No. 2 Arizona beats California 89-61 for 18th Pac-12 win

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd was asked earlier this week whether his team would cut down the nets for winning the Pac-12 regular-season championship after Saturday’s game against California.

Only if the Wildcats won, he said.

No problem there. No. 2 Arizona closed out its first season under Lloyd in dominating fashion, crushing Cal 89-61 to become the first Pac-12 team to win 18 conference games.

Oumar Ballo scored 16 points, Bennedict Mathurin added 13 and the Wildcats celebrated the Pac-12 title they clinched on Tuesday by snipping the nets. Pelle Larsson and senior Justin Kier scored 13 each.

“From where we started and where we are now, I didn’t expect that,” said Lloyd, pointing to the Pac-12 championship trophy. “I just didn’t want to celebrate it early.”

Arizona (28-3, 18-2) sewed up its first conference title in four years with a 91-71 win over No. 16 Southern California on Tuesday, then had a sluggish first half two days later against Stanford before pulling away.

The Wildcats dominated the conference’s other Bay Area team early, building a 17-point lead midway through the first half with a 19-2 run.

Arizona shot 65% and scored 49 points in the paint to finish 17-0 at home in its first season under Lloyd – not bad for a team that started the season unranked and was picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12.

“Once we got to where we needed to be, we wanted more, we were still hungry,” said Kier, who played his final home game. “We’re going to continue to be hungry until we get what we want.”

Cal (12-19, 5-15) played well for stretches without point guard Joel Brown due to a knee injury, but couldn’t recover from Arizona’s big early run. Jordan Shepherd led the Bears with 16 points.

“We got a little fatigued and made some costly errors there in the second half defensively,” Cal coach Mark Fox said. “Against a team with as much talent as they have, you cannot afford to do that.”

Arizona dominated the first meeting with Cal on Jan. 23, building a 14-point lead in the opening six minutes on the way to a 96-71 win. The rematch played out in similar fashion.

Creating transition opportunities with their defense and pounding the ball inside, the Wildcats reeled off a 19-2 run to build a 26-9 lead midway through the first half. Ballo had 11 points during the run, including three rim-shaking dunks.

Arizona cooled a bit down the stretch of the first half – one field goal over the final 4:20 – but Mathurin made consecutive 3-pointers early in the second to get the rout going again. Arizona hit seven of its first 10 shots to stretch the lead to 66-46 and hit 15 of 23 in the second half.

Cal had its worst offensive game of the season to kick off the final weekend of the regular season, having shot 31% in a 27-point loss to Arizona State on Thursday.

The Bears brought their offensive struggles down Interstate 10 to Tucson, clanging one shot after another early. Cal bounced back from Arizona’s big run and started hitting a few shots, closing with a 14-4 run to pull within 40-31 at halftime. Aside from a few more good offensive stretches in the second half, the Bears but couldn’t stop Arizona defensively.

“Some of those costly errors early, if we could have cleaned those up, we could have been even at the half,” Fox said. “Our second-half defense, we just gave up too big of a (shooting) percentage.”

BIG PICTURE

California: Closes the season with four losses in five games. The Bears had some good stretches in one of college basketball’s toughest road venues, though, which could help them in the Pac-12 Tournament next week.

Arizona: Capped one of the best home seasons in Pac-12 history with a dominating performance. Now on to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Tournament, where the Wildcats will be hoping to lock up a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament.

BAL’S IMPACT

Arizona’s Adama Bal has seen limited time during his freshman season as Lloyd has tried to acclimate the French guard to the college game.

The athletic 6-foot-6 Bal has made strides in practice and Lloyd rewarded him with extensive playing time.

Bal entered the game early, hit his first shot and scored seven points on 3-of-4 shooting in 17 minutes.

“It’s kind of like when you have a talented pitcher and you leave him in the minors until he’s ready,” Lloyd said. “He was ready.”

UP NEXT

California: Opens the Pac-12 tournament Wednesday.

Arizona: The Wildcats are the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament and have a first-round bye; the next game is Thursday’s quarterfinals against the Arizona State-Stanford winner.

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.