Friday night to face South Dakota.

N.C. State: Hosts Wofford on Friday night, part of a season-opening five-game homestand that includes power-conference matchups with Florida and Kansas State.

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.