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Stewart named Finals MVP as Storm win 4th title

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Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart added to her extensive trophy collection Tuesday with her second WNBA title and WNBA Finals MVP award — all by age 26, which she turned in August.

Stewart had 26 points and four rebounds Tuesday as the No. 2-seeded Storm completed a sweep of the No. 1-seeded Las Vegas Aces with a 92-59 victory at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The 33-point margin of victory was the largest in WNBA Finals history.

Stewart was the unanimous choice for MVP. Only four other players besides Stewart have won two Finals MVP awards: Houston’s Cynthia Cooper, Los Angeles‘ Lisa Leslie, Phoenix‘s Diana Taurasi and Minnesota‘s Sylvia Fowles.

Stewart, who shot 10-of-14 from the floor Tuesday, had her sixth consecutive WNBA Finals game with at least 20 points. That is the longest such streak in history, passing Cynthia Cooper, who had five in a row for Houston between 1997-99, and Angel McCoughtry, who had five straight for Atlanta from 2010 to 2011.

The 6-foot-4 forward Stewart averaged 19.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists in the regular season. In the postseason, those numbers were 25.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists.

Stewart was the No. 1 draft pick out of UConn in 2016 after winning four consecutive NCAA titles for the Huskies. She was Rookie of the Year that WNBA season, and she was a league champion in 2018, her third year.

A year ago, though, Stewart was watching the WNBA Finals while rehabbing an Achilles tendon injury she sustained in April 2019 while playing overseas. It was the first serious injury of her career, which at that point included not just her success in college and the WNBA, but also gold medals in the 2016 Olympics and 2018 FIBA Women’s World Cup.

Stewart first returned to action in late January 2020 in an exhibition with the U.S. national team. Then she went back overseas to play until the COVID-19 pandemic cut short her European season. Stewart was ready to go for the 2019 WNBA season. Earlier this year, she said she would give herself an A-minus or B-plus for this season, but then acknowledged she was being a tough grader.

Seattle joined Houston, a now-defunct franchise, and Minnesota in winning its fourth title, tying for the most in the history of the WNBA, which began in 1997. The Comets’ titles came at the league’s start, from 1997-2000, while Minnesota won in 2011, ’13, ’15 and ’17. The Storm’s championships came in 2004, 2010 and 2018; point guard Sue Bird has started on all of those teams.

This year, the 24th WNBA campaign had a regular season shortened to 22 games because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Storm finished 18-4, as did Las Vegas. But the Aces won both regular-season games — Bird didn’t play in either game, and Stewart only played in one — and that gave Las Vegas the top seed. Aces forward A’ja Wilson won the league’s MVP award, with Stewart coming in second.

But by the postseason, the Storm ruled. They swept Minnesota in the semifinals with only one close win: the opener 88-86 on a last-second putback by Alysha Clark. The Storm won their other five playoff games by double digits.

“The city of Seattle has always had our back,” Stewart said after Tuesday’s win. “We had the utmost support from everybody, and we’re bringing another [title] back.

“I think the greatest challenge was just all the adversity. Everybody bought in. We’re a chill team, and we kind of rolled with the punches and continued to do what we do. Now, we’re the champs.”

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Liverpool’s win over Ajax steadied Klopp’s side after a rocky week

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It wasn’t pretty, but Liverpool will care not one bit. Their 1-0 win at Ajax Amsterdam can be marked down as job done for Jurgen Klopp’s side as they navigated a tricky opening Champions League tie and took a firm step forward in a season where they will be forever reminded of the players they have injured.

Stream LIVE games and replays on ESPN+ (U.S. only)

Klopp has grown increasingly exasperated this week at the narrative around Virgil van Dijk‘s potentially season-ending injury. He was tetchy in the pre-match news conference when asked about the sheer magnitude of Van Dijk’s absence; Liverpool have been, understandably, aggrieved at the manner in which it happened, but Klopp emphasised the need to focus on solutions rather than excuses.

And as the rain poured down in Amsterdam, Klopp’s Liverpool rode their luck at times and needed some heroic last-gasp defending from Fabinho but ground out a 1-0 win over Ajax that was as much about concentration and character as it was a tactical victory.

“It was not the most easy on the eye performance — both teams can play much better football,” Klopp said after the match. “We were pretty dominant. Ajax is usually a brilliant football team, but it was tricky tonight.”

With Van Dijk and Joel Matip absent — and an eyebrow raised at suggestions they should’ve or need to strengthen at the back — Klopp partnered Joe Gomez with midfielder-cum-centre back Fabinho in the middle of their defence.

“I don’t think they’ve [Gomez and Fabinho] played before together [at the back]. It was good, but even [Fabinho] can play better. They need to get used to each other — get used to the verbal demands of that position. It was a good performance, but there’s a lot to improve, that’s good! How high or low the last line in the moment — it was absolutely good,” added Klopp.

With Alisson also recovering from injury, Adrian deputised in goal and the trio stood resolute to Ajax’s trickery and attempts to pull them out of position, or exploit any space from Liverpool’s high press.

Liverpool actually sat deeper than we’re used to seeing, and Ajax’s lack of width, or use of overlapping fullbacks, meant they could largely cope with the elusive Dusan Tadic and the pace of David Neres and Quincy Promes. But fortune smiled on them. Adrian saved well from a close-range Promes effort — standing tall to block from five metres out — while Tadic managed to breach the high-press and lobbed a stranded Adrian only to see Fabinho acrobatically clear off the line.

