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Chicago wins first WNBA title with 80-74 win over Phoenix

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Chicago wins first WNBA title with 80-74 win over Phoenix

By CASEY DROTTAR

CHICAGO (AP) — Candace Parker returned home to bring Chicago a championship. She did just that, leading the Sky to the franchise’s first title.

Allie Quigley scored 26 points and Parker added 16 points, 13 rebounds and five assists and Chicago beat the Phoenix Mercury 80-74 on Sunday in Game 4.

“This one is so sweet,” a champagne-soaked Parker said. “To do it with this group. I love this group, I love this team. And to do it here at home, it was just supposed to be.”

The Phoenix players declined to come to the postgame press conference. The door to their locker room was broken and a person familiar with the incident said at least one of the team’s players was responsible. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

Courtney Vandersloot added 10 points and 15 assists for the Sky, who won the series 3-1, rallying from a 72-65 deficit with 4:42 left. Chicago scored the next nine points to take a two-point lead on Stefanie Dolson’s layup. She then added another basket to make it 76-72 with 45.8 seconds left.

Diana Taurasi was fouled on the next possession shooting a 3-pointer and made the first two free throws, but missed the third.

Vandersloot then scored in the lane to seal the victory and set off the celebration. As the final buzzer sounded, Parker sprinted to the corner of the court and hugged her family with tears in her eyes.

“It was amazing to just hug my dad and my mom,” Parker said. “It was just an amazing feeling to be from here and see so many people in the stands that have been supporting you since you started. It’s just a moment where you just have to really take it in.”

It was a full-circle moment for Parker, who triumphantly returned home to Chicago this season after spending 13 years with Los Angeles. She has been continually called the Sky’s missing piece throughout the playoffs, a label she proved accurate many times during Chicago’s stunning run, winning the title as a six-seed.

“It feels amazing. My high school coach is here,” Parker said. “I know Pat’s (Summitt) watching. Got the whole city here. We got the whole city here. We are champions for life now.”

Brittney Griner was a focal point of Phoenix’s offense early on. The seven-time All-Star finished the game with 28 points, 18 of which came in the first half. Griner and guard Skylar Diggins-Smith helped lead a 9-0 run to finish the second quarter and give Phoenix a 44-37 edge at halftime.

Yet, Quigley’s fourth-quarter outburst ultimately undid any attempts Phoenix could make to stave off elimination.

“It wasn’t our night,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said. “Allie made some really big shots for them. We left her open, and she made them. It would be nice to be going back to a Game 5 now, but it’s not going to happen this year.”

Parker initially had trouble getting into a rhythm offensively, going one for six from the floor with just four points by the end of the first half.

Phoenix’s lead stretched to 14 at one point in the third, but the deficit wasn’t big enough to shake Chicago’s confidence down the stretch.

“We stayed together,” Sky coach James Wade said. “It was a microcosm of our season, where you go down and you keep pushing. By the end of it, the crowd took over, our players stayed together and you started to see who we were. I never doubted for a minute that we were going to win that game.”

Kahleah Copper, who had been a force in the first four games of the finals, earned MVP honors of the championship.

“I have this edginess and grittiness about me that’s going to keep me going,” Copper said. “It was very important for me to be consistent coming in this year and better than I was last year. You put the work in and you get rewarded.”

ANOTHER PICTURE

After the game, Parker mentioned a picture she took with her daughter on the court after she won her first championship with Los Angeles. She keeps the photo on her wall, and her daughter’s desire to be part of a similar moment helped convince Parker to come back home.

“I asked her if it was OK if I came to Chicago,” Parker said. “And she was like ‘I want another picture like that.’ It’s crazy, because she came out to the court and said ‘we did it,’ and it was just surreal.”

GETTING TECHNICAL

Emotions were high for both teams right from the start, as Taurasi and Copper were each hit with technical fouls within a 50-second span in the first quarter.

PACKED HOUSE

The Sky drew a sell-out crowd despite the Chicago Bears hosting the rival Green Bay Packers just down the street at Soldier Field. Chance the Rapper was once again in attendance to support his hometown team.

