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Notebook: MSU falls to Kentucky in overtime

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Morgan William knew she had to make a change in the second half. After scoring five points and committing three turnovers in the first half, William rebounded to play a more aggressive and assertive role in the second half of the No. 3 Mississippi State women’s basketball team’s 78-75 overtime loss to No. 22 Kentucky before a crowd of 5,244 at Memorial Gymnasium. William committed only one more turnovers in 24 minutes in the second half. She also had 20 points, five assists, four rebounds, and two blocked shots, which doubled her total entering the game.

“I just attacked the basket,” William said. “I looked for my shot and I looked to get to the rim. I was being passive in the first half, so I figured it was up to me to step up in the second half for my team.”

William attacked the basket consistently in the second half, either getting to the rim or pulling up for mid-range jump shots. She also used her speed to dart into the gaps to work herself free for open shots.

“I thought that first half we had a lot of issues with the point guard position,” MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. “I thought Morgan (William) played very well in the second half and we ironed some of that out.”

William stayed strong despite picking up her fourth foul with 5 minutes, 21 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Her drive with 8.0 seconds left tied the game at 67 and set the stage for overtime. The final seconds weren’t without drama, though, as Evelyn Akhator appeared to make contact with William on a drive to the basket. Teaira McCowan then blocked Akhator’s shot to send the game to the extra session. McCowan blocked the shot despite having four fouls. In the overtime, William also had a runner that tied the game at 73, but the Bulldogs couldn’t string together one more positive possession to build a cushion.

“Basically, Coach just told me to guard the ball, attack the basket because we ended up giving them bonus, and just put our heads down and attack like they were doing us,” William said. “We had all the fouls, so we weren’t playing aggressive enough. We weren’t getting to the rim, but once we started getting to the rim we made them run.”

Lost in the shuffle of the drama in the fourth quarter and overtime was a 3-pointer by William at the end of the first quarter. The shot initially was ruled good, but the officials used video review to overturn the call. Turnover problems

Lost in MSU’s fast start — it led 10-2 and by seven three times in the first quarter — were 12 turnovers in the first half. That total was more than 10 games the Bulldogs have played this season, including an 11-turnover effort against Texas A&M. MSU committed the turnovers without being pressed and seeing very little half-court trap. Chinwe Okorie had three turnovers (one on a charge and one on a travel), while William committed three. That total was more than 18 games she has played this season.

For the game, MSU had a season-high 22. It had committed 20 only one time (Hawaii) entering the game. The Bulldogs entered the game averaging 13.2 turnovers per game.

“I didn’t even know they had 22,” Kentucky senior guard Makayla Epps said. “One of the things that was on our scouting report about Mississippi State is they force their opponent into 20-plus turnovers. We have done a really good job this year of taking care of the ball. That is just a shout out to everybody on the team for doing their job.

“Coach told us ball security and taking care of the ball and executing our plays would be big in this game. Morgan William had four (turnovers). That is very uncharacteristic of her. I have a lot of respect for her. (Victoria) Vivians had four. That is uncharacteristic, and one of the (other) kids had six. That is just us being in the right place at the right time and moving and being in the right position and working hard to get steals and turn the ball over.”

Schaefer said the Bulldogs tried to do too much with the basketball. That assessment accurately reflected MSU’s four turnovers in overtime. One was a pass that went off the hands of McCowan, one was a lost handle on a drive to the basket, one came on an entry pass to McCowan in the post, and the last one came on Vivians’ drive in which she was called for traveling.

“We had people trying to do things that they didn’t need to do,” Schaefer said. “Again, it was my fault for putting them in those positions. It’s my job as a coach to put them in positions where they can be successful. We can’t turn the ball over like that. We have to take better care of the ball, but that’s how Kentucky is. They’re really handsy, they steal and they do a really good job at it, so you have to take extra care of the ball. We just didn’t do that tonight. I’ve got to do a better job of making sure our kids understand that. Akhator goes off in fourth quarter, overtime

Schaefer credited Kentucky after the game for outhustling and being tougher than his team. He said one of the keys was how his team wasn’t able to handle Akhator, the 6-foot-3 senior forward, who tied for game-high scoring honors with 27 points. She was 11 of 20 from the field and had 16 rebounds, including six on the offensive end.

