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Kahleah Copper leads defensive charge as Sky top Liberty

Chicago’s Kahleah Copper guards New York’s Sabrina Ionescu during the Sky’s lopsided Game 2 victory. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

When it comes to the New York Liberty, Sabrina Ionescu is the head of the snake.

At least, that’s how Kahleah Copper describes her.

And how do you kill a snake?

You cut off its head.

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Candace Parker, left, celebrates with Courtney Vandersloot during the Sky's 100-62 win. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

In Game 1 of the Liberty’s first-round series against the defending champion Chicago Sky, Ionescu scored 22 points and recorded six assists to lead No. 7 seed New York to an upset win.

In Game 2, the Oregon grad was held to just seven points and three assists, and No. 2 seed Chicago secured a lopsided 100-62 victory — the largest margin in WNBA playoff history — to force a deciding Game 3.

The difference largely came down to the defensive assignment. This time around, Copper matched up with Ionescu, as opposed to the first game, when Vandersloot drew Ionescu and Copper matched up with Betnijah Laney.

Copper bothered New York’s star guard from the jump.

“It was important for me to defend her,” Copper said after Saturday’s game. “I gotta be able to make it as hard as possible for her, so that’s what I wanted to do.”

Copper accomplished her mission. The game marked just the fourth time this season that Ionescu posted fewer than 10 points and fewer than five assists in the same contest.

“She’s special because she plays both ends of the floor, and I think that gets undervalued a lot,” Sky coach James Wade said of Copper, who not only played suffocating defense but also scored 20 points. “Her ability to be disruptive and then on the other hand get us buckets and actually draw defenses — it sets a tone, and the tone is really what we need.”

Chicago’s defensive intensity, sparked by Copper, represented a complete shift from Game 1. The Sky put a major emphasis on defending the 3-point line, closing out hard, putting hands up and making sure the Liberty didn’t get uncontested looks.

The Liberty score 36.5 percent of their points from the 3-point line and have made 394 on the season, ranking first in the WNBA in both categories.

In their opening game victory Wednesday, the Liberty shot 44 percent from beyond the arc, making 11 of 25 attempts. The long-range offense came from everywhere, as seven players made at least one 3-pointer. Ionescu and Stefanie Dolson led the team with three makes apiece.

In Game 2, New York went cold from long range, making just three attempts — Ionescu, Han Xu and Rebecca Allen each had one — and shooting 15 percent from beyond the arc. The Liberty’s shooting from 2-point range wasn’t much better, as they shot 33 percent, finishing with 23 total field goals.

“It was important because we know they like to shoot 3s and they are a successful team when they make them,” Wade said. “So we wanted to make sure that if they get 3s off that they are contested, and they weren’t as open as they were in the first game.”

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Emma Meesseman, Candace Parker and the Chicago Sky forced a deciding Game 3 in New York on Tuesday. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

Natasha Howard — who scored 22 points in the first game — led the Liberty starters with eight points Saturday, while Dolson and Laney each had just one field goal for two points apiece. Crystal Dangerfield rounded out the unit’s scoring with four points.

Meanwhile, Han and Michaela Onyenwere led New York with 10 points each, and the bench unit outscored the starters, 39-23.

“We were struggling everywhere,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “We need our starters to set us off a little bit and hopefully we can build up from there.”

The sentiment that New York struggled everywhere was far from an exaggeration. The offense looked disjointed and lacked the crips passes and ball movement that led to the team’s success Wednesday.

In addition to the poor shooting, the Liberty committed 19 turnovers and only grabbed three offensive rebounds. Turnovers outnumbered 15 total assists for New York.

“A lot of it was our turnovers for easy baskets,” Brondello said. “They’re one of the best teams in the league in the open court, and Copper certainly got them going … We have to be a little more resilient, taking care of the ball. We really made a lot of bad decisions, like the quick shots. I was not happy with that.”

After the bounce-back victory, the No. 2 Sky will have to win on the road to advance to the semifinals, as Game 3 will take place Tuesday in New York.

Heading into the postseason, Wade expressed frustration with the format, saying, “You always want the deciding game, if there’s a Game 3, to be at the higher seed’s home. I’m not a fan of it at all; I don’t think any coaches are.”

But he changed his opinion Saturday.

“I’m OK with (going on the road),” he said. “Because the thing is, if we wouldn’t have lost game 1, this game wouldn’t have been on the road. You know if we play like that, it doesn’t matter where we play. We could play on the moon. But we have to be who we gonna be, and that will dictate everything.”

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

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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