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Diana Taurasi explodes for 24 points as Mercury outlast Storm

Diana Taurasi #3 of the Phoenix Mercury handles the ball against Sue Bird #10 of the Seattle Storm during the second half at Climate Pledge Arena on May 14, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

The epic rivalry between Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird was on full display Saturday as the Phoenix Mercury defeated the Seattle Storm 69-64 at Climate Pledge Arena.

Taurasi sunk two late free throws to put the game out of reach after a missed 3-point attempt from Bird sealed Seattle’s fate.

Bird was uncharacteristically cold from deep Saturday, missing all eight of her attempts from beyond the arc to set a new single-game low for her career.

Taking advantage of the Storm’s sputtering offense, Taurasi exploded for 24 points on 6-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc. Skylar Diggins-Smith added 14 points, while Brianna Turner and Tina Charles combined for 24 rebounds.

The Storm struggled to get their offense going without Breanna Stewart, who remains sidelined due to COVID-19 protocols. Jewell Loyd was the only Storm player to finish in double figures, recording a game-high 26 points.

With the win, the Mercury improved to 2-1 on the season, while the Storm fell to 1-3.

USWNT Kicks Off 2024 Olympic Tournament Against Zambia

uswnt vs. zambia olympics graphic
The USWNT kicks off their group stage run against Zambia today at 3 PM ET. (Just Women's Sports)

The USWNT begins their 2024 Olympic campaign today, taking on Zambia in their first group stage match.

The team will be looking for a positive first result, before taking on Germany and then Australia in a fast and furious schedule kicking off in Nice before traveling west down the coast to Marseille.

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 13: USWNT coach Emma Hayes stands on the field before a game between Mexico and USWNT
The USWNT is entering a new era under head coach Emma Hayes. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

The road to Olympic gold starts now

While eight of the 12 teams competing in the group stage will move on to the August 3rd quarterfinals — including two countries advancing on a third-place tiebreak — first week successes can dictate a path to the medal rounds.

"There's top footballing nations in this tournament. I don't think shocks in the women's game exist anymore — I think we have to reframe our focus a little bit and have respect for the rest of the world," US head coach Emma Hayes told the media this week.

"We've learned a lot and we've grown a lot," added USWNT forward Sophia Smith. "We're just looking at this tournament and not backwards because there's really no point in doing that."

Barbra Banda of Zambia's Olympic soccer team celebrates after scoring at the 2023 World Cup
Zambia star Barbra Banda has extensive experience facing USWNT players. (Hannah Peters - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Sizing up the USWNT's Olympic challengers

Hayes’s words could prove true from the jump. While FIFA world No. 92 Zambia weighs in as Group B's lowest-ranked team, they're definitely capable of setting the USWNT on their heels. This will be the first-ever meeting between the two nations, though Zambia has both Tokyo Olympics and 2023 World Cup experience under their belt.

Case and point? Starting striker Barbra Banda currently leads the NWSL's Golden Boot race, firmly placing herself in the MVP conversation while routinely going head-to-head with USWNT players.

"I know what a threat she can be," US defender Emily Fox said this week. "Their entire team is a threat, especially with their transition. But we're ready for it."

Hayes has emphasized cohesion from her starting group, indicating fans could see this afternoon's starting XI mirror the lineups utilized in the last two tune-up friendlies. The US defeated Mexico 1-0 before drawing Costa Rica 0-0 in their final two games before traveling to training camp in France.

Where to watch USWNT vs. Zambia

Today’s Olympic group stage match between the USWNT and Zambia kicks off at 3 PM ET with live coverage on NBC platforms.

Team Canada’s Olympic Drone Controversy Explained

Team Canada with their flag at the 2024 Concacaf Women's Gold Cup
Team Canada faces repercussions after flying a drone over New Zealand's practice session. (Logan Riely/Getty Images)

The 2024 Paris Games haven't even officially begun, yet the Olympic soccer tournament has already been rocked by a controversy spurred by defending gold medalists Canada.

New Zealand lodged a formal complaint to the IOC on Tuesday, alleging that a Team Canada support staff member spied on their training session in Saint-Étienne using drone surveillance. 

In response, the Canadian Olympic Committee immediately confirmed the incident and apologized, promising to conduct an "independent external review."

