Wisconsin outlasts Saint Mary’s 61-55 to win Maui title

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

LAS VEGAS- Wisconsin has its youngest team in two decades after losing six seniors from last year’s NCAA Tournament team.

The unknowns kept expectations low, had coach Greg Gard thinking it would take some time for them to gel.

Winning their first Maui Invitational – in Las Vegas, no less – is a good sign the Badgers should be just fine.

Johnny Davis scored 20 points, Tyler Wahl added 18 and a key block, and Wisconsin outlasted Saint Mary’s 61-55 Wednesday to win the Maui Invitational.

“The grit and the resilience, that’s always a good starting point,” Gard said. “When your guys play hard, you can live with mistakes. The grit and resolve with this group, I’ve seen that from the beginning.”

The Badgers (5-1) had reached the Maui title game once in four previous tries, losing to North Carolina in 2016. They had a fight on their hands against the Gaels, battling through a physical second half filled with collisions and tumbling players.

Wisconsin delivered the final blows after trailing by 10, the biggest Wahl’s jumper and two free throws after blocking Dan Fotu’s shot with 30 seconds left.

Three days of facing adversity in one form or another, one gigantic trophy for a team picked to finish 10th in the Big Ten.

“There’s something about this group, from the first day of practices we compete,” Wahl said.

Saint Mary’s (6-1) nearly made its first Maui Invitational appearance a memorable one, keeping the Badgers within reach into the final minute. Not being able to finish it off hurts, but the Gaels appear to be back after being relegated to the NIT last season.

Alex Ducas led Saint Mary’s with 13 points.

“That’s why you come to this, the best college basketball tournament in the country, to play against really good teams,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “We got to and tonight we didn’t come out on top, but I thought we played a good game against a well-coached team and group of guys”

The Maui Invitational was forced to shift east for the second straight year due to the pandemic.

Las Vegas has become a college basketball hotbed during March Madness and has added early-season tournaments to its hoops resume.

Las Vegas is known as the ninth Hawaiian Island, but the vibe just isn’t the same – bright lights and big arenas instead of island chill and the quaint Lahaina Civic Center.

The championship game had a different feel, too.

No. 12 Houston and Oregon arrived in the desert as the favorites to play for the title. Wisconsin jumped on the Cougars early and held on late to beat them 65-63 in the semifinals. Saint Mary’s made a statement against the Ducks, outclassing them in all phases for a 62-50 win.

The Badgers and Gaels played a tight title game by going to their strengths: Wisconsin pounding it inside, Saint Mary’s flowing and cutting.

The Badgers took a while to get shots to fall and the Gaels made 13 of 25 to lead 31-25.

“At the start, we were playing a little too much one-on-one basketball,” Wahl said. “When we started to swing it, playing our game instead of their game, that’s when we really started to roll.”

Brute force is a big part of their game.

The second half turned into a wrestling match as both teams turned up the defensive pressure, neither able to gain any separation.

Players repeatedly hit the floor after collisions and Wisconsin’s Lorne Bowman II had to come out after being bloodied over the right eye.

Wisconsin survived all the body shots, finally getting a chance to hoist the Maui Invitational trophy – in Las Vegas.

BIG PICTURE

Wisconsin may be young, but there’s clearly talent on the roster. Three straight wins and a Maui title proved that.

Saint Mary’s had a good run in its first Maui Invitational. A few bad plays down the stretch cost the Gaels a shot at the title.

DEFENDING FOTU

Fotu had a strong tournament, scoring 22 against Notre Dame and 16 against Oregon. The senior forward kept it going in the first half against Wisconsin, hitting all four of his shots while scoring nine points.

Fotu found it much more difficult in the second half, taking just one shot and scoring two points.

The main reason: Wahl’s physical defense.

“He had a lot to do with Fotu not scoring in the second half because he’s a really good defender,” Bennett said. “He’s strong, he walls up on layups. He’s just tough and not going to give you anything easy.”

UP NEXT

Saint Mary’s hosts UC Riverside on Monday.

Wisconsin plays at Georgia Tech next Wednesday.

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.