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Pac-12 basketball is tipping the scale in East versus West debate

Stanford’s Haley Jones, the Most Outstanding Player of last year’s Final Four (Kevin Light/Getty Images)

In women’s college basketball, west coast players often have an extra chip on their shoulder from the perception that left coast teams just aren’t given as much respect as east coast programs. Stanford star Haley Jones felt it during their 2021 National Championship run. 

“I think at Stanford, we’re always kind of seen as an underdog. Even though we were the number one overall [seed] it’s still like, ‘Oh, but are they gonna win?’” she voiced to NCAA Digital. “You know ‘west coast basketball’ or whatever. I think we proved ourselves last year and we still have more to do this year.”

Historically speaking, eastern and southern schools have qualified for the NCAA tourney and Final Four at much higher rates than their Pacific facing counterparts. Of the 44 programs that have been to a Final Four, only 8 are located west of the continental divide, and only two of those teams (Stanford and USC) have ever won the title.

But in the last five years, the west coast’s tide has been steadily rising (no climate change pun intended). Since 2016, the Pac-12 boasts the most Final Four appearances, the most NCAA tournament wins, and the highest tournament winning percentage of any conference. At least half of all Pac-12 teams have qualified for the tournament for four consecutive years compared with the two or three that typically did a decade ago. And three additional non-Stanford schools have now qualified for the Final Four. Oregon State and Washington made it in 2016, and Arizona joined Stanford last spring for the first ever all Pac-12 Championship game.

In their bid to defend their title, the Stanford Cardinal are returning 12 of 13 from their championship roster, including 2021 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player Haley Jones and “Super Senior” Anna Wilson, who’s taking advantage of the NCAA’s Covid-19 policies and returning to play for Coach Tara VanDerveer for an extra season.

Arizona, on the other hand, has an enormous hole to fill after Aari McDonald went third overall in the WNBA draft, having risen to college basketball stardom during the Wildcats’ run to the NCAA title game last year. McDonald had 109 assists on the season, 69 more than the next highest player on the team, and averaged 20.6 points per game. Only one of her teammates, returning forward Cate Reese, averaged double-figure scoring alongside her at 10.9 points per game. 

Adia Barnes will have depth at the 2, 3, and 4, but a much shallower roster at the point and center. Without obvious answers to where their scoring and playmaking production will come from, the floor is open for untapped potential to rise to the surface, but the process will likely be felt in the win-loss column.

Up in Eugene, the Oregon Ducks are looking to sustain momentum from a productive year of rebuilding after the 2020 WNBA draft took their Big Three (Sabrina Ionescue, Satou Sabally, and Ruthy Hebard) and Covid-19 robbed them of their best chance in school history for a national title. Now Coach Kelly Graves has a front court centered on 6’7” junior Sedona Prince and Satou’s younger sister, Nyara Sabally, who led the Ducks in points and rebounds last season. Graves’ sophomore court general, Te-Hina Paopao, did an impressive job filling the gap left by Ionescue until a right foot injury caused her to miss the last month of the season. A year of chemistry building and experience for their underclasswomen have many expecting a solid upswing from Oregon.

UCLA has been another Pac-12 program to put themselves on the national map in recent years. They have qualified for five straight NCAA tournaments and had made it to four straight Sweet 16’s before getting knocked out by Texas this past year in the second round. Heading into 2021-22, they have five new faces to replace three significant contributors who graduated, most notably Michele Onyenwere, who went on to earn WNBA Rookie of the Year after a fantastic season with the New York liberty. Their prospective depth, along with the continued stellar output of junior guard Charisma Osborne, should help Cori Close’s squad battle Oregon for that second-place spot in the Pac-12, assuming Stanford wins the conference.

Oregon State and Washington State will also look to repeat as NCAA tourney selections as the rest of the conference will continue paddling onto the wave of the Pac-12’s rising stock.

