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EuroLeague MVP race: Five WNBA players with the best cases

Fenerbahce’s Kayla McBride finished the EuroLeague regular season as part of the 50-40-90 club. (Muhammed Enes Yildirim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Despite a two-week extension due to COVID-19 delays and a current military conflict in Eastern Europe, the EuroLeague regular season has officially wrapped up, the playoffs are set and several WNBA stars are in contention for league MVP.

While WNBA players who were competing in Ukraine, such as the Washington Mystics’ Ariel Atkins, have safely returned home after Russia invaded Ukraine last week, those posted in Russia and elsewhere in Europe remain abroad. As of Sunday night, several athletes in Russia were making plans to return stateside through their agents.

As the wartime situation unfolds, Jonquel Jones and Natasha Howard, both playing in Russia but on different teams, are on the list of MVP hopefuls and are set to face off in the first round of the playoffs in a best-of-three series starting March 8. Jones and Howard are joined by Kahleah Copper, Brionna Jones and Kayla McBride as those who have set themselves apart in EuroLeague action this season.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the top five WNBA candidates for MVP as they look to lead their teams to the EuroLeague championship game scheduled for April 10.

Jonquel Jones

The 6-foot-6 Bahamian-Bosnian power forward, in her fourth consecutive season with Russia’s UMMC Ekaterinburg, is striving to match Breanna Stewart’s 2018-19 feat by following up the WNBA MVP crown from the fall with EuroLeague MVP honors in the spring. Jones is tied with Howard for the most double-doubles this season with seven and is averaging 17.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. She’s first in the league in both overall shooting percentage (62.3 percent) and second in average efficiency per game (23.5).*

On a stacked UMMC roster that includes Brittney Griner, Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Emma Meesseman, Jones has had to improve her accuracy in order to rise above the rest. One factor working against Jones in the MVP race is that she missed a couple of games at the start of the overseas season. Still, the fact that she’s followed up her stellar WNBA MVP season with a solid run at the EuroLeague equivalent speaks volumes to what her WNBA colleagues have known for some time: Jones is the real deal.

It also aligns with her “win now” mentality. After receiving the Connecticut Sun’s core designation guaranteeing her a one-year, $228,094 supermax deal, Jones agreed to a two-year deal for less than the supermax. Her team-first decision gave the franchise the cap space to bring back Courtney Williams, a player Jones believes is crucial to the Sun winning a championship in 2022.

Kahleah Copper

The reigning WNBA Finals MVP has continued to shine over in Europe. After taking some time off after leading the Chicago Sky to a WNBA championship in October, Copper joined Perfumerias Avenida and has been a dominant force with the Spanish club.

Through eight games, Copper is leading her team in scoring, rebounding and efficiency. Her 23.3 points per game also lead the league by a large margin (Brionna Jones is in second at 20.9 points per game), and she’s earned it while maintaining a 54.2 shooting percentage, seventh best in the league. Her 21.5 efficiency is tied for fifth overall, proving she’s doing her part on the defensive end while minimizing turnovers.

Copper’s claim to the 2022 EuroLeague MVP trophy faces the same problem as Jones’ since she has played only eight games, while other stats leaders are now at 13 or 14 games apiece. Still, it’s fun to speculate whether the WNBA’s seventh overall draft pick from 2016, who exploded into the national spotlight last season, could have maintained these numbers if she’d played the full season this year. Her Avenida team is a solid bet to make it to the EuroLeague championship game, so we could still get the pleasure of watching her earn another Finals MVP award.

Kayla McBride

Kayla McBride, averaging 19.3 points per game in 14 EuroLeague games, was the league’s leading scorer for the majority of the regular season until Copper and Brionna Jones very recently caught up to her. She’s tied for 10th overall in average efficiency with 4.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. The three-time WNBA All-Star played on four different European squads before joining Fenerbahce in Turkey last season and returning this year.

The former Notre Dame sharpshooter spent her first seven WNBA seasons with the Las Vegas Aces (previously the San Antonio Stars) before being traded last offseason to the Minnesota Lynx. Head coach Cheryl Reeve worked McBride into her system right away and she was the only player to start all 32 games for the Lynx last year. Across the water, McBride and her Fenerbahce teammates, including Elizabeth Williams, Satou Sabally and back-to-back reigning EuroLeague MVP Alina Iagupova, secured their spot in the playoffs as the top team in Group B.

