UCLA avoids upset with late surge, holds off Akron 57-53

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Tyger Campbell rescued UCLA from a potential upset, scoring eight straight points late in the second half, and the fourth-seeded Bruins rallied for a 57-53 win over No. 13 seed Akron in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night.

With the Bruins down 51-47 with 3 1/2 minutes left, Campbell took control and helped his team avoid getting bounced on the opening day of the tournament. Campbell hit a corner 3-pointer to pull UCLA within one, knocked down a 15-footer for the lead and added a 25-footer as the shot clock was expiring to put the Bruins ahead 55-51 with 1:17 left.

“My teammates just kept finding me and I just was wanting to make a play,” Campbell said. “I knew down the stretch, coach made some adjustments, and I just wanted to execute on them and the shots went in.”

Even with Campbell’s streak, the Bruins (26-7) still had to sweat the final moments after a missed free throw and Jamie Jacquez Jr. missing a jumper with 15 seconds left. Akron’s Ali Ali drove to the basket but didn’t have a clean look and was blocked by Cody Riley.

Johnny Juzang knocked down a pair of free throws, and the Bruins moved on to face No. 5 seed Saint Mary’s on Saturday.

“This reminds me of my Big East days. You’re going to win a rock fight, you’ve got to put your hardhat on and you’ve got to take care of the ball, get some extra possessions,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “And the offensive rebounding was huge, and we didn’t turn it over. We were able to finally get some – hang in there and get some stops and get a few shots to go down.”

Campbell finished with 16 points and Jaquez added 15. Jules Bernard, who hit a 3 to start UCLA’s run when it trailed 47-39, added 10 points.

Xavier Castaneda led Akron (24-10) with 18 points and Enrique Freeman added 14 before fouling out with 2:26 remaining on an illegal screen. Ali, the Zips’ leading scorer, was held to five points after averaging nearly 15 per game.

“We had our chances,” Akron coach John Groce said. “Defensively I thought we were spectacular, quite frankly, and then offensively we had some empty possessions here and there that we’ll probably take a look at at some point in time and wish we could have back. That’s the way it works.”

A year after an unexpected run to the Final Four, the Bruins entered the tournament a trendy selection to make a run in the wide-open East. They nearly became another upset victim for Groce, who lost in the opening round of the tournament for the first time after going 3-0 in his previous NCAA trips as the coach at Ohio and Illinois. Akron was a 13 1/2-point underdog, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

The Zips had their chances, especially after building an eight-point lead. Castaneda connected on consecutive 3s after UCLA took a 39-38 lead, and Greg Tribble scored on a baseline reverse, falling down as he was fouled, to push the Zips’ lead to 47-39 with 7:54 left.

But UCLA closed the game on an 18-6 run.

“I think we didn’t panic, and like I said, we’ve been in those positions before last year in the tournament, also throughout our season,” Bernard said. “So we know what that feeling is like, and we just try to stay composed as best as possible and know that our effort and toughness would pull us through.”

OFFICIAL HISTORY

Amy Bonner was one of three officials for the nightcap in Portland, becoming the second woman to officiate an NCAA Tournament game. Melanie Davis worked a game between Illinois and San Diego State in 2002.

Bonner has worked in several conferences and was hired to work in the Big 12 a couple of seasons ago.

CRONIN’S CONTRACT

Earlier Thursday, UCLA announced a new six-year contract for coach Mick Cronin that runs through the 2027-28 season. Cronin was hired in April 2019.

BIG PICTURE

Akron: The Zips entered having won eight straight, including a sweep of the MAC Tournament and a 75-55 rout of rival Kent State in the championship game. It was the fifth NCAA bid for the Zips and their first since 2013. They’re still seeking their first win.

UCLA: The Bruins won despite a quiet night from Juzang, who finished with nine points on 3-of-11 shooting. It was the fourth time in six games Juzang failed to reach double figures.

UP NEXT

The Bruins will face the Gaels in the second round on Saturday.

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.