Aces win big in the ATL, Liz gets the start, Jackie moves to the point
Bill Laimbeer made a change with his starting lineup after all. Liz Cambage drew her first start of the season as the Las Vegas Aces cruised to a 92-69 road win over the Atlanta Dream on Thursday.
The Aces jumped out to a 10-0 lead, led 19-2 moments later and took a 24-point lead into the break.
Cambage scored 15 points on 7-of-14 shooting in 19 minutes.
The Aces made another shift, heaping more point guard responsibilities onto Jackie Young.
“I think that’s the way we’re going to be,” Aces head coach and president of basketball operations Bill Laimbeer said postgame. “Jackie can push the ball better than anyone we have on the team. We want to push the ball. We want to go inside. That’s obviously one of our great strengths. And I’ll have two shooters on the wings. So we’re structured appropriately in the starting lineup, finally.”
Atlanta’s offensive struggles fueled the Aces’ running game. Jessica Breland and Elizabeth Williams are excellent, well-rounded defenders but lack the general heft to challenge Cambage and A’ja Wilson. Early catches for either player before Atlanta set their defense meant trouble for the Dream.
Tiffany Hayes (ankle) shot just 3-of-14 from the field. Brittney Sykes also left the game with an apparent ankle injury but quickly returned and went on to score 15 points in 25 minutes off the bench.
Some quick notes on two fun actions the Aces threw at the Dream en route to the blowout win:
Laimbeer has noted early in the season that he won’t be running many plays for Young. The Aces will need some wrinkles to tap into her driving ability in the halfcourt, which will also prevent her from being shoved too far to the side as a bystander in a corner.
A head start into a handoff with Wilson ought to do the trick:
Alex Bentley was already sagging off of Young. She either didn’t take a great path to duck under the handoff action to meet Young on the other side or failed to execute a switch with Nia Coffey. Young can surprise defenders that get caught ball-watching. Even if teams execute a switch to wall off that drive, the opponent will be stuck with a much smaller player on Wilson.
The Aces generated two wide-open 3-pointers early in the clock by using one of their shooters (Kayla McBride then Sugar Rodgers) to set a back screen for Wilson or Cambage. McBride’s triple in the first quarter put the defense in quite a dilemma.
Cambage is an imminent threat to create her own shot from the left block. Young quickly bolts to the ball-side corner. (Atlanta’s bench could be heard imploring Nia Coffey to turn her head to steal that entry pass.)
There’s no nearby helper to get into the play to help out on McBride or Wilson. Opponents have to be locked in to communicate that screen right away. Emergency help at the rim allowed McBride to step into one of the cleanest windows she’ll see all season.
Rodgers set one for Cambage later in the game, leading to the same result:
The Aces want to run. That hasn’t changed with the arrival of Cambage. And this setup points back to Laimbeer’s remarks postgame. Young can push the pace and get to the rim in transition. Kelsey Plum and McBride (or Rodgers) can flank her on either side hunting open 3-pointers. Then Cambage or Wilson can attack their defender off the bounce or look to feed the other on a cut or dive to the basket.
Coffey, a former member of the Aces, drew the start on the wing for the Dream. She was sent to Atlanta in the deal that also included Rodgers being sent to Las Vegas from the New York Liberty.
The Aces will continue their quick road swing Sunday in New York against the Liberty.
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