09 Jan

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark already breaking records; LSU, UConn fall

The first week of the 2023-24 women’s college basketball season was filled with both the expected and unexpected. While Dawn Staley is reminding everyone that South Carolina should never be overlooked, preseason favorites LSU and UConn have already suffered their first losses of the year.

Speaking of expected, Iowa star Caitlin Clark already has her first triple-double of the season. The reigning national player of the year is playing as good as ever, but she will have some serious competition for the spotlight with UConn’s Paige Bueckers returning, LSU and Angel Reese chasing another national title, and freshmen across the country already making names for themselves.

Here are some of the top moments from Week 1, as well as some of the main storylines and games to watch over the coming days.

Bucket of the week: MiLaysia Fulwiley, South Carolina
MiLaysia Fulwiley made quite the statement during her college debut last week. The freshman helped the Gamecocks get a 100-71 win over Notre Dame in Paris by registering 17 points, six assists, one block and six steals.

That’s an impressive stat line for a freshman, but one basket in particular was described by NBA legend Magic Johnson as “the best move in all of basketball.”

“THE EIFFEL TOWER IS SHAKING”!! OH MY GOODNESS 😱 pic.twitter.com/mpxRrCrS7y

— South Carolina Women’s Basketball (@GamecockWBB) November 6, 2023
The future is HER. Holy Milaysia Fulwiley ⁦@GamecockWBB⁩ pic.twitter.com/u3Em9XpWYD

— Holly Rowe (@sportsiren) November 6, 2023
Dish of the week: Nika Muhl, UConn
Nika Muhl is no stranger to no-look passes, and they are always a joy to watch. Early in the second quarter against Dayton, the senior guard came from behind to intercept a pass, then followed that steal with a no-look assist to teammate Aubrey Griffin. Cold as ice.

Nika Mühl was READY

She gets the steal and the no-look assist to Aubrey Griffin pic.twitter.com/EUcFijenV7

— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) November 9, 2023
Muhl finished the night with 10 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals. The Huskies went on to defeat Dayton, 102-58.

Stop of the week: Cameron Brink, Stanford
As Stanford put it, Cameron Brink created a “five-second masterpiece” as she registered her 300th career block. The 2023 WBCA Defensive Player of the Year is a brick wall in the paint, and she is making her case for another award early this season.

In Sunday’s game against Indiana, Brink blocked a shot from senior guard Sydney Parrish in the first quarter. She then took possession of the ball, ran down the court and passed it to Elena Bosgana, who knocked down a 3-pointer. Brink ended the day with a double-double of 14 points and 17 rebounds, adding two assists, five blocks and a steal.

A five-second masterpiece 👩‍🎨🏀

The 300th career block, leading the break, finding Elena, the wide open 3-pointer. All of it 😙🤌#GoStanford pic.twitter.com/WcLndqA4x6

— Stanford Women’s Basketball (@StanfordWBB) November 13, 2023
Game of the week: No. 3 Iowa vs. No. 8 Virginia Tech
The Hawkeyes pulled off an 80-76 victory over the Hokies in a Battle of the Titans on Thursday, a competitive contest in which the lead changed hands 11 times.

Iowa star Caitlin Clark didn’t have the greatest shooting night, but she still had a monster game from a volume perspective with 44 points, eight rebounds and six assists. That was her 38th career 30-point game, tying Kelsey Plum’s record for the most such games in the last 25 years.

Can’t keep Caitlin Clark in check 💪 pic.twitter.com/IJJJgWojWF

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 10, 2023
Virginia Tech’s Georgia Amoore also deserves to be discussed because she was a tough cover for Iowa’s defensive specialist Gabbie Marshall. Amoore reached a career-high 31 points on 10-of-23 shooting and drained a career-best seven 3-pointers. One of those 3-point makes was a half-court buzzer beater to end the first quarter.

GEORGIA AMOORE CRUSHES A HALF-COURT SHOT TO END THE FIRST QUARTER 🤯🤯🤯@HokiesWBB x @espnW pic.twitter.com/M44aiTEhFU

— ACC Women’s Basketball (@accwbb) November 10, 2023
Clark and Amoore had plenty to say about each other’s talent after the game.

“She’s literally been gifted by every God you can imagine,” Amoore told reporters. “She’s insane. … She’s a generational talent.”

“Georgia [Amoore] is one of the best guards in the country,” Clark said. “I think that’s pretty obvious.”

Biggest storylines from Week 1
No. 1 LSU and No. 2 UConn both fall

According to the Associated Press, this was the second time in history the preseason No. 1 and No. 2 teams did not remain in the top two spots after Week 1.