Local police saw the drone and arrested "Non-accredited analyst" Joseph Lombardi on Monday, charging him with "flying an unmanned aircraft over a prohibited area." He has since pleaded guilty and accepted a suspended eight-month prison sentence in addition to a €45,000 fine.

Team Canada has since dismissed Lombardi, sending him along with his direct supervisor Jasmine Mandor home from the Games and officially removing the pair from the team.

CanWNT head coach Bev Priestman looks up during a match.
Head coach Bev Priestman has removed herself from Canada's Olympic opener against New Zealand. (Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Canada boss Priestman to miss opening match

Canada head coach Bev Priestman accepted the decision to sit out her squad's Olympic group stage opener against New Zealand on Thursday.

"On behalf of our entire team, I first and foremost want to apologize to the players and staff at New Zealand Football and to the players on Team Canada," Priestman said in a statement.

"I am ultimately responsible for conduct in our program. Accordingly, to emphasize our team’s commitment to integrity, I have decided to voluntarily withdraw from coaching the match on Thursday," Priestman added. "In the spirit of accountability, I do this with the interests of both teams in mind and to ensure everyone feels that the sportsmanship of this game is upheld."

New Zealand has also reportedly asked FIFA that to bar Canada from earning any points in the opening match, regardless of the outcome.

USA Basketball Bounces Back in Final Olympic Tune-Up

Team USA celebrates their exhibition win over Germany on Tuesday
Team USA will meet Germany again in the Olympic group stage.(Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Team USA definitively bounced back from their WNBA All-Star Game defeat on Tuesday, routing Germany 84-57 at the USA Basketball Showcase in London.

A'ja Wilson put up 19 points and 14 rebounds in the win, leading the team ahead of Breanna Stewart's 15 points. Wilson is now averaging 16.5 points per game for the US, tying Team WNBA All-Star coach Cheryl Miller for the highest in team history.

Napheesa Collier of Team USA at the USA vs. Germany basketball showcase in London
Napheesa Collier returned to the court for Team USA on Tuesday. (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Team USA raises their game

Team USA is still building chemistry after spending a little more than one week as a unit, shoring up vulnerabilities highlighted in their weekend loss to Team WNBA.

The team looked more cohesive in London, with Napheesa Collier returning to the starting lineup after missing a number of weeks with a plantar fascia injury. They also saw quality performances off the bench, with Jewell Loyd scoring in double digits and both Alyssa Thomas and Jackie Young keeping head coach Cheryl Reeve's rotations steady.

Returning to Europe for the first time since her 2022 wrongful detainment in Russia, Brittney Griner did not feature for the US due to load management.

For Germany, Dallas Wings star Satou Sabally took the court for the first time since the team's February Olympic qualifier, playing 26 minutes as Germany prepares for their Olympic debut in Paris.

"It was a breath of fresh air to get out of All-Star and come here," Sabrina Ionescu told reporters after the London Showcase. "There's one goal and it's to win." 

Breanna Stewart lays up the ball in Team USA's win over Germany on Tuesday
Breanna Stewart and Team USA begin their Olympic campaign against Japan on July 29th. (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

All eyes are on gold

USA Basketball seems to be improving by the day, but the short runway to Paris could present a challenge for Reeve and her staff as the team looks to grow throughout the tournament — and hopefully hit their stride in time for the medal rounds.

"It's a tune-up game," Stewart said on Tuesday. "We don't want to peak too soon."

What's next for Team USA?

The US will start their Olympic group stage campaign with a game against Japan on July 29th, before playing a blockbuster August 1st matchup against a strong Belgium side. They'll later face Germany once again in their August 4th Olympic group stage finale.

1v1 With Kelley O’Hara: What Has Emily Sonnett Learned From Past USWNTs?

Emily Sonnett chats with her former USWNT teammate Kelley O'Hara
Emily Sonnett joins host Kelley O'Hara for a conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics in the latest episode of '1v1.' (Just Women's Sports)

In the latest episode of Just Women's Sports' 1v1 With Kelley O'Hara, Gotham FC and USWNT defender Emily Sonnett joins Olympic gold medalist and retired USWNT star Kelley O'Hara for a one-on-one conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics.

We hear from Sonnett about her first impressions of new USWNT coach Emma Hayes, her international competition journey so far, and what advice from past USWNT players she's planning to take into the 2024 Summer Games.

Subscribe to Just Women's Sports on YouTube to never miss an episode.

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