Whether west coast teams are actually undervalued is mostly irrelevant (apart from NCAA tourney seeding bias). But there’s no denying that the college game benefits when the Haley Joneses, Charisma Osbornes, and Sedona Princes play like they have something extra to prove while representing their west coast campuses. And chances are good we’ll get to see more than one of them take their team on a deep run come March Madness 2022.

Two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas Re-Signs with Barcelona on Two-Year Deal

Alexia Putellas on the field for barcelona
The two-time Ballon d’Or winner has been with Barcelona for 12 years. (Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Alexia Putellas has re-signed with FC Barcelona on a new two-year deal that will run through 2026. The agreement includes an option for a one-year extension. 

The two-time Ballon d’Or winner has been with Barcelona for 12 years, and her previous contract was set to expire next month. However, she’s spent the better part of the last two seasons battling injuries, starting with an ACL tear that kept her out of the 2022 UEFA European Women's Football Championship and limited her participation in Spain’s FIFA Women's World Cup win last summer. 

Putellas returned in March from her latest injury setback, making 25 appearances across all competitions for Barcelona this season and scoring 10 goals. 

In total, the midfielder has made 400 appearances for Barcelona. Among her 20 major trophies with the club include eight Liga F titles and two UEFA Champions League titles — including helping the team to its first European trophy in 2021. 

She then won the Ballon d’Or in back-to-back seasons in 2021 and 2022. 

Putellas could add a third Champions League trophy next weekend, when Barcelona faces familiar foe Lyon, a team they’ve lost to in two previous Champions League finals. Should they secure the UWCL, they would win the quadruple for the first time, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

WNBA on Pace for Record-Breaking Season

onquel Jones #35 of the New York Liberty rebounds during the game against the Indiana Fever on May 18, 2024 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn
Indiana's game against New York on Saturday was the most-watched WNBA game to ever air on ABC. (Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

The WNBA continues its historic trajectory one week into the season, with attendance and viewership skyrocketing across the board. 

Indiana’s Saturday game against the New York Liberty was the most-watched WNBA game ever on ABC, drawing 1.71 million viewers. The Sparks vs. Aces matchup that followed became the third most-watched WNBA game broadcast on ABC with 1.34 million viewers.

On Monday, the tense finish between Indiana and Connecticut drew 1.56 million viewers to ESPN, the second most-watched WNBA game to ever air on cable.

Outside of the league’s viewership, both in-person attendance and merchandise sales have also been on a meteoric rise. On Saturday, the game between New York and Indiana shattered the single-game ticket revenue record in the WNBA, with the Liberty pulling in $2 million in sales. 

New York and Indiana played their home openers in front of more than 17,000 fans, with attendance up 14% year-over-year, according to the league. Meanwhile, the Las Vegas Aces, the Liberty, the Wings, the Dream, and others have already sold out of their 2024 season ticket allotments.

Since April’s WNBA Draft, revenue from the WNBA’s official online store is up 2,260%, already blowing past total sales for the entire 2023 season.

While the numbers may cool somewhat as teams settle into their seasons, the pop in demand has already overwhelmingly delivered for the WNBA in 2024.

Angel Reese Adds USL Team Owner to Growing Résumé

chicago sky rookie angel reese speaking at an event
Star rookie Angel Reese is all in on the USL Super League. (JC Olivera/Variety via Getty Images)

Chicago Sky rookie Angel Reese continues to add to her résumé, becoming the newest member of the DC Power Football Club’s ownership group

The No. 7 pick in the WNBA draft joins an group that includes the MLS team DC United as well as other DC-area community members and business owners. One of the USL Super League’s inaugural clubs, DC Power FC is set to begin play in August. 

"I want to help grow women's sports and elevate female athletes across the board," Reese, who's from Maryland, said in a statement. "We're taking over, and I'm honored to be able to support Power FC and invest in women's soccer in the DMV (District, Maryland, Virginia) community."