LSU became the first reigning champion to lose a season opener since 1995 after getting upset 92-78 by Colorado last Monday. The Tigers entered the season as the top team in the nation by returning their leading scorer, Angel Reese, while adding former Louisville star Hailey Van Lith and the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation.

“I’m disappointed and surprised in some individual players that I thought would just be tougher and have a little fight and leadership about them,” LSU coach Kim Mulkey said after the loss.

LSU becomes the first defending Division I @MarchMadnessWBB champion to lose in its season opener since UConn in 1995-96.

Huge win for @CUBuffsWBB‼️ pic.twitter.com/TDGd6MOEzv

— CBS Sports College Basketball 🏀 (@CBSSportsCBB) November 7, 2023
Meanwhile, the Huskies took care of business against Dayton with a 102-58 win last Wednesday. However, they struggled against a then-unranked NC State team on Sunday and fell 92-81. The Wolfpack was victorious behind a breakout performance by junior guard Saniya Rivers, who recorded 33 points to go along with 10 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and three steals.

UConn’s Paige Bueckers returns
The UConn star returned to the floor against Dayton after 584 days of not playing. Bueckers won 11 major awards as a freshman during the 2020-21 campaign, but the 2021 national player of the year battled injuries her sophomore year and missed all of last season after tearing her ACL.

Bueckers is hoping to come back stronger than before, but understandably it will take her some time to get fully comfortable again. Nevertheless, she put up a respectable eight points, seven rebounds, four assists and a steal in her first game back, a dominant 102-58 victory over Dayton. Bueckers looked more like herself in a losing effort against NC State, registering 27 points on 11-of-18 shooting.

Paige Bueckers back to getting buckets after 584 days!

8 PTS, 7 REB, 4 AST in 21 MINSpic.twitter.com/k4kN8iVcjP

— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) November 9, 2023
South Carolina’s offense off to strong start
South Carolina notched a program first by clearing 100 points in each of its first two games, taking down top-15 teams in Notre Dame (100-71) and Maryland (114-76). The 114 points the Gamecocks scored against Maryland were also the most points they have ever scored against a ranked opponent.

Caitlin Clark breaks Iowa’s all-time scoring record
During Sunday’s 94-53 victory against Northern Iowa, Clark broke the Hawkeyes’ all-time scoring record of 2,804 points set by Megan Gustafson in 2019. The senior put her name in the history books with a spin into a bank shot.

Clark finished the night with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, marking her 12th career triple-double. By virtue of her performance, Clark joins former Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu as the second player in women’s college basketball history to have a triple-double in four separate seasons.

That’s the record breaker. Caitlin Clark is Iowa’s all time leading scorer, passing Megan Gustafson. pic.twitter.com/o99yszgvcq

— Mark Woodley (@MarkWoodleyTV) November 12, 2023
You are the best! Thanks goat🤍 https://t.co/YEgTtqAAtn

— Caitlin Clark (@CaitlinClark22) November 12, 2023
The Pac-12 goes undefeated
This is the last season of the Pac-12 as we know it, and the conference of champions is sure making a statement. The Pac-12 entered the 2023-24 campaign with six teams ranked in the AP Top 25 poll, and none of them disappointed in Week 1. Everyone in the conference took care of business and went a combined 28-0.

On Monday, the conference’s excellence was rewarded with five of those teams leaping into the top 10. Here’s where the Pac-12 stands in the rankings after one week of play:

No. 3 UCLA
No. 4 Utah
No. 5 Colorado
No. 6 Stanford
No. 10 USC
No. 24 Washington State
Matchups to watch:
No. 4 Utah at No. 21 Baylor | Tuesday, Nov. 12, 7:30 p.m. ET | Big 12 Now on ESPN+: This will be the first time Baylor hosts a top-five opponent at the Ferrell Center since 2018-19, and it will certainly be a big test. The Bears have only played one game this season, and that was an 85-53 victory against the Southern Jaguars on Nov. 6. The Utes are an experienced team with all five starters from last season’s squad that went 27-5.

No. 20 Maryland at No. 8 UConn | Thursday, Nov. 16, 6:30 p.m. ET | FS1: Maryland coach Brenda Frese is clearly preparing her team for March because her squad has a very tough non-conference schedule. The Terrapins have already faced South Carolina, a game they lost 114-76, and they’ll try and bounce back against a UConn team hungry to avenge its upset defeat to NC State.

Kansas State at No. 2 Iowa | Thursday, Nov. 16, 8:30 p.m. ET | FS1: A win in Iowa City would be huge for Kansas State, which sits on the fringes of the top 25, and it really isn’t far-fetched. The Wildcats upset the Hawkeyes, 84 83, during their most recent meeting on Nov. 17, 2022.

