Ole Miss enters AP women’s poll for 1st time in 15 years

Justin Ford-Commerical Appeal
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Unbeaten on the road this season, Mississippi entered The Associated Press women’s basketball poll for the first time in 15 years, coming in at No. 24.

The Rebels (17-2) have won their first seven games away from home, including a victory over then-No. 23 Kentucky on Sunday. The last Top 25 ranking for Ole Miss was January 2007.

“Fifteen years is crazy,” Mississippi coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin said. “I told them before the Kentucky game that I had been downplaying the whole ranking deal and I apologized to them for that. I didn’t think it was fair of me. I said if you want to get ranked, go ahead and beat Kentucky and be ranked.”

That unblemished mark will be put to the test Thursday when the Rebels visit No. 1 South Carolina in a rescheduled game. The Gamecocks received 29 of the 30 first-place votes from a national media panel to remain the top team in the poll.

McPhee-McCuin was excited to see where her team stacks up against the best in the country and knows a win would put the Rebels one step closer to their goal of making the NCAA Tournament.

“If you’re serious about basketball and competition, how are you not pumped up to play the No. 1 team in the country?” she said. “We were pretty bummed when COVID took that away from us early.”

Stanford, North Carolina State, Tennessee and Louisville round out the top five. The Wolfpack rallied in the fourth quarter to beat the Cardinals last Thursday and take command of the ACC.

Indiana remained sixth and was followed by Michigan, Arizona, Texas and UConn. The Longhorns jumped up six spots after beating then-No. 7 Iowa State on Sunday. The Cyclones fell to 13th.

The Huskies were supposed to play South Carolina on Thursday, but Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley says her team needs to complete its SEC schedule “to keep ourselves in the running for a conference title.” One of the few dates Ole Miss had open was Thursday.

UConn will visit DePaul on Wednesday to make-up a game lost when the Huskies had COVID-19 issues.

RECORD PERFORMANCES

Kansas State center Ayoka Lee broke the NCAA Division I single-game women’s scoring record Sunday, piling up 61 points against then-No. 14 Oklahoma. She bested the previous mark by a point and helped the No. 25 Wildcats re-enter the poll this week.

Lee is second in the country in scoring, averaging 25.5 points. She is right behind Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, who last week became the first player in NCAA history to record consecutive 30-point triple-doubles.

JUMPING BACK INTO THE POLL

Oregon finally is healthy and the Ducks are showing it on the court.

Oregon returned to the Top 25 this week at No. 19 after beating UConn last week. It was the team’s second consecutive win over a top-10 opponent (Arizona). Kelly Graves’ team started the season at No. 10 before injuries to stars Nyara Sabally, Endyia Rogers and Te-Hina Paopao. Now with the team healthy the Ducks are looking to reclaim their spot atop the conference.

FALLING OUT

Kentucky is out of the Top 25 for the first time since Nov. 19, 2018. The Wildcats had been ranked for 65 consecutive weeks which was the eighth longest active run. North Carolina and Florida Gulf Coast also dropped out of the poll.

GAME OF THE WEEK

Arizona at Stanford, Sunday. A rematch of last season’s NCAA championship game that the Cardinal won 54-53. Stanford sits atop the Pac-12 while Arizona is currently in fourth.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

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.