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As Candace Parker elevates her game again, there are no words

Parker had a team-high 22 points in the Sky’s win in Game 2 of the semifinals Wednesday. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Before taking the court for Game 2 of the semifinals against the Connecticut Sun, Candace Parker and Allie Quigley took a moment to reflect on their careers.

The two veterans have 28 years of WNBA experience between them, and last year they won a title together. The difficulty of capturing a championship isn’t lost on them.

“It took her eight years to get to the Finals,” Parker said. “It took me eight years to get to the Finals. You have an opportunity, this team has an opportunity. We can’t not seize the opportunity.”

Two games into the best-of-five semifinals series, Parker has grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

In Chicago’s Game 1 loss Sunday, she was a high-voltage bright spot, finishing with 19 points, 18 rebounds, six blocks, five assists and four steals. And in Game 2 on Wednesday night, she willed the Sky to an 85-77 win with 22 points, four rebounds, four assists and three blocks.

Parker has been a key piece to the Sky’s success all season, but she’s reached a new level in the postseason. Her points per game are up from 13.2 in the regular season to 16.8 in the playoffs, and her rebounding average has increased from 8.6 to 11.4.

While Parker tries to bring the same level of intensity to every contest, she admits that the playoffs have always added an extra spark to her game.

“This time of year is my favorite,” she said Wednesday, her face lighting up. “It’s so much fun. I remember in college, coach (Pat Summitt) getting mad at me in the regular season because I just couldn’t wait to get to the NCAA Tournament. And it’s the same with the WNBA playoffs.”

What’s more, the NCAA Tournament and the WNBA Finals appear to love her back.

At Tennessee, Parker won back-to-back NCAA titles in 2007 and 2008. And though it took her eight years to reach her first WNBA Finals with the Sparks, Parker now has two championships and a Finals MVP trophy to her name.

But the 14-year pro wants at least one more, and the first step to securing a third WNBA title is getting past the Sun in the semifinals.

Parker and Courtney Vandersloot are looking to repeat as WNBA champions. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

Game 1 proved to be a wake-up call for the Sky despite a dominant individual performance from Parker. Chicago lacked the balance it has had all season, with just three reaching double-digit scoring — Parker (19), Kahleah Copper (13) and Emma Meesseman (10).

In Game 2, Parker was a force once again, but so were the rest of her teammates. All five Sky starters finished in double figures and Chicago shot 50.8 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range, a huge increase from the 35.3 percent from 2 and 26.7 percent from 3 they posted on Sunday.

“I don’t think we had the right mentality in Game 1,” Parker said. “I think we were relaxed in shootaround and in film. That whole day I didn’t think we had the right mentality, and it showed.”

On Wednesday, the Sky looked like themselves from the start. And by the end of the first quarter, they held a 10-point advantage.

They made extra passes, cut hard to the rim and found open shooters. When the Sky are playing their game, it’s a beautiful brand of basketball.

The Sun get no joy out of that beauty. It’s a cause for concern as the series heads to Connecticut for Game 3 on Sunday.

Curt Miller has preached the importance of his team creating a messy, chaotic game. To win the series, the Sun need to stop Chicago’s offensive flow, something they failed to do in Game 2.

“They were getting everything they wanted,” Sun guard Natisha Hiedeman said. “We didn’t come out with the same energy. We were stagnant a little bit.”

After Parker’s heroic effort in Game 1, the Sun put an emphasis on guarding her. But like the rest of the Sky, she got everything she wanted.

And when Parker gets going, it’s bad news for opponents. That’s something Sun coach Curt Miller knows well. He was an assistant for the Sparks in 2015, a year before he became the head coach for Connecticut and six years before Parker left the team in free agency to join the Sky.

Parker was already in the prime of her career and just one season away from winning her first WNBA title, but according to Miller, the Parker he sees today at 36 is in some ways a better version than the Parker he coached at 29.

“Her fitness and strength, and the intangibles that she’s added late in her career is impressive,” he said. “She is really fit and plays with a really high motor. She’s physical. She just doesn’t take plays off anymore, and it is just impressive to watch.”

Parker recorded her 25th 20-point playoff game on Wednesday, adding another accolade to an already long list of accomplishments. In the postgame press conferences, reporters did their best to glean information about Parker’s greatness from her teammates.

“She’s had so many different great games,” Meesseman said. “And even if she’s having less stats, she is still doing so many great things on the court, like being a great leader. So, I don’t think there are enough words.”

Then, Meesseman cracked a smile: “I think that’s your job,” she said to reporters, “To find the words.”

But what can you write that Parker hasn’t already said on the court?

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Argentina Women’s National Team Stars Quit Over Pay, Conditions Dispute

Julieta Cruz of Argentina controls the ball during the FIFA Women's World Cup
The team qualified for the 2023 Women's World Cup, but failed to make it through the group stage. (Ulrik Pedersen/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Argentina women's national football team starting goalkeeper Laurina Oliveros, defender Julieta Cruz, and midfielder Lorena Benítez have officially left the team after a dispute over a lack of pay and conditions.

The news comes while the team is away at training camp during the FIFA international window. Argentina is scheduled to play two international friendlies at home against Costa Rica on May 31st and June 3rd — matches that Argentina's soccer association is refusing to pay its players for, according to Cruz and Benítez.

"We reached a point in which we are tired of the injustices, of not being valued, not being heard and, even worse, being humiliated," Cruz, a defender, wrote in an Instagram post published early this week. "We need improvements for Argentina's women's soccer national team, and I am not only talking about finances. I speak about training, having lunch, breakfast."

Argentina qualified for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, but failed to make it out of the group stage after losing to Italy and Sweden and drawing with South Africa. That stands in stark contrast to the men’s team, which won the 2022 FIFA World Cup behind star forward Lionel Messi. 

In her own Instagram post, Benítez alleged that players were provided only a ham and cheese sandwich and a banana as food during training camp, and that their families were being charged 5,000 pesos per ticket to see them compete against Costa Rica.

"And so millions of things we've been through, being FOOLED over and over again," Benítez added.

Goalkeeper Oliveros’s message was more concise than her teammates: "My wish for this year and the following? That generations to come may enjoy and be happy running behind the round, as perhaps at some point we were." 

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

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