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Skylar Diggins-Smith, ‘locked in’ for WNBA Finals, helps Mercury even series

(Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Skylar Diggins-Smith was done talking.

The day before Game 2 of the WNBA Finals, Diggins-Smith sat behind the basket where she would hit the layup to seal the Phoenix Mercury’s 91-86 overtime win over the Chicago Sky, which evened the series 1-1, and fidgeted in her chair. For every question she fielded from reporters, Diggins-Smith had one thing on her mind: The Mercury gave Game 1 away, and she would do everything in her power to make sure it didn’t happen again.

“This is not the goal for me. The championship is the goal,” she said Tuesday. “I’m irritated, I’m excited, I’m nervous. I’m ready for the Game 2, that’s all I gotta say. I’m irritated I gotta be out here answering questions because I just want to focus on the game.”

Diggins-Smith kept that focus through the first 18 minutes of Game 2 on Sunday, when she went just 1-for-6 from the field and was visibly frustrated with her play.

During a Mercury timeout with 2:04 left in the first quarter, Diggins-Smith stood apart from the huddle and stared off into the distance, motionless. Kia Nurse, resigned to the bench for the series after tearing her ACL in Game 5 of the semifinals, walked over and appeared to try to console her. Diggins-Smith just kept staring straight ahead, as if she were visualizing what was to come.

First, that meant her passing. The veteran guard found Brianna Turner twice in the second quarter, the second time with a lob pass for an alley-oop that gave the Mercury their first lead of the game, 38-36.

“Skylar would probably say, ‘I’ve missed too many shots,’” said Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello, “but I thought with her ability to facilitate and just give us some easy baskets … we put [Diana Taurasi] in being more of a screener and put the ball more in Sky’s hand, and she made some pretty good decisions.”

Diggins-Smith finished the game with a playoff career-high 12 assists, jumpstarting Phoenix’s offense with her patience and play-calling from the point and her distribution on the run. The mark also set a Mercury franchise record for assists in a Finals game.

And when it came to crunch time, the 31-year-old turned her fiery words into action, driving into the paint for two layups in overtime that were the difference for the Mercury.

Thanks to Diggins-Smith’s 13 points, as well as Taurasi’s 20 and Griner’s game-high 29, Phoenix now heads to Chicago with more of a cushion. Starting with Game 3 on Friday night in front of a sold-out Chicago arena, the Mercury can take the series with two wins on the road or win at least one and head back home for a decisive Game 5.

“I was just trying to make something happen,” Diggins-Smith said. “I felt really good about how I was able to get a head of steam, get downhill, get in a lane, create opportunities for my team. It didn’t fall for me, but I was just trying to do other things … and find that edge, that rhythm within the game.”

Taurasi, who also came on late to drain two critical 3-pointers in overtime, called Diggins-Smith’s performance “probably one of the best games I’ve ever seen her play.”

“I’ve been around this game a long time, and there’s not too many people that compete the way Skylar competes every single day,” Taurasi said. “We’ve gotten to work out for two offseasons. Every day is the same. Every day is Game 5 for her. I’ve said this before, that’s kind of ignited my passion for the game a little bit to see someone do that every single day.”

Brondello has been in this position before, having won a WNBA championship in 2014 in her first season as Mercury head coach. Diggins-Smith is playing in her first Finals series, having spent seven years in Tulsa and Dallas before signing with the Mercury last offseason.

Brondello and Taurasi, a three-time WNBA champion, know what a championship-level mentality looks like, and they see that to the fullest extent in Diggins-Smith.

“She had some shots, shots she knows she can make. She’ll be reliving that all night tonight, but I thought she had a really good game,” Brondello said. “Players like this are special — they have this fire in their belly, the will to win. And they’re all locked in.”

Hannah Withiam is the Managing Editor at Just Women’s Sports. She previously served as an editor at The Athletic and a reporter at the New York Post. Follow her on Twitter @HannahWithiam.

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.

Caitlin Clark Signs Multi-Year Deal with Wilson, Gets Signature Basketball Collection

caitlin clark poses with wilson basketball
Clark is just the second athlete to get a signature basketball collection with Wilson. (Wilson Sporting Goods)

Caitlin Clark has signed a multi-year endorsement deal with Wilson Sporting Goods that will include a signature basketball collection, the brand announced early Tuesday. 

