The WNBA draft lottery is on Sunday, with four teams in the running for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 draft.

Among those teams are the Phoenix Mercury, who finished last in the league in the regular season. It was a tumultuous season, with the team firing head coach Vanessa Nygaard midway through after losing 10 of 12 games to start the season. The team’s playoff streak of 10 consecutive postseason appearances also came to an end.

The Mercury battled a number of injuries. All-Star Brittney Griner missed several games on mental health leave stemming from her 10-month detainment in Russia last year. Meanwhile, veteran guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, who had a career-best season in 2022-23, has been out on maternity leave and will not return to the team.

Griner intends to stay in Phoenix, calling it “home” in September. Diana Taurasi, meanwhile, signed a contract extension with the team earlier this year. The team also recently hired Nate Tibbetts as its next head coach, with Kristi Toliver joining the team as associate head coach.

All signs point to the team improving on last year, although Mercury guard Sophie Cunningham would like one last piece of the puzzle to help propel the team past its low points: the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

Iowa star Caitlin Clark is the consensus pick in mock drafts to go in that first spot.

“We deserve it,” she told AZ Sports. “We have been on the struggle bus the past couple years and it has been awful. … But we have a new GM, a new head coach and, of course, the new ownership with Mat Ishiba, and there have been changes made over here. So we are feeling good. … Whatever good luck or vibes you have, please send them our way because we would love to get Caitlin Clark on this train.”

The Indiana Fever, Los Angeles Sparks and Seattle Storm are the remaining teams in the lottery, with Indiana holding the best odds at 44.2 percent. Phoenix has the second-best odds (27.6 percent) in the draft lottery.

The Phoenix Mercury (2-6) had their roughest night yet amid a rocky start to their season, as Diana Taurasi went scoreless and Brittney Griner exited with an injury in Tuesday’s 83-59 loss to the Seattle Storm.

“We have got to get our chemistry together, because if not, it’s gonna be a long, long season,” Phoenix guard Sophie Cunningham said after the game.

Taurasi was held scoreless for just the fifth time in her 19-season career, and for the first time since 2019.

Griner, who leads the team with 20.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, finished with just two points and missed the second half with a hip injury. The 6-9 center was coming off a season-high 29 points in Sunday’s 85-82 win against the Indiana Fever.

While the Storm gave up just nine turnovers, they forced 16, and Seattle rookie Jordan Horston had her first-career double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds.

“Turnovers were definitely a factor – unforced ones,” Phoenix head coach Vanessa Nygaard said. “We’re gonna look at the game, see what we can do better, and be ready for our next game. … Without having BG in there, that hurts our rebounding.”

As for Taurasi, Cunningham thinks the officiating in the game hampered the veteran guard in the loss.

“I’ll have D’s back,” Cunningham said. “I think she’s getting screwed on a lot of calls. She’s the GOAT of our game. I’m probably gonna get fined. It’s honestly embarrassing… They’re worried about the wrong things. Focus on what you do and call it. She’s put in enough time, enough blood, enough sweat and tears, that you gotta give her a little bit respect  If I was a ref, I’d be pretty embarrassed.”

And Nygaard backed her up: “There’s just enough clips we’ve put together from the same game, similar cut. The calls — D doesn’t get them. It’s just tough right now. She gets frustrated.”

In spite of the issues with the officiating, the Mercury – who made the playoffs last season and were in the WNBA Finals the season before – are looking to turn their season around.

“I’m tired of losing,” Cunningham said. “I’m ready to catch a rhythm with our team. Enough is enough. Our vibe has got to change. Our energy’s gotta change. … But you’ve got to show up, keep working hard. Eventually things will turn around. These times right here is what makes the high’s really high and exciting.”

Mercury guard Sophie Cunningham is crediting Tina Charles’ departure from Phoenix in June as a main catalyst for her career-best year.

Charles signed a one-year contract with the Mercury in February but agreed to a contract divorce in June, later signing with the Seattle Storm. The former WNBA MVP averaged 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in 16 appearances with the Mercury.

Cunningham averaged 12.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game in her fourth WNBA season — all career highs. She more than doubled her points and rebounds per game compared to last season.

“There was a lot of beauty in the chaos. I don’t think there’s ever been a team that’s endured what we’ve endured as the Phoenix Mercury,” Cunningham said of the season.

