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WNBA Semifinals: Storm Look to Hold Off Overachieving Lynx

@SEATTLESTORM

Seattle is supposed to win it all this season.

From the first week of the season through the tip-off of its finale, the Seattle Storm were on top of the WNBA standings. But with a top-two seed clinched and a double-bye to the semifinals guaranteed, the Storm rested Breanna Stewart, saw Sue Bird miss her 11th game, and allowed the Las Vegas Aces to wrestle away the top seed in the playoffs.

Something tells us the Storm aren’t too concerned. Throughout the season, they have led the league in both offensive and defensive rating, giving them the best net rating at 15.0. And in their two previous games against the Minnesota Lynx, Seattle won 90-66 in the second game of the year and 103-88 on Sept. 6.

If there is one key for Seattle, it is finding rhythm from deep. In wins, Seattle shot 42.4% from beyond the arc. In losses, that rate dropped to 28%. That falloff of 14.2% is the highest difference in 3-point percentage between wins and losses among playoff teams and second in the entire league to New York, which lost all but two games.

Seattle is an excellent 3-point shooting team. In the regular season, the team shot 39.8%, second only to Los Angeles. While the Sparks proved in their 2-of-18 showing against Connecticut that anyone can get cold, in a five-game series it is unlikely that Seattle will struggle for a prolonged stretch of play.

Five players for the Storm take at least three 3-pointers per game. All five shoot better than the league-wide average 35.5%, and both Bird and Alysha Clark average well above league average. Bird is shooting 46.9% for the season, the best mark in her Hall of Fame career, but Clark tops even that with a 52.2% number that is the best in the league for any player taking at least 2 3-pointers per contest.

Jewell Loyd, Sami Whitcomb, and Stewart can also knock down 3’s with the best of them. There’s a reason the Storm are still the favorites to take home the title.

If Sue Bird is healthy enough to play, which is the expectation, she will be a major boost. Despite being limited to 11 games, Seattle went 10-1 in those contests. And while Seattle may not need Breanna Stewart to play at an MVP-level in the series to win, expect her to play with a chip on her shoulder after losing to A’ja Wilson it what was a tight, season-long race.

If Stewart raises her level of play, Minnesota could be in for a rough series. Of the five teams with the most points per game scored by rookies, four did not make the playoffs. Only Minnesota, led by Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield’s 16.1 points per game, made it to the dance.

While Dangerfield struggled through the first half of her debut WNBA playoff game, Minnesota will continue to rely on their vaunted rookie. Despite leading the team in scoring in the regular season, Dangerfield struggled to open games throughout the campaign. In the first quarter, Dangerfield scored just 2.7 points on average, but that number steadily increased throughout each game, and in the fourth quarter she was up to 6.3, second in the entire league.

Nerves for her first playoff game may have been a part of the slow start, but Dangerfield has waited to get going all season long. The Lynx won’t panic if Dangerfield fails to get things going early against the Storm. Luckily, they have talent across the board.

Napheesa Collier has had an excellent season with 16.1 points and 9.0 rebounds per outing. After winning Rookie of the Year last season, Collier finished 5th in MVP voting this season. As she told Just Women’s Sports, winning MVP is her next big goal, but “First and foremost, I want our team to win.”

If the Lynx can pull off the upset of the Storm, the return of Sylvia Fowles could prove to be the decisive factor. After missing all five weeks with a calf injury, the 2017 league MVP and WNBA career rebound leader is back in action. The team’s 9.9 offensive rebounds per game, which was second in the league, affords valuable extra possessions, and with Fowles back in the paint, expect that number to only go up.

With Coach of the Year Cheryl Reeve pulling the strings, don’t expect the Lynx’s relative youth to trip them up against the Storm. This team plays beyond their years. But in order to topple an extremely talent Seattle side, the Lynx will need to be nearly perfect.

Prediction: Seattle in 4

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.

Other former players 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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