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Kelsey Plum ‘gets her s— together’ to push Aces to brink of WNBA title

Kelsey Plum broke out of her slump in the Aces’ Game 2 win over the Sun. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS – Kelsey Plum isn’t back. Chelsea Gray wants to make that clear.

Plum isn’t back, because that would imply that she left. She didn’t.

The All-Star guard may have been in a shooting slump in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals – she finished with just six points compared to her season average of 20.2 – but she still did all the little things necessary to help the Las Vegas Aces secure a win over the Connecticut Sun.

“There wasn’t points being added but she was getting assists. She was guarding Courtney Williams, a dynamic scorer,” Gray said. “There were things that she was still doing that kept her on the floor and I think that’s the growth, too, not just like, she’s back and she’s hitting shots. She’s been who we needed her to be. We need her out there on the floor.”

Then, in Tuesday’s Game 2, Plum was able to put it all together again. She did the little things and she did the big things, scoring 20 points in an 85-71 victory over the Sun at Michelob Ultra Arena to put the Aces one win away from their first WNBA championship.

The Washington alum finished the game with 20 points. Plum made just one 3-pointer – she averages 3.1 per game, the most in the WNBA – but that didn’t matter. She was able to get to the hoop whenever she wanted, and Plum made six buckets in the paint while also going 5-for-5 from the free throw line.

She took what the defense gave her and avoided forcing shots from long range.

“They really want to congest the lane, so I think we play higher, wider, set good screens, have good angles and make good reads,” Gray said of subverting the Sun defense. “Once we have good spacing, we can get a lot of different things in the paint or kick out for shooters.”

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(Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Aces didn’t make many of those long-range shots – they were 6-for-26 (23.1%) from 3-point range – but Plum’s ability to get to the basket made up for it.

The Sun could not stay in front of the guard, and that caused their defense to fall apart. When she wasn’t finishing shots or drawing fouls, Plum was creating opportunities for others, as evidenced by her seven assists.

Even when she didn’t directly assist on a play, her driving ability caused the Sun defense to shift and create space for players like A’ja Wilson, who had 26 points, and Gray, who had 21.

And the threat of Plum knocking down shots from distance was enough to keep the Sun defense honest, even if she hasn’t gotten hot just yet.

“You have to respect her 3-ball,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “You don’t want to let her just shoot the 3, even though she’s been a little off this series. Just the threat of her, you don’t want to let her get rolling from there. So she’s fast, she’s fast with the ball. And I just wanted to use her, tell her she needed to live in the paint, and we live with whatever she does in there.”

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(David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images)

When Plum finds a groove, the Las Vegas offense elevates to another level, according to Wilson. So the WNBA MVP made it her mission to light a fire in Plum before Game 2.

And Wilson wasn’t afraid to use fiery language to get her point across to the Aces’ regular-season scoring leader.

“I told her she needed to get her s— together,” Wilson said matter-of-factly. “At the end of the day that’s what she needs to do: Make sure she understood that we need her to make shots. I know it sounds harsh. But KP is a pro, and she went out there and took care of business.”

In addition to the pointed pep talk from Wilson, Plum also chatted with her psychologist before the game, something she does often.

“I talk to him all the time,” she said of her conversation with her psychologist, “(We talked about), like the ways different people approach when you’re ‘in a slump.’ I got people praying over me, I got people rubbing my hand, I got people trying to encourage me, I got people cussing me out. But everyone wants to win, you know, so really, actually I welcomed it very much.”

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(David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images)

Plum has shot just 25% from 3-point range during the postseason. Despite still averaging 17.4 points over her team’s eight playoff games, the lack of production from long range is unusual for the sharp-shooter.

But her performance thus far in the WNBA Finals speaks to the guard’s overall growth. A season ago, she may have gotten frustrated with her lack of production from beyond the arc. She may have started forcing shots.

Instead, she found open teammates. She defended. She set screens. And she made it a priority to attack the basket.

Her perseverance paid off in a big way.

“I don’t think anything necessarily that I’ve done differently, you know, just my same routines,” she said. “I eat the same thing. I go to bed at the same time. Sometimes shots fall, sometimes they don’t, and for me I feel like it’s been a growth opportunity to how I can impact the game in other ways besides shooting the ball.”