The team faced a number of trials, including Brittney Griner’s detainment in Russia since February, Charles’ contract divorce in June and Skylar Diggins-Smith’s absence in the waning games of the season.

Cunningham, though, called Charles’ exit the “best thing that could’ve happened to me” in her end-of-season interview Sunday.

“I think that really helped me have the opportunity that I had,” she said. “I’ve never played the four position in my life, but it honestly opened up a lot for me on the court, especially my 3-point shooting.

“This year has been a confidence booster for me. I think there’s been a lot of areas that have showed me what I need to work on in my game. But I think it’s proven that I belong here, I really can make a dent in this league.”

On top of her own play, Cunningham said the team made style adjustments in Charles’ absence, which allowed other players more room to shine.

“It opened up a lot for our drivers, too,” she added. “I think that we kind of went small ball, but you know they won championships here in the past with small ball. Even though it may be a defensive liability, you make up for it by being scrappy and outworking your opponent.”

While Cunningham helped fill a hole during the regular season for the Mercury, she struggled a bit during the playoffs.

In the two games of the Mercury’s first-round sweep at the hands of the Las Vegas Aces, Cunningham averaged 7.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. She averaged the fourth-most points behind Diamond DeShields (19.5 points), Kaela Davis (16.0) and Megan Guastafson (9.0).

Both Diana Taurasi (quad injury) and Skylar Diggins-Smith (personal reasons) missed the playoff series.

The WNBA playoffs are tantalizingly close. The Sky, Aces, Sun, Storm and Mystics have already secured their spots in the postseason, leaving six teams (all but the Fever) to compete for three bids over the final week and a half of the regular season.

In their pursuit of the playoffs, several players stood out above the rest in the month of July. Just Women’s Sports honors the top individual performances by naming the Team of the Month, including starters and reserves.

A’ja Wilson, F, Las Vegas Aces

Wilson is having an MVP-type season, averaging 19.4 points, 9.5 rebounds, two blocks, 1.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game. She’s making a positive impact in every part of the game, with her 17-point, 17-rebound, six-block performance in the Aces’ Commissioner’s Cup win serving as an indicator of how the forward steps up against top competition. In July, Wilson had eight 20-plus point games and four double-doubles to lead Las Vegas to a 9-3 record.

Cunningham has picked up where she left off in a breakout 2021 playoffs performance. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Sophie Cunningham, G, Phoenix Mercury

The Mercury are in the midst of a playoff push, and that means they need to get more out of players not named Skylar Diggins-Smith or Diana Taurasi. Cunningham is certainly doing her part. In July, the guard averaged 17 points — up from her season average of 12.2 — and had a career-high 36 points in a loss against the Lynx on July 12.

Despite missing the occasional game to rest her back, Delle Donne has been a force. (Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

Elena Delle Donne, F, Washington Mystics

While Delle Donne was sidelined last season with a back injury, the Mystics missed the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Thanks to her return, that won’t happen again this season. Delle Donne is peaking at the right time, with some of her best performances coming in July. She averaged 22.3 points per game and recorded two double-doubles while leading the Mystics to a 6-3 record during the month.

Alyssa Thomas, F, Connecticut Sun

Thomas made an appearance as a reserve last month thanks to her contributions in virtually every statistical category. After recording the first triple-double in Sun history on July 22 with 15 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds (and even before she picked up her second of the season on Tuesday night), Thomas is making the jump to July’s starting five. She also had three steals and a block in that July 22 game, a 94-84 win over the Lynx, proving just how versatile she is.

Stewart helped Seattle clinch a playoff spot with a win Sunday. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Breanna Stewart, F, Seattle Storm

Seattle played 10 games in July, and Stewart was the leading scorer in eight of them. Nearly every game Stewart played for the playoff-bound Storm could be considered a highlight for the month, but her best performance came in an 82-72 win over Atlanta on the July 24. Stewart recorded a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds, while also adding four assists, two steals and three blocks. She continues to do it all for Seattle.


Kahleah Copper, G, Chicago Sky

Copper capped a July that included two double-doubles and four 20-plus point games with a 27-point performance in a 95-92 overtime win over the Sun on the last day of the month. She shot 63 percent from the field in that contest and added five rebounds and two assists.

