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What Diana Taurasi’s injury means for the Mercury’s playoff hopes

PHOENIX, ARIZONA – JUNE 27: Diana Taurasi #3 of the Phoenix Mercury handles the ball during the second half of the WNBA game at Footprint Center on June 27, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Mercury defeated the Fever 83-71. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Mercury have three games left on the regular-season calendar. In order to control their own fate and clinch a playoff spot a year after playing for a WNBA championship, they need to win their final three games.

That feat got exponentially more difficult on Monday. The Mercury announced that 10-time WNBA All-Star Diana Taurasi, the team’s second-leading scorer, will miss the remainder of the regular season with a quad strain.

The Mercury are competing with Atlanta, New York, Minnesota and Los Angeles for the last two playoff spots. Dallas has also yet to clinch a spot, but with just one more win needed, the Wings are on the verge of locking it up.

Taurasi has led the Mercury in scoring in eight games this season while averaging 16.7 points across 31 total games. Which leads to the first and most obvious question for the Mercury’s playoff chances: Who starts in her place?

Only five active players have made multiple starts for the Mercury this season: Skylar Diggins-Smith, Diamond DeShields, Sophie Cunningham, Shey Peddy and Brianna Turner. That’s the lineup that Phoenix went with in an 87-63 loss to Connecticut on Aug. 2, the first game that Taurasi missed.

Together, those five players average 49.6 points per game, making up about 60 percent of the team’s total scoring. Taurasi accounts for 20 percent of Phoenix’s points, second only to Diggins-Smith, whose 19.7 per contest make up 24 percent of the Mercury’s point production.

The Mercury signed Yvonne “Vonnie” Turner to a hardship contract on Monday to fill the roster spot. Turner, a 12-year pro who has spent most of her career overseas, played for Phoenix from 2017-19. In stints with the Dream and the Lynx this season, she averaged 4.3 points and two rebounds in six games.

Though Turner was signed to replace Taurasi on the roster, it seems unlikely the guard will work her way into the starting lineup.

The Mercury’s best bet is to go with the established players they know, and the lineup they used when Taurasi was first sidelined. Turner, who was named to the Big-12 All-Defensive team three times during her college career at Nebraska, is best utilized coming off the bench for her defensive acumen and experience.

With the starting lineup issue resolved, the Mercury still have a shot at the postseason. Their final three games come against Minnesota, Dallas and Chicago. At first glance, it seems plausible for Phoenix to win two of those games, with the Sky being the most difficult opponent. But in reality, that’s a terrible draw for the Mercury.

They are 0-2 against Dallas this season, 0-2 against Chicago, and 0-3 against the Lynx, and all of those losses came with Taurasi on the floor. Some of them also came before the team’s contract divorce with Tina Charles, so chemistry issues may have been a factor. That points to the chaos the Mercury have endured this season, with the Taurasi injury simply the latest occurrence in a long list of setbacks.

Even if Phoenix does get into the postseason, advancing past the first round would be a daunting task without their second-leading scorer and 18-year veteran. The Mercury haven’t ruled out Taurasi returning for a postseason run, like she did last year on an injured ankle, but it’s too soon to tell how capable she would be in that scenario.

The Mercury have weathered all kinds of storms this season, from the traumatic wrongful detainment of Brittney Griner in Russia, to the Charles issue and conflict between players and the coaching staff. This setback could be the final blow to their season, whether that happens in the next three contests or in the playoffs.

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

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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