“We go over one down every day and the way we guarded it tonight, it looked like Ned in the third grade,” Schaefer said. “We didn’t guard it hardly at all. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and I was literally going insane on a couple things we kept doing over and over again. Obviously I didn’t do a very good job of coaching my kids tonight, but this should be about Kentucky. They did a tremendous job tonight and those kids played extremely well and hard and you have to take your hat off to them.”

Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said MSU is one of the few teams in the Southeastern Conference that relies on a player-to-player defense virtually all of the time. Schaefer said the Bulldogs used some zone, but he said very little worked.

“With the way that they play, they give you some driving opportunities,” Mitchell said. “They’re probably the only team in the league that we’ve seen do that. We thought we had an advantage there if we could get the ball to her. We worked hard over the last couple of days to try to get in our mind what we needed to do to win. One of the keys for her was to not post up, sit on the block, and try to play a power game with them. Try to step off the block, get to the high post, and try to step out on the short corner. It was an incredible performance from her.”

Still winless

Schaefer entered the season with wins against every SEC team except South Carolina and Kentucky. MSU lost to South Carolina 64-61 on Jan. 23 in Columbia, South Carolina. The Gamecocks have won the last nine meetings against the Bulldogs. Kentucky entered the game having won the last 10 meetings against MSU. The Wildcats earned an 83-60 victory against the Bulldogs last season in Athens.

The last meeting in Lexington — a 92-90 double-overtime decision — featured a freshman-record 39 points by Vivians. The Wildcats won on a putback at the buzzer by Epps. The senior guard did it again Thursday night as part of a 22-point night. Missed opportunity

MSU will have to wait until 4 p.m. Sunday, when it plays host to Tennessee at Humphrey Coliseum, for its last chance to earn its first share or outright SEC regular-season title. William said the Bulldogs missed an opportunity to take care of business against the Wildcats.

“It was just an opportunity we missed out on,” William said. “We didn’t handle business, so it is a lost opportunity right now.”

Fast starts

MSU and Kentucky would have loved to continue the pace they set in the first quarter. The Bulldogs led 19-18 after William’s 3-pointer at the buzzer was waved off. MSU shot 8 of 14 from the field (57.1 percent), while Kentucky shot 6 of 13 (46.2 percent). Even though MSU slipped to 5 of 13 in the second quarter, it still shot 48.1 percent for the first 20 minutes. After shooting 5-for-36 against Ole Miss and Georgia, Vivians continued to re-discover her shooting touch. Vivians was 4 of 7 from the field (2 of 3 from 3-point range) and had 10 points in the first quarter. She was coming off a 7-for-19 shooting effort (25 points) in a 72-67 victory against then-No. 23 Texas A&M on Sunday.

Vivians attempted only one shot in eight minutes in the second quarter. She finished 8 of 17 from the field (4 of 9 from 3-point range) and 7 of 19 from the free-throw line. Kentucky weathered the storm for the final 7:59 of the first half after sophomore guard Maci Morris picked up her second foul. She sat out the rest of the half. Taylor Murray helped pick up the slack by scoring 10 points in the first half. The sophomore guard was 3 of 7 from the field and 4 of 6 from the free-throw line. She epitomized the Wildcats’ effort in the first half by attacking MSU point guards William and Jazzmun Holmes.

Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor

Homeland Security Secretary Kelly: No use of US military to enforce immigration

Seeking to tamp down growing unease in Latin America, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly pledged Thursday that the United States won’t enlist its military to enforce immigration laws and that there will be “no mass deportations.”

Only hours earlier, President Donald Trump suggested the opposite. He told CEOs at the White House the deportation push was a “military operation.”

Kelly, speaking in Mexico’s capital, said all deportations will comply with human rights requirements and the U.S. legal system, including its multiple appeals for those facing deportation. He said the U.S. approach will involve “close coordination” with Mexico’s government.

“There will be no use of military forces in immigration,” Kelly said. “There will be no repeat, no mass deportations.”

