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Courtney Vandersloot shows off complete game: WNBA Film Room

Courtney Vandersloot has raised her game offensively for the Chicago Sky in the past week. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

As we approach the midway point of the WNBA regular season, the Chicago Sky have risen to the top spot in our power rankings. Sitting one game back of the Las Vegas Aces in the standings, the Sky made up ground last week while the Aces lost two consecutive games for the first time this season, including to Chicago.

Also this week, all eyes were on the Valley as Tina Charles and the Phoenix Mercury mutually agreed to part ways in an unusual midseason contract divorce. The Mercury responded to the adversity of losing a key starter halfway through the season with an 83-72 win over the Dallas Wings the same day and an 83-71 win over the Indiana Fever on Monday night.

While the Washington Mystics remain inconsistent, their 87-86 road victory over the Aces was their best win of the season. At 12-9 and No. 5 in the standings, they’ve positioned themselves to remain in striking distance despite missing their top scorer for eight games so far. When Elena Delle Donne is on the floor, leading their offense at 15.6 points per game, the Mystics have as good a shot of contending for and in the playoffs as any team.

CP3 and the Chicago Sky roll

After a tough loss to the last-place Indiana Fever, the Sky bounced back last week, finding a rhythm and confidence with their production on the floor and setting some new records in the process. Chicago has now won three in a row, most notably a comeback 104-95 win over the top-seeded Aces and a 82-59 win over the Los Angeles Sparks.

In that game in Los Angeles last Thursday, Candace Parker finished with 10 points, 10 assists and 14 rebounds. The two-time WNBA champion became the first player in league history to record three triple-doubles, the first to record multiple triple-doubles in the same season and the second to record a triple-double in just three quarters.

Alongside Parker, Courtney Vandersloot has elevated her play and production in the last three games, averaging 19.3 points compared to just 11.2 points through the first 15 games of the season. Vandersloot continues to be one of the league’s best facilitators, but recently she has become more aggressive with her own shot selection and at hunting opportunities to take two additional shots per game. Her percentages have increased significantly as a result, with the guard shooting an impressive 65.7 percent from the field and 57 percent from 3-point range.

The increased production earned her Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday for the seventh time of her career. Take a look at Vandersloot’s numbers from the last three games compared to the first part of the season:

First 15 games vs. last three games

PPG: 11.2 — 19.3
APG: 7 — 5
RPG: 4.2 — 3.6
FG %: 43.3 — 65.7
3-point %: 34.2 — 57.1
Shot attempts: 9.5 — 11.6
3-point attempts: 2.3 — 4.6

On Sunday night, Vandersloot played the hero when she hit a buzzer-beating 3 to lift the Sky over the Minnesota Lynx 88-85. The sideline out-of-bounds play the Sky ran to win the game epitomizes the creativity and confidence Vandersloot is playing with right now.

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In the play outlined above, we see Vandersloot and Emma Meesseman come together to set an elevator screen for Rebekah Gardner to run through (think of it like the two closing doors of an elevator). Allie Quigley inbounds the ball to Gardner, and at the same time, Messeeman screens for Vandersloot, who rolls off the action and quickly gets the ball back.

On the backside of this action, Quigley baits the defense and causes Kayla McBride to hesitate, while Parker sets an effective back screen to open up Quigley, who’s cutting to the corner. While the ball never finds that side of the floor, the backside action is important because it helps occupy the Lynx’s defense. The play did not directly result in the open shot Vandersloot took to win the game, but the complexities of the action combined with the Sky’s constant movement and screening positioning kept the Lynx scrambling and allowed Chicago to create an open look.

Nneka Ogwumike takes over in LA

While the Sparks haven’t exactly overwhelmed anyone with their 7-11 record and 10th place in the standings, Nneka Ogwumike has been a bright spot for a team that still has a lot to figure out.

Ogwumike is putting up some of the best numbers of her career, leading the Sparks in scoring at 18.2 points per game and rebounding at 7.4 per game. Her scoring average is the third-best mark of her 11-year career, and her 57.8 shooting percentage from the field is the second-best.

The Sparks have found ways to get Ogwumike 15-20 touches in the paint per game, and from there, the former MVP has done what she does best — run the floor, take advantage of positioning and get to her sweet spots in the paint to be a highly efficient and productive scorer. In the Sparks’ biggest win of the season over the Seattle Storm last week, Ogwumike also had arguably her best game, finishing with 24 points on 12-for-18 from the floor.

