LAS VEGAS — Moriah Jefferson made her long-awaited home debut and was welcomed with a warm ovation by the home crowd as the Aces defeated the Chicago Sky at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Kayla McBride and A’ja Wilson led the way for the Aces, scoring 52 of the team’s 84 points. The inside-out Vegas duo combined to shoot 21 of 44 from the field and earned 12 trips to the free throw line.
Buckets came at a premium down the stretch. The Sky took a 53-51 lead into halftime; the two teams combined for just 24 points in the fourth quarter.
Astou Ndour got off to a quick start off the bench but suffered an ankle injury on her second three-pointer of the evening. Dearica Hamby was whistled for a foul on the play for stepping under Ndour on the shot. Ndour’s right foot came down on Hamby’s. The officials upgraded the call to a flagrant one on Hamby after review. Ndour left the floor and did not return to the bench.
More on the Aces’ 84-80 victory:
McBride, Wilson light it up
McBride, now in her fifth WNBA season, has taken a big step forward for the Aces in becoming more efficient from all over the floor. Diamond DeShields did have some success pressing up into and sliding with McBride on the perimeter, but the Notre Dame alum was persistent throughout the night in looking for opportunities to get downhill.
“She’s that way. She’s a bulldog at times,” head coach/president of basketball operations Bill Laimbeer said postgame of McBride. “She bulls her way to the basket, she makes a couple of circus shots. You saw one of them tonight. But she’s used to that. That’s who she is. She attacks.”
McBride scored in a variety of ways — running around screens, attacking closeouts, creating something late in the clock, jumping passing lanes, filling lanes on the break, and even by losing her defender backdoor for an easy look.
“Everybody in this league knows I’m a shooter. So I’m just trying to get to the rim a little bit more — get to the free throw line,” McBride said postgame.
McBride has really excelled in leveraging her shooting ability to help her create easier looks off the bounce. She’s helped in part by Wilson, who commands plenty of extra attention in her own right.
“A’ja definitely makes it easier when you have a post presence like that,” McBride said. “When it gets kicked out, it’s easier to beat the closeouts and things like that. I’m just trying to stay aggressive.”
The Aces have shown marked improvement on the offensive end in playing through their two stars. With both players commanding so much attention, Wilson managed to slip a screening action straight to the rim for an uncontested layup in the second half. The 2018 No. 1 overall pick reflected confidence in a simplified approach postgame.
“Just really taking what the defense gives me, no matter who’s guarding me,” Wilson said. “Just looking at them and sizing and seeing, ‘What can I do? How can I either get to the rim, get a bucket or find my open teammate?’
“And that just doesn’t go for Chicago,” Wilson added. “On other teams it’s just, ‘How can I be productive for my team?'”
Respect the shooter
McBride spent much of the evening matched up against Sky All-Star shooting guard Allie Quigley (6-12 FG, 1-2 3PT, 4 assists).
McBride shared her view of their matchup and the similarities she saw in how they look to score, saying, “She’s one of the hardest players to guard for me in the WNBA. So credit her, she’s really kind of developed herself and solidified herself the last couple of years in this league being an All-Star, three-point champion, things like that.
“So you’ve gotta respect her. Respect the shooter.”
Quigley really broke out in 2017, her fifth season with the Sky and first under current head coach/general manager Amber Stocks. Quigley was one additional made free throw from posting 50/40/90 shooting splits. In addition to shooting 43 percent on nearly six three-point attempts per game, Quigley nearly doubled her previous career high in assists.
“I try to learn from everybody that I play against, and she’s one of the main people that I do,” McBride added. “Along with Diana [Taurasi] and Maya [Moore], Allie’s probably the next best catch and shoot player in this league.”
Getting a spark from Swords
“She was the ultimate professional basketball player tonight,” Laimbeer said in his postgame presser of reserve center Carolyn Swords. “She missed a couple shots, but she wasn’t afraid to shoot them. She got four offensive rebounds for us. That’s huge.”
Swords logged 18 minutes off the bench for the Aces and pulled down 12 rebounds in all. Laimbeer has several options at his disposal to pair with Wilson on any given night. Kelsey Bone and rookie JiSu Park have drawn the majority of the minutes at center. Dearica Hamby has logged some minutes with Wilson this season as well. Perhaps depending on the matchup or simply based on what he’s seeing minute-by-minute, Laimbeer has players that can each bring something different to the team.
“Be physical. Be a physical presence,” Laimbeer said when asked what he needs most from that spot. “Take the physicality away from A’ja Wilson where she can guard a less physical player, and just execute your assignments. That’s what we ask for.”
MoJeff makes her home debut
Moriah Jefferson was one of the integral pieces in the franchise’s relocation to Las Vegas. She moved out to Vegas early during the offseason to help them get out into the community to connect with their fans and promote the team.
Jefferson was met with a warm welcome when she first checked into the game, and was appreciative of the support from the home crowd. “It felt great,” Jefferson said. “The fans were super loud. I got really excited.”
The dynamic point guard got into the lane several times in the second half to manufacture some easier looks, including a jumper in the paint out of the pick and roll after a right-to-left crossover.
“Just being more aggressive,” Jefferson said of those moments. “Trying to get myself back into the flow of the game, reading the defense. I came off a few times and I read that the post was backing up so I attacked them.”
Both teams will be in action again on Saturday. The Aces host the Sun on Saturday (10:30 ET, League Pass), and the Sky return home to host the Lynx (8:30 ET, League Pass).