Las Vegas Aces win first WNBA title, Chelsea Gray named MVP

Las Vegas Aces win first WNBA title, Chelsea Gray named MVP
The Las Vegas Aces pose for a photo with the championship trophy after their win in the WNBA basketball finals against the Connecticut Sun Sunday in Uncasville, Conn. (AP)
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Updated 19 September 2022

Las Vegas Aces win first WNBA title, Chelsea Gray named MVP

Las Vegas Aces win first WNBA title, Chelsea Gray named MVP
  • It’s the first major pro sports title for a team from Las Vegas, and league MVP A’ja Wilson surely hopes this is just the beginning
  • Gray — who overcame some serious injuries that threatened to sidetrack her career in the past — was WNBA Finals MVP, to no one’s surprise after averaging 18.3 points and 6 assists in the series

UNCASVILLE, Connecticut: Chelsea Gray scored 20 points to lead the Las Vegas Aces to their first WNBA title in a 78-71 road win over the Connecticut Sun in Game 4 on Sunday.

Gray went 9 of 13 from the floor, and was named MVP after averaging 18 points over the run. The Aces improved to 4-0 in this year’s playoffs with two days rest.

Riquna Williams added 17 points Kelsey Plum added 16 points for the Aces, Jackie Young had 13 and league MVP A’ja Wilson added 11 points to go with 14 rebounds.

Vegas finished on an 8-0 run. As the buzzer sounded Wilson grabbed the ball and stomped the floor before being mobbed by her teammates.

We champs! We champs! We champs!” Wilson screamed at teammates as they pulled on their championship hats and T-shirts before the trophy ceremony.

It’s the first major pro sports title for a team from Las Vegas, and Wilson surely hopes this is just the beginning.

“You see it. You see it,” Wilson said in the on-court celebration. “This is what we’re building. This is what we’re doing. This is it. I’m so happy right now.”

Courtney Williams had 17 points to lead Connecticut and Alyssa Thomas had her second straight triple-double with 11 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Jonquel Jones added 13 points and DeWanna Bonner had 12.

Las Vegas led by two points at the half and four points after three quarters.

For Aces coach Becky Hammon, who didn’t get a title in her standout WNBA career, the ring completed a decades-long quest. She left an assistant coach position with Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs to take over in Las Vegas, and the move paid off.

“They’re unbelievable on the court but they’re unbelievable humans, first and foremost,” Hammon said. “They care about each other. They invest in each other. It’s been an absolute honor to be their coach. I saw excellence and I wanted to be a part of it.”

Hammon also paid tribute to former Aces coach Bill Laimbeer, who was on the floor for the ceremony. “He put this team together and saw the pieces,” Hammon said.

Aces owner Mark Davis, who also owns the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, wasn’t with his football team Sunday. He was in Connecticut to get a trophy. He hoisted it, then turned it over to gleeful players who did the same.

“Las Vegas, we are world champions,” Davis said.

It was a six-point lead in the fourth when Kelsey Plum was called for a flagrant foul after running into Bonner while the Sun guard was attempting a 3-pointer and sending her to the floor holding her right ankle. Bonner hit all three free throws before Jonquel Jones short jumper cut the lead to a point. The Sun then tied the game at 67 on free throw by Courtney Williams and took a 71-70 lead on two fouls shots from Brionna Jones.

But Las Vegas had the answers.

Riquna Williams 3-pointer put the Aces back on top and Chelsea Gray’s step-back jumper extended the lead back to 75-71 with under a minute left A’Ja Wilson then stole a pass and Plum hit a short jump shot to secure the win.

Bonner opened the scoring with a leaner from the left wing. But Kelsey Plum’s 3-pointer from the left baseline sparked an early 12-0 run for Vegas that shot them out to a 16-6 lead. The Aces, who gave up 34 points to the Sun in in first quarter of Game 3, led 16-12 after 10 minutes on Sunday.

Gray — who overcame some serious injuries that threatened to sidetrack her career in the past — was WNBA Finals MVP, to no one’s surprise after averaging 18.3 points and 6 assists in the series.