09 Jan

Ex-UConn star Renee Montgomery highlights parity in women’s college basketball after losses by Huskies, LSU

The 2023-24 women’s college basketball season began with a handful of teams looking like clear national championship contenders, but things have changed drastically after Week 1. The entertaining chaos has not escaped former UConn star Renee Montgomery, who pointed out the parity the sport has developed.

“Right now if somebody says they know who is going to win, they are lying because we have no idea,” Montgomery said on CBS Sports’ “We Need to Talk.” “We watched the No. 1 team go down on the first week in November, not March Madness. In November we watched the No. 1 team go down, LSU. Then we watched the No. 2 team go down, my Huskies.”

The LSU Tigers were considered a super team heading into the season and looked unbeatable on paper. However, LSU was upset by then-No. 20 Colorado on Nov. 6 to become the first reigning champion to lose a season opener since 1995.

A few days later, despite a 27-point performance by star Paige Bueckers, No. 2 Uconn also went down to a then-unranked NC State team.

The LSU and UConn losses meant that on Monday, for the second time in the history of the AP Top 25 poll, the No. 1 and No. 2 teams did not remain in the top two spots after Week 1. Colorado jumped 15 spots to No. 5, and NC State rose to No. 14.

Meanwhile, South Carolina — a team expected to be going through somewhat of a rebuilding year — put everyone on notice with two 100-point games to start the season. The Gamecocks went from No. 6 to the top spot in a week, the biggest leap to No. 1 since 1977.

Most of the biggest storylines this past offseason were about veteran returners such as Bueckers, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and LSU’s Angel Reese. High-profile transfers such as UCLA’s Lauren Betts and LSU’s Hailey Van Lith were also a major talking point. However, Montgomery pointed out the young talent is making quite a bit of noise as well.

“The freshmen were like, ‘Knock, knock, who’s there? It’s us, baby. Here we are in the building,'” Montgomery said. “Because it’s not just one freshman. We saw [South Carolina’s MiLaysia Fulwiley], but we also see [USC’s] JuJu Watkins, we also see Hannah [Hidalgo] over there at Notre Dame.”

Years ago, only a few teams dominated women’s college basketball. But with the sport’s talent pool getting increasingly deep, the unexpected is now the expected in any game.

07 Jan

Chicago Sky to hire WNBA legend Teresa Weatherspoon as new head coach, per report

The Chicago Sky are hiring WNBA legend Teresa Weatherspoon as their new head coach, according to The Athletic. Details of the contract are still unknown, though Weatherspoon will only be taking on the coaching role, and the Sky will make a separate hire for their open general manager position, per the report.

At the close of the season, the Sky were the only remaining franchise that had one person with dual coaching and GM responsibilities. That issue came to head in July, when James Wade, who made a number of short-sighted personnel decisions last offseason, abruptly resigned both roles to take a job with the Toronto Raptors. Emre Vatansever took over both positions on an interim basis for the remainder of the season, but was not retained.

While the Sky snuck into the playoffs, they finished the regular season at 18-22 and were swept in the first round by the Las Vegas Aces. They are nowhere near contention, and do not own their first-round pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft, which is expected to feature a historically great class. And, in 2025, they owe the Dallas Wings a first-round pick swap, which as of now looks likely to be called in.

Those are the circumstances Weatherspoon will find herself in when she officially takes over in the near future. The Sky are going to have to rebuild through free agency and, when possible, trades. As a result, it’s almost certainly going to be multiple years before the Sky are truly back in the mix.

Weatherspoon, 57, played eight seasons with the New York Liberty and Los Angeles Sparks from 1997-2004. She won two Defensive Player of the Year awards, made five All-Star teams and four All-WNBA teams and hit one of the most famous shots in league history in Game 2 of the 1999 Finals. After her retirement, she was named to the league’s 20th anniversary team in 2016 and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2019.

Her coaching career has spanned nearly two decades, and includes stints in both the NCAA, where she led her alma mater, Louisiana Tech, for six seasons, and the NBA, where she served as an assistant coach for the New Orleans Pelicans from 2020-2023. Weatherspoon’s hiring means that seven of the league’s 12 head coaches will have played in the WNBA.

07 Jan

Liberty vs. Aces predictions, picks, best bets by top experts

The No. 2 seed New York Liberty go on the road to play the No. 1 seed Las Vegas Aces in Game 2 of the 2023 WNBA Finals on Wednesday. In Game 1, Las Vegas defended its home court and beat the Liberty 99-82. The Aces rolled through the regular season and logged a 34-6 record. In a similar fashion, New York produced a superb campaign. The Liberty went 32-8 during the year. New York won the season series 3-1 over Las Vegas.