Yet while Kelly and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to alleviate Mexico’s concerns, Trump was fanning them further, with tough talk about “getting really bad dudes out of this country at a rate nobody has ever seen before.”

“It’s a military operation,” Trump said Thursday while his envoys were in Mexico City. “Because what has been allowed to come into our country, when you see gang violence that you’ve read about like never before and all of the things, much of that is people who are here illegally.”

It was an altogether different message from Kelly and Tillerson, who traveled here to meet with top Mexican officials at a time of intense turbulence for U.S.-Mexico relations. Indeed, Trump acknowledged he had sent his top diplomat south of the border on a “tough trip.”

In contrast to Trump, Tillerson and Kelly emphasized a U.S. commitment to work closely with Mexico on border security, illegal immigration and trafficking of drugs and weapons issues Trump has made a central focus of his young presidency, much to Mexico’s dismay. Both Tillerson and Kelly appeared to downplay any major rift between the U.S. and Mexico.

“In a relationship filled with vibrant colors, two strong sovereign countries from time to time will have differences,” Tillerson said. “We listened closely and carefully to each other as we respectfully and patiently raised our respective concerns.”

For Mexico, that patience was running short. Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Videgaray noted the “public and notorious differences” between the countries and said the Mexicans had raised the “legal impossibility” of a government making “unilateral” decisions affecting another country. Videgaray has previously raised the prospect Mexico could seek recourse at the United Nations or elsewhere for U.S. moves violating international law.

“It is an evident fact that Mexicans feel concern and irritation over what are perceived as policies that may hurt Mexicans and the national interest of Mexicans here and abroad,” Videgaray said. The divergent tones from Trump and from his Cabinet officials left Mexico with an uncomfortable decision about whom to believe. Throughout Trump’s first weeks, foreign leaders have grown increasingly skeptical as Trump’s envoys deliver soothing messages that are then negated by the president.

Mexico has been incensed that the U.S. announced without Mexico’s sign-off that people caught crossing the border illegally will be sent back to Mexico even those from third countries who have no connection to Mexico. Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, Kelly’s Mexican counterpart, said that concern had come up Thursday, too. Both countries said it was positive that the neighbors remained committed to working through the disputes diplomatically, though there were no indications they were any closer to a resolution. As the Americans wrapped up their Mexico visit, they remained at odds with their hosts over the deportations and over the massive border wall Trump has vowed to construct at Mexico’s expense. Trump spoke during the presidential campaign about using a “deportation force.” His Homeland Security Department at one point considered using the National Guard to help with deportations, although the White House has said that idea has been ruled out.

The Homeland Security Department didn’t immediately respond to requests to clarify why Trump’s remark about “a military operation” had conflicted with that of Kelly, who blamed the media for “misreporting.” At the White House, spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump hadn’t been speaking literally. He said Trump used the “military operation” phrase “as an adjective” to describe the precision with which immigration enforcement was being carried out. Tillerson and Kelly also met behind closed doors with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto before returning to Washington. Pena Nieto recently canceled a trip to Washington over Trump’s insistence that Mexico pay for the wall. It has not been rescheduled. In addition to sending border-crossers from third countries into Mexico, new memos signed by Kelly this week call for prioritizing deportation for anyone charged or convicted of any crime, rather than just serious crimes. That potentially subjects millions in the U.S. illegally to deportation, many Mexicans included.

Those policies have stoked fears in Mexico about the possibility of deportee and refugee camps emerging along Mexico’s northern border. Mexican officials were also apprehensive that a forthcoming report ordered by Trump’s administration listing all current U.S. aid to Mexico is intended to threaten Mexico into compliance over immigration or the wall.

Mexico has also raised concerns about Trump’s pledge to overhaul the trade relationship and possibly apply steep taxes to Mexican products, a move with profound impacts for Mexico’s export-heavy economy. Tillerson said the leaders had agreed the trade relationship needed to be modernized and strengthened.

Associated Press writer Mark Stevenson in Mexico City and Jonathan Lemire in New York contributed to this report.

