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What we learned from the Aces’ WNBA Commissioner’s Cup win

The Las Vegas Aces hoist the second annual WNBA Commissioner’s Cup trophy Tuesday night. (Kamil Krzaczynski/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the Chicago Sky and the Las Vegas Aces Aces, Tuesday’s Commissioner’s Cup championship was an opportunity to secure bonuses for themselves and a donation for their selected charities. But for WNBA fans, it was a chance to see the two teams that are most likely to face off in the Finals play under heightened pressure.

Las Vegas came away with a 93-83 win, and Chelsea Gray secured the MVP trophy thanks to her 19 points, five assists and five rebounds.

Here’s what to take away from the contest, and what it means for the postseason:

Slow start dooms Sky

The last time the Sky played the Aces, they pulled off the biggest comeback in WNBA history, topping Las Vegas 104-95 after being down by 25 points. It was monumental, but not a deficit the Sky wanted to repeat. Going into Tuesday’s game, Candace Parker said the Sky were focused on playing a full 40 minutes. They didn’t do that.

The Aces opened Tuesday’s game on a 13-0 run. The Sky, despite outscoring Las Vegas in the remaining three periods, couldn’t make another comeback.

“We’ve faced adversity,” Parker said. “I’m not worried about our team when we face adversity. I’m worried about us getting into adversity. We’ve had some slow starts against this team and had to claw our way out. So I think it’s more so not facing adversity; I think we’re built for that. But it’s not getting ourselves into it.”

The Sky have started slowly in all three contests against Las Vegas, a pattern they will need to remedy for the postseason. The Aces are too talented to be given an advantage, and if Chicago didn’t allow them to put up 33 first-quarter points, it could have been a different game.

Stars show out for Aces, with Gray leading the way

A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum came ready to play on Tuesday, as reflected in their stat lines.

Wilson finished with 17 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks; Plum had 24 points on six 3-pointers and six assists; and Gray’s performance earned her the MVP trophy. When all three play at an elite level, it’s near impossible to stop the Aces. With Wilson dominating the paint, Gray driving and creating, and Plum knocking down 3-pointers, Las Vegas won at every spot on the court. Their well-rounded offense gave the Sky fits, and every time Chicago started a comeback, the Aces had an answer somewhere on the court.

As the point guard, Gray led the way. There’s a reason the Aces are always able to find the right spot on the court for a scoring opportunity. It’s because Gray knows where to direct the offense, how to find the right player, and what the Aces need at any given time.

“That’s the MVP tonight, but she has been leading our team the whole season,” Plum said. “I feel like, to be honest, she doesn’t get the love and credit she deserves, and I’m really, really glad that people saw that tonight.”

Defense makes difference

The Aces are known for their high-powered offense, leading the league with 90.4 points per game. But with all the hype surrounding their scoring abilities, it can be easy to forget that Las Vegas can defend.

Wilson led the way with her six blocks, making it difficult for the Sky to get in the lane. The Sky scored 83 points, just a bit under their average of 85.6 a game, but the Aces kept them uncomfortable throughout the contest, holding them to 40 percent shooting from the field and just 20 percent from the 3-point line. Chicago couldn’t get in a rhythm, and that stopped them from completing the comeback.

“It’s a mindset,” Wilson said. “It’s a heart decision. Defense doesn’t take a lot. You don’t have to be necessarily talented to play defense. You just have to want it.”

That type of intensity is something Wilson wants to see from her squad the rest of the season, a trend that would bode well for their WNBA title chances.

“I was telling KP, ‘This doesn’t have to be just a Commissioner’s Cup game,'” she said. “This could be an every-game thing for us. But it’s just a shift of the mindset.”

Vandersloot will be better

After sitting out four games for concussion protocol, Vandersloot made her return against the Aces, but she clearly wasn’t in top form. The point guard finished with eight points and four assists in 22 minutes of play.

The Sky managed to win three of four games in Vanderlsoot’s absence, but they need her on the court in the long run. She didn’t look like herself against the Aces, but expect that to change the next time the teams meet in the second-to-last regular season game on Aug. 11. Las Vegas can’t count on her underperforming due to injury again.

Consistency is key

Las Vegas and Chicago are the two top teams in the WNBA, so when they play, the winner will be the squad that does everything right. Chicago made too many mistakes on Tuesday, while the Aces remained consistent throughout the game. Playing at a high level for 40 minutes is an obvious key to victory, but these teams are talented enough to take a few minutes, even full quarters off, against other opponents and still pull off a victory.

Against the other top team in the league, that isn’t possible. The Aces proved that, with their dominant first quarter sealing the victory.

“Early on, I feel like we were very passive,” Parker said. “Credit to them — they came out and threw the first punch. But for us to get down 33-14 in the first quarter, I don’t know what it was, 14-0 or something, I don’t know, but that’s not the way we wanted to come out and play.”

Chicago outscored the Aces 69-60 the rest of the way, but Las Vegas’ steadiness won out.

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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