Cole’s drive, defense lift No. 21 UConn over No. 8 Villanova

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 13 UConn at St John's
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HARTFORD, Conn. — UConn’s first win over Villanova during the Dan Hurley era came with the head coach watching the game on television in the back of the arena.

R.J. Cole hit a driving floater with 5.9 seconds left and then took a charge from Collin Gillespie at the other end of the court to rally No. 21 Connecticut to a 71-69 victory over the eighth-ranked Wildcats on Tuesday night.

Adama Sanogo scored 20 points and Tyler Polley drained a clutch 3-pointer for the Huskies (20-7, 11-5 Big East), who saw their coach ejected from the game in the first half.

Isaiah Whaley added 13 points and Cole had 12 for UConn, which secured their first 20-win season in six years, prompting fans to storm the court at the XL Center.

“We took a step forward,” Cole said. “It was a huge win for us, a huge win for the program, but the season, it didn’t stop today. We have three games left. We have to continue to try and win out and put ourselves in great position going into the Big East Tournament.”

Gillespie had 17 points and Brandon Slater added 15 for Villanova (21-7, 14-4), which had won five in a row and eight of nine.

“It was two great teams battling it out and down the stretch they made the plays,” coach Jay Wright said. “We didn’t make the plays. It was that close of a game.”

Villanova had a four-point lead and the ball with 35 seconds remaining. But then Caleb Daniels missed the front end of a 1-and-1 for the Wildcats, the best free-throw shooting team in the country, and Villanova was outscored 6-0 the rest of the way.

UConn led by one at halftime and seven early in the second half, but could not shake the Wildcats.

A 3-pointer from Gillespie gave Villanova its first lead of the final 20 minutes at 56-54, and the teams went back and forth over the final eight minutes.

Polley’s third 3-pointer of the second half with 21 seconds left brought the Huskies to 69-68. Cole then tied up Gillespie in the backcourt to force a turnover, setting up the winning play. The left-handed Cole drove toward the basket along the right side and tossed in a tough, contested shot with his right hand.

Nova had one more chance and Gillespie drove the length of the court, but right into a waiting Cole and never got a shot up.

“It’s something he’s done all year,” said associate head coach Kimani Young, who coached in Hurley’s absence. “There was not surprise there, but just shows his toughness, his grit, his will.”

Hurley was tossed from the game after receiving back-to-back technical fouls with just under five minutes to go in the first half.

He picked up his first for slamming his fist on the scorers’ table protesting the lack of a call on what he thought was a Villanova foul. He was tossed from the game seconds later by referee James Breeding after turning to the crowd and waving his arms in the air, imploring fans to get loud.

“It was surreal. I was stunned,” Hurley said. “I guess I’ll wait to see what the Big East (does). I’m very eager to find out from the head of officials what the explanation was.”

BIG PICTURE

Villanova: The Wildcats trail only Providence (12-2) in the conference standings with two games left for the Wildcats to play, including a home game against the Friars next week. The top five finishers in the regular season earn a first-round bye in the Big East Tournament.

UConn: The Huskies’ last win over the Wildcats came in the third round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament on the way to the program’s fourth national title. Their last regular-season win in the series came in 2012. UConn came into the game having lost five straight to the Wildcats, including 85-74 on Feb. 5 in Philadelphia.

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH

The win was the first for UConn in 13 games against an opponent ranked in the top 10. The Huskies are 3-3 this season against Top 25 teams.

LOW WATER MARK

Polley and Whaley were on the team in 2018 when the Huskies fell by 20 points to Villanova on the same floor, a loss Hurley used when he was hired to show the kind of basketball he wasn’t going to allow his UConn teams to play.

“This was a big-time win. I’m not going to lie, it just felt great, just to beat them” Polley said. “Because, you know, five years, we kept getting closer and closer each year, just couldn’t go over that hump. But, tonight we got over that hump.”

UP NEXT

Villanova: The Wildcats have a week off before hosting No. 11 Providence on March 1 at Finneran Pavilion.

UConn: The Huskies play at last-place Georgetown on Sunday.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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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.