According to Boardroom, Clark is just the second athlete to develop a signature collection with Wilson, with the first being Michael Jordan in the 1980s. In addition to her basketball collection, she will also "test, advise and provide feedback on a range" of related products. 

Three Clark-branded white-and-gold Wilson basketballs have already dropped. Each ball features laser-cut engravings of some of the guard's most memorable moments at Iowa, where she became the all-time leading scorer in Division I college basketball history.

Three Wilson basketballs from Clark's collection have already dropped. (Wilson Sporting Goods).

"I think it is super special, and it's been fun for me," Clark told Boardroom. "I feel like I was just that young kid who had those basketballs that I would store in the garage. I'm just very lucky and fortunate to partner with Wilson to create something that everyone can enjoy. It connects with a lot of generations, and it'll be fun to see kids walking around holding them."

The No. 1 overall pick at the 2024 WNBA Draft, Clark has been building up a slate of major endorsements since turning pro. Current partnerships include Gatorade and Panini, and she’s also close to signing a signature shoe deal with Nike worth a reported $28 million.

New York Liberty off to First 4-0 Start in 17 Years

sabrina ionescu of the new york liberty on the court
Sabrina Ionescu led the undefeated Liberty to a 74-63 win over Seattle Monday night. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty are 4-0 on the season for the first time since 2007. 

The 2023 WNBA title finalists notched a 74-63 win over Seattle on Monday night, with Sabrina Ionescu dropping 20 points alongside eight assists. After the game, Ionescu told reporters she thought the team was coming together a bit easier than they did last year.

"I think having a year together, we don't nearly have to communicate as much on the court anymore," she said. "Because we can just play off one another and read. And that's obviously been the growth of this team, is being able to play a season together last year."

The team’s defense has also contributed heavily to the season's winning start. Last night, the Liberty held Jewell Loyd to just 13 points and nine rebounds. Loyd let the Storm in scoring, with only two other players in double digits, while Nneka Ogwumike missed her second straight game with an ankle injury. 

Storm free agency acquisition Skylar Diggins-Smith had eight points, and is averaging 14.5 points and 5.8 assists per game this season. In her postgame remarks, Storm head coach Noelle Quinn called on others to give her grace in her return. 

"There needs to be respect about the fact that she's had two children and hasn’t played in 20 months," said Quinn. "She’s not going to come overnight and be who she was 20 months ago and we have to respect that and honor that. And I do.

"My grace as a coach is to know she’s working her butt off every day. You guys don’t see it. Every single day. Two children. Not one, two. Not many can do that."

Australia’s Sam Kerr Ruled Out for 2024 Paris Olympics With ACL Injury

sam kerr playing for the australian womens national team
A longtime Matildas mainstay, Kerr has made 128 appearances for Australia alongside 69 career goals. (Joe Prior/Visionhaus via Getty Images)

Australia has confirmed that captain and star striker Sam Kerr will miss the Paris Olympics due to an ACL injury suffered early this year. 

Kerr, who also stars for Chelsea, tore her ACL in January. While unlikely that she would recover in time for the Olympics, Football Australia (FA) hadn’t confirmed her status until Tuesday when the team revealed its squad for upcoming warm-up games. 

In a statement, the FA said that Kerr remained on the sidelines and will continue her rehab program at Chelsea. 

"Attacker Amy Sayer (ACL) and forward Sam Kerr (ACL) remain on the sidelines with long term injuries," the report read. "Kerr and Sayer will continue their rehabilitation programmes in their home club environments and subsequently will not be available for selection for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games."

Tuesdays 23-player squad is a "strong guide" to the final Olympic lineup, according to coach Tony Gustavsson, but others like injured midfielders Katrina Gorry and Aivi Luik could potentially figure into the conversation. 

"[They] most likely will be physically available to be part of an Olympic roster," Gustavsson said of Gorry and Luik. "This window will be a tough one for me and my staff in terms of evaluating players, where they are, and then the final selection process for Paris."

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