Kelsey Plum, G, Las Vegas Aces

Plum continued her dominance in July, leading the Aces in scoring five times, while also shooting 45 percent from the 3-point line. Her All-Star MVP performance on July 10 accurately sums up Plum’s scoring acumen, as she finished with 30 points on 66.7 percent shooting.

Sylvia Fowles, C, Minnesota Lynx

It’s hard to imagine the WNBA without Fowles, especially when she’s playing at such a high level. In July, the center bound for retirement after this season had five 10-plus rebound games and four double-doubles.

Tiffany Hayes, G, Atlanta Dream

Hayes made her debut for the Dream this month after overseas commitments and a knee injury kept her sidelined. She’s averaging 16.2 points for the playoff-hopeful Dream. Her best game was a 31-point performance in a 92-76 win over the Aces on July 19.

Diana Taurasi, G, Phoenix Mercury

Taurasi has scored over 28 points five times this season, with three of those performances coming in July. She had 28 in a 94-78 win over the Storm, 29 in an 80-75 win over the Mystics, and 30 in a 90-80 win over the Sparks.

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

Myshia Hines-Allen and Sophie Cunningham exchanged words on the court Thursday, but the beef between the players has not ended there.

The duo got into it during the first quarter of the Phoenix Mercury’s 80-75 win over the Washington Mystics, with Washington’s Hines-Allen stepping over Phoenix’s Cunningham after the latter missed a 3-pointer. Cunningham responded by grabbing Hines-Allen’s leg.

The players had to be separated by teammates and each received a technical foul.

Following the game, though, Cunningham called the incident “nothing.”

“We’re feisty here,” Cunningham said postgame. “I thought I got fouled, she stepped over me, so why can’t I be a little feisty and sassy?”

Her Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi, who was involved in a controversial play of her own Thursday, said that she’s not concerned about the guard.

“In life there are certain people you don’t worry about,” Taurasi said. “I don’t worry about Sophie. If she was in a dark alley by herself, she’d be alright.”

Early Friday morning, Hines-Allen seemingly tweeted in response to Taurasi’s comment, writing, “Let’s go in an alley then…”

The altercation has sparked recollection of a similar incident during last season’s playoffs, in which Chicago’s Kahleah Copper famously “stepped over” Cunningham in the WNBA Finals. At the time, Cunningham asserted that Copper had “grabbed my neck” and said that people could “put me on all the T-shirts you want.”

Copper, who was named the 2021 WNBA Finals MVP, later responded by dropping the T-shirt on her website.

Sophie Cunningham is expected to re-sign with the Phoenix Mercury, her agent tells Just Women’s Sports. The exact details of the contract terms were not disclosed.

An unrestricted free agent, Cunningham also received offers from the Los Angeles Sparks and Indiana Fever before deciding to return to the Mercury.

The 6-foot-1 guard has become an integral part of Phoenix’s roster since the team drafted her 13th overall out of the University of Missouri in 2019. Starting in 20 of 83 game appearances with the Mercury during her three-year career, Cunningham improved in nearly every statistical category in 2021.

After averaging 5.6 points and two rebounds while shooting a career-best 41-percent from the 3-point line during the regular season, Cunningham raised her game even more during the Mercury’s run to the WNBA Finals. The 25-year-old was the difference-maker in Phoenix’s first-round, single-elimination win over the New York Liberty, scoring 21 points on 6-for-7 shooting from deep. She provided a spark on several occasions in the playoffs, as the Mercury overcame a shorthanded roster to push the Chicago Sky to four games in the Finals.

Now that Cunningham is locked in alongside the veteran core of Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith, it appears the Mercury are going all in on settling unfinished business in 2022. Cunningham’s play should continue to trend in the right direction as she continues to find her confidence. Her toughness and ability to stretch defenses make her an asset to the Mercury when opposing defenses are focused on the Big Three.

Vanessa Nygaard will lead Phoenix into the 2022 season after she was named head coach last week. Nygaard replaces 2014 WNBA champion Sandy Brondello, who was hired as head coach of the Liberty after her contract with the Mercury was not renewed.

Rachel Galligan is a basketball analyst at Just Women’s Sports. A former professional basketball player and collegiate coach, she also contributes to Winsidr. Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachGall.

