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Liberty steal Game 1 from Sky: Can they complete the upset?

Sabrina Ionescu scored 10 points in the fourth quarter of the Liberty’s comeback win. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Sabrina Ionescu thrust her hands into the air, threw her head back and screamed. As the buzzer sounded on her team’s 98-91 upset of the defending champion Chicago Sky in Game 1 of the first round, Ionescu was flooded with emotion.

Happiness, relief, exhaustion and pride. The Liberty guard felt it all after the franchise’s first playoff win since 2015.

“We came here and did what we needed to do, and what nobody believed we could do,” she said.

The Liberty still have to win one more game to take the best-of-three series and move onto the semifinals, but the win on Wednesday proved something the Liberty have long known: It’s possible.

“I’ve been saying to this team, ‘Why not us?’ I know we had a 20 percent chance of even making it to the playoffs, and here we are,” Ionescu said. “We believe in ourselves and that’s all that matters. We are going to try and get another one.”

The win wasn’t a fluke. The Liberty know that. The Sky know, too. And they both know that New York, as the No. 7 seed, needs just one more win to advance and send last year’s title winner home.

If you don’t believe Ionescu’s sentiment of “why not” the Liberty, then allow me to present the evidence.

Stefanie Dolson had 13 points and seven rebounds in the win against her old team. (David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

Previous matchups

There’s precedent for the Liberty playing the Sky close. They matched up four times in the regular season, and aside from a lopsided 83-50 Chicago win in the second game of the season, every contest has been tight.

New York lost by two, 88-86, on June 12, when Ionescu recorded her first triple-double of the season with 27 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists.

The Liberty secured their first win over the Sky on July 23, when Ionescu completed a 3-point play with 9.7 seconds left, ending a six-game winning streak by Chicago.

And in their most recent matchup on July 29, the Sky secured an eight-point win despite the Liberty keeping it close with double-figure scoring from Ionescu, Natasha Howard, Stefanie Dolson and Marine Johannès.

Each time they’ve played the Sky, the Liberty have gained confidence. Each one of those matchups further proved the mindset that New York has what it takes to play with Chicago.

Natasha Howard has the championship experience this young Liberty team needs. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)


When you look at the Liberty’s roster makeup, it’s hard to believe this team went into the playoffs with a 16-20 record. They have one of the deepest teams in the league, with top-to-bottom talent.

That starts with Ionescu and her 17.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game, but it certainly doesn’t end there. Howard is a two-time All-Star who averages 15.1 points per game, but more importantly, she’s a veteran who’s been a part of three WNBA championship teams. She knows how to win in the postseason and demonstrated that in a big way Wednesday with 22 points, seven boards and three assists. Howard also played 34 minutes, the most after Ionescu.

Dolson, who was a part of Chicago’s championship-winning team last year, contributed 13 points and seven rebounds in Wednesday’s win. She was crucial to the Liberty’s offense, making three 3-pointers, and as a 6-foot-5 center, her shooting ability stretches the defense and creates more openings for her teammates.

But the two pieces that are the most important to New York’s potential playoff success are Betnijah Laney and Johannès.

Laney was dominant last season for New York, averaging 16.8 points per game and earning her first All-Star bid. She missed significant time this year with a knee injury that required surgery. Wednesday’s win was only her fifth game back for the Liberty, but she looked to be at the top of her game, recording 17 points, five rebounds and five assists. With 1:23 left on the clock, Laney hit a step-back jumper to give her team a five-point advantage. She then made two free throws with 38.9 seconds remaining for the 98-91 lead that ended up being the final score. Her return was crucial to the Liberty winning their last three games to even get to the playoffs, and she remains a key piece in their quest to upset the Sky.

Johannès, meanwhile, has been making a splash with her flashy style since she joined the team on June 6. But her flair shouldn’t be confused with gaudiness. The guard is creative, but everything she does has purpose. Take last night’s over-the-back pass to Howard. It drew excitement from the crowd and praise on Twitter, but that’s not why she did it. Johannès threw the ball backwards because the angle of her defender didn’t allow her to swivel for a direct pass to Howard. Johannès brings excitement to the Liberty, but more importantly, she provides a playmaking ability that complements Ionescu and creates more opportunities for New York’s offense.

(Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Last night’s run

The Sky held a 91-85 lead when Courtney Vandersloot made a layup with 3:32 left on the clock. From there, Chicago didn’t score again. The Liberty closed the game on a 13-0 run in which the Sky went 0-for-8 from the field, with multiple turnovers and head-scratching decisions.

“I think we panicked a little bit,” Azurá Stevens said. “And not forced, but maybe a little bit. We were down and we were trying to get back. I feel like we haven’t panicked all year.”

While the Sky looked nervous down the stretch, the Liberty remained stoic and chipped away at the six-point deficit before eventually taking and building the lead.

That leads back to the confidence the Liberty developed by playing the Sky close in their previous meetings. They’ve seen on three separate occasions that they can keep up with the defending champions, and on Wednesday that belief guided the Liberty to victory.

Betnijah Laney's return has given the Liberty a boost at the most important point of the season. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Three-point shooting

The Liberty made 11 3-pointers against the Sky on Wednesday, shooting at a 44 percent clip, with seven players knocking down at least one shot from long-range. They score 36.5 percent of their points from beyond the arc, which leads the league. That’s a defensive nightmare. When everyone can shoot 3s, it means the defense can’t ignore any one player, and the constant need to close-out to 3-point range opens lanes to the basket and entry passes to the post. Especially when some of the 3-point threats are bigs. Dolson and Han Xu force teams to defend well beyond the arc, meaning shot-blockers aren’t anywhere near the hoop.

Plus, with their ability to knock down 3s, the Liberty are always within striking distance.

New playoff format

The final piece to the puzzle is the playoff format. With last season’s layout, the Sky, as the team with the second-best record, would have received a double bye. Instead, they are playing a three-game series.

Games 1 and 2 take place in Chicago, but Game 3 will be in New York, meaning the Liberty have a shot to sweep the series on the road on Saturday. But if they lose, they then get home-court advantage for the series-deciding contest, a scenario Sky head coach James Wade decried on Tuesday.

“You go into a series, especially in this format, and you just need to steal one,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said.

The Liberty have done that. Now, with two chances to finish the job and advance to their first semifinal series since 2015, they need to steal just one more.

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

USWNT to face Costa Rica in final Olympic send-off

uswnt sophia smith and tierna davidson celebrate at shebeilves cup 2024
The USWNT will play their final pre-Olympic friendly against Costa Rica on July 16th. (Photo by Greg Bartram/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that the USWNT will play their last home game on July 16th in the lead-up to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

The 2024 Send-Off Match against Costa Rica will take place at Washington, DC’s Audi Field — home to both the Washington Spirit and DC United — at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 16th. The friendly rounds out a four-game Olympic run-up campaign under incoming head coach Emma Hayes’ side, with the last two set to feature the finalized 2024 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team roster.

Hayes will appear on the USWNT sideline for the first time this June, helming the team as they embark on a two-game series against Korea Republic hosted by Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado on June 1st followed by Allianz Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 4th. 

The team is then scheduled to meet a talented Mexico squad on July 13th at Gotham FC’s Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, where the Olympic-bound lineup will attempt to rewrite February’s shocking 2-0 loss to El Tri Femenil in the group stages of this year’s Concacaf W Gold Cup. And while clear roster favorites have emerged from both of this year’s Gold Cup and SheBelives Cup rosters, a spate of recent and recurring injuries means making it to the Olympics is still largely anyone’s game.

Broadcast and streaming channels for the USWNT's final July 16th friendly at Audi Field include TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, and Peacock.

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA start to serve as 2024 Olympic tryout

Clark of the Indiana Fever poses for a photo with Lin Dunn and Christie Sides during her introductory press conference on April 17, 2024
The talented Fever rookie is still in the running for a ticket to this summer's Paris Olympics. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The USA Basketball Women's National Team is still considering Caitlin Clark for a spot on the Paris Olympics squad, says selection committee chair Jennifer Rizzotti. 

On Monday, Rizzotti told the AP that the committee will be evaluating the college phenom’s Olympic prospects by keeping a close eye on her first few weeks of WNBA play with Indiana.

The move is somewhat unconventional. While Clark was invited to participate in the 14-player national team training camp held earlier this month — the last camp before Team USA’s roster drops — she was unable to attend due to it coinciding with Iowa’s trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Judging by the immense talent spread throughout the league in what might be their most hyped season to date, competition for a piece of the Olympic pie could be fiercer than ever before.

"You always want to introduce new players into the pool whether it's for now or the future," said Rizzotti. "We stick to our principles of talent, obviously, positional fit, loyalty and experience. It's got to be a combination of an entire body of work. It's still not going to be fair to some people."

Of course, Clark isn’t the first rookie the committee has made exceptions for. Coming off an exceptional college season that saw her averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for UConn, Breanna Stewart was tapped to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil less than two weeks after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm. Eight years prior, fellow No. 1 pick Candace Parker punched her ticket to the 2008 Games in Beijing just two weeks after making her first appearance for the L.A. Sparks.

In the lead-up to Paris’ Opening Ceremony on July 26th, USA Basketball Women’s National Team is scheduled to play a pair of exhibition games. They'll first go up against the WNBA's finest at the July 20th WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix before facing Germany in London on July 23rd.

While an official roster announcement date hasn’t yet been issued, players won’t find out if they’ve made this year’s Olympic cut until at least June 1st.

WNBA teams make history with 2024 season ticket sell-outs

Arike Ogunbowale on the wnba court for the dallas wings
The Dallas Wings are now the third team to sell out their entire season ticket allotment in WNBA history. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the first time in history, three different WNBA teams have completely sold out of season ticket plans well before the league's May 14th kick-off.

Call it the Caitlin Clark effect, attribute it to this year’s tenacious rookie class, or look to the skyrocketing visibility of veteran players across the board. But no matter the cause, facts are facts: Tickets to the 2024 WNBA season are selling like never before. 

On Monday, the Dallas Wings became the third team to sell out of season ticket memberships in the league’s 27-year history. The announcement from Arlington came shortly after the Atlanta Dream issued their own season ticket sell-out statement, also on Monday, and almost seven weeks after the back-to-back WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces made headlines by becoming the first-ever WNBA team to sell out their season ticket allotment.   

According to the Wings, season ticket memberships will fill nearly 40% of the 6,251 seats inside their home arena, College Park Center. The club also said that their overall ticket revenue has ballooned to the tune of 220% this year, spanning not just season tickets but also a 1,200% increase in single ticket sales. There’s currently a waitlist to become a Dallas season ticket holder, a status that comes with extra incentives like playoff presale access and discounts on additional single-game tickets. 

In Atlanta, season tickets aren't the only thing flying off the shelves. The Dream also announced that they broke their own record for single-game ticket sales during a recent limited presale campaign. Sunday was reportedly their most lucrative day, with five different games totally selling out Gateway Center Arena. Individual tickets for all upcoming matchups will hit the market this Thursday at 8 a.m., while a waitlist for season ticket memberships will open up next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

"Excitement around women's sports, particularly basketball, is at an all-time high and nowhere is that felt more than here in Atlanta," Dream president and COO Morgan Shaw Parker said in the team’s statement. "We’ve continued a record-setting growth trajectory over the past three years under new ownership — both on and off the court — and 2024 is shaping up to be our best season yet."

As of Tuesday, season ticket sales revenue for Caitlin Clark’s hotly anticipated Indiana Fever debut haven’t yet been announced by the club. But if these numbers are any indication — not to mention the explosive demand for Fever away games felt by teams around the country — it won’t be long before we see some scale-tipping figures coming out of Indianapolis.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

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