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The JWS All-Tournament Team

NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament - Final Four - Championship
Ben Solomon/Getty Images

On Sunday night, the college basketball season came to a close with Stanford defeating Arizona 54-53 in the 2021 National Championship game. It was a physical, gritty, and low scoring game – the lowest scoring National Championship game since 2010.

From start to finish, this was a defensive tournament. In the seven post-Sweet 16 games, only one team scored more than 70 points. And defense is exactly what the National Championship came down to, with Stanford holding Arizona to 28.3% from the field and Aari McDonald to 5-21. 

Stanford won with a team effort, but there were plenty of impressive individual performances to go around this tournament. From 30-point scoring efforts to shot-blocking defensive anchors, this is our 2021 All-Tournament Team:

Paige Bueckers, Guard, UConn

With 1:30 left against Arizona, Paige Bueckers came off a screen and nailed a three-pointer two steps behind the three point line. “Don’t go away yet!” ESPN announcer Ryan Ruocco yelled into the microphone. Forget that the Huskies trailed by five points in the Final Four. Forget that Bueckers was a freshman. Forget that she had shot just 4-12 up until that point. Behind Bueckers, UConn could come back to win this thing. 

They didn’t come back to win, but Ruocco’s reaction was a testament to Bueckers’ poise, her patience, and her performance all tournament. Despite her age and the circumstances, every game felt within reach with Bueckers on the floor. 

Her shining moment came in UConn’s Elite Eight matchup versus Baylor, a game in which she dropped 28 points – the second-most Baylor allowed to an opposing player all season. Despite three freshmen playing major minutes, Bueckers led this relatively inexperienced UConn team to the Final Four with averages of 21.6 points per game, 6.4 rebounds, and 4.4 assists. 

Aari McDonald, Guard, Arizona

You could go on and on about Aari McDonald’s play during March Madness. It was hands down the best performance by any player in the tournament and, probably, the best stretch of games in her entire career. She single-handedly willed the Arizona Wildcats to a NCAA championship appearance. It wasn’t just the program’s first trip to the title game – it was their first time making it out of the Sweet 16. All behind the speedy McDonald.

McDonald’s success came down to her ability to make threes. In regular season games where McDonald made three or more three-pointers, the Wildcats went 5-0. During the NCAA tournament games, McDonald made three or more three-pointers in each of Arizona’s victories over Texas A&M, Indiana, and UConn. It added a whole different dimension to her game. When defenders backed up, she nailed the jumper. When defenders stepped up, she blew by them – and there’s not a single player in the country who can keep up with McDonald. 

On a smaller note, it was also one of the best rebounding stretches of McDonald’s career. After logging zero rebounds in the opening round, she averaged 7.4 rebounds per game over the next five games – including two double-doubles. Often undersized, everyone on the Wildcats had to attack the glass – and that started with McDonald.   

Haley Jones, Guard, Stanford

Haley Jones’ job was to inbound the ball. But when Lexie Hull missed the layup, the ball trickled out from a scrum of rebounders. With 35 seconds left in the clock, Jones scooped it up and hastily fired it away. This long, contested mid-range jumper would put Stanford ahead by one point, and send them to the National Championship game.

Two days later, she would make another game-deciding shot against Arizona. With a little more than two minutes remaining, Jones would power through the defense for an and-one bucket, putting the Cardinal up by four, and sealing their championship victory. 

Those were the two biggest shots of the entire tournament.

But Jones’ impressive postseason performance included more than just those two buckets. As Stanford’s leading scorer Kiana Williams struggled, combining for 13 points in the entire Final Four, Jones emerged as the team’s go-to playmaker, averaging 20.5 points per game over that same span. She posted up smaller players, handled the ball in the half-court, and went 5-8 from beyond the arc, after making just one three-pointer the entire regular season. When Stanford needed a bucket, it was Jones who stepped up.

Christyn Williams, Guard, UConn

Paige Bueckers stole the headlines, but one could argue that Christyn Williams actually outperformed Bueckers during March Madness. After scoring 11 and 13 points to start the tournament, Williams would finish it with three straight 20-point games, the longest streak of her career. That included a 27-point outburst against Iowa, a game in which Williams looked like the best player on the floor – a floor that included both Caitlin Clark and Paige Bueckers. Against Arizona, Williams was the only player who could consistently find her shot, scoring 26 points on 7-17 from the field.

Williams’ ability to explode to the basket added a whole different dimension to the UConn offense. And, as we saw, an aggressive Christyn Williams is one of the best scorers in the entire country. 

Cameron Brink, Forward, Stanford

How can someone who averaged just 19.5 minutes per game and nine points make the All-Tournament team? There’s no question that Zia Cooke, Moon Ursin, NaLyssa Smith and Lexie Hull all deserve spots on this list. But Cameron Brink deserves her spot as well, because without her, Stanford wouldn’t be celebrating a championship right now.

Stanford rode their defense to a third NCAA title, and that defense revolved around the rim protection of Brink. Whenever Brink came onto the floor, the game felt a little different. The opposing team’s drivers grew a little more hesitant, while their bigs were less efficient. Take Stanford’s Sweet 16 matchup against Missouri State. Despite only logging just 10 minutes, Brink recorded five blocks, swatting away 45.5% of the opponent’s two-point shots when she was on the floor. Over the course of the tournament, Brink averaged four blocks per game. Against South Carolina, she had six, and every one of them counted. 

When Brink wasn’t blocking shots, she was misdirecting them, or at least forcing ball handlers into pull-up mid-range shots. The most prominent example was Aari McDonald, who shot just 1-12 on two-pointers against the Cardinal. Cameron Brink may have only played half of the matchup, but she set the tone defensively, each and every game, for the eventual national champs.

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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