With the NBA pre-season already getting stale mere days into its abbreviated run, and with the MLS season finally coming to a merciful and anticlimactic end shortly, the women’s iterations of the leagues took center stage this week. One’s already delivered big time, and one is on the verge of doing so.
For the first time in 21 years, the WNBA has a repeating champion, courtesy of the Las Vegas Aces, who completed their quest before a sold-out crowd in Brooklyn’s Barclay Center, where the New York Liberty had developed into a legitimate contender and was indeed a mere 10 minutes away from sending the 2023 Finals back to the Strip for a decisive fifth game Wednesday night, before this inspiring performance went down that their hometown LAS VEGAS SUN chronicled in an editorial that dropped this morning
(T)he Aces were led by Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee and coach Becky Hammon, two-time league MVP A’ja Wilson; another two-time league MVP, Candace Parker; three other All-Stars, Chelsea Gray, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum; and rising star Alysha Clark.
The roster was imposing, but injuries and other distractions, including foot surgery that sidelined Parker for the remainder of the season, forced the Aces to adapt.
They finished the regular season with a 34-6 record, the best defensive team in the league.
They were heavy favorites headed into the playoffs and demonstrated their dominance by sweeping the first two rounds and winning two of the first three games of the Finals.
But then, this week, came the news that Gray and starting center Kiah Stokes would both be out for Game 4 with foot injuries. Fortunately, like skilled card players, the Aces knew how to play the hand they were dealt and adapted yet again.
Then, Wednesday night, her team put on a defensive clinic, holding the New York Liberty — a team that averaged more than 89 points per game during the season — to just 69 points in Game 4.
It was good enough for a victory, as the Aces scored 70 to secure their second title in as many years. In the process, they demonstrated some of the most highly skilled and entertaining basketball in the country — including the NBA.
And while the women’s pro season has come to an end, the appetite for the women’s college season is now as rabid as ever, as demonstrated this weekend in Iowa as reported by the AP’s Nick Rohlman:
The University of Iowa women’s basketball team on Sunday had more than 55,000 fans in attendance for its exhibition game against DePaul, setting a new record for college women’s basketball. It was held at the university’s football stadium, not unlike Nebraska volleyball’s exhibition months prior.
If that image looks odd, it was, as Rohlman continued:
Unfortunately for the university, much of the talk online was about the bizarre placement of the court on the football field.
Without seeing any images of the event, one would probably assume the court would be placed right at the 50-yard line, with the court’s sideline running parallel with the field’s. After all, that does seem to make the most sense.
That was not the case on Sunday. Instead, the court was placed next to one of the end zones and the baselines ran parallel to the football field’s sidelines.
Regardless, it made for great TV, and do recall the last time Iowa played on a Sunday afternoon was in early April when they lost the championship game against LSU, where more than nine million ESPN viewers tuned in. DePaul isn’t exactly in the same league but, heck. when was the last time YOU talked about a pre-season women’s college basketball game?
And now it’s the NWSL’s turn for their post-season, and as luck would have it, they’ve got a compelling first round game tonight in Seattle, where the potent and polarizing Megan Rapinoe, already retired from the USWNT, could be playing her final 90 professional minutes tonight as she leads her OC Reign into battle against Los Angeles-based Angel City FC. As ESPN’s Jeff Kassoff previews, they are likely to have their hands full:
Simply put, this is the hottest team in the league right now and the playoffs are all about momentum at the right time. Angel City has lost only once in 11 regular-season games since Tweed took over. The 5-1 win over Portland on Sunday was the team’s “most complete” performance of the season, Tweed said, and it was easily the biggest result in the team’s brief history.
From Savannah McCaskill‘s playmaking in the No. 10 role to MA Vignola getting on the scoresheet as a fullback and the double-pivot of Amandine Henry and Madison Hammond holding down midfield, Angel City is clicking in all the right ways. This is the last team anyone wants to face right now.
Angel City also won the most recent matchup between the teams in August by not allowing the Reign to find a rhythm in their attack to serve crosses. Angel City attempted more crosses in the regular season than any team, even the typically cross-happy Reign. The Reign might just get a dose of their own medicine against Angel City.
On the other hand:
Rapinoe‘s two goals on Sunday to secure the Reign another home playoff game suggest that the two-time World Cup champion still has a few more moments of magic in her before she retires this season. Reign head coach Laura Harvey has also vaguely suggested that midfielder Rose Lavelle could be available on Friday amid her latest battle with injuries. The Seattle side is at its best with Lavelle in the No. 10 role.
If the Reign can jump on top of Angel City early and dictate the tempo of play, it could be a long night for the visitors at Lumen Field. Midfielder Jess Fishlock, one of the Reign’s original players, continues to be an omnipresent force in the middle of the park.