Holmgren impresses as No. 1 Gonzaga routs Dixie State 97-63

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SPOKANE, Wash. — Chet Holmgren caught everyone’s attention during his college debut for No. 1 Gonzaga.

The nation’s top recruit this year, Holmgren had 14 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and seven blocks as the Bulldogs beat Dixie State 97-63 in their season opener Tuesday night.

“Chet’s spectacular,” said Brian Michaelson, who filled in as Gonzaga head coach for a suspended Mark Few. “He’s unbelievable. He should be celebrated.

“His work ethic is out of this world. He prepares for success.”

The 7-foot freshman was a bit less loquacious.

“It’s pretty cool,” Holmgren said about his debut. “I’m just happy we were able to come home with a win.”

They did it without Few on the sideline. Gonzaga’s longtime head coach received a three-game ban after he was cited for DUI in September. He previously sat out the team’s two exhibition games, but will be back when the Zags host No. 5 Texas on Saturday.

Julian Strawther had 17 points and 10 rebounds as Gonzaga won its 52nd consecutive home game, a program record. The team’s last home loss was Jan. 18, 2018, to Saint Mary’s.

Rasir Bolton added 15 points for Gonzaga (1-0), which was undefeated last season before losing to Baylor in the national title game.

Player of the Year candidate Drew Timme scored 11 as the Zags played before a home crowd for the first time since the 2019-20 season.

Cameron Gooden had 15 points and Dancell Leter scored 13 to lead Dixie State (0-1), a member of the Western Athletic Conference from St. George, Utah.

Gonzaga jumped to a 14-3 lead despite making just six of its first 18 shots.

Dixie State, however, made only one of its first 13 and trailed 23-4 with 8:50 left in the first half.

Gonzaga led 40-25 at halftime behind 11 points, nine rebounds and five blocks from Holmgren.

Brock Gilbert’s 3-pointer pulled Dixie State to 47-35 early in the second. But the Zags replied with a 13-4 run, including nine points by Strawther, to take a 60-39 lead with 12 minutes left. The Zags pulled away after that.

“They picked up their defense and we turned the ball over,” Dixie State coach Jon Judkins said. “Twenty-one turnovers is way too many.”

Judkins thought his squad did “some pretty good things” in the second half.

But not enough to beat the No. 1 team in the nation.

“These guys are good,” Judkins said.

LONG-RANGE SHOOTING

Gonzaga had some shooting woes in the first half, going just 2 of 13 from 3-point range. That improved to 4 for 8 in the second half. The Zags shot 54% for the game, compared to 35% for Dixie State.

BETTER THAN LAST YEAR

Dixie State lost to Gonzaga 112-67 last season, so this was an improvement.

REJECTED

Gonzaga finished with nine blocks, while Dixie State had just one.

BIG PICTURE

Dixie State: Still making the transition to Division I, the Trailblazers were picked to finish 12th in the WAC. They have four returning starters from a team that finished 8-13 last season.

Gonzaga: The Zags started a little rough but poured it on in the second half. Timme was a unanimous preseason AP All-America selection, and along with teammates Holmgren and Andrew Nembhard is among 50 players named to the watch list for the Naismith Trophy, given to the nation’s top player. … Gonzaga has averaged 33 wins a season since 2015, best in the nation. The Bulldogs have won 17 straight regular-season openers dating to 2003.

UP NEXT

Dixie State hosts neighbor Southern Utah on Friday.

Gonzaga amps up the competition Saturday, when No. 5 Texas comes to Spokane for an early-season showdown.

“It’s going to be a battle,” Bolton said.

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.