In addition to leading all scorers for most of the year, the 5-11 guard joined the exclusive 50-40-90 club by shooting 54.7 percent from 2, 46.7 percent from 3, and 97.4 percent on free throws. Joining the 50-40-90 club is easier to do in the EuroLeague’s 14-game regular season than when Elena Delle Donne did it in 31 games in the 2019 WNBA regular season, becoming the first player in the league to achieve the feat before leading the Mystics to their first WNBA championship. Despite the asterisk, a 50-40-90 season gives McBride a strong case to win EuroLeague MVP.

Brionna Jones

The WNBA’s Most Improved Player in 2021 is the third WNBA award-winner from last season who has carried the momentum into Europe this winter. Currently first in the EuroLeague with a 24.1 average efficiency rating and fourth with a 60.1 total shooting percentage, Jones surpassed McBride to finish the season second in points per game at 20.9 while also snagging just under eight rebounds per game.

Stateside, Jones has been with the Sun since they drafted her eighth overall in 2017 and earned her first WNBA All-Star appearance last season by putting up 14.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game alongside frontcourt teammate Jonquel Jones. Brionna Jones highlighted her strong showing this season for the Czech Republic’s Praha with a EuroLeague MVP honor for the month of December. Praha clinched their playoff berth weeks ago, giving Jones a chance to add to her rising stock.

Natasha Howard

Howard is the only EuroLeague MVP contender whose team was very much on the cusp of not qualifying for the postseason. Thanks in large part to Howard’s on-court efforts, Dynamo secured its playoff berth with a 2-0 head-to-head advantage over Group B’s Spar Girona.

Returning to Russia’s Dynamo Kursk after a half-season stint with the club in 2019, Howard has been surging in the second half of the season and was named EuroLeague’s MVP for the month of January. Currently tied for fourth with 19 points per game, and right on Jonquel Jones’ heels with a 22.5 average efficiency rating, Howard is leading all players in rebounding (11 per game) and is tied for first in double-doubles (seven). Coming off a knee injury that caused her to miss 15 games in 2021, her first season with the New York Liberty, Howard will ride the momentum of her MVP-caliber EuroLeague campaign into the WNBA season, where she’ll share the paint with free-agent signee Stefanie Dolson.

Notable stat rankings

Points per game

1. Kahleah Copper
2. Brionna Jones
3. Kayla McBride
4. Natasha Howard
8. Jonquel Jones

Efficiency per game

1. Brionna Jones
2. Jonquel Jones
3. Natasha Howard
T5. Kahleah Copper
10. Kayla McBride

Rebounds per game

1. Natasha Howard
6. Jonquel Jones
12. Brionna Jones
36. Kahleah Copper
T44. Kayla McBride

Double-doubles

Natasha Howard and Jonquel Jones (7)
Brionna Jones (2)
Kayla McBride (1)

*Efficiency is a total performance statistic that attempts to measure a player’s performance by adding positive actions (points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks) and subtracting negative actions (missed field goals, missed free throws and turnovers).

Tessa Nichols is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports.

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.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek Headlines a Stacked 2024 French Open

Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico
Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico. (Robert Prange/Getty Images)

The 2024 French Open starts on Sunday, with a match schedule that promises to wrap the short clay court season up in style.

Looking for her fourth title at the major is three-time Roland Garros champion and World No. 1 Iga Swiatek, considered the favorite to win the whole Slam. Three of her four major titles have come at the French tournament. 

Swiatek's career record at the French Open is a dominating 28-2, and she's currently on a 16-game winning streak fueled by victories at tune-up tournaments in Madrid and Rome.

But that doesn't mean she won't face some serious challengers along the way. Get to know some of the Polish tennis champ's strongest competitors.

Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka is ranked No. 2 in the world and faced Swiatek in the finals at both Madrid and Rome. She lost in three sets in Madrid, which included a close third-set tiebreak, before losing in straight sets at the Italian Open. 

She enters the French Open having won the Australian Open in January, successfully defending her title in the first Slam of the season. At last year’s French Open, Sabalenka reached the semifinals — a career best — before being ousted by Karolina Muchová in three sets.

Season record: 25-7

Coco Gauff

Currently sitting at No. 3 in the world, the highest-ranked American on the schedule is none other than Coco Gauff. Gauff won her first major at the US Open last year, and reached the semifinals of this year’s Australian Open. She faced Swiatek in the semifinals of the Italian Open last week, losing in straight sets. 

But her first major final came at the French Open in 2022, before being ousted by Swiatek in the quarterfinals at last year’s French Open. The two are on a crash course for a meeting before the finals, as Gauff anchors the other quadrant on Swiatek’s side of the draw, should they both advance deep into the competition.

Season record: 25-8

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