WNBA: In a championship series filled with stars, Alana Beard sometimes can get lost with so much attention on Minnesota’s four Olympians and the two MVPs in Los Angeles.
That’s exactly what happened in the closing moments of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals in Minneapolis, and Beard hit a jumper from the baseline just before time expired to lift the Sparks to a 78-76 victory over the defending champion Lynx.
With the defense collapsing on Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike in the paint, Beard found herself all alone in the corner. She took the pass from Chelsea Gray and knocked down a jumper with Maya Moore in her face.
As the ball splashed through, Moore put her head in her hands, and the Sparks celebrated a thrilling victory, their second on Minnesota’s court this season.
“You may not recognize the importance of her statistically for us a lot of times,” Sparks coach Brian Agler said. “But her presence, her leadership, obviously how disruptive she can be defensively, and then for her to hit a shot like that, it was incredible.”
Kristi Toliver scored 19 points to lead Los Angeles and Parker had 14 points and nine rebounds in her finals debut. League MVP Ogwumike added 19 points for the Sparks in the opener of the best-of-5 series.
Sylvia Fowles had 18 points and 13 rebounds and Lindsay Whalen scored 18 points for top-seeded Minnesota. Moore scored all 18 of her points in the second half to move into first place on the WNBA’s career finals scoring list, but the Lynx committed 16 turnovers and got caught scrambling on the final possession of the game.
“I think we were more worried about not letting anyone get to the hole,” Fowles said. “I’m not sure exactly what happened on that last play to make her get wide open. But we learned from this.”
Beard has emerged in Los Angeles as a defensive specialist, but she took center stage in Game 1. Before she hit the game-winner, Beard also had a spectacular block of a shot by Whalen and then a steal off an inbounds to set up Ogwumike’s bucket for a 76-72 lead.
“I don’t think I’ve ever hit a game-winner,” Beard said quietly. “So it’s pretty cool. Pretty cool.”
Iceland building off Euro 2016 success
Soccer: Iceland is showing that its run to the European Championship quarterfinals was no fluke.
The small nation keeps surprising and Turkey was the latest victim at the Laugardalsvollur stadium in Reykjavik, beaten 2-0 thanks to two goals shortly before halftime in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
Iceland lost to host France in the Euro 2016 quarterfinals. It reached the playoffs in 2014 World Cup qualification, losing to Croatia.
In other groups: Wales, a Euro 2016 semifinalist, and its star forward Gareth Bale hit a first major bump on the road to the World Cup in a 1-1 draw with Georgia in Group D. The Georgians haven’t lost to Wales in four meetings. … Italy kept Spain from opening a significant advantage atop Group G by scoring two late goals and salvaging a 3-2 win at Macedonia. … Croatia stayed atop Group I with a 1-0 win at Finland.
CONCACAF to overhaul ‘archaic’ qualifying format: World Cup qualifying in North America is set to be overhauled to avoid shutting out the majority of countries in the CONCACAF region so early.
CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani has instigated a review of an “archaic” format that leaves only six out of the region’s 35 teams still in with a shot at qualifying for Russia in 2018.
Alongside a potential new name to replace the corruption-tainted CONCACAF brand, revamping qualifying to be more inclusive has emerged as a key objective for Montagliani after five months in charge of the confederation covering North and Central America and the Caribbean.
“Something needs to change because you can’t have 85 percent of your members who are on the outside looking in two years before the World Cup,” Montagliani said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Murray tops Dimitrov to win China Open
MISCELLANY: Andy Murray won tennis’ China Open in Beijing, defeating Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 7-6 (2), in a hard-fought match that featured plenty of acrobatics from both players.
The finals victory was Murray’s first in three attempts at the China Open, having reached the quarterfinals on his debut and the semifinals in 2014.
Agnieszka Radwanska had an easier time of it in the women’s final, handily defeating Johanna Konta 6-4, 6-2.
The third-seeded Pole added to her 2011 victory in the Beijing tournament, notching up her 20th career title and third of 2016. She took the victory without dropping a set throughout the tournament.
Kyrgios wins in Tokyo: Nick Kyrgios claimed his third, and biggest, tennis title of the year, when rallying to beat David Goffin at the Rakuten Japan Open.
The big-serving Australian won a tight match, in which there were only three breaks, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Kenyans win Chicago Marathon: Abel Kirui of Kenya pulled ahead of defending champion Dickson Chumba for good in the final mile to win the Chicago Marathon.
Florence Kiplagat of Kenya won her second straight Chicago Marathon women’s title.
The men’s lead alternated between Kirui and Chumba for the last few miles. The 34-year-old Kirui finished in an unofficial time of 2 hours, 11 minutes, 23 seconds.
The 29-year-old Kiplagat finished in an unofficial time of 2:21:32.
The top five men’s finishers and top four women were all Kenyans.
Panthers lose forward: Florida basketball player Jonathan Huberdeau will miss up to four months with a lower body injury.
Huberdeau was expected to be a part of Florida’s top line.
Ryf defends Ironman title: Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf successfully defended her Ironman triathlon world championship in Hawaii late Saturday, finishing in 8 hours, 46 minutes and 46 secpmds to smash the women’s course record by more than 5 minutes.
The 29-year-old Ryf took the lead early on the bike and built a 20-minute cushion over three-time champion Mirinda Carfrae.
“That was my best race ever,” Ryf said. “Thanks so much to my team. I doubted all week whether I was strong enough on the bike and now I’m breaking the record in Kona. I didn’t even feel any pain.”
Carfrae, from Australia, was second at 9:10:30.
Third was Heather Jackson, who became the first American to make the podium in 10 years, with a time of 9:11:32.
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