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Aliyah Boston vs. Angel Reese: Matchups to watch in NCAA clash

(Dylan Borel/LSU)

Two undefeated teams, two powerhouse coaches, two Player of the Year candidates: Sunday’s matchup between No. 1 South Carolina and No. 3 LSU has it all. It’s also the most-anticipated contest of the regular season.

Just Women’s Sports breaks down the top matchups to watch in the contest, airing on ESPN Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.

Aliyah Boston vs. Angel Reese

Not only are Boston and Reese the leading candidates for SEC Player of the Year, they are also in contention for National Player of the Year. On Sunday, we will get to see the two star post players go head to head in the paint. By the numbers, Reese is having a better season, but they are each averaging a double-double. Reese is averaging 23.5 points, 15.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks, while Boston puts up 13.3 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks per contest.

The point discrepancy, however, isn’t necessarily an indication that Reese is the better player. Instead, it’s a reflection of each team’s makeup.

The Gamecocks are the country’s most balanced squad, with 12 players who score at least four points per game. They are so deep that only two players — Boston and Zia Cooke — average double-digit scoring. South Carolina’s strength is in its plethora of talent, and Boston knows that her team wins when everyone contributes. Instead of imposing her will and trying to score over double teams, Boston shares the wealth.

Like Boston, Reese is doing what her team needs her to do in order to win. LSU gets contributions from its bench, but the bulk of its offense comes from the starting five, and particularly from Reese. In all but six games this season, the sophomore has been LSU’s leading scorer, and that’s the Tigers’ recipe for success. Reese needs to be the most dominant player on the floor for LSU to have its best chance at victory.

There is also a minutes difference to take into account, as Reese plays 33.1 per contest and Boston plays 25.2 minutes per game.

The two have one head-to-head matchup recorded. Last season, when Reese was at Maryland, the two faced off in a 66-59 South Carolina win. All eyes were on Boston as she neared a triple-double with 16 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocks, but Reese was dominant as well with 20 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.

Because of the teams’ varying styles of play, the game likely won’t come down solely to who gets the better of this matchup, but there are bragging rights in play. Plus, the more dominant player will almost certainly lock up SEC Player of the Year.

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Dawn Staley and South Carolina set a new program record this week with 30 consecutive wins. (Grant Halverson/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Kim Mulkey vs. Dawn Staley

These two came onto the head coaching scene in the same year (2000), with Mulkey taking over at Baylor and Staley starting at Temple. Mulkey’s combined record at Baylor and LSU is 678-110 for an 86 percent win rate, while Staley’s is 559-185 (75% win rate). Mulkey has three NCAA championships and Staley has two. They’ve both led their teams to four Final Fours. You get the picture: These are two dominant coaches.

But their approaches to this particular season have been drastically different. In their quest for a repeat title, the Gamecocks have played a challenging schedule, taking on teams like Maryland, Stanford, UCLA and UConn. Meanwhile, LSU’s only ranked opponent up until this point was Arkansas, a team that South Carolina also beat handedly.

Staley came into the season knowing exactly what she had in the defending champions, but Mulkey said she didn’t know Reese would be transferring in and therefore couldn’t commit to a difficult schedule. The coach has repeatedly had to answer to LSU’s weak slate of games.

Because of the differences in strength of schedule, a win will do a lot more for the Tigers than it will for the Gamecocks. Unless something unexpected happens during the rest of the season, South Carolina is a lock for a No. 1 seed come March. A win over LSU strengthens the team’s resume, but a loss doesn’t necessarily hurt it.

But for the Tigers, Sunday is their chance to prove themselves. A win validates their record despite the strength of schedule, and it helps their case for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. On the other hand, a loss could prove critics right and seriously impact their seeding.

Alexis Morris vs. Zia Cooke

The post battle is the main attraction in this matchup, but let’s not forget about the guards. Morris and Cooke are two experienced players who have made huge impacts for their respective teams this season.

Cooke is leading South Carolina in scoring with 14.8 points per game, while also providing a crucial outside presence for a team known for dominating the paint. She’s South Carolina’s top 3-point shooter, with 42 makes this season at a 35.6 percent clip.

Morris is averaging 14 points per game, second on the team behind Reese, while serving as LSU’s point guard and predominant playmaker. Everything starts with Morris, who dishes out 4.5 assists per contest.

X-Factor

In games like this, stars generally do what is expected of them. So the victor has to get contributions elsewhere. That has been the formula all season for South Carolina, who average 40 bench points per contest. The duo of Raven Johnson (3.4 assists per game) and Kamilla Cardoso (9.7 points, 8.2 rebounds per game) have been particularly effective, as the two former AAU teammates have a keen understanding of each other’s games.

Meanwhile, the Tigers are going to need to slow down South Carolina’s overall production. Teams have had relative success against the Gamecocks by packing the paint and forcing the Gamecocks to be shooters. With Reese on the inside, that could be the plan of attack for LSU as well. On offense, they will also need someone outside of Reese and Morris to step up. Third leading scorer and dynamic freshman Flau’jae Johnson or sophomore Kateri Poole, who has yet to have a big game, could both be difference-makers.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

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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