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Aces lose two in a row

A two-game skid shouldn’t set off any alarm bells, especially when the losses come against two other potential contenders. Before last week, the Aces had an 8-1 record at home. Then, they dropped two in a row in Las Vegas — a 104-95 overtime loss to the Sky and a 87-86 loss to the Mystics.

In the Sky game, the Aces rode a 24-4 run to a 62-51 halftime lead, scoring 41 points in the first quarter alone. The Sky clawed back by erasing a 28-point deficit, setting a new record for the largest comeback in league history. The Aces’ shooters turned cold and the team scored just 11 points in the third quarter, while Chicago seized the opportunity to go on an 18-0 run.

The Mystics have been the most potent defensive team in the WNBA this season, allowing a league-low 76 points per game. While Las Vegas has led the league in scoring all season, offensive production was not necessarily the issue in the overtime loss. The Aces struggled to stop Washington’s duo of Delle Donne and Alysha Clark, who combined for 39 points. The Aces have relied on their offense all season, but when they go cold for long stretches, they have to find a way to get consistent defensive stops and tip the scales back in their favor.

Las Vegas got back into the win column with a 79-73 victory over the Sparks on Monday night. While they tapped into their depth with the return of Riquna Williams and more minutes for Iliana Rupert, consistent contributors A’ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum combined for 54 of their points.

They’ll have have an opportunity to prove themselves even further in a tough swing of road games, one against the Storm and a back-to-back series against the Lynx.

Week 8 Power Rankings

  1. Chicago Sky (13-5) +1
  2. Las Vegas Aces (14-4) -1
  3. Connecticut Sun (13-6) —
  4. Seattle Storm (11-7) —
  5. Washington Mystics (12-9) —
  6. New York Liberty (8-10) +3
  7. Atlanta Dream (8-10) -1
  8. Dallas Wings (9-10) —
  9. Los Angeles Sparks (7-11) +1
  10. Minnesota Lynx (5-14) +2
  11. Phoenix Mercury (8-12) -4
  12. Indiana Fever (5-15) -1

Rachel Galligan is a basketball analyst at Just Women’s Sports. A former professional basketball player and collegiate coach, she also contributes to Winsidr. Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachGall.

Liberty, Aces Surge Ahead of WNBA All-Star Weekend

NY Liberty's Sabrina Ionescu dribbles up the Chicago Sky court on Saturday.
NY Liberty's Sabrina Ionescu is scoring a career-high 19.4 points per game on the season. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty head into the last week of regular play prior to WNBA All-Star Weekend — and the subsequent Olympic break — firmly ahead of the pack with the WNBA's best regular season record, becoming the first team this season to reach 20 wins on Saturday.

With Breanna Stewart briefly sidelined, Sabrina Ionescu led the Liberty to a two-game sweep of the Chicago Sky, topping the score sheet in both games. Ionescu is currently averaging 19.4 points per game, the highest in her career (not including her three-game rookie year).

Las Vegas center A'ja Wilson shoots over Atlanta center Tina Charles on July 12th, 2024.
A'ja Wilson posted her third-straight 25-point, 15-rebound performance last weekend. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Aces excel behind WNBA MVP favorite A'ja Wilson

The Aces continued climbing the table behind A'ja Wilson's record-breaking run, finishing the weekend in third with a record of 16-7. On Sunday, Wilson became the first player in WNBA history to register three consecutive 25-point, 15-rebound performances.

With Sunday's 89-77 victory over the Mystics, Las Vegas has won 10 of their last 11 games following the return of starting point guard Chelsea Gray. The third-place Aces are now nipping at the heels of the Liberty and second-place Connecticut Sun (18-5), with the Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm tied for fourth at 16-8.

The push for playoff positioning grows fierce

Amidst the looming Olympic break, further down in the WNBA standings, sixth-place Phoenix dropped to 12-12 on a two-game skid, while Indiana won eight of their last 10 games to capture seventh.

Eighth-place Chicago currently holds onto the final playoff spot, with double-double machine Angel Reese boosting the Sky's stats despite back-to-back losses.