TIP-INS:

Chicago coach James Wade became the third Black male coach to win a WNBA championship, joining Michael Cooper who did it with the Los Angeles Sparks and Corey Gaines, who did it with Phoenix. … Phoenix had been 4-0 in the WNBA Finals after losses until Sunday’s defeat.

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AP Basketball Writers Tim Reynolds and Doug Feinberg contributed to this story.

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More AP women’s basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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The last county in Minnesota without a COVID-19 death has reported its first

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The last county in Minnesota without a COVID-19 death has reported its first

GRAND MARAIS, Minn. — Cook County reported its first COVID-19-related death on Wednesday, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The person who died in the county, located at the far end of northeastern Minnesota’s Arrowhead, was between ages 75 and 79.

Cook County still has the fewest number of COVID-19 deaths of Minnesota’s 87 counties.

The next-lowest totals are in Big Stone, Lake of the Woods and Lincoln counties, which each have five deaths.

Minnesota reported 100 more COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, a backlog from over the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, pushing the state’s death toll to 9,482 since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Cook County’s vaccination rates are the highest in Minnesota, with 82.6% of the total population having received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 76.8% fully vaccinated. Ninety-nine percent of Cook County residents age 65 and older are fully vaccinated.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the county’s total population to be 5,736 in 2019.

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Women’s basketball: North Carolina holds off Gophers in ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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No. 6 Gophers beat UMD for first victory of the season

Minnesota’s women’s basketball team fell short in the ACC/Big Challenge on Wednesday, falling 82-76 against a good team from North Carolina at Williams Arena. It was disappointing, but there was a silver lining — freshman forward Alanna Micheaux.

Micheaux was a revelation, scoring a career-high 23 points with five rebounds.

Coach Lindsay Whalen raved about the freshman from suburban Detroit before the season started, and now everyone knows why.

“She has some of the best touch I think I’ve ever seen around the paint, and she knocked down her free throws,” Whalen said. “That was a heck of a game from her — timing, positioning, getting to her spots, but then being able to score through people and finish with finesse like she does.”

The 6-foot-2 post shot 8 for 10 from the field and 7 for 8 from the free-throw line and kept Minnesota close in a torrid second half. Her three-point play with 6:24 remaining pulled the Gophers to within 67-60, and her inside basket cut the deficit to 67-65 with 4:39 remaining.

Her miss on the ensuing free throw was her only miss from the stripe, and the Tar Heels scored the next nine points — six by Kennedy Todd Williams — to help North Carolina pull away.

Alyssa Ustby led five Tar Heels in double figures with 19 points, and Deja Kelly and Carrie Littlefield added 15 points apiece as North Carolina remained undefeated (8-0). The Gophers were never completely out of it, but they spent most of their effort trying to rally back from deficits as large as 12.

The Gophers trailed 39-29 at intermission.

Minnesota pulled ahead, 55-54, on a drive by Gadiva Hubbard with 35 seconds left in the third quarter, but Todd-Williams hit one free throw after an offensive rebound, and Kelly hit a half-court shot with a second remaining to give the Tar Heels a 58-55 lead heading into the fourth quarter — the beginning of a 9-0 run.

“It seemed like in the second half there was just a better flow for us and a lot of it started defensively. We were able to run and get some easy stuff,” Whalen said. “It’s hard when you spot a team 10 points in the second quarter. We did it, but that’s when you need those key two or three stops in a row.

“Then maybe it’s a different ballgame, but give them credit.”

Deja Winters’ three-point play pulled Minnesota to within 75-71 with 1:12 remaining, but Todd-Williams answered with a layup and free throw for a 78-71 lead with 51 seconds left, and the Gophers were never able to catch up.

Winters scored 17 points and Gadiva Hubbard added 14 for the Gophers, who fell to 6-4. The Gophers begin the Big Ten season Monday against Nebraska at Williams Arena.

The Gophers didn’t have a player like Micheaux last season, and she could make a big difference this season as the Gophers take aim at an NCAA tournament berth.

“A game like this really boosted my confidence. It helped me out a lot,” Micheaux said. “But I can’t lie: I couldn’t have done it without the team. If it wasn’t for them setting up the plays, telling me how to get through and what screens to set, it would have never happened.”

The Gophers’ offense was sharp early. The team had six assists on seven first-quarter baskets and was tied 17-17 going into the second quarter. But things soon began unraveling. By intermission, Minnesota had taken 19 3-point shots and made just three (15.8 percent).

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Whicker: UCLA’s Tyger Campbell broadens his game as Bruins stifle Colorado

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Whicker: UCLA’s Tyger Campbell broadens his game as Bruins stifle Colorado

LOS ANGELES — The immediate goal for UCLA is to put last Tuesday’s nightmare a little bit deeper into the rear-view in each game.

Tyger Campbell was invisible against Gonzaga, as were several Bruins in that ballyhooed 20-point loss. He was present and up front in Wednesday night’s Pac-12 opener.

Campbell was content to include everyone else in the offense as UCLA barged to a 16-point halftime lead over Colorado. When the Buffaloes came back, Campbell reined them in, with 13 points and no turnovers in the second half of the fifth-ranked Bruins’ 73-61 win, a game they led by only four points with 9:35 left.

Campbell got three baskets in the next four minutes and the Bruins led by 12 again. Despite the best efforts of Colorado’s Jabari Walker, whose dad Samaki once played for the Lakers, UCLA handled the rest of it and improved to 7-1.

For the game, Campbell had 21 points, seven assists and one turnover. Coach Mick Cronin thought that was nearly as impressive as Myles Johnson’s 12 points, 10 rebounds and 14 deflections in the middle.

Like Johnson, Campbell has been in the coach’s crosshairs.

“For us to be the type of team we want to be in March, that’s the way he has to play,” Cronin said.

“I accepted he was a young player the first couple of years, trying to develop him to what he can be. Their strategy tonight was to force him to shoot, but I like the fact that he didn’t even hesitate. I’ve seen that guy in practice.”

“It wasn’t about me being super-aggressive or anything,” Campbell said. “When I’m out there, I’m just looking at the defense. Tonight my teammates got me the ball and I was able to knock them down.

“But I like to take the big shots. I think every player does. I believe in myself and I know the coaches believe in me.”

Campbell also got some counseling from Russell Westbrook, the Lakers’ All-Star who donated the money for the Bruins’ practice court in the Ostin Center. He was honored at Pauley Pavilion on Wednesday.

“To me, it’s just great that he comes here and sees us play,” Campbell said. “We remember the days when he was here. He’s such a great player. The legacy he left, with all the Final Fours … he just told me to keep shooting.”

It was an efficient night for the Bruins, who took 12 Colorado turnovers and turned them into 23 points. They suffered only nine turnovers themselves, and Campbell (4 for 7) and Johnny Juzang combined for 5-for-10 shooting from the 3-point line.

Colorado missed 10 of its first 12 shots but rallied to shoot 42.1 percent, and Walker put together 22 points and 11 rebounds.

Cronin wasn’t satisfied with UCLA’s second-half defense, but then Jaime Jaquez Jr. played only 7:14 and sat out the second half. He banged his head on the court, and assistant coach Michael Lewis told Cronin that Jaquez “doesn’t look 100 percent” after warmups at halftime.

UCLA is still missing Cody Riley in the post, and Cronin is hoping his return, plus a higher comfort level for Team USA member and freshman Peyton Watson, will accelerate the Bruins. To that end, he experimented with five bench players together for a short period in the first half.

“I think that helped us wear them down in the second half, but I still think Johnny and Tyger played too many minutes,” Cronin said. Juzang had 35 minutes, Campbell 33.

The 6:30 p.m. start held the crowd to 7,941, although UCLA’s frenzied win against Villanova last month was supposed to make every home game an occasion.

Writing this win off as a routine errand wouldn’t be wise. Colorado has won twice in Pauley since 2018 and beat the Bruins, 70-61, in Boulder last year.

“The margin for error is limited against UCLA,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “Even when they lose somebody like Jaquez they keep coming at you.”

UCLA’s theme now is to reject satisfaction. Johnson was a defensive specialist at Rutgers and Campbell was a distributing point guard, but Cronin is trying to push them past their definitions.

The Bruins don’t believe in looking back, either, but then they already know what’s there.

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