Tipoff is at 9 p.m. ET. The Aces are 5-point favorites, while the over/under, or total number of points Vegas thinks will be scored, is 171 in the latest Liberty vs. Aces odds. Before making any Aces vs. Liberty picks and WNBA predictions, be sure to see what SportsLine women’s basketball experts Calvin Wetzel and Aaron Barzilai have to say.

Barzilai is a Ph.D. from Stanford who served as Director of Basketball Analytics for the Philadelphia 76ers. Five years ago, he founded HerHoopStats.com — a groundbreaking website that unlocks insights about the women’s game. Wetzel, the site’s lead betting writer, incorporates his mathematical background and strong knowledge of women’s hoops to turn the site’s prediction model into picks.

Now, Barzilai and Wetzel have turned their attention to the WNBA after going 996-685 on all college basketball picks over the last two seasons, putting them up 294 units since the start of the 2021-22 season. They also finished the 2022 WNBA regular season with a 54-44 mark in 2022. Anyone who has followed them has seen huge returns.

Now, Barzilai and Wetzel have set their sights on Liberty vs. Aces and just locked in their picks and WNBA predictions. You can head to SportsLine now to see their picks. Now, here are several WNBA odds and betting lines for Liberty vs. Aces:

Liberty vs. Aces spread: Aces -5
Liberty vs. Aces over/under: 171 points
Liberty vs. Aces money line: Aces -210, Liberty +175
Liberty vs. Aces picks: See picks at SportsLine
Why the Liberty can cover
The Liberty have a high-tempo and efficient offense. New York was ranked second in the league in scoring (89.2) and field goal percentage (46) but first in assists (24.1). This squad can rack up scoring from multiple players across the floor. Forward Breanna Stewart is an anchor in the frontcourt. Stewart leads the team in points (20) and blocks (2.4) with nine rebounds.

In Game 1, she had 21 points and nine rebounds. Forward Jonquel Jones joins Stewart in the frontcourt. Jones is an exceptional two-way force with great awareness around the rim. The 29-year-old is leading the team in rebounds (12.4) with 16.4 points per game. She’s registered a double-double in all seven playoff games thus far. Jones had 16 points and 10 rebounds in Game 1. See which team to pick here.

Why the Aces can cover
Las Vegas has been rolling throughout the playoffs, winning six straight games. This stellar play is just carrying over from the regular season. The Aces led the WNBA in points (92.8), field goal percentage (48.6) and blocks (4.8). Forward A’Ja Wilson continues to be a dominant force. She is first on the team in scoring (24.7), rebounds (10.7), and blocks (3.2).

In Game 1, Wilson notched 19 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Guard Kelsey Plum is a nice three-level scorer with good court vision. Plum is averaging 17.7 points, 3.2 assists and shoots 37% from beyond the arc during the postseason. The Washington product dropped 26 points and five rebounds in the Game 1 victory. See which team to pick here.

How to make Liberty vs. Aces picks
For Game 2 of the 2023 WNBA Finals, Barzilai and Wetzel are leaning Over on the point total, but also highlight a critical X-factor makes one side of the spread a must-back. They are only sharing what it is, and which side of the Liberty vs. Aces spread to back, at SportsLine.

07 Jan

Three key areas the Liberty can improve in Game 2 against the Aces

The New York Liberty fell apart in the second half of Game 1 of the 2023 WNBA Finals, en route to a 17-point defeat at the hands of the defending champion Las Vegas Aces. Now, the Liberty are essentially facing a must-win Game 2 if they want to claim their first title in franchise history; their chances of coming back from 0-2 down against the defending champs are slim to none.

Ahead of Wednesday night’s showdown, here’s a look at areas of improvement for the Liberty heading into Game 2, as they try to avoid losing back-to-back games for the first time all season.

  1. Make open shots
    As has been discussed ad nauseam, the 2023 Liberty were the best 3-point shooting team the WNBA has ever seen. They led the league in attempts per game (29.7) and percentage (37.4), and set all-time records for attempts and makes per game (11.1), as well as total attempts (1,187) and total makes (444).

In the playoffs, however, they have not been able to find their range. As expected, they’ve taken far more 3s than anyone else, but are shooting just 33.2%, which has them fifth among all playoff teams and would have ranked 10th in the regular season. Game 1 against the Aces was a perfect example of their struggles.