Kahleah Copper has granted Sophie Cunningham’s wish by putting the now-infamous photo of the two on a T-shirt.

When asked about the photo on Monday, Cunningham addressed the incident.

“Are you talking about the play where she grabbed my neck?” Cunningham responded. “Everyone knows she grabbed my neck. I probably would’ve got ejected for doing that.”

“Put me on all the T-shirts you want,” she added. “My hair looked nice.”

Copper, the 2021 WNBA Finals MVP, responded by dropping the merchandise on her website on Wednesday. Along with an MVP T-shirt and hoodie, fans can purchase a “Never Forget” T-shirt or hoodie.

On Tuesday, the Chicago Sky brought the door Diana Taurasi allegedly broke to their rally.

Sophie Cunningham addressed the now-infamous photo of her and Kahleah Copper during player exit interviews Monday night, the day after the Phoenix Mercury dropped Game 4 of the WNBA Finals to the Chicago Sky, 80-74.

Copper, named Finals MVP on Sunday for her play in the series, was charged with a common foul in Game 2 after getting into a tussle with Cunningham, who had dived for a loose ball on the court.

“Are you talking about the play where she grabbed my neck?” Cunningham responded to a reporter’s question about the incident. “Everyone knows she grabbed my neck. I probably would’ve got ejected for doing that.”

“Put me on all the T-shirts you want,” she added. “My hair looked nice.”

The Mercury guard later backed up her comments on Twitter.

The play Cunningham is referring to caused much controversy during the Finals series. The WNBA fined Diana Taurasi $2,500 for pushing a referee who was trying to break up Cunningham and Copper after the whistle.

Taurasi later said she was just trying to get to Cunningham and didn’t know she had pushed an official.

PHOENIX — Two days after the WNBA celebrated the 25 best players in the league’s 25-year history during Game 1 of the Finals, Sophie Cunningham couldn’t get the image out of her mind.

As she reflected on the moment Lisa Leslie, Cynthia Cooper and other basketball icons walked onto the court for the ceremony at half-court, the third-year Phoenix Mercury guard realized she might never again see that many WNBA legends in one place. It also reminded her why she was sitting on a Zoom call with a group of high school girls basketball players the night before the biggest game of her career, sharing her story in the hopes of inspiring young women who want to be in her position one day.

“Those are people who started our league, and you were kind of in awe and you wanted to make them proud,” Cunningham said Tuesday night after speaking to 40 girls from two Phoenix high schools, who took part in the panel discussion, a mindfulness session and a basketball clinic at the Footprint Center as part of the WNBA and NBA’s Her Time to Play initiative.

“But it also is our responsibility to make it,” she continued. “You might not see the change now, but you might see it in 10 years for the younger people.”

Cunningham, 25, can appreciate the power of a role model. Growing up in Columbia, Mo., she wasn’t around a lot of people who played professional sports and could show her what it took to get there. When she started traveling for basketball, Cunningham met players from the East and West coast who had the types of connections and resources she never did.

“It’s a college town and that’s about it. Everything else is farmland,” she said of her hometown.

So, Cunningham looked up to her parents and her older sister, who turned almost everything into a competition in their house, and soccer star Mia Hamm. “I just thought she was a badass,” Cunningham said, “and I was like, ‘I want to be that. I could be that one day.’”

Chasity Melvin, Mercury assistant coach and former WNBA player, described a similar upbringing during the panel Tuesday night.

Drafted into the WNBA in 1999, two years after its inception, Melvin didn’t have a stable professional women’s basketball league to aspire to while she was growing up in rural North Carolina. Instead, she drew inspiration from her dad’s belief in her and the daily competitions with her two brothers and two sisters.

“You just know where you come from,” Melvin said. “I think Sophie and I already know our history and how hard it took us to get here. So it’s nothing to try to give back to the young girls because we were once those young girls.”

Local high schoolers participate in a basketball clinic at the Footprint Center in Phoenix. (Courtesy of the WNBA)

The day before Cunningham and Melvin spoke on the panel, along with former WNBA star Marie Harris and AT&T’s Director of Corporate Social Responsibility Jamika Doakes, Sky guard Kahleah Copper took part in a similar conversation with girls aged 10-17 from the Chicago area. Her Time To Play, launched in 2018 with the purpose of empowering young women through basketball and recently expanded to reach 20,000 girls, held the two events in between Games 1 and 2 of WNBA Finals week.