“My teammates are awesome,” Gray said as she broke into tears. “I worked so hard for this.”

She wasn’t a WNBA All-Star this season, nor was she a first-team all-league pick, and voiced her displeasure about that.

In the end, she also got the last word.

“They can keep that All-Star and first team,” Gray said. “I got the ring.”

SCRAPPY GAME

As expected, it was a physical game appropriately played on an NFL Sunday. The Sun got a scare when Bonner took an inadvertent elbow to the gut from Gray late in the first quarter and and was on the floor for a few minutes before being helped to the bench. She came back into the game later in the half, apparently suffering no ill effects. Natisha Hiedeman and Plum got into a short pushing match in the second quarter, eliciting technical fouls on both players. That was all before Plum’s flagrant in the fourth.

INCLUSIVE ORGANIZATIONS

Before the game, both coaches reflected on the makeup of organizations in the Final. The Aces are led by Hammon and two Black women executives in general manager Nikki Williams and Nikki Fargas, president of business operations. The Sun are owned by the Mohegan Tribe, have a woman president in Jen Rizzotti and are coached by Curt Miller, a gay man.

“Women’s basketball is such a story in terms of diversity and inclusion. I mean, our our league defines it and I’m so proud to be a part of it, Miller said, adding that he hopes to be an inspiration to any gay child “wondering if they can chase a career in sports.”

Hammon said she believes the diversity in her team’s front office has made it stronger

“You can make a lot better picture with a box full of crayons than just a pencil,” she said.


Messi magic guides relieved Argentina past feisty Mexico

Messi magic guides relieved Argentina past feisty Mexico
Updated 27 November 2022

Messi magic guides relieved Argentina past feisty Mexico

Messi magic guides relieved Argentina past feisty Mexico
  • Messi equalled Diego Maradona's Argentina record of 21 matches and eight goals at the World Cup
  • Substitute Fernandez made sure of the three points when he curled a superb shot into the top corner in the 87th minute

LUSAIL, Qatar: Lionel Messi thumped in a 64th minute goal and Enzo Fernandez added another late in the game to give Argentina a 2-0 victory over battling Mexico in their World Cup Group C match on Saturday and reignite their tournament hopes.
Messi, who equalled Diego Maradona’s Argentina record of 21 matches and eight goals at the World Cup, was nowhere to be seen for more than an hour before picking up an Angel Di Maria pass, finding just enough space and rifling in from 20 meters.
Substitute Fernandez made sure of the three points when he curled a superb shot into the top corner in the 87th minute.
The result restored order for the Argentines in Group C after their shock opening 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia.
Argentina, on three points, can guarantee progress with a win over Poland, top on four, in their final game on Wednesday.
“Today starts another World Cup for Argentina,” Messi said. “I tell people the same thing, that they continue to believe.
“The first half we didn’t play as we should and in the second, when we calmed down, we started to play the ball better and until the goal we went back to being what we are.”
Mexico, who have now lost all four World Cup clashes with Argentina, have one point and must beat Saudi Arabia, on three, to have any chance of continuing their run of making the last 16 in the last seven World Cups, but even that might not be enough.
HIGH TENSION
With the prospect of an Argentina elimination, tensions were high on and off the ball in a scrappy first half but with the two sets of fans creating an electric atmosphere in the stadium.
The opening period did not live up to the match’s billing with neither team wanting to commit too many players forward and apart from a free kick by Mexico’s Luis Chavez in the ninth minute that sailed past the goalmouth there were few chances.
Mexico’s high pressing game stifled most of their opponents’ attack and Argentine talisman Messi, struggled to find any space to maneuver in a congested midfield.
Apart from a Lautaro Martinez effort that was well off the mark and another from Messi, Argentina were toothless up front.
But in a major blow to Mexico, skipper Andres Guardado, a veteran of five World Cups who until then had been a commanding presence in midfield, had to be taken off injured in the 42nd.
The Mexicans still carved out two more chances before the break with Alexis Vega first curling a free kick over the wall for keeper Emiliano Martinez to save and minutes later thundering a shot over the bar.
The South Americans looked more determined after the break but had no real chance before their 35-year-old captain dragged them out of trouble with his second goal of the tournament.
The stadium erupted in cheers once more with Fernandez’s late strike which sealed Argentina’s first win in the tournament and rekindled Messi’s hopes of a first ever World Cup title.


Saudi Arabia ‘will keep focused and fighting,’ Coach Renard says

Saudi Arabia ‘will keep focused and fighting,’ Coach Renard says
Updated 26 November 2022

Saudi Arabia ‘will keep focused and fighting,’ Coach Renard says

Saudi Arabia ‘will keep focused and fighting,’ Coach Renard says
  • ‘Don’t think that we are finished,’ Frenchman says after defeat by Poland
  • Green Falcons will play their final Group C game against Mexico on Wednesday

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s soccer players will remain focused and keep fighting until the World Cup’s last moments, their head coach said on Saturday after the team’s 2-0 loss to Poland.
“I am proud of my players and football is a team sport in which there is success and failure,” Herve Renard told a press conference. “The most important thing is that we have one match (left) and we must remain focused.”
After an epic win against Argentina in their opening game, the Green Falcons failed to soar to the same heights against Robert Lewandowski and his Polish teammates at the Education City Stadium in Qatar and so remain on three points in Group C.
Despite the disappointment, Renard said his team were far from giving in.
“We will play to the last second of this tournament and we will not give up,” he said.
“We will play the third match with the same energy and we need the fans to be present and fill the stadium against Mexico.
“We didn’t lose because of luck but because we weren’t so effective, and I will support all the players. I made a lot of changes after the first half to have a good reaction and get back into the game.”
The French coach said the reason he substituted Nawaf Al-Abed was because the player had suffered an ankle injury.
“I am very proud of what the players have achieved … we should have tied before the end of the first half,” Renard told Alkass Sports Channel, adding that his team had worked incredibly hard.
“The most important thing is that we remain standing here. And don’t you think that we are finished,” he said.
Poland’s coach Czeslaw Michniewicz was also full of praise for the Saudi team.
“They have good players,” he said. “The best for me is the captain, No. 10, Salem Al-Dowsari, and goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais, who is a great goalkeeper and saved dangerous balls from our players.”
Poland had gained a hard-fought victory “with two goals against a valuable team,” he said.
 


In the zone: Fans flock to Mrsool Park for festival of football

In the zone: Fans flock to Mrsool Park for festival of football
Updated 27 November 2022

In the zone: Fans flock to Mrsool Park for festival of football

In the zone: Fans flock to Mrsool Park for festival of football
  • ‘This is a really fun way to watch the World Cup,’ fan says
  • Live games, food and fun on offer as part of Riyadh Season

RIYADH: Saudi football fans unable to attend the World Cup in Doha have been enjoying the next best thing thanks to a designated fan zone inside Mrsool Park stadium.

Organized by the General Entertainment Authority as part of the Riyadh Season, the area features a giant screen for people to watch the game, as well as food and drinks stalls to keep them fed and watered.

On Saturday, the zone was full of fans hoping for a second win of the tournament — after the amazing victory against Argentina — but the Green Falcons came up short against Poland.

Football fan Ibtisam, who watched the game with her friends, was full of praise for the venue.

“The organization is really great and this is a really fun way to watch the World Cup and support our national team,” she said.

Because the game was being screened inside a real football stadium, the atmosphere was similar to that experienced by the traveling fans at the Education City Stadium in Qatar.

Abdulaziz Al-Subaie, who watched the game with his family, said: “It’s a great atmosphere and has allowed us to watch the game outdoors with the rest of the Kingdom.”

Riyadh Season had ensured the city was full of entertaining activities, he added.

Saleh Al-Subaie, who spent much of the match against Poland hugging his father because of the tension and excitement, was equally complimentary.

“I liked the fact that we have things to do here before the game and during halftime. Aside from watching the game we can enjoy fun games here with everyone.”

As well as watching the action on the big screen, fans were able to test their own football skills in a series of challenges or play one of the many video and virtual reality games.

Rawan Filimban said he hoped to attend the World Cup live one day but in the meantime thought the fan zone was a great alternative.

“Riyadh Season is really cool and watching the World Cup like this just adds to the fun factor. The fan zone in Mrsool Park is an experience I won’t forget.”


Mbappe double sinks Denmark and takes France into World Cup last 16

Mbappe double sinks Denmark and takes France into World Cup last 16
Updated 26 November 2022

Mbappe double sinks Denmark and takes France into World Cup last 16

Mbappe double sinks Denmark and takes France into World Cup last 16
  • Having scored four during France's victorious 2018 campaign and one against Australia, Mbappe now has seven goals in nine World Cup appearances
  • France were more wasteful in front of goal on this occasion

DOHA: Kylian Mbappe scored twice, including a late winner, as holders France edged Denmark 2-1 on Saturday to become the first team to reach the last 16 of the World Cup.
A potent French side knew a second victory in as many Group D outings would take them through to the knockout phase and they were well worth the lead that Mbappe gave them when he opened the scoring at Stadium 974 just after the hour mark.
However, Andreas Christensen soon equalized for the Danes and Les Bleus needed Mbappe to deliver again in the 86th minute as he turned in Antoine Griezmann’s cross to puncture the Danish resistance once and for all.
Having scored four during France’s victorious 2018 campaign and one against Australia, Mbappe now has seven goals in nine World Cup appearances.
Didier Deschamps’s side now have the luxury of going into their final group game against Tunisia knowing a draw will guarantee them top spot, and even a defeat may not prevent them finishing first.
Having come roaring back to batter Australia 4-1 in their opening match in Qatar, France were more wasteful in front of goal on this occasion but at least they did not come unstuck against opponents who have caused them problems before.
They were reigning champions when a defeat to the Danes knocked them out of the 2002 World Cup, while the sides played out the only goalless draw in 2018.
More recently Kasper Hjulmand’s side beat France home and away in this year’s Nations League, and it seemed that Deschamps had learned lessons from those two encounters.
If France were a shadow of their usual selves in Copenhagen in September, they were much better in this match, played in a pop-up stadium made of shipping containers on Doha’s waterfront.
Deschamps changed three of his back four, with Theo Hernandez at left-back in place of his injured elder brother Lucas and Raphael Varane coming in for his first game in over a month.
But the French attack was untouched from the Australia game.
If Olivier Giroud took the headlines then, here Ousmane Dembele was electric at times on the right, Griezmann excelled in an advanced midfield role, and Mbappe made the difference.
France’s pace, power and passing were all too sharp for the Euro 2020 semifinalists who were lucky to go in level at half-time.
There were some French appeals for a red card in the 19th minute when Mbappe burst onto a beautiful threaded through ball by Griezmann only to be hauled down by Christensen, but the Danish defender escaped with a yellow.
The holders’ best chances in the first half came from headers by Varane and Adrien Rabiot, but when Mbappe turned away from Joachim Andersen just before the hour mark and accelerated away, it was a sign that a goal was coming.
His shot was turned behind by Kasper Schmeichel, and Griezmann then wasted a great chance shortly after, but in the 61st minute Mbappe did score.
The Paris Saint-Germain superstar linked up brilliantly with Hernandez on the left and met his teammate’s cutback with a shot that beat Schmeichel thanks to a deflection off Christensen.
Denmark had offered little but suddenly they were level midway through the second half as Andersen nodded down a corner and his fellow defender Christensen headed home.
Hugo Lloris was then forced into a key save to deny Jesper Lindstrom and Martin Braithwaite grazed a post as Denmark threatened to turn the game completely on its head.
That would have been extremely harsh on France, even if they could only really have themselves to blame for not making more of their chances.
But Mbappe was not to be denied as he stole in front of Rasmus Kristensen at the back post with four minutes left to meet Griezmann’s cross with his thigh for his 31st international goal.


Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 defeat to Poland

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 defeat to Poland
Updated 26 November 2022

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 defeat to Poland

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 defeat to Poland
  • Game was an entertaining encounter that should have seen more goals
  • Green Falcons dominated possession, had more chances

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia lost 2-0 to Poland at Education City in Qatar on Saturday and remain on three points after two games in World Cup Group C.
Here are five things we learned from the match:
Saudi Arabia deserved something
It was an entertaining encounter that should have contained more goals, and many of them could have gone to Saudi Arabia. There may have been concerns that the win over Argentina was so big that it would be hard for coach Herve Renard to get his players down from cloud nine and focus on the task at hand, but that was not the issue. The problem was just a lack of clinical finishing. But there was plenty to like about the performance, with Salem Al-Dawsari and Mohamed Kanno particularly impressive.
Saudi Arabia had more of the possession and more of the chances. Even if we take away the missed penalty, there were plenty of opportunities for them to score. Unlike in the win over Argentina when the first two attempts resulted in goals, there was just no way past Wojciech Szczesny. The Poland goalkeeper had a fine game and there were examples of shots flying wide and over from good positions.
On another day, Saudi Arabia would have taken a point from this game, but they were punished by refereeing decisions, their own mistakes, not taking their chances and Poland making the most of theirs.
Harsh first half for the Falcons
Saudi Arabia played well in the first half, which lasted 55 minutes, but all the major incidents in the period went against them. First, Poland’s Matty Cash should have been sent off. The Aston Villa defender was booked for a late tackle but just a few minutes later somehow got away with a dangerous challenge on Mohammed Al-Burayk.
Had a second yellow been shown then Cash would not have been in an advanced position after 39 minutes to pass to Robert Lewandowski who then set up Piotr Zielinski to fire home. It was a goal that came totally against the run of play but that is what happens in football and Saudi Arabia will feel aggrieved that Poland still had 11 men on the pitch.
And then there was the penalty that came in added time as Saleh Al-Shehri was brought down in the area. In truth, Salem Al-Dawsari’s spot kick was not the best but Al-Burayk should have done better with the rebound. Going in level at the break against 10 men would have produced a very different second half.
This is a new, confident Saudi Arabia
What a difference a win against Argentina makes. If anyone was tuning in without knowing anything about the teams, they would have thought that the men in green were the favorites, with players active at the highest level, and that the ones in blue and white were the underdogs.
There were questions as to whether Renard would set his team up in the same way for the second game, and he did. The same, brave, high line was there, the same pressing and even more energy. Saudi Arabia flew out of the blocks and went at Poland, who did not impress in their opening 0-0 draw with Mexico. The Poles were clearly rattled, as three yellow cards collected in the first half of the first half showed.
This is now a Saudi team that knows it can trouble European and South American opposition and does not back down. This is an attitude that needs to continue.
Saudi Arabia have home advantage
Saturday’s game may have officially taken place in Qatar but it could have been Riyadh, Jeddah or Dammam, such were the numbers of Saudi fans in the stadium. As well as the quantity, there was also quality, with noise levels reaching rarely heard heights at the tournament.
The atmosphere was something else and it spurred on the players. It also rattled the Poles who really struggled to settle. They were jeered when in possession, in contrast to the cheers that greeted Saudi Arabian possession. It took an opening goal before the Poles started to look even remotely comfortable. Whatever happens, the Saudi Arabian fans and the players have come together to make one of the stories of the World Cup, and Mexico will not be looking forward to visiting Lusail Iconic Stadium on Wednesday.
There is still all to play for and no reason to feel down
Fans will have to wait and see what happens in Saturday’s late game between Argentina and Mexico to know exactly what they have to do, but whatever happens, everybody would have accepted this position before the World Cup began. Three points from the first two games means the Falcons are in control of their destiny. A win over Mexico means that a place in the knockout stage is guaranteed. It remains to be seen if a draw will suffice.
Coach Renard will have to wait and see what happens with players who have collected knocks but there are still plenty of reasons to be cheerful. Saudi Arabia have shown that they can live with their opponents. Glory awaits and with tens of thousands of fans behind them next week then anything could happen. The defeat against Poland does not need to be a devastating one and nobody should feel down.