Speaking of double-doubles, Reese's record-breaking double-double streak came to an end after Saturday's loss to the Liberty.

A frontrunner for WNBA Rookie of the Year, Reese finished with eight points and 16 rebounds against New York, falling just a couple points short of what would have been her 16th-straight double-double. The LSU grad's record stands as the longest double-double streak in WNBA history, surpassing previous record-holder Candace Parker by three games.

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Next up: WNBA All-Star Weekend

Regular season WNBA play extends through Wednesday, with all eyes turning to the 2024 WNBA All-Star Game this upcoming weekend. The highly anticipated matchup between the US Olympic squad and WNBA All-Stars tips off on Saturday, July 20th in Phoenix.

Barbora Krejcikova, Taylor Townsend Take Home 1st-Ever Wimbledon Titles

Barbora Krejcikova of Czechia celebrates winning the Wimbledon Championship against Jasmine Paolini of Italy
Saturday's Wimbledon win marks Krejcikova's second Grand Slam title. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Czech tennis player Barbora Krejcikova defeated Jasmine Paolini in three sets on Saturday to capture her first Wimbledon championship.

Krejcikova outlasted Italy's Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 to take the championship. The 28-year-old previously won the singles title at the 2021 French Open, as well as doubles titles at all four Grand Slams at least once.

Wimbledon finals players break into WTA top 10

After Saturday's results, Krejcikova moved from No. 32 in the WTA rankings to No. 10, returning to the top 10 for the first time in six months. Wimbledon runner-up Paolini jumped from No. 7 to No. 5, a new career-high ranking.

Paolini also made waves by becoming the first woman since Serena Williams to reach both the Wimbledon and French Open finals in the same year. She lost out to 2024 French Open-winner Iga Swiatek at Roland Garros this past June.

Doubles champ Taylor Townsend won her first Wimbledon honors on Saturday alongside partner Kateřina Siniaková. (Robert Prange/Getty Images)

Taylor Townsend wins doubles at Wimbledon

Former ITF Junior World Champion Taylor Townsend won her first Grand Slam in doubles at Wimbledon this weekend alongside Czechia's Kateřina Siniaková.

The No. 4 seeds beat No. 2-ranked Gabriela Dabrowski and Erin Routliffe 7-6(5), 7-6(1) in a heated final on Wimbledon's Centre Court. The pair came back from two down in the first set before turning the tables on the 2023 US Open champs to secure the win.

This is the 28-year-old American's first win in three Grand Slam doubles finals, having fallen just short of the title at both the 2022 US Open and 2023 French Open. For Siniaková, however, the victory marks her ninth-career Grand Slam doubles championship and her third time taking the doubles title at Wimbledon.

"This is my first one, my first Grand Slam title — I've been close two other times," Townsend told reporters after the match. "To get over the finish line the way that we did, I think we played so well. We were just locked in, in control. We played our way. It felt good the way we did it."

USWNT Tops Mexico in 1st Olympic Send-Off Game

USWNT striker Sophia Smith celebrates her match-winning goal during the Americans' pre-Olympic friendly against Mexico.
Sophia Smith scored the lone goal against Mexico on Saturday. (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The USWNT's Olympic send-off series began with a bang this weekend, as the team avenged February's Gold Cup loss to Mexico with Saturday's 1-0 victory in New Jersey.

Sophia Smith registered the contest's lone goal, firing off a strike in the 64th minute that made good on the team's six shots on target.

The 1999 USWNT poses with their World Cup trophy before last weekend's Mexico vs. USWNT friendly.
The match paid tribute to the World Cup champion 1999 USWNT. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

USWNT '99ers take the field before kick-off

While the friendly served a critical purpose in the USWNT's Olympic prep, it also provided the chance to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 1999 World Cup-winning USWNT. The entire '99ers roster was in attendance, reuniting 25 years after they changed the future of women's soccer with their penalty kick World Cup win against China at the Rose Bowl.

"I have this really cool picture I use with the team, which is the [1999] team on the podium and that ridiculous crowd, unbelievable. Across it I put, 'People don’t remember time, they remember moments,'" USWNT manager Emma Hayes said in response to the commemoration.

USWNT boss Emma Hayes looks on prior to kickoff against Mexico on Saturday
USWNT boss Emma Hayes has her work cut out for her approaching the Olympics. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Hayes's Olympic lineup still a work in progress

The match itself was an end-to-end, occasionally sloppy affair, with an eye into Hayes's Olympic roster strategy.