Copper, leading the Sky’s pursuit of their first championship after a breakout season, explained to the girls over Zoom that it took her a while to realize she was good enough to play in the WNBA. A naturally shy person, she said the player they now see on the court is her “alter ego.”

Not being afraid to show your competitive side is something Cunningham also preached to the Phoenix high schoolers. Our society often confines girls and women into a box, expecting them to look and act in a way that fits conventional standards of femininity. Cunningham, known for her spirited play on the court, rejected that concept.

“You don’t have to look a certain way. You don’t have to be a certain color. You don’t have to be the most athletic,” Cunningham said. “I clearly don’t jump the highest, I’m not the quickest. But I do things well and I try to do them as best I can every single day.

“So I just want, especially young females, to be confident in who they are and know it’s OK to be goofy. It’s OK to smile, laugh, but also be super competitive and put someone on their ass.”

As the Sky and Mercury prepare to meet again for Game 3 Friday night in Chicago, driving the players is not only the chase of a WNBA trophy but also the appreciation of their careers coming full circle.

“We’re in the middle of the WNBA Finals and I’m making time for these kids because it’s important,” Copper said. “It’s important to inspire them so that when they grow up and make it, they’ll be like, ‘You know what, somebody inspired me and I’m going to inspire the next generation.’”

Hannah Withiam is the Managing Editor at Just Women’s Sports. She previously served as an editor at The Athletic and a reporter at the New York Post. Follow her on Twitter @HannahWithiam.

The Phoenix Mercury were down 79-77 to the eighth-seeded New York Liberty as they approached the final minute of their do-or-die game Thursday night. In front of a roaring home crowd, Sophie Cunningham decided to do what she’d been doing all game and fired a 3-point shot, this time from the right side of the court, and sunk the most important basket of her life.

It marked a career-high 21 points for Cunningham and gave the Mercury the lead they needed to advance to the second round of the WNBA playoffs. The 25-year-old came off the bench to go 6-for-7 from the 3-point line and ignite her team in the second half.

Sophie Cunningham? More like Sophie Going Ham.

Her efforts, alongside Skylar Diggins-Smith’s 22 points and Brittney Griner’s 16 points and 10 rebounds, led the Mercury to a thrilling 83-82 win in the first-round, single-elimination game.

Mercury coach Sandy Brondello subbed Cunningham into the game in the second half to give the team a spark. The Mercury had let the Liberty close in on their 11-point lead and entered halftime down 41-37. Players began to lose momentum as New York outshot Phoenix 18-13 at the start of the second quarter; Diggins-Smith didn’t score a single point in that span.

“Sophie’s got a short-term memory,” Brondello said with a chuckle after the game. “That’s what I love about her, and she’s not afraid.”

The original plan when Cunningham subbed in was to get the ball to Diggins-Smith and Griner.

“I just went out there and I said, ‘Screw it, I’m just going to shoot the ball,’” she said.

The Columbia, Mo. native mentioned during a sideline interview after the third quarter that bringing energy is her role on the team, and so that’s what she did Thursday night, in whatever form the team needed it.

Typically playing between 16 and 24 minutes a game, Cunningham came into the game as an underdog.

The guard’s previous career-high was 19 points, achieved on June 28, 2019 in a game against the Indiana Fever when she went 3-for-3 from 3-point range. Her season-high was 17 points against the Atlanta Dream on Aug. 15.

On Thursday night, Cunningham scored 12 points in the third quarter alone, followed by another six in the fourth.

“On the stage that we had, it’s not easy coming in and playing,” Brondello said.

It wasn’t just 3-point shooting that Cunningham brought off the bench. She bounced around with a crowd-hyping energy and confidence that had everyone convinced she owned the court. By the final 10 minutes, her teammates were matching her pace, with Griner recording 14 points and Diggins-Smith 12 in the final stanza.

The only thing missing from Cunningham’s picture-perfect night was teammate Diana Taurasi, Cunningham’s favorite player growing up and now her teammate. Taurasi sat out of Thursday’s game with a left ankle sprain.

The Mercury will next face the Seattle Storm, who advanced to the second round on a bye, at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday.