June 17, 2022 

Daily Briefing — June 17, 2022: EMPTY NESTERS — Sue Bird announces plan to retire from professional basketball

Han Xu is a runaway freight train

Happy Friday! Welcome to The Next’s Daily Briefing, featuring the NCAA Roundup, the daily Watch List, and Yesterday’s Recap. Day 35 of the WNBA season has arrived, with Twitter and Facebook fighting for your 8 p.m. viewership. All three of today’s games will be nationally broadcast, so League Pass users beware. Last night, the Liberty got back on track with a comfortable win over the Mystics, though I’m not vouching for either team’s free throw performance. In other news, Seattle Storm point guard, all-around women’s basketball legend, and notorious “oldest player in the WNBA” Sue Bird announced she would officially retire from the sport at the season’s end.

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Though not a surprise (Bird’s retirement has been anticipated since the “One More Year” episode of 2021), the departure of one of the sports’ most recognizable and beloved players holds weight. For context: the “Awards and honors” section of Bird’s Wikipedia page is long enough that you have to scroll through it; as of 2021, she is the only player to hold WNBA titles across three decades; and she holds multiple titles at every level of women’s basketball, in both domestic and international competition. Put simply, while she may be leaving the sport as a player, Bird’s presence and impact on women’s basketball won’t soon be forgotten.

For a peek into the emotional press conference that followed Bird’s announcement, read this from our Jacqueline LeBlanc. I’d suggest keeping some tissues beside you.

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But first read…

  • Our Matthew Walter gets you up to speed on the Las Vegas Aces with a collection of bite-sized stories that pack a punch. It’s a perfect pick-me-up for A’ja Wilson appreciators and Aces die-hards everywhere.
  • The Lexington Herald-Leader’s Cammeron Drummond walks through the long and decorated career of Kentucky assistant coach Gail Goestenkors, who announced her retirement from on-court coaching on June 14.
  • The Seattle Times’ photo staff take you through the celebrated career of Sue Bird in a powerful photo essay that is well worth your time.

NCAA Roundup

Transfer portal

Out of the portal

  • Jennifer Ezeh: The forward out of Missouri State committed to VCU.

Coaching changes

  • Kentucky: Assistant coach and hall-of-famer Gail Goestenkors announced that she will be stepping down from on-court coaching duties after a remarkable 30-year coaching career. Head coach Kyra Elzy has begun searching for a third assistant coach. “I want to publicly thank her for her hard work and contributions to Kentucky women’s basketball,” Elzy said of Goestenkors. “We will have significant shoes to fill.”

Watch List, Friday, June 17

(All times in Eastern, Game of the Day in bold)

Seattle @ Connecticut, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network (Local: NESN+, Fox 13/Amazon Prime Seattle)

Phoenix @ Dallas, 8 p.m., Twitter (Local: Bally Sports Southwest, Bally Sports Arizona)

Atlanta @ Chicago, 8 p.m., Facebook (Local: Marquee, Bally Sports South)

Thursday, June 16 recap

New York beat Washington, 77–65. The Liberty took an early lead, spurred by early scoring from big Natasha Howard who had three of New York’s first four baskets. But the Mystics were not to be deterred, as they clawed their way into the lead by the final minutes of the first, with the Liberty hot on their heels as the second quarter began. The lead changed hands seven times before a 7–0 run gave New York a two-possession going into halftime. That run, which was extended by two back-to-back three pointers for the Liberty to start the third, would go unanswered by Washington, who went cold from the field in the second half. Both teams struggled to get to the line and capitalize on free throws. Combining for just 66% on 27 attempts from the line, this outing became the worst combined free throw shooting performance since 2018, per Across the Timeline. Yet, as the Mystics fell behind by double-digits, the Liberty closed out their fifth win in their last seven games. Overall, the Liberty shot eight percentage points better than the Mystics and had seven more assists.

Back-to-back Liberty three pointers from Howard and Dolson bring New York into a multiple possession advantage. Then, in the fourth, a final dagger from Xu off a Johannès dime to make an insurmountable New York lead.

Liberty big Natasha Howard led New York and all scorers with a season-high 27 points on 13-for-17 from the field (1–3 3pt), which she had alongside nine rebounds (two offensive) on three fouls. Point guard Sabrina Ionescu went 3-for-16 from the field (0–8 3pt, 4–4 FT) for 10 points, alongside nine assists, seven rebounds, and four steals. Ionescu joins just eight other players who have logged that stat line or better in WNBA history, per Across the Timeline. Point guard Marine Johannès played nearly the entire game, logging four points on 1-for-7 from the field (0–6 3pt, 2–3 FT), a season-high four rebounds, and a season-high seven assists on three turnovers. Center Han Xu notched 12 points on 6-for-7 from the field (her most efficient shooting performance this season) on three fouls in her 20 minutes off the bench.

For the Mystics, point guard Natasha Cloud led with 17 points on 6-for-14 from the field (3–7 3pt, 2–2 FT), five rebounds, and seven assists on four turnovers. Center Shakira Austin notched eight points on 4-for-8 from the field, along with six rebounds and two steals. Combo guard Ariel Atkins logged 11 points on 4-for-10 from the field (3–5 3pt) and three rebounds.

Written by Isabel Rodrigues

Isabel Rodrigues (she/her) is a contributing editor for The Next from upstate New York. She occasionally covers 3x3 and labor in women's basketball.

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