They shot 9-of-29 (31.0%) from downtown despite creating plenty of good looks. In fact, they were a shocking 0-of-11 on unguarded 3-point attempts per Synergy. That is, of course, a points per possession of 0.000; during the regular season the Liberty scored 1.165 points per possession on such opportunities.

“Make shots instead of missing them” isn’t exactly an adjustment, because no one is trying to do the former, but the Liberty simply must hit 3s to win this series. On that front, the data would suggest a regression to the mean is coming. While they didn’t score a single point on unguarded jumpers in Game 1, the Aces scored 1.875 ppp on their guarded jumpers.

Sometimes, it really is a make or miss league.

  1. Keep the Aces out of the paint and off the free throw line
    During the final four meetings between these teams in August, the Liberty went 3-1 in part because they were able to keep the Aces’ paint attack in check. Over those contests, the Liberty held the Aces to 32 of 53 (60.4%) in the restricted area, and 29 of 67 (43.3%) on non-restricted area shots in the paint — marks that were both well below their season averages.

In Game 1, though, the Aces largely did whatever they wanted around the basket. They shot 21-of-32 (65.5%) overall in the paint, to outscore the Liberty 42-30 in that department, and also got to the free throw line for 23 free throws, which were their most in a game against the Liberty this season.

Though A’ja Wilson scored 19 points on 7-of-11 from the field, it was the Aces guards who proved to be the biggest problem for the Liberty. Time and again they were able to beat their defender off the dribble, with Kelsey Plum, in particular, doing a lot of damage.

The Aces had an advantage in the backcourt coming into this series, and their trio of Plum, Jackie Young and Chelsea Gray combined for 72 points. If they continue to outplay the Liberty’s group to the extent they did in Game 1, they are going to win the title.

It’s easier said than done, of course, but the Liberty’s guards have to do a better job keeping their mark in front of them. Among they many issues with getting blown by is it means the likes of Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones are not in position to help at the rim.

  1. Crash the glass
    Coming into this series, offensive rebounding was one of the key advantages for the Liberty. During the regular season, they ranked third in offensive rebounding rate (30.8%) and third in second-chance points per game (11.5), while the Aces were 12th and ninth, respectively, in those categories. Over their final four matchups, the Liberty grabbed 39 offensive rebounds, which they turned into 50 second-chance points, compared to 18 offensive boards and 31 second-chance points for the Aces.

But in Game 1, it was the Aces who controlled the glass, winning the rebounding battle 34-30 overall. Even more impressive was that Las Vegas held New York to six offensive boards and four second-chance points — the latter being tied for the third-fewest New York has had in a game this season.

A’ja Wilson led the way, but it was a true team effort on the glass, with all six players who played significant minutes grabbing at least four rebounds. Whether the Aces can continue rebounding as a group, especially when they play their small lineup, will be a key factor over the rest of this series. When the Liberty can dominate the glass, it not only allows them to create extra possessions and opportunities to score, but prevents the Aces from pushing the pace.

07 Jan

‘It’s a joke’

The Las Vegas Aces beat the New York Liberty in Game 2 of the 2023 WNBA Finals on Wednesday and are one win away from winning a second consecutive championship. While the reigning champs have had a ton of team success, head coach Becky Hammon voiced her disappointment in this season’s MVP voting after their latest victory, as A’ja Wilson finished third and failed to win the award in back-to-back seasons despite putting together one of the league’s best individual campaigns.

“This lady’s been ridiculous, and she’s heard it all,” Hammon said in a postgame presser on Wednesday. “Third in MVP voting? OK. Rest on that. It’s a joke. She’s been off-the-charts efficient.”

Wilson ranked third in points per game (22.8) while shooting an impressive 55.7% from the field. She also ranked second in rebounds per game (9.5) and first in blocks (2.2). Wilson logged 30.7 minutes per game during the regular season while the 2023 MVP Breanna Stewart and runner-up Alyssa Thomas both eclipsed the 34-minute mark. Hammon believes Wilson resting in the fourth quarter during blowout wins contributed to her third-place finish.

“If I would’ve played her as many minutes (as Stewart and Thomas) she would’ve averaged 28 (points) and 13 (rebounds),” Hammon continued. “And that’s all anybody in here would’ve been talking about. But she got screwed because her coach didn’t play her in fourth quarters.”

The Aces will look to secure their second consecutive championship on Sunday, Oct. 15 in New York. Wilson is averaging 22.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per contest on 62.9 percent shooting in the series.

07 Jan

Liberty vs. Aces predictions, picks, best bets by top experts

The 2023 WNBA Finals could come to an end on Sunday afternoon. The Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty meet for Game 3 of the best-of-five series. Las Vegas leads the series by a 2-0 margin and would clinch the title with a Game 3 win. The Aces are unbeaten in the postseason after a 104-76 victory in Game 2, and the Liberty aim to avoid elimination with a win at home at the Barclays Center.

Tip-off is at 3 p.m. ET. The Aces are 2.5-point favorites, while the over/under, or total number of points Vegas thinks will be scored, is 172.5 in the latest Liberty vs. Aces odds. Before you make any Aces vs. Liberty picks and WNBA predictions, you need to see what SportsLine women’s basketball experts Calvin Wetzel and Aaron Barzilai have to say.

Barzilai is a Ph.D. from Stanford who served as Director of Basketball Analytics for the Philadelphia 76ers. Five years ago, he founded HerHoopStats.com — a groundbreaking website that unlocks insights about the women’s game. Wetzel, the site’s lead betting writer, incorporates his mathematical background and strong knowledge of women’s hoops to turn the site’s prediction model into picks.

Now, Barzilai and Wetzel have turned their attention to the WNBA after going 996-685 on all college basketball picks over the last two seasons, putting them up 294 units since the start of the 2021-22 season. They also finished the 2022 WNBA regular season with a 54-44 mark in 2022. Anyone who has followed them has seen huge returns.

Now, Barzilai and Wetzel have set their sights on Aces vs. Liberty and just locked in their picks and WNBA Finals predictions. You can head to SportsLine now to see their picks. Here are several WNBA odds and betting lines for Liberty vs. Aces:

Aces vs. Liberty spread: Aces -2.5
Aces vs. Liberty over/under: 172.5 points
Aces vs. Liberty money line: Aces -135, Liberty +115
Aces vs. Liberty picks: See picks at SportsLine
Why the Aces can cover
Las Vegas is in a dominant position after a fantastic season. The Aces posted the best record (34-6) and net rating during the regular season, and Las Vegas is unbeaten with seven straight wins in the playoffs. In that sample, the Aces have out-scored opponents by 121 total points, and are holding playoff opponents to only 0.91 points per possession. Opponents are shooting only 38.3% from the field with 16.7 assists per game against Las Vegas in playoff action, and New York is shooting only 40.7% from the field and 26.6% from 3-point range in the series.

On the offensive end, Las Vegas is averaging almost 1.29 points per possession against the Liberty, shooting 53.7% from the field, 43.1% from 3-point range, and 92.5% at the free throw line. In two games, the Aces have 52 assists and only 22 turnovers against the Liberty, and led the WNBA in points per game (92.8), field goal percentage (48.6%), 2-point percentage (54.9%), free throw percentage (84.0%), and turnovers (11.1 per game) during the regular season. See which team to pick here.

Why the Liberty can cover
New York has home-court advantage in Game 3 after strong results at home this season. The Liberty are 3-1 in playoff home games after going 15-5 in Brooklyn during the regular season. In those 20 regular season games, New York out-scored opponents by 10.1 points per 100 possessions, dominating with consistency. The Liberty are also creating havoc on the offensive glass in the playoffs, securing almost 34% of missed shots, and New York led the WNBA in 3-point accuracy (37.4%) and 3-pointers per game (11.1) during the regular season.

The Liberty also led the league with 24.1 assists per game and ranked in the top two in 2-point accuracy, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and points per game. New York is also led by the 2023 WNBA MVP in Breanna Stewart, who finished the season averaging 23.0 points and 9.3 rebounds per game to win the award. Stewart is also a dominant defender, averaging 1.6 blocks and 1.5 steals per game, and veteran Jonquel Jones is averaging 17.1 points and 12.1 rebounds per game for New York in the playoffs. See which team to pick here.

How to make Aces vs. Liberty picks
For Game 3 of the 2023 WNBA Finals, Barzilai and Wetzel are leaning Over on the point total, but also highlight a critical X-factor that makes one side of the spread a must-back. They are only sharing what it is, and which side of the Aces vs. Liberty spread to back, at SportsLine.

07 Jan

MVP Breanna Stewart, Defensive Player of the Year A’ja Wilson headline First Team

Ahead of Game 3 of the 2023 WNBA Finals between the Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty on Sunday afternoon, the league concluded its annual awards season with the All-WNBA team announcements. As expected, the First Team was highlighted by MVP Breanna Stewart and Defensive Player of the Year A’ja Wilson. They were both unanimous selections, as was MVP runner-up Alyssa Thomas.

As of last season, the All-WNBA teams are now position-less, which proved to be a major factor in this season’s voting. Not a single guard made the First Team, while the Second Team had four guards. In the end, the two teams wound up with four guards and six bigs, but in past years it would have shaken out differently.

Rounding out the First Team behind the three MVP candidates were Napheesa Collier and Satou Sabally. While Stewart (four straight) and Wilson (three straight) are First Team staples, Collier, Sabally and Thomas all made their First Team debuts.

The Second Team featured Chelsea Gray, Sabrina Ionescu, Jewell Loyd, Nneka Ogwumike and Jackie Young. This was the sixth All-WNBA appearance for Ogwumike, while Gray and Loyd made their third appearances, Ionescu her second and Young her debut, respectively.

The Aces led all teams with three All-WNBA honorees, which was no surprise after they finished with a record-setting 34 wins in the regular season and earned the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs. They are the first team to have three All-WNBA players in the same season since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2017.

07 Jan

Breanna Stewart named MVP; A’ja Wilson wins Defensive Player of the Year

The 2023 WNBA playoffs have reached the Finals, and awards season has come to an end as well. As per usual, the league’s major honors were determined by a panel of media members, and handed out during the postseason. This year, there were 60 voters, and ballots were due Sept. 10, the final day of the regular season.

In the biggest announcement, Breanna Stewart was named 2023 WNBA MVP, edging out Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas and Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson. Stewart won by a mere seven points in the second-closest race of all-time, and did so despite not having the most first-place votes (20, compared to 23 for Thomas). Those three headlined the All-WNBA First Team as unanimous selections.

Previously, Wilson won Defensive Player of the Year for a second consecutive season, Aliyah Boston was the unanimous Rookie of the Year and Satou Sabally earned Most Improved Player. In addition, Stephanie White was named Coach of the Year and Alysha Clark took home Sixth Player of the Year. Off the court, New York Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb received Executive of the Year.

Here’s a look at this season’s awards:

MVP: Breanna Stewart, New York Liberty
For the second time in her career, Breanna Stewart is the WNBA MVP. The Liberty star is the eighth player to win the award multiple times, and the third player, along with Cynthia Cooper and Lisa Leslie, to have multiple MVPs, Finals MVPs and championships. Stewart won by a historically close margin, sneaking past Alyssa Thomas and A’ja Wilson despite not having the most first-place votes.

While there was always going to be a fierce debate about this honor no matter which way it went, there was no question Stewart was deserving. She averaged 23 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.6 blocks per game, setting new career-best marks in scoring and assists, and finishing second in the league in scoring, third in rebounding and fourth in blocks. Furthermore, she set the new league record for 40-point games in a season with four.

Defensive Player of the Year: A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
Las Vegas Aces star A’ja Wilson is back on the awards podium with her second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year honor. She is the first player since Alana Beard in 2017 and 2018 to go back-to-back, and she’s the eighth player in league history to win the award multiple times. Wilson has established herself as the premier rim protector and averaged 2.2 blocks per game to lead the league in that category. She also finished third in defensive rebounding (7.5 per game) and tied for ninth in steals (1.4), anchoring the league’s best defense.

Rookie of the Year: Aliyah Boston, Indiana Fever
As expected, No. 1 overall pick Aliyah Boston was named Rookie of the Year after a historic season. She won the award unanimously, becoming the fifth player in league history to achieve that feat. Boston appeared in all 40 games, averaging 14.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks, while shooting 57.8% from the field. She led rookies in all of those categories and became the first rookie ever to lead the league in field goal percentage. Along the way, she was named an All-Star starter, becoming the sixth rookie to accomplish that, and helped the Fever win more games (13) than they had in the last two seasons combined (11).

Most Improved Player: Satou Sabally, Dallas Wings
As expected, Satou Sabally was named Most Improved Player after putting together a historic season. Sabally has had a frustrating start to her career, but she finally put it all together this season to lead the Wings to their first 20-win campaign since 2008. Along the way, Sabally averaged 18.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.8 steals per game, while shooting 36.1% from 3-point land. All of those marks were career-highs, and she joined Candace Parker as the only players in league history to average at least 18 points, eight rebounds and four assists over the course of a season.

Sixth Player of the Year: Alysha Clark, Las Vegas Aces
The Aces dominance over the Sixth Player of the Year award continued this season as veteran forward Alysha Clark took home the trophy. This was the fourth time in five seasons that an Aces player has won 6POY, with Clark joining Dearica Hamby (twice) and Kelsey Plum. In Clark’s first season with the Aces she proved to be a vital piece off the bench on both sides of the ball as they won a WNBA record 34 regular season games. Clark averaged 6.7 points and 3.4 rebounds, while shooting 38.6% from 3-point land.

Coach of the Year: Stephanie White, Connecticut Sun
White’s first season in charge of the Sun was a successful one, as she guided the team to a franchise-record 27 wins and the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. That’s despite the fact that Jonquel Jones was traded away in the winter and Brionna Jones tore her Achilles tendon a month into the season. This was the fifth time that a Sun coach has won the award, which is more than any other franchise.

Executive of the Year: Jonathan Kolb, New York Liberty
It’s no surprise that Kolb won this honor after putting together perhaps the best offseason in league history. During the winter, Kolb traded for Jonquel Jones and signed Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot in free agency — two former MVPs and the active assists leader. Following that incredible haul, the Liberty won a franchise-record 32 games in the regular season and earned the No. 2 overall seed in the playoffs.

All-WNBA First Team
As expected, MVP Breanna Stewart, Defensive Player of the Year A’ja Wilson and MVP runner-up Alyssa Thomas headlined the All-WNBA First Team; all three were unanimous selections. Notably, there were no guards on the First Team, which is now position-less as of last year.

07 Jan

How the Liberty’s defense helped fix their offense in Game 3 to keep their season alive

In the middle of the first quarter on Sunday afternoon, Jonquel Jones’ gamble for a steal did not pay off, which left A’ja Wilson with the ball at the top of the key and a chance to play 5-on-4. In the first two games of the 2023 WNBA Finals, that would have been a certain bucket. Not in Game 3.

Betnijah Laney rotated over to shut off Wilson’s drive, then shut off Jackie Young’s drive as well after Wilson kicked it out. A few moments later, the ball was in Kelsey Plum’s hands, and as she drove to the basket, Jones, who had gotten back into the play, arrived to force a miss. Down on the other end, Jones was rewarded with a wide open layup in transition that put the New York Liberty ahead.

Save for a brief 13 second period later on where the game was tied, the Liberty would lead the rest of the way en route to a season-saving 87-73 win over the Las Vegas Aces.

“We had a fight,” Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello said. “We got back to our identity. We’re a way better team than what we’ve showed the last two games. I’m just proud of the effort and the commitment and the connection that we had, but now we’ve got to do it again.”

During the regular season, the Liberty posted a 109.6 offensive rating, which was the third-best in league history, and set new WNBA records for 3-pointers made per game (11.1) and total makes (444). They are, at their core, an offense-first team, but they haven’t shown it for much of the postseason.

That changed on Sunday, as they shot 52.4% from the field, tied a franchise playoff record with 13 3-pointers and assisted on 28 of their 33 field goals. Their turnaround was sparked not by making shots that they had been missing, but by their work on the other side of the ball.

After a 28-point defeat in Game 2 — their largest of the entire season — Brondello called her team out.

“We were f—ing s—,” Brondello said. “What I hadn’t seen is where we didn’t stick together. We usually stick together. Just be f—ing aggressive. It’s not that hard. Have some pride.”

They certainly did in Game 3. Their work rate and level of physicality were the highest they’ve been all series. They held the Aces to 33.3% shooting from the field — their third-worst shooting performance of the whole season — and forced 11 turnovers.

That in turn allowed the Liberty to push the pace and attack an unsettled Aces defense. They won the fastbreak points battle 11-2, but even when they didn’t get pure breakaways, their ability to get up the floor quickly created easier shots. Per Synergy, the Liberty had 25 possessions where they pushed the ball after a shot attempt, and scored 1.478 points per possession on those opportunities.

“They played harder, for one,” Aces head coach Becky Hammon said. “I felt like we were on our heels from the jump.”

Here’s an example where Plum appears to have a step on Vandersloot, but Jones arrives from the weakside, which forces Plum to veer back into Vandersloot’s path. The veteran point guard is there waiting and rips the ball out of her hands, then walks into an open 3-pointer on the other end.

Early in the third quarter it’s Vandersloot involved again because the Aces like to pick on her. This time she nearly gets crossed up, but makes a terrific second effort to get a good contest on Chelsea Gray to help influence the miss. Jones secures the rebound and pushes it herself to create a one-on-one against Kiah Stokes in semi-transition. That’s a win every time for the Liberty as Jones delivers a sweet dish to Betnijah Laney.

Speaking of Laney, here she is in the fourth quarter sprinting the entire length of the floor to make Jackie Young alter a layup, which she then misses. Down on the other end, the Liberty take advantage of the Aces being cross-matched to get the ball to Jones in the post, and she draws a foul.

“We knew that our fans were going to be behind us and New York was going to be watching and supporting,” Jones said. “And that’s what we wanted to do, go out there and play with a lot of pride and a lot of heart.”

If the Liberty want to send the series back to Las Vegas and force a winner-take-all Game 5, they’ll need all of that and more on Wednesday night.