Cincy escapes early 15-point hole, routs No. 14 Illini 71-51

William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
0 Comments

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Cincinnati coach Wes Miller had no idea who he was watching early on against Illinois on Monday night.

Not because he’s in his first year with the Bearcats, either.

“We weren’t playing our defensive principles. We weren’t alert. We weren’t executing offensively,” Miller said.

It took two media timeouts for the Bearcats to rediscover themselves. And when they did, they mounted a big first-half charge to take a stunning halftime lead, then steadily pulled away from the No. 14 Illini for a 71-51 victory that pushed them into the championship game of the Hall of Fame Classic.

“Sometimes you’re going to get your butt kicked, that’s part of college basketball,” Miller said. “I don’t like it but that’s part of it, and if we were going to get our butt kicked, let’s get it kicked our way. And I thought our guys really adjusted and we started to play the way we had the first four games of the year.”

Mike Saunders Jr. scored 20 points and Jeremiah Davenport added 19 to lead the Bearcats (5-0), who went 17 of 20 from the foul line and won the battle of the boards against the bigger Illini (2-2) inside T-Mobile Center.

That earned the right to play the winner of No. 13 Arkansas and Kansas State for the tournament title.

“This shows what we can do,” Davenport said. “As a whole group, we just have to go out every night and just execute what we can do at the highest level. You guys saw it tonight.”

Kofi Cockburn, who was suspended the first three games of the season for violating NCAA rules, had 18 points and seven rebounds for the Fighting Illini (2-2). Andre Curbelo added 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting with five turnovers.

“We got off to a good start but give Cincinnati a ton of credit. They played harder than we did, which is very unacceptable for me to stomach,” Illini coach Brad Underwood said. “They were the more physical team. And I give them a lot of credit.”

Indeed, the Illini looked as if they were going to blow out the Bearcats in the first 10 minutes.

Cockburn had a big part in it.

The 7-foot, 275-pound center from Jamaica bullied his way to six straight points to open the game, and the Illini raced to a 19-4 lead before the Bearcats seemed to realize the game had tipped off. At one point, Cockburn had outscored Cincinnati 12-8 as the Illini built a 23-8 advantage nearing the midpoint of the first half.

That’s when Miller made a couple of subtle adjustments that got them on track.

They slowed Cockburn with physical double-teams in the post, and they began jumping the passing lanes, and at one point the Bearcats held Illinois without a field goal for nearly seven minutes. They pieced together a 14-1 run of their own during the stretch, and David DeJulius made a couple foul shots just before halftime to give Cincinnati a 34-31 lead.

The Illini’s slump endured well into the second half.

Davenport drilled a 3-pointer right out of the locker room, and Illinois proceeded to miss 10 consecutive field-goal attempts at one point, as the hot-shooting Bearcats’ stunning run eventually reached 22-5 to start the second half.

It was about that point that Underwood tore the wrapper off a piece of gum.

Might have been an antacid.

The nation’s top-ranked defense through the first couple weeks of the season suddenly struggled to guard the Bearcats on the perimeter. And regardless of whether Cockburn wasn’t in the lineup, the Illini had trouble chasing down deep rebounds, which gave Cincinnati second and third chances on several trips down the floor.

That was enough to send the Bearcats to their first win over a ranked team since beating Tennessee on Dec. 18, 2019.

“We haven’t arrived, guys,” Miller said. “It was a good night, I’m excited, but we haven’t arrived or crossed the finish line.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Illinois was two different teams the first 10 minutes and the final 30. Cockburn was aggressive going to the basket, and Curbelo and the rest of the Illini guards took care of the ball at the start. But once the middle bogged down, Illinois lost all semblance of offensive rhythm. It wound up 3 of 22 on 3s and shot 28% from the field overall.

Cincinnati still hasn’t played from behind in the second half this season. But the way the Bearcats handled the Illini was far more impressive than opening wins over Evansville, Georgia, Alabama A&M and Presbyterian. They turned the ball over a mere 11 times while preventing Illinois from scoring a single point in transition.

UP NEXT

The Bearcats advanced to Tuesday night’s title game. The Illini will play for third place.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
1 Comment

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

uconn
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
0 Comments

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

Getty Images
0 Comments

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

Getty Images
1 Comment

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.