What’s Next For Transgender Rights Lawsuits With School Guidance Rescinded

Lawyers fighting over the scope of civil rights law for transgender people are urging the Supreme Court to bring some clarity to the issues. Lawyers for a 17-year-old transgender student and the Gloucester, Va., school board that wants to limit which bathroom he can use don’t agree on much. But both sides have concluded the Trump administration’s decision this week to revoke guidance that protects transgender students’ ability to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity only heightens the need for a hearing before the nation’s highest court.

Rather than making the claims of Virginia student Gavin Grimm moot, his attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union and their courtroom opponents are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to proceed with oral arguments scheduled for March 28.

“If anything, the confusion caused by this recent action by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education only underscores the need for the Supreme Court to bring some clarity here,” Joshua Block, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, told reporters on a conference call on Thursday. As for Gloucester County, the school board said it “looks forward to explaining to the Supreme Court why [the rescinded guidance] underscores that the Board’s common sense restroom and locker room policy is legal under federal law.”

The high court agreed to hear two questions in the Grimm case: one, whether the former Justice and Education Departments’ interpretation of Title IX of a 1972 education law protecting students from discrimination on the basis of their sex deserved deference; and two, whether the prohibition on sex discrimination in schools also applies to gender identity. While the first question likely goes away along with the Obama-era guidance, the second remains, if justices still want to field it.

The U.S. Justice Department, led by new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, said the matter is best left to “Congress, state legislatures, and local governments,” shrouding the federal argument in a case for states’ rights. And at the White House on Thursday, press secretary Sean Spicer pointed out that a federal judge in Texas last year enjoined the guidance so it never fully took effect. Spicer also asserted, “There’s nobody who’s possibly suggesting” that the 1972 law contemplated protection of transgender students at the time. That view is shared by a series of mostly conservative groups, which have weighed in with Supreme Court briefs opposing an expansive reading of sex discrimination.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, one such nonprofit, defended the approach by the Gloucester School Board that allowed transgender students to, among other things, use separate, individual facilities to change clothes and shower. The Alliance said school boards enjoy great freedom to develop education policies for their own communities. Civil rights lawyers said that’s just wrong. The federal government, they argue, has long led the way when it comes to integrating schools, easing access to the polls, and other critical civil rights issues.

What’s more, Block at the ACLU said, his client Gavin Grimm has obtained an amended birth certificate stating that he’s male. If Grimm moves to a state like North Carolina, where the law defines sex by what’s on a birth certificate, schools there would allow him to use the boy’s room. But Gloucester County, Va., has adopted a different approach, excluding Grimm from the boy’s room and requiring him to use a single-user restroom.

“The fact is that no child in America should have their rights subject to their ZIP code,” said Eliza Byard of the Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network, or GLSEN. Advocates for the LGBT community say that a half-dozen courts across the nation already have adopted their approach finding that longstanding protections against sex discrimination under federal law extend to transgender people. The U.S. Courts of Appeals in the Sixth and Seventh Circuits have sided with transgender students and denied attempts to halt or stay the cases while they move toward appeal, ACLU lawyers said.

“Honestly, I’ll just tell you, nobody wants to be on the business end of a transgender lawsuit these days,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “The courts have been moving in our direction very quickly.”

Nearly two years ago, a divided Supreme Court ruled 5-to-4 that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry under the due process clause and the equal protection clause. President Trump told an interviewer this year that is “settled law.”

But legal arguments about whether protections against sex discrimination in Title IX and other federal laws extend to gender identity, central to the lives of transgender people, are still very much active in the courts. For instance, Lambda Legal, a nonprofit that advocates and litigates for LGBT clients, said court decisions are imminent in two of its cases that “could change the national landscape of employment law for LGBT people.”

“It’s not just about bathrooms, it’s about being a full, participating member of society,” said Demoya Gordon, a Transgender Rights Project attorney at Lambda Legal. In one case, a math teacher, who is a lesbian, separated from her job in South Bend, Ind., because of her sexual orientation. Lambda is arguing that sexual orientation discrimination against its client, Kimberly Hively, “is a form of sex discrimination” barred under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The organization is making the same argument before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. There, a security guard sued her employer for harassment and for allegedly forcing her out of a job at Georgia Regional Hospital because she’s lesbian and “gender-nonconforming.”