All Scores

How Betnijah Laney found the confidence to become one of the best scorers in the WNBA

(Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

There was a time when WNBA teams would dare Betnijah Laney to shoot fifteen times a game.

Forcing a player who averaged three points per game in her first four years in the WNBA to beat you, rather than the team’s top offensive threats, was an effective game plan. If Laney scored more than her usual three to five points off rebounds and transition buckets, the defense was still doing its job.

“I’ll be the first to say, if you go back and look at a scout, we just helped off of her. It didn’t matter what year it was, we weren’t going to guard her when she didn’t have the ball,” said former Atlanta Dream head coach Nicki Collen. “We were going to go under every screen. She made a couple shots occasionally against us because we played her so soft, and that was the game plan.”

Now, going under a screen on Laney would be considered a defensive breakdown.

Through ten games with the New York Liberty, the 27-year-old is averaging 21 points per game. She has scored 20-plus in nine of those ten games, including a team-leading 23 points in a win over the Mercury on Sunday night. Her performance has made her an early candidate for league MVP.

But Collen wasn’t thinking about Laney as a scorer when the Dream signed her in 2020 before the bubble season, making it her fourth WNBA stop in five seasons. In a year filled with so much uncertainty, the Dream believed Laney would provide steadiness. She had a reputation as someone who seized an opportunity by playing tough, defensive-minded basketball.

“We went and got Betnijah because I thought this is a kid that’s going to come to the bubble and really compete,” said Collen. “It didn’t matter where she played or who we talked to about her, the message was always going to be the same: She is a great teammate, she plays really hard and she’s going to do whatever you ask of her.”

It was during one particular shooting drill in training camp, in which players would end up taking 50 shots, when Collen and her staff began to see Laney in a different light.

She made 44 of her 50 shots.

“It was like, wow, this is a player who isn’t supposed to be able to shoot. Every day she would come in and it was like, there is absolutely no reason why she can’t shoot,” said Collen. “Her shot prep is good, her form is good. I literally said to her, ‘You know the scouting report on you is that you can’t shoot, right?’”

Laney knew. But she also knew that hadn’t always been the case.

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Laney shoots over a Dream defender during a game against her old team. (Jesse Louie / Just Women's Sports)

Laney was used to scoring at will as a guard at Smyrna High School in Delaware, earning McDonald’s All-American honors as a senior. At Rutgers, Laney was expected to score when the team needed her to, rebound, defend and make the hustle plays. She did her job well, averaging a double-double of 15.8 points, 10.7 rebounds per game her senior season and graduating as one of four Scarlet Knights to accumulate over 1,400 points and 900 rebounds during her career.

The majority of Laney’s points in college came from mid-range shots and looks closer to the basket. She wasn’t considered a threat from deep, shooting just under 29 percent from beyond the arc on limited attempts in her four years.

Drafted into the WNBA in 2015 as a second-round pick, Laney made the transition from power forward back to guard with the Chicago Sky and the expectations from her college days remained.

“I have been in situations where, ‘That’s just not what we need you to do. We need you to play defense and play hard.’ Even though I felt like I was capable of scoring, it was more so me submitting to the role that my coaches felt like was for me on the team,” Laney said.

“I don’t ever want to get outside of what is being asked of me or feel like I am being hard-headed. If the opportunity did come, then I was going to be ready.”

When Collen saw the shots Laney was knocking down in practice last year, she decided to give her that chance. “Let’s change the scouting report,” Collen told Laney. “What I would like to see you do is take the approach that you shoot the basketball when you’re open. Until I tell you not to, I want you to shoot every time you’re open.”

With the green light from her coach, Laney started shooting more, and her confidence grew with each outing. Suddenly, teams had to game-plan around her and were still unable to stop her.

Laney averaged 17.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and four assists per game in the bubble, earned a spot on the All-Defensive First Team and was named the WNBA’s Most Improved Player. She credited Collen with empowering her to unlock a part of her game she always knew she had.

“Her seeing the work that I had put in and seeing my value, it just spoke volumes. It gave me that extra boost, that extra bit of confidence that I needed to just be free,” Laney said. “There are a lot of players that are very talented, very capable, but they just don’t have that freedom to just play their game. I just took it and ran with it.”

Laney’s breakout campaign led New York to seek her out in free agency and sign her to a multi-year deal in February. It took the Connecticut Sun, arguably the top defensive team in the league, to even begin to slow Laney down nine games into the season. She’s currently fourth in the league in scoring, shooting 48.7 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from deep, and sixth in distribution with 5.4 assists per game.

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Laney gets interviewed on air after the Liberty beat the Wings on May 24. (Jesse Louie / Just Women's Sports)

Those numbers might baffle anyone who watched her play in Chicago, Connecticut and Indiana, or who looks at her career stats prior to 2020. But Laney has always been working in the background, preparing for this moment.

“It’s all about game simulation for me,” Laney said. “I don’t go out and just work on random things. When I am in the gym and looking for particular shots, I ask myself, ‘Are these shots that I know that I will take in a game?’”

At this point, Laney has very few holes in her game. She can score at all three levels — in the paint, in the mid-range and from beyond the arc. She is active off the ball and understands spacing exceptionally well. She can initiate the offense and open up the floor for her teammates with great court vision and decision-making ability. With one of the best mid-range pull-ups in the league, Laney can create for herself off the dribble or penetrate and kick it out to an open teammate.

Laney credits her mother Yolanda Laney — an All-American point guard for coach C. Vivian Stringer at Cheyney State in the early 1980s — for her development as a mid-range scorer.

“She said everybody wants to shoot 3s, everybody wants to get to the basket, but there aren’t a lot of players that have that mid-range go-to,” Laney said. “And that’s what it was for me, that’s where I was comfortable. It wasn’t too far out — it was close enough where I could be consistent.”

Laney uses her experience as a post player in college to her advantage, working to get even smaller defenders switched to her and exploiting the mismatch. With her size and strength, she can post defenders up or back them down and finish close to the rim.

Defensively, Laney prides herself on game-planning and analyzing opponents. She studies habits and can tell you what almost every team is going to do.

“When we are playing teams, I am watching their last couple of games to try and see their tendencies if we haven’t played them yet,” she said. “Or if we have, what did they do last time that worked for them and how can I be better about that the next go around?”

So, what is the WNBA’s scouting report on Betnijah Laney now? You have to get in her space and make things difficult for her on the catch. You need five players communicating about where she is at all times. You can’t let her cut across your face with easy lines to the basket. You have to contest all of her shots and put someone on her who can size her up on the glass.

And, of course, there’s no more going under screens when Laney has the ball.

“I am a lot more comfortable and a lot more confident in what it is that I am doing,” Laney said. “Coming in, I was nervous, not really sure of what it was I was supposed to be doing. And now I know for sure. The experience and work that I have put in has gotten me to where I am at now.”

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

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)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via WNBA.com or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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