Rose Lavelle started at attacking midfielder alongside defensive midfielder Sam Coffey and connecting midfielder Lindsey Horan. Defenders Tierna Davidson and Naomi Girma continued to develop their established center-back pairing, while Jenna Nighswonger earned the start at left back in just her 10th international appearance.

Headlining the USWNT's new-look offense was Mallory Swanson, Trinity Rodman, and Smith, who are continuing to find their flow as the team moves on from the Alex Morgan era.

"There's no denying when the game opens up, we thrive. My goal is to thrive in all moments. So we still have a lot of learning to do with that as a team, as a collective," Hayes said of the team's attacking opportunities in transition.

"When we attack it can be done really quickly, but it can't be just that. There's going to be moments we can't [play quickly], and we have to be a little more indirect, switch the pitch a little more, and recognize the moments when we get locked into one side."

USWNT forward Sophia Smith celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against Mexico
With Olympic football starting on July 25th, USWNT prep time is at a premium. (Stephen Nadler/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

The Olympic group stage nears for the USWNT

With the Paris-bound USWNT facing their first group stage match against red-hot Barbra Banda's Zambia on July 25th, Hayes has just one more game to work out any offensive kinks.

The US will square off against Costa Rica in their final pre-Olympic friendly on Tuesday in Washington, DC, with live coverage on TNT starting at 7:30 PM ET.

Women’s Sports Win Big at 2024 ESPY Awards

Host Serena Williams speaks on stage during the 2024 ESPY Awards
Tennis icon Serena Williams hosted the 32nd annual ESPY Awards on Thursday night. (Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for W+P)

Thursday's 2024 ESPYs doubled as a celebration of the rising popularity of women's sports, as retired tennis superstar Serena Williams hosted the proceedings with ease.

"Get up, get off the TikTok, work hard, find out how capable you are. Be great. Be so great they don't want to believe in you and then be even greater," she told the next generation at the end of her opening monologue.

South Carolina Gamecocks accept the Best Team Award onstage during the 2024 ESPY Awards
The 2023-24 South Carolina Gamecocks took home the ESPY for Best Team. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Women's sports take center stage at ESPYs

Athletes in women's sports were big winners throughout last night's ceremony, reflecting a watershed year across the entire sporting landscape.

Indiana Fever rookie Caitlin Clark took home both the Best College Athlete and Best Record Breaking Performance Awards for her historic NCAA career at Iowa.

USC star JuJu Watkins won Best Breakthrough Athlete after an exceptional freshman season with the Trojans.

Gymnast Simone Biles won Best Comeback Athlete, as the two-time Olympian prepares for her third Summer Games later this month.

Las Vegas Aces' all-time leading scorer A'ja Wilson came up big in both the Best Women's Sports Athlete and Best WNBA Player categories.

The undefeated 2023-24 South Carolina Gamecocks won the award for Best Team.

Dawn Staley accepts the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance onstage during the 2024 ESPY Awards
The Jimmy V Award recognizes "a deserving member of the sporting world who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination." (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Dawn Staley honored with individual award

SC coach Staley picked up her own honor, receiving the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance for her continued contributions in the field of cancer research advocacy.

Named after NC State men's basketball coach Jim Valvando, the Jimmy V Award recognizes "a deserving member of the sporting world who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination."

"I must confess, I feel a little undeserving of this recognition," Staley said in her acceptance speech. "Past recipients of the Jimmy V Perseverance Award have faced incredible challenges and proven themselves as true warriors. I have merely been a spectator to such immense courage and resilience."

After opening up about her family's personal connection to the cause, Staley spoke about her greater journey as an advocate, both on and off the court.

"I try my best to do things in the right way, knowing that some little girl is out there watching me... maybe, she's one of the 13 pairs of eyes that see every little thing I do everyday and make sure to comment on it, that's my team," she said, motioning to her undefeated Gamecocks squad seated in the audience.

"How do I not fight pay disparity, when I do the same job and get paid less but win more?" she continued. "I can't ask them to stand up for themselves if I'm sitting down. Nor can I ask them to use their voice for change if I'm only willing to whisper."

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