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Jonquel Jones, Sun have the whole package: WNBA Film Room

Reigning WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones has elevated her play in the Sun’s last three games. (Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

One month into the WNBA season, every team has played at least 10 games. The Las Vegas Aces, Connecticut Sun and Chicago Sky have established themselves as the top three teams in the league, while others are still building chemistry and consistency.

The Phoenix Mercury finally moved back into the win column after a seven-game losing streak, their first since 2012. In their win over the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday, they played one of their most complete games of the season with balanced scoring, good defense and teamwork on offense.

The Seattle Storm suffered a two-game skid at the tail end of their eight-game homestand behind a tough shooting night against Dallas and a Connecticut comeback win on Sunday. The Storm, now 5-5, have been dealing with rotational inconsistencies as more players miss games due to COVID-19 protocols.

Here are my biggest takeaways from the past week in the WNBA.

Connecticut Sun grinding out wins

Connecticut went on the road last week and won three games in four days during a tough West Coast swing against the Aces, Mercury and Storm. The Sun dropped their first game of the week to the Las Vegas Aces without head coach Curt Miller on the sidelines, but then bounced back to hand the Aces just their second loss of the season.

By 4:15 a.m. the next morning, the Sun were en route to the airport to catch the first flight from Las Vegas to Phoenix to take on the Mercury later that night. Facing a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter, Connecticut stormed back in unbelievable fashion to hand the Mercury their seventh consecutive loss.

On Sunday, the Sun ended their road swing up in Seattle, where they outscored Seattle 32-19 in the fourth quarter to overcome a 13-point first-half deficit and win 93-86.

At 9-3, Connecticut sits in second place in the league standings behind Las Vegas. While their wins haven’t all been pretty, the team is digging deep and finding ways to claw back into games by getting defensive stops. The Sun have displayed a toughness and belief in each other that are lifting them to results despite difficult circumstances.

While Alyssa Thomas continues to serve as the Sun’s anchor, reigning MVP Jonquel Jones elevated her play last week, going from averaging 13 to 23 points per game and shooting 68 percent from the field in their last three contests. Brionna Jones, with her consistency on offense and defensive work on the glass, is the X-Factor for the Sun, having finished with a season-high 21 points against the Storm. The Jones-to-Jones connection has proved to be a serious matchup problem for opponents.

Jonquel Jones’ impact extends beyond her ability to score and rebound the basketball. Jones finished with a career-high six assists against Seattle, showcasing her elite vision and pinpoint passing ability.

Here is an underneath, out-of-bounds play the Sun executed well to give them a nine-point lead over Seattle late in the game. In this set, Jonquel Jones and Brionna Jones screen to a cutting DeWanna Bonner. Brionna Jones then screens for Jonquel as she cuts to the ball. The Storm have difficulty communicating on their switches, resulting in an open Jones-to-Jones layup.

The play is a great example of how well the Sun share the basketball and execute late to win games.

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Kelsey Plum in early MVP conversation

The Aces have three legitimate MVP-caliber candidates on their roster based on what we have seen so far from A’ja Wilson, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum. In my last column, I analyzed the efficient and confident play of Young. This week, I turn my attention to Plum.

The sixth-year guard scored a career-high 32 points in the Aces’ win over the Wings on Sunday, playing all 40 minutes and elevating her play while Young was sidelined with an ankle injury. Plum currently leads the Aces and is second in the league with 20 points per game, she’s third in the league with six assists per game, and she leads the potent Aces offense in 3-point shooting efficiency, averaging 45 percent on the season.

What’s even more impressive is her stamina. With the ball in her hands most of the time, she initiates Las Vegas’ offense at a fast pace and does not seem to run out of gas, playing 77 minutes in the last two games over a four-day stretch.

Plum, 27, is hitting her stride and seems to be realizing her full potential. What felt like a breakout 2021 campaign for Plum after she recovered from an Achilles injury was simply a warmup for this season, as she is posting the best numbers of her career in nearly every statistical category.

2019 vs. 2021 vs. 2022 Stats

Minutes: 25.5 — 25.5 — 33.3
Scoring: 8.6 — 14.8 — 19.8
FG %: 36.5 — 43.7 — 44.8
3-point %: 35.7 — 38.6 — 46.0
Assists: 3.0 — 3.6 — 6.0
Rebounds: 2.8 — 2.5 — 3.5

Plum is the perfect fit for coach Becky Hammon’s high-paced style of play, which emphasizes more possessions, shot attempts and the green light to take virtually any 3-point look that comes available.

Not only is Plum efficiently putting up big-time scoring numbers, but she’s also shown an improved ability to create for her teammates. She’s currently fourth in the league with six assists per game behind Courtney Vandersloot, Natasha Cloud and Sue Bird — not bad company for a guard who averaged 3.6 assists per game last season.

Plum is pushing in transition with her head up, able to hit teammates running the floor, like to Dearica Hamby on this play.

She is attacking off the dribble and getting herself into the paint, where she is forcing two to three defenders to collapse on her and kicking it out to open teammates, like in the example below.

Sabrina Ionescu thrives as Liberty take steps forward

While their late-game comeback against the Minnesota Lynx fell short on Sunday, the Liberty picked up wins over the Indiana Fever and Washington Mystics and showed they can be competitive.

Sabrina Ionescu has begun to hit her stride, as her scoring has increased from 12.6 points per game at the start of the season to 23 points per game in the Liberty’s last three contests. The 5-foot-11 guard has had the chance to play off the ball more in recent games, allowing her to expend less energy and flow more naturally on offense. With more time on the floor, she’s getting herself to the free-throw line and hunting perimeter shots with more frequency than she was at the start of the season.

Just over two weeks ago, the Liberty signed Crystal Dangerfield to a hardship contract after DiDi Richards and Jocelyn Willoughby were ruled out indefinitely with injuries. Dangerfield, a true point guard and primary ball-handler, takes some of the load off of Ionescu, and it’s clearly helping.

While the Liberty remain last in the league in scoring at 72.8 points per game, they increased their output to 79.3 points per game in their last three outings — largely because of Ionescu’s production. Going forward, New York will need to find more consistent second and third scoring options. With third-leading scorer Betnijah Laney out for the next eight weeks while recovering from knee surgery, New York will rely on Natasha Howard, Sami Whitcomb and potentially Han Xu for more production.

Week 5 Power Rankings

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

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.

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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