Aces limit turnovers, lean on top-ranked defense in win over Seattle
The Las Vegas Aces have reached the 2019 All-Star break as winners of back-to-back games without the services of All-Star captain A’ja Wilson (ankle).
Dearica Hamby followed up on Sunday’s performance (14 points, seven rebounds, four assists in 38 minutes) with 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting, nine rebounds, three steals, two blocks and three 3-pointers in 33 minutes as the team’s starting power forward in Wilson’s place.
Liz Cambage added 15 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, three steals and three blocks. All five Aces starters scored in double figures.
Cambage handled Seattle’s double teams, setting Hamby up for a layup and two jumpers. Then in the fourth as the Aces separated, Cambage found Hamby and Plum for back-to-back 3-pointers.
More importantly, Las Vegas won the turnover battle handily (18 to 10) after turning the ball over 21 times in Friday’s matchup between the two teams in Seattle.
Jackie Young finished with 13 points and five assists, including a strong drive and finish to end the third quarter and a pull-up 3-pointer in the fourth.
“I was happy for Jackie,” Aces head coach and president of basketball operations Bill Laimbeer said postgame. “She found herself today. It has been coming. Hamby played a spectacular game out there also. Overall, it’s our defense. We held them to 26 percent in the second half and that’s how we win basketball games. We know it and we just have to continue that.”
The Aces have allowed just 90 points per 100 possessions this season and are pulling down 73.2 percent of available defensive rebounds per WNBA.com.
“[Kelsey] Plum and [Kayla] McBride have set the tone defensively knowing that was the key to a successful season. It starts with the guards,” Laimbeer added. “They are always in your face making you make tough shots not giving easy baskets and that is what’s helping set the tone. We have two shot blockers in the back line in A’ja and Liz, so that helps clean up a lot of problems. We know we are a great defensive team.”
Tamera Young, headed home to Atlanta for the break, was here last season and agrees that the team has progressed on that end.
“Just being more aggressive, buying into it,” she said. “Even when shots are not falling, you know that our defense—helping each other, being at the nail, being at the two-nine—is gonna make us a better defensive team that’s together. I just think we’ve been buying in, pushing the ball in transition and just going.”
“Everybody’s taking individual pride in playing defense,” Sugar Rodgers, also headed out of town for some rest and relaxation, added. “We’ve got a lot to work on. We’ve just got to stay focused so that when we come back we have the same mission we’ve been on since day one.”
Carolyn Swords, like Young, was one of the veteran leaders last season now enjoying the team’s success without losing sight of the opportunity to nab a top-two playoff seed.
“I’m really happy that we seem to be improving with each game,” she said. “I think we’re further along than we were at the beginning of the season.
“We really want to do our best to control our own destiny, treating each game as a playoff game. We’re going to be on the road for much of the back end of the season, so being able to win home games like this in front of our really awesome crowd—that’s really important for us.”
“We have a lot of room for improvement,” Laimbeer said. “We know it. Our defense is way ahead of where we thought it would be. We need to make shots. We got a lot of good looks tonight in the first half; we just couldn’t make shots.”
A problem for another day.
Cambage, Wilson and McBride are All-Stars, and this weekend presents the franchise with an opportunity to showcase its ability to put on a show.
What will players and fans alike notice as they descend on Las Vegas for All-Star weekend?
“The MGM and just the professionalism here—the way they treat us like stars,” Rodgers said. “Not only MGM but the fans as well, and the community has embraced us. I’m excited about that. That’s what we deserve.”
Wilson and Elena Delle Donne’s All-Star draft aired Tuesday night on ESPN2. Both McBride and Camabge will suit up for Team Wilson.
Participants have not yet been named for Friday’s 3-point and skills competitions. Tune in for Saturday’s All-Star game at 3:30 PM ET on ABC.
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