“He’s a top player, so top players can adapt,” was James Milner‘s post-match assessment of Fabinho’s clearance.

Davy Klassen hit the inside of the post and had another effort well saved, while Ryan Gravenberch put a half-chance wide, but the clean sheet will come as a welcome fillip after Liverpool’s turbulent week. Liverpool were still publicly aggrieved at the rough justice they perceived to be subject to against Everton last Saturday whenwhen they arrived in Amsterdam. But privately you can picture Klopp ensuring his side were focused on what they could control, and not the absent personnel with six first-teamers unable to face Ajax (Alisson, Van Dijk, Matip, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Thiago Alcantara and Naby Keita).

“We are not dumb enough to think we did not need a bit of luck for the clean sheet. We could’ve done better. We don’t hang the clean sheet too high as there were two situations [Klassan’s attempt and Fabinho’s late clearance] where we were far from perfect,” Klopp said.

Klopp gave a Champions League debut to Curtis Jones in Liverpool’s midfield, as he started alongside Milner and Georgino Wijnaldum. But the ball was largely played over or around them, rather than through them. They looked dangerous on the counter attack and Mohamed Salah had an effort well blocked by Noussair Mazraoui, while Roberto Firmino again went without a goal as he looks to get off the mark this season.

But after a weekend where Liverpool went without any good fortune, they will have gladly accepted the gift offered to them for what proved to be their winning goal. Sadio Mane neatly cut inside Perr Schuurs and then hit turf-before-ball as he scuffed his shot into Nicolas Tagliafico, who failed to shift his position and diverted the ball past his goalkeeper Andre Onana.

It was a scrappy, ugly goal but Liverpool will take that gift. And in a week where Liverpool’s depth was questioned, Klopp’s trio of substitutions on the hour mark as he took off their high profile attacking line up of Salah, Firmino and Mane — who had his leg iced after coming off — was further proof of the trust the manager has in the options at his disposal.

Liverpool will face sterner tasks this season, and will need to play better against more adventurous opposition. Ajax were disappointing. Even after a summer where they their talent pool further plundered with Donny van de Beek, Sergino Dest and Hakim Ziyech all moving on, they lined up in an uncustomary 4-4-2 formation, rather than their usual 4-3-3. It’s in Ajax’s DNA they never fear the opposition, nor adjust for them.

Perhaps Erik Ten Heg took note of how Leeds United had managed to get under Liverpool’s skin earlier in the season with a similar outlook, but they looked like a side still familiarising themselves with their new signings and going through the post-transfer window evolutionary period.

“We did a fantastic job against a very good team. The plan and implementation were excellent, only the goal was missing,” Ten Heg said after the match. “We created opportunities, but we have to pull the trigger.”

The last time Ajax played Liverpool in Amsterdam was back in 1966. Ajax won 5-1 that evening in a game that signalled the European awakening to Total Football. It was played out in thick mist; reports state that those at the wrong end of the stadium missed most of the second half. But on Wednesday night, Liverpool got some clarity, the skies lightened a little and they got an indication of what life looks like without their star centre back.

Liverpool weren’t at their best, but they ground this out. Klopp will be delighted as they got off to the solid start after a rocky week.

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Politics Podcast: How Voting Is Going So Far In 2020

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Voting laws and procedures around the country have changed to accommodate mail voting and safe in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, Americans are voting early and by mail more than ever before. The changes have also been accompanied by hundreds of lawsuits on both the state and federal level. In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux and Nathaniel Rakich break down how the rules have changed, how it’s affecting Americans ability to vote and what kinds of arguments are still being hashed out in court.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

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PSU’s Chambers quits after internal investigation

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Penn State head coach Pat Chambers resigned Wednesday following an investigation into inappropriate conduct that stemmed from a former player saying Chambers made a reference to a noose around the player’s neck.

Chambers said in a statement provided to ESPN that he made the decision to take “a break to re-set and chart our path forward,” but the school announced it accepted his resignation following an “internal investigation of new allegations of inappropriate conduct by Chambers.”

In July, Iowa State guard Rasir Bolton — who transferred from Penn State in the summer of 2019 — said he made the decision to leave the Nittany Lions because Chambers made a reference to a noose around Bolton’s neck.

Bolton told The Undefeated in July that he recalls Chambers saying, “I want to be a stress reliever for you. You can talk to me about anything. I need to get some of this pressure off you. I want to loosen the noose that’s around your neck.”

“The new allegations surfaced shortly after The Undefeated’s article and a review was conducted jointly by Penn State’s Affirmative Action and Athletics Integrity offices,” Penn State said in its statement.

Chambers had been the head coach at Penn State since 2011, leading the Nittany Lions to a 26-win season in 2018 and was poised for an NCAA tournament appearance in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic canceled the NCAA tournament. It would have been the school’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011 and fifth since 1965.

“I am so proud of all our program has accomplished these past nine years, and I will be forever grateful to the Penn State community for its ongoing support,” Chambers said in his statement. “Anyone who has ever coached — especially at this level — knows the exceptional amount of energy and focus it takes to deliver each and every day. This has been an incredibly difficult year for me and my family, and we are in need of a break to re-set and chart our path forward. So, I’m taking a step back to prepare myself for the next 20 years.”

Assistant coach Jim Ferry will serve as Penn State’s interim head coach for the 2020-21 season.

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