The Las Vegas Aces welcome the Seattle Storm to town Tuesday evening after a convincing 86-68 win over the Dallas Wings on Saturday.
“I think Vegas got beat their last game and sat around here chomping at the bit and getting ready to play again,” Wings head coach Brian Agler said postgame. “They played a very good game, had 31 assists. I thought our defense was not very good in transition. I thought we needed to do a good job on [Kayla] McBride, [Kelsey] Plum and [Sugar] Rodgers, and we did for the most part.
“I thought we did a bad job on offense when we didn’t get a couple of things early, everybody started running to the ball instead of having a little bit of poise, moving with the ball, making the extra pass.”
Dearica Hamby led the way off the bench with 27 points off the bench (11-14 FG, 3-3 3PT) in 21 minutes. The Aces had an answer each half as they padded their lead, first rattling off a 23-4 run in the second quarter.
Then as the Wings cut it to 12, Vegas finished the third quarter on a 7-0 run. Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer was able to rely on his bench for most of the final 10 minutes.
Plum and McBride didn’t need to take very many shots Saturday as Hamby, A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage scored 58 of the team’s 86 points and the Aces assisted on 31 of their 35 made field goals.
Jackie Young got out to a much better start. She was directly involved in the team’s first three halfcourt possessions and drilled a 3-pointer later in the first period.
Young knows that she needs to step into open jump shots with confidence and that her teammates are confident in her ability to make them. The 2019 No. 1 overall pick feels her confidence building with each game she gets under her belt.
“I think it was just coming out being aggressive,” Young told High Post Hoops. “If I have the shot or I just get my teammates involved, I think really it’s just having a different mindset coming out, just being more aggressive.”
“We talked to her about it, working on her shot, getting more arch on her shot,” Laimbeer said. “But also all of the team has been very supportive of her being more aggressive.
“She came out with the mindset of, ‘Okay, I’m going to be aggressive and see what happens.’ Good things happen when you do that. Nine points, eight assists in 20 minutes? I’ll take that all day long.”
Sydney Colson also knocked down two 3-pointers. Such contributions are expected from Rodgers. But Laimbeer has often deployed Cambage with full bench units. Open shots will be there as opponents shade extra bodies toward the 6-foot-8 center inside.
“Syd’s another one we talked to also,” Laimbeer said. “She was in the game but not even looking at the rim. You can’t have that in professional sports. We made it very clear to her that if she’s open, we want her to shoot it. The worst thing that could happen is, what, she misses a shot? Everybody misses shots.”
Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale scored 25 points (9-26 FG) in 35 minutes off the bench but wasn’t pleased with the number of shots required to get there.
“Some shots fell. My percentage was terrible,” she said. “It was a rough night for them team. We’ve just got to come back and get better. Definitely not happy with that no matter how many points it was.”
“She can create. There’s no question about that,” Agler added. “She needs to improve her game from the standpoint of when she starts to see this kind of congestion, to get rid of the ball quicker. And that’s going to help our offense all around. People are really starting to load up on her.
“When you recognize that, like I told her during the game, ‘You can’t fight fire with fire. They’re bringing numbers at you. They’re pressuring you. So if you just try to beat it by putting your head down, it’s not going to work. Not in this league. So you’d better make it easy on yourself and better for our team to find the right person at the right moment and get ‘em the basketball.’
“She’s still going to grow in that. She’s very receptive to it. I’m proud of how she’s working at it. But it’s not natural for her. That’s one of multiple things that’s a work in progress. But I was really happy that she was aggressive. I like how competitive she was in that way.”
Meanwhile, Hamby making shots—especially from beyond the arc—will continue to unlock more possibilities for the Aces’ offense in the halfcourt. She has connected on each of her last five attempts across the last two games after missing her first nine.
Agler has taken notice. Expect other opposing coaches to do the same.
“I had a feeling going in—even though she missed her first nine threes of the season, she hit her last two, and I knew she had improved her 3-point shooting a year ago—to start switching with her in pick and roll,” he said. “So those three 3-pointers, two of the three were in pick-and-roll situations. That’s my fault on that. We could have come into the game expecting them to do that.”
Switching may take away some catch-and-shoot looks for Hamby. It would also give her some opportunities to duck inside with a smaller defender on her, or allow a guard to attack a bigger player off the bounce—important options for the Aces to have, especially for lineups with multiple reserves in the game at once.
Isabelle Harrison suited up against the Aces for the first time since she was sent to Dallas as part of the Cambage trade. She scored five points in 13 minutes off the bench. Agler likes her game, but concussions have affected her game and practice availability early in the season.
“She’s had two concussions here since the season started,” he said. “I like Izzy. I think Izzy’s got a great upside for us. It’s just unfortunate when she’s missed so many practices and a couple of games because of injury.
“But when she gets into the routine, she’s had a few really good games for us. And she showed signs tonight—hit a couple of jump shots, defended pretty well. We like her, she’s just gonna have to get in the flow a little bit more. She’s missed quite a bit.”
Laimbeer noted postgame that the Wings, at least as currently constructed, are not on the same level of the Washington Mystics team that blew them out last Thursday.
Seattle might not be, either, but the reigning champs are out to a 7-4 start behind the stellar two-way play of Natasha Howard.
The Aces are still learning how to win. The Storm have proven they still can without the services of league MVP Breanna Stewart (Achilles) and All-Star point guard Sue Bird (knee). One will come away with a win on Tuesday.
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