The Las Vegas Aces completed a three-game homestand with a 94-90 victory over the last-place Dream on Tuesday. Some notes and observations on the final homestand of the regular season, including the anticipated return of A’ja Wilson, big shots from Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young and more:
Wilson was a full participant in Thursday’s practice and is not expected to be put on a minutes restriction according to Sam Gordon of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The Aces went 6-4 (including the loss in Seattle the night she went down with the ankle injury and the completion of the suspended game with the Mystics) without the All-Star forward after the team’s 11-5 start. Heading into Friday’s action, they’re 1.5 games out of the No. 1 spot and just 0.5 games out of No. 2 with eight games to play.
Jackie in the fourth
Young scored six straight points in the fourth on Tuesday night.
“That is what I expect from Jackie Young in the future—17 [points], five [assists] and four [rebounds],” Aces head coach and president of basketball operations Bill Laimbeer said postgame. “She is learning what she can do in this league. Once she understands it, that is a quality player for us and it adds to our arsenal.”
The two makes in the fourth were a glimpse into what could become more of a regular occurrence with Young as the lead ball-handler. She makes them less predictable getting by her own to score in the lane.
As opponents lock in on actions freeing Liz Cambage or Wilson up in the post or a shooter coming off screens, Young can work into scoring position while potential helpers are occupied and use her size and strength to score over opposing guards.
Quick start, big finish from Plum
After keying a strong start against Connecticut with nine points in the first quarter, Plum hit one of the biggest shots of the game against Atlanta—a jumper to put the Aces up four with 16 seconds to play.
With the Aces playing six of their final eight games on the road, Plum and Young should get plenty of important reps in big-time games as the complementary scorers the team needs as it gears up for the postseason.
Spreading out the Aces
Here’s Dream head coach Nicki Collen on what she felt was working for her team offensively as they scored 75 points on the league’s top-ranked defense in the first three quarters of Tuesday’s game:
“I think a lot of it tonight came down to, by [Jessica] Breland and [Marie] Gulich making perimeter shots, it just created great spacing for us. When you force Liz away from the basket, you’re gonna get good shots because you get a cleaner lane. So all of a sudden, anything you run, you’re gonna get good shots; it’s gonna come down to whether you make it or miss it.
“And quite frankly, that was the difference even in the fourth quarter. We execute two perfect plays coming out of ATO-type situations and got wide-open shots—Nia [Coffey] in one corner, [Brittney] Sykes in the other corner. And if those go, it’s a different game. Not only do you keep the momentum going, but the ball goes through the basket, you get to set your defense, those type of things.
“I think a lot of it came down to our spacing and being able to really attack. The second quarter alone, we touched the paint 22 times. At one point, we were at two points per possession over that stretch. We’re pretty analytical. I know offensively we’ve been pretty awful this year. But we still understand the numbers and understand when we’re good and why we’re good.”
Adding to Collen’s final point, the Dream managed 15 points on eight possessions two different times in the first half after falling in an early 15-4 hole. They also scored 15 points on nine possessions as they took a five-point lead into the fourth.
Big night for Gulich
Gulich’s career night keyed much of Atlanta’s offensive success. Her play will be worth monitoring the rest of the way.
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“I think she knew you have two choices,” Collen said. “You can go and you can play—you know we went and got Coates and I think she’s going to play and be a good player in this league. So you either have to match size for size and keep [Cambage] from scoring, or you gotta be different. You’ve gotta have a Jonquel Jones, you’ve gotta have a Jantel Lavender—somebody who can force her out of the lane.
“Because when [Cambage] can get comfortable, at 6’9”, it’s tough to score on them. It’s why they’ve been good defensively. When all of a sudden she has to guard on the perimeter, you get open shots. And then all of a sudden you get bad closeouts, you get the ball on the move and you touch the paint—the ball moves.
“For us, it’s all about the ball having energy and moving. So the last two games, we’ve played much better offensively. We haven’t walked away with wins, which is frustrating, but today was a fun game to coach. I felt like anything that I diagrammed, we got a good shot on. As a coach, that’s kind of all you can ask for. If you get good shots, you know you’re gonna make enough of ‘em to be competitive.”
“Today felt really good,” Gulich added. “The energy from the team was awesome. I’ve been struggling throughout the season, so obviously, