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What We Learned From Seattle’s Drubbing Of the Chicago Sky

VIA @SEATTLESTORM ON TWITTER

The Seattle Storm were the unanimous preseason choice of ESPN WNBA analysts for which team would win the 2020 title. A vaunted cast could not agree on any other topic, but all viewed Seattle as the team to beat in Florida.

The logic is clear. The 2018 WNBA champions are returning 2018 regular season and finals MVP Breanna Stewart and 11-time All-Star Sue Bird to a team that made it to the conference semifinals last year without either player.

Chicago jumped out to a successful run in the wubble. The Sky impressed many people with their play early on and the game against the Storm was billed as a potential late-round playoff matchup. More than Chicago regressing, the 89-71 loss to Seattle showed how far in front of the rest of the league the team from Seattle truly is.

Here’s what Seattle has proven during their blistering 7-1 start:

Breanna Stewart is the best player in the league

Early foul trouble for Jordin Canada allowed Breanna Stewart to run the show. With Sue Bird sidelined with a knee injury, Stewart could play a little of everything. She dished out five assists, scored 10 points, and added a pair of rebounds — in the first quarter. By the final whistle, her point total was up to 25 and the Storm had an 18 point victory.

Stewart’s game has evolved, slightly, since she last took the court. She is taking and making more 3-point shots per game than at any point in her WNBA career and assisting at a higher rate too. More than anything, she’s quickly returned to her previously dominant form, putting the league on notice as it’s clear there are no lingering issues from her Achilles recovery.

While plenty of other players have impressed so far, Stewart is exceeding across the board. She is top five in the league in field goals, 3-pointers, free throws, rebounds, steals, blocks and points. In advanced stats, she ranks second in player efficiency, fifth in usage rate, and first in both defensive rating and win shares.

Chicago could have done a better job of closing down some of the lanes through which Stewart raced to the basket, but the four-time collegiate national champion — who already has a legitimate Hall of Fame case — has an off-the-charts basketball IQ and will take advantage of any team’s missteps.

Seattle can win in multiple ways

The road to the championship most definitely runs through the Storm. The Storm offense dominated the first quarter to the tune of a 33-18 scoreline. In the second, Seattle’s defense held Chicago to just 10 points, so it didn’t matter that the Storm had their second lowest scoring quarter of the bubble. Although Chicago came into the game, and remains, the top shooting and 3-point shooting team in the league, Seattle bested both and shot 51.4% from the floor, including an absurd 52.9% from beyond the arc.

Jordin Canada filled in successfully at the point last year and has been able to do the same in 2020. Jewell Loyd, coming off of two straight All-Star seasons, is matching or improving upon her stat line from last year. Seattle just has so many options.

The Storm have the best defensive rating in the league and the third-best offensive rating. No other team ranks in the top three in both; Las Vegas is the closest at second and fourth. The Aces also have a +6.0 point differential, the nearest to Seattle’s +8.2 of anyone. The two teams don’t meet until a Saturday, August 22 matchup on ABC that may be an eventual finals preview — and a head-to-head between the top two MVP contenders.

Depth is really important

Even with a short rotation, Seattle still gets significant contributions from its bench. Sami Whitcomb went 3-for-3 from deep, scored 17 points total, and matched Jordin Canada’s six assists against the Sky. Ezi Magbegor was an efficient 6-of-8 from the field for 13 points. Combined, their 30 points were more than Chicago’s five bench options, who tallied 21.

That included a career-high 11 points for the rookie from Oregon, Ruthy Hebard. With that effort, Chicago once again saw five players reach double digit scoring. The Sky’s entire starting lineup boasts a double digit scoring average, but in this treacherous stretch of play in which there’s often only one day off between games, rest and a deep bench are more important than ever.

Seattle only has four players averaging at least ten points per game, and only three are active. But the Storm still get massive contributions off the bench. The ability for someone like Whitcomb to come off the bench and average the second most points on the team will prove instrumental throughout the team’s run in IMG Academy.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

One former player contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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