She didn’t have to do anything differently, because whether she’s making 3-pointers or contributing to her team in other ways, Kelsey Plum is still Kelsey Plum. And that’s a player the Aces can’t live without.

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

2023 MVP Breanna Stewart Drops 31 Points in Liberty’s Huge Win Over Fever

breanna stewart and jonquel jones of the new york liberty celebrate win over indiana fever
Stewie and the Liberty dominated the court throughout Thursday's Fever home opener. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty dominated Indiana on Thursday night, winning by a whopping 36 points in the Fever's home opener. 

A sold-out crowd of 17,274 was in attendance to watch as star rookie Caitlin Clark finished the 102-66 defeat with nine points, seven rebounds, and six assists. It’s the first time since January 2021 — her freshman season at Iowa — that Clark's been held to single-digit scoring. 

"The physicality is definitely up there... I'm easily pushed off screens," she told reporters after the loss. "The game seems a little fast for me right now. The more I play and the more comfortable I get, it's going to slow down a little bit. It will be easier for me to make reads, see things develop."

The Fever were outscored by a combined margin of 57 points in their first two games — the largest two-game point deficit in WNBA season-opening history, according to @ESPNStatsInfo.

"We've got to get to a level of toughness," Fever coach Christie Sides in her own postgame remarks. "When things are going south on us, we're not stopping the bleeding."

"I have great perspective on everything that happens," Clark added. "It was the same in my college career. There were some moments that were absolutely amazing. And there were some moments I was not happy with how I played and how my team performed. That's just life, that's just basketball."

Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, who herself experienced a rocky rookie season following a much-hyped college career, offered up some insight on the matter.

"In this league, there are tough defenses all centered around not letting you get the ball, trapping, not letting you score," Ionescu said. "There were many factors that played into what was a tough first season for me in the league, but it helps you be able to figure it out. You have to have those experiences."

But it was reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart that truly stole the show, racking up 31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and two blocks on the night.

"In general, I just wanted to come out more aggressive coming off of last game," Stewart said after putting up the 24th 30-point game in her career.

Stewart she also commended the fans inside Indianapolis's packed Gainbridge Fieldhouse, noting that she hopes that level of support to continue across the WNBA.

"This is how you want every game to be and when it's a sell-out crowd, it gives you a similar playoff atmosphere feel," she said. "People want to be a part of this and the thing now is to continue to sustain it, continue to take the momentum that we have and turn it into something more."

WNBA Commissioner Admits to ‘Faulty’ Charter Rollout

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert at 2024 wnba draft
Cathy Engelbert at the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York. (Cora Veltman/Sportico via Getty Images)

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert admitted to a "faulty rollout" of the new charter travel initiative on Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Ahead of Tuesday's season opener, it was announced that the only teams flying private this week would be Indiana and Minnesota. The announcement came mere days after the league made a new charter flight program for all WNBA teams public. At the time, they said it would be implemented "as soon as we have the planes."

But as two teams out of 12 chartered to their first games of the season, others like the Atlanta Dream and Chicago Sky were forced to fly commercial.

A town hall meeting between Engelbert and the players was held in response to the confusion. Everything from the league's new media rights deal to private travel was covered in the meeting, with players submitting their questions ahead of time. Sky center Elizabeth Williams told Sun-Times reporter Annie Costabile afterwards that cross-country flights were prioritized.

"Flights that are across the country like [the Lynx] going to Seattle, crossing multiple time zones, or flights that usually require a connection, those were the priorities," Williams said. "That’s why New York didn’t go to DC with a charter, but Minny goes to Seattle."

What’s unclear under that metric is that the Atlanta Dream played the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday, which could technically be classified as a cross-country flight. 

On Tuesday, rookie forward Angel Reese shared a photo on her Instagram story lamenting the league's use of commercial flights.

"Just praying that this is one of the last commercial flights the Sky has to fly," Reese posted. The team still has at least three commercial flights awaiting them in the near future.

"Obviously, I think all teams should be able to get chartered," Reese told the Sun-Times. "But I know moving forward... going in the right direction, being able to have some teams [chartering] is cool. Within the next weeks, everybody will be flying charter, which will be really good."

On Thursday, Lindsay Schnell of USAToday Sports confirmed that the league intends to have all teams on charter flights by May 21st.

Brazil Wins Bid for 2027 Women’s World Cup Host

fifa womens world cup trophy on display
The FIFA Women's World Cup trophy on display in Bangkok after Brazil was announced as the 2027 host country. (Thananuwat Srirasant - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Brazil has been named the host for the 2027 Women’s World Cup, with FIFA announced early Friday. 

The decision came after a vote at the 74th FIFA Congress in Bangkok, with Brazil earning 119 votes to the joint European bid’s 78. 

This will be Brazil’s first time hosting the Women’s World Cup, with the country having hosted the men’s World Cup twice before in 1950 and 2014. It will also be the first Women’s World Cup held in South America. The tournament will follow the same 32-team format as the 2023 WWC in Australia and New Zealand.

Brazil winning the bid was not entirely surprising after FIFA issued a report just last week, stating that the Brazilian bid had pulled ahead as host following technical inspection. After evaluation, Brazil was given a score of 4.0 out of 5, compared to the 3.7 awarded to the Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Brazil ranked higher in a number of key areas, including stadiums, accommodations, fan zones, and transport infrastructure. Though considered to be a frontrunner, the US and Mexico withdrew their joint bid prior to the technical inspection period, saying they would instead focus their efforts on 2031.

On Friday, Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) president Ednaldo Rodrigues called it a "victory." 

"We knew we would be celebrating a victory for South American women's soccer and for women," he told reporters. "You can be sure, with no vanity, we will accomplish the best World Cup for women."

"We are working on a transformation, not only for the country but for the continent," added bid team operational manager Valesca Araujo.

Brazil intends to use 10 of the venues utilized at the 2014 men’s World Cup, including holding the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 25th. The CBF's proposal outlines that the 2027 tournament run from June 24th through the end of July. Last summer’s World Cup began at the end of July and concluded on August 19th.

Another notable element of Brazil's newly unveiled plan to grow of the women’s game is that "all [men’s] clubs wishing to take part in high-level national and continental competitions must now provide a structure for a women’s team." While the definition of "structure" was not specifically identified, the country has set targets with CONMEBOL to help increase the number of women’s club teams in the country.

In last week's inspection findings, FIFA noted that selecting Brazil as the next WWC host could "have a tremendous impact on women's football in the region."

Chelsea Eyes Weekend Finale With WSL Title in Sight

chelsea players celebrate win against tottenham in the wsl
Chelsea beat Tottenham on Wednesday, moving to the top of the table in an effort to win departing coach Emma Hayes some silverware. (John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Chelsea did what they needed to do on Wednesday in order to make Saturday's slate of season-ending WSL fixtures interesting: Beat Tottenham.

The Blues are now number one in the league, with an edge over Manchester City on goal differential thanks to an eight-goal outing against Bristol City last week. 

Yesterday's result tees up a league finale for the books as Chelsea looks to send coach Emma Hayes off with another trophy to add to her cabinet. The Blues will play FA Cup winner Manchester City at Old Trafford on Saturday, while City is away at Aston Villa.

"We will be leaving nothing on the pitch, we will be giving everything and no matter what the result is," Chelsea midfielder Erin Cuthbert said after Wednesday's win. "At least we can look each other in the eye and say we gave everything."

It makes for a thrilling end to Chelsea's Emma Hayes era, as the decorated WSL coach will take over the USWNT in June. And it comes after Hayes all but conceded the title race early this month after Chelsea fell to Liverpool 4-3.

"I think the title is done," Hayes said at the time. "Of course, mathematically, it's not, but I think the title is done. Our job between now and the end of the season is to keep pushing until the end, but I think it will be very difficult.

"We will never give up. But the title is far from us; it's not in our hands. I think City are deserving, their consistency has put them in that position. Of course, we will go to the end, but I don't think the title will be going to us this year."

Be it mind games or Hayes truly thinking her team was that far off, her words lit something in Chelsea. Their following two performances showed the team’s determination to have a shot at some silverware.

As for Saturday's schedule, Hayes believes her team is facing the "tougher of the two games."

"It's a fitting finale for me, being my final game," she told BBC Sport. "As I said to the players if someone gives you a second chance in life, make sure you don't need a third one. We're in the position we want to be in, and we'll give it everything on Saturday no matter what."

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