Kentucky stuns No. 1 South Carolina to win SEC women’s title

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Kentucky Wildcats came to the Southeastern Conference women’s tournament needing a great run to reach the NCAA Tournament.

Thanks to four wins in as many days, their berth is secure as SEC tournament champs.

“Nope! We are not on the bubble,” second-year Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy said. “We have our ticket punched! We are going!”

Dre’una Edwards hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 4.2 seconds left, and the Wildcats rallied from 15 points down to upset top-ranked South Carolina 64-62 on Sunday to win their first SEC tournament championship since 1982.

Kentucky set up the shot out of a timeout with 11 seconds left. Pass the ball to whoever was open, then catch and shoot. South Carolina tried, but couldn’t foul in time.

“I had to let it fly,” Edwards said.

Elzy started running up the sideline as soon Edwards’ shot went up, knowing it was good. Kentucky senior Rhyne Howard watched as the ball went through the air and compared it to a moment in the movies.

“We knew it was game,” Howard said. “We knew we just won.”

Kentucky hadn’t even reached this game since 2014. These seventh-seeded Wildcats (19-11) won their 10th straight game with this the biggest yet after knocking off sixth-ranked LSU and No. 18 Tennessee to get to this championship.

It marks a dramatic turnaround for a program that started SEC play 2-8 with Elzy suspending Edwards for four games only to become the first to knock off this tournament’s top three seeds to win the title. Kentucky is the first No. 7 seed to win with ninth-seeded Auburn in 1997 the only lower seed to ever win this event.

The Wildcats not only snapped South Carolina’s 18-game winning streak this season, they also ended the Gamecocks’ search for a third straight SEC tournament title for the regular season champs.

“Hats off to Kentucky,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “They’re hot. They’re streaking. We’ve been on both sides, this side and the other side, and super happy for Kyra and her program and their ability to weather some storms early on and find themselves as our SEC Tournament champions.”

South Carolina (29-2) led 45-30 with 4:45 left in the third quarter seemingly minutes away from cutting down the nets again. But the Gamecocks didn’t score after Aliyah Boston’s jumper with 5:04 remained that put them up 62-53.

“I didn’t really feel like we took our foot off the gas in the fourth quarter,” Boston said. “I think we were playing, and they just found different ways to score.”

The Wildcats closed the game on an 11-0 run. Howard lost the ball with no foul called when she went down in the lane with 18.3 seconds left, giving the ball back to South Carolina. Zia Cooke missed both free throws with 16.4 seconds left to set up the final sequence.

After Kentucky took the lead, Destanni Henderson threw up the ball from just past mid-court and hit just right of the rim, setting off a wild celebration by Kentucky.

Edwards finished with 27 points, 12 in the fourth quarter with three 3s including the game-winner. Howard finished with 18 points.

South Carolina should still go into the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed.

Boston posted her 24th straight double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Cooke finished with 15 points.

South Carolina led 21-18 after the first and 30-21 at halftime after holding Kentucky to three points in the second. The Gamecocks were up 55-43 at the end of the third.

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: Kentucky set a program record making 12 3-pointers in its semifinal upset of 18th-ranked Tennessee, shooting 50% from beyond the arc. Against the nation’s fourth-stingiest scoring defense, the Wildcats finished 6 of 14 (42.9%) after knocking down 5 of 8 in the second half.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks had only a 32-26 edge in scoring in the paint even though they outrebounded Kentucky 44-32. … They missed their final seven shots of the game. Staley was more concerned with their defense: “We gave up 21 points in the fourth quarter.”

MORE SEC HISTORY

A year ago, Staley joined Georgia coach Joni Taylor as the first Black women to coach in a Power Five tournament championship. This time, Kyra Elzy in her second season at Kentucky joined Staley to make it two straight for the SEC and Elzy took home the title this time.

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.