The USL is a sanctioned Division I league, meaning that it is on par with the NWSL and MLS in the United States. The league's eight current clubs are Brooklyn FC, Carolina Ascent FC, Dallas Trinity FC, DC Power FC, Fort Lauderdale United FC, Lexington SC, Spokane Zephyr FC, and Tampa Bay Sun FC.

DC Power FC will also be playing their home games in a familiar location: Matches will be hosted at DC’s Audi Field in partnership with MLS side DC United. Audi Field also home to the NWSL’s Washington Spirit.

"Angel's decision to be a founding investor alongside us in Power FC is groundbreaking," Jason Levien, DC United's CEO and co-chair, said in a statement. "As a Maryland native, Angel is so passionate about being a catalyst for positive change in women's sports in the DMV as well as globally while inspiring the next generation of female athletes. We're looking forward to her partnership in the boardroom as an equity partner."

It's been speculated that the Super League ultimately intends to compete outright with the NWSL. But in its first year, the league will focus on featuring the depth of women's soccer talent in the US.

Former NWSL players like Taylor Aylmer (Spokane), Jordyn Listro (Tampa Bay), Erika Tymrak (Tampa Bay), and Domi Richardson (Tampa Bay) have already announced a return to professional soccer via the USL.

The league is aiming to provide counter-programming to summer women's sports in the States, with a season running from fall to spring like the European calendar.

In a social media post, Reese said that she’s "grateful & blessed" to be part of the new ownership group. It’s the latest move in what has been a whirlwind spring for Reese, which included getting drafted, attending the Met Gala, signing a new partnership with Good American, and debuting with the Chicago Sky, among other achievements.

"Looking forward to creating new opportunities for women in professional soccer," she tweeted. "I’ve always had to desire to invest in a local team as a Maryland native!"

Reese is the latest female athlete to buy into a women’s sports team, joining the likes of Naomi Osaka, who owns a stake in the North Carolina Courage, and Serena Williams, who's part-owner of Angel City FC. 

Other pro athletes involved in women's sports team ownership include Patrick Mahomes, who shares ownership responsibilities of the Kansas City Current with his wife Brittany. Kevin Durant and Eli Manning are part-owners of Gotham FC, while NFL superstar Tom Brady is part-owner of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces.

Nelly Korda Continues Unprecedented LPGA Run

LPGA golfer Nelly Korda poses with Mizuho Americas Open trophy
Nelly Korda took home the title at the Mizuho Americas Open on Sunday. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Nelly Korda continued her unprecedented LPGA run on Sunday, winning her sixth tournament in the last seven starts. 

The 25-year-old Florida native took home the title at the Mizuho Americas Open, becoming the first LPGA player to record six wins in a single season since 2013 — and that’s with three majors and a little over half the season left to play.

"Oh, my gosh, six," Korda said after the win. "I can't even really gather myself right now with that, the head-to-head that Hannah and I had pretty much all day. Wasn't my best stuff out there today, but fought really hard on the back nine."

Korda is just the fourth player on tour to win six times before June 1st, joining LPGA Hall of Famers Babe Zaharias (1951), Louise Suggs (1953), and Lorena Ochoa (2008).

Should her victory run continue, Korda could break the current record for single-season wins, currently set at 13 by Mickey Wright in 1963.

Korda ended Sunday's tournament one shot ahead of Hannah Green, finishing the 18th with a par putt to win it all.

"I mean, to lose to Nelly kind of like is — it's sad, but then it's also Nelly Korda," Green said of her second-place finish. "You know, like she's obviously so dominant right now. To feel like second behind her is quite nice. Unfortunately the bogey on the last has a little bit of a sour taste."

Next up is the US Women’s Open, a tournament that Korda has yet to win in her career. 

"Obviously it's on the top of my priority list," she said. "I just know there is never any good when you put more pressure on yourself. Just going to stay in my bubble that week and take it a shot at a time."

Earlier this year, Korda became the fastest player to collect $2 million in prize money over a single season. This latest win earned her an additional $450,000, bringing her season total up to $2,943,708.

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