No. 9 Tennessee tops No. 5 Kentucky, reaches SEC final again

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TAMPA, Fla. – No. 9 Tennessee just might be the Southeastern Conference’s top team. The Volunteers certainly can make a strong case after their latest victory.

Kennedy Chandler scored 19 points, Zakai Zeigler added 11 and Tennessee held off fifth-ranked Kentucky 69-62 in the final minutes Saturday to reach the SEC Tournament final for the third time in the last five years.

The Vols (25-7) have won 11 of 12 and six in a row, including victories against fourth-ranked Auburn, 15th-ranked Arkansas and now the Wildcats in the last two weeks. They’re one win away from a championship and potentially a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Tennessee will face eighth-seeded Texas A&M in the league’s title game Sunday.

“People say, `Well, you might be better off to leave, go home and regroup,”‘ Vols coach Rick Barnes said. “I don’t know of any coaches that I’ve ever been around that thought like that.

“This time of year, every game is a playoff game. … And you want to be playing your best basketball because we also know that it can go the other way real quick. You want to keep building that momentum,” he said.

The Vols look ready for anything following their performance against Kentucky. They held the Wildcats (26-7) to 34.4% shooting, which included missing 18 of 20 shots from 3-point range. SEC player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe also was a non-factor for much of the afternoon.

“We were 2-for-20, folks,” Kentucky coach John Calipari quipped. “We could have won this game. I think we had a couple were air balls from good shooters, like the best shooter in the conference.”

Kellen Grady missed all five shots from behind the arc. TyTy Washington was 1 for 7 from distance.

Still, the Cats kept coming and forced two turnovers in the waning seconds to close within 65-62. But they missed four 3s in the final minute, with Keion Brooks, Grady, Washington and Sahvir Wheeler all misfiring. It was a fitting end to a frustrating day for the Wildcats.

Brooks led the way for Kentucky, ending up with 19 points. Washington had 17, and Wheeler 10.

The Wildcats had been penciled into a top seed in the NCAA field, but losing to Tennessee twice in three meetings could flip the script. Chandler, Ziegler and Josiah-Jordan James helped author the changes.

Chandler made 8 of 16 shots and seemingly had an answer every time third-seeded Kentucky looked like it would make a run in front of a pro-Big Blue crowd inside packed Amalie Arena.

“Coach Barnes has great trust in me and knows I’m going to deliver the ball to my teammates or find a great shot to get the ball,” Chandler said.

James finished with 10 points, including eight early as Tennessee built a double-digit lead. Zeigler came up big down the stretch, making three free throws that closed it out.

OSCAR PERFORMANCE

Tshiebwe had 13 points and 11 rebounds to notch his 15th consecutive double-double and 27th of the season, breaking the single-season mark set by Kentucky great Dan Issel in 1969-70. Tshiebwe played just 8 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble and fouled out with 3:37 to play.

“This was kind of an off-day for us,” Tshiebwe said. “We didn’t really make a shot. We still have our confidence, and we’re going to be ready next week.”

CAL’S MILESTONE

Calipari will have to wait a year to potentially break the school record for most wins in the SEC Tournament. Calipari tied Tubby Smith with No. 24 in the quarterfinals Friday. He trails Florida’s Billy Donovan (27) and Alabama’s Wimp Sanderson (25).

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: It’s possible the Wildcats blew a chance to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and that could be costly. The Cats have won just one national championship (1998) in eight tries as a 2 seed. They’ve had four chances since and failed to reach the Final Four each time (2001, 2005, 2017, 2019).

Tennessee: The Volunteers will try to win their fifth SEC Tournament title and first since 1979. They are 0-4 since that one more than four decades ago, losing in the championship game in 1991, 2009, 2018 and 2019.

UP NEXT

Kentucky: Awaits its NCAA Tournament seeding and first-round pairing.

Tennessee: The Vols won their regular-season meeting against Texas A&M 90-80 in Knoxville on Feb. 1.

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.