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Sparks’ Brittney Sykes shows flashes of brilliance at point guard

Sykes scored a season-high 25 points as the Sparks’ backup point guard Tuesday night. (Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — Backup point guard and Brittney Sykes are two phrases not often heard together, but the six-year veteran thrived in the role Tuesday night, leading the Los Angeles Sparks to a 93-91 nail-biting win over the Dallas Wings. Sykes played the position for the second consecutive game in the absences of the injured Jordin Canada and Kristi Toliver, who completed her assistant coaching duties last Thursday after the Dallas Mavericks were eliminated from the NBA playoffs.

Sykes got to the basket at will against the Wings, scoring a season-high 25 points on 8-for-11 shooting, which included seven layups. The 28-year-old guard also was 9-for-11 from the charity stripe, marking her most free-throw attempts as a Spark.

“Shoutout to ‘Fish’ for our offseason pickups, because that’s honestly what’s giving me the space to go and drive,” Sykes said after the game, referencing the attention shooters Katie Lou Samuelson and Lexie Brown get on the perimeter and that Liz Cambage receives in the paint. Head coach and GM Derek Fisher acquired all three during the WNBA offseason, raising expectations for the Sparks after two straight seasons of disappointing finishes.

In the Sparks’ 85-83 win Sunday in Minnesota, Sykes attempted just two field goals but did get to the line for six free-throw attempts. Fisher said he is continually encouraging Sykes to be aggressive, even when she’s playing point guard.

“When she sees gaps, she needs to attack and try to get to the front of the basket,” Fisher said. “We’re starting to see the potential she has to impact us offensively, and that really starts to create a balanced team that we’ve always wanted to have.”

Sykes heeded Fisher’s advice, spending much of her 26:53 on the court driving to the rack. This led to six assists, tied for Sykes’ most helpers in a Sparks uniform, and a 60-36 advantage for L.A. in points in the paint.

Fisher credits’ Sykes experience playing in Australia this past winter for her effectiveness at the point. After frequently handling the ball with the University of Canberra Capitals in the WNBL, her confidence in the role has grown even further with additional reps in the past two games.

“You’ve really seen her come into her own,” Fisher said. “We, for sure, plan to continue to explore it.”

Sykes’ most critical assist of the night came with 36 seconds left to play, when the guard crossed over Allisha Gray en route to the basket and appeared poised to try her eighth layup of the game. Instead, when Isabelle Harrison committed to Sykes, the Sparks guard made a perfect left-handed pass to an open Cambage for an easy lay-in and a 90-85 lead.

Despite holding a five-point advantage with 36 ticks on the clock, the Wings cut the deficit to 93-91 and then got the ball right back with 5.5 seconds left after Sykes was called for a questionable offensive foul as L.A. tried to inbound. On the ensuing play, Arike Ogunbowale was fouled. After missing her first free-throw attempt, she was whistled for a lane violation after pump-faking what would have been her second try.

Following the victory, Sykes was interviewed on the court and hugged comedian and Sparks superfan Leslie Jones. Seeing this, a group of teenage girls ran down the sideline to the corner of the court, where the night’s leading hugger also met them with hugs.

Prior to Wednesday’s game, Fisher said that it felt like his team had played “every minute of every day” thus far this season. On Thursday, the 5-6 Sparks will enjoy a rare break before preparing for Sunday’s matchup with the Phoenix Mercury, and the star of the game has big plans for her day off.

“Sleep, eat, sleep,” Sykes said with a smile. “Maybe a little NormaTec (a compression device for recovery and rehabilitation).”

Joshua Fischman is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering Angel City FC and the Los Angeles Sparks. He has covered basketball for Vantage Sports and Hoops Rumors and served as co-host of “On the NBA Beat” podcast. Joshua received his master’s in Sports Media from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @JJTheJuggernaut.

Caitlin Clark dunks on Michael Che in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports.

It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation. Clark finished her segment by shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing Che a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her last playful dig of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns, in uncharted territory, start NWSL season winless

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the NWSL season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage over the weekend to remain winless through their first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before.

Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, attention turns to head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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