Big Ten places four teams in women’s Sweet 16 again

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 20 Div I Womens Championship - Second Round - Maryland v Florida Gulf Coast
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It has been seven years since the Big Ten had a team reach the Final Four and more than two decades since the conference had a national champion in women’s basketball.

With the conference having four teams in the Sweet 16 for a second consecutive year, those streaks could be ending soon.

Michigan, Indiana, Ohio State and Maryland are all playing in the regional semifinals this weekend – matching the ACC for most teams left in the NCAA Tournament.

All four coaches credit the toughness of the conference as one of the main reasons for the success they’ve had so far on the game’s biggest stage.

“I think the biggest thing is we prepare each other for these moments,” Indiana coach Teri Moren said. “It’s so good and so competitive that we’re prepared for these games. The Big Ten prepares us for all these opponents we’re seeing right now.”

Indiana reached the regional final last season and has most of its team back from that run. The Hoosiers face UConn on Saturday in the Sweet 16.

Maryland, which faces Stanford on Friday, was the last team from the Big Ten to reach the Final Four, doing so in 2014. Coach Brenda Frese knows how important it can be to have made it to the regionals before.

“You have to gain that experience to get to the Sweet 16s and get to an Elite Eight like Indiana last year,” Frese said. “Your roster has to get that experience. That’s the cool thing to see now back-to-back years four teams making it to the Sweet 16. Teams are gaining a ton of experience to understand these rounds and how difficult it is.”

Michigan, which faces South Dakota on Saturday, is playing in its second straight Sweet 16 after never making it that far before.

“I’ve said it since I got here, the quote Geno (Auriemma) gave me 20 years ago. It’s easy to get there, the hard part is staying there,” Wolverines coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “When you have a league that has back-to-back four teams in the Sweet 16, it really speaks to you staying there and having arrived.”

All of the coaches are rooting for each other to succeed. As soon as the other Big Ten schools advanced, Frese tweeted out her excitement for them.

“Brenda has been a real champion of this and is 100% right,” Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. “A lot of the other leagues out there have TV networks that trumpet their teams. We have to similarly as coaches promoting how good we are. We know how good we are. Everyone knows it as well.”

The sixth-seeded Buckeyes will face Texas on Friday

With the four women’s teams advancing to the Sweet 16 and a couple of Big Ten men’s teams still playing also, it will be a busy next few days for Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. He plans to try to take in as many of the games as he possibly can in person while watching others on his phone.

He believes his conference is really close to breaking its national semifinals drought.

“We are on the forefront of putting teams in the Final Four on a regular basis and winning national championships,” Warren said in a phone interview from the airport. “I look forward to seeing them go into the Final Four and look forward to the day when I see when the national championship trophy is handed to them.”

Warren also made changes in the conference office this season, hiring Megan Kahn in November to be the conference’s Vice President of Women’s Basketball.

“That showed the true commitment from Kevin Warren, our commissioner, who is passionate about women’s hoops,” Moren said. “Him hiring her and really making this a position exclusive for women’s basketball is a huge deal.”

Warren said creating that position was one of his top goals when he got hired.

“I had a list of transition initiatives and that was a top one,” he said. “The first year we had to deal with COVID, so it got delayed.”

He also has spent the last two years developing relationships with many of the coaches and players. He went to all of the women’s games at the conference tournament and constantly texts them before and after games.

“They know I’m there. They know I can’t be in two places at once or I’d be there,” he said. “I’ll see Indiana this weekend. Hopefully all four of our teams win, so I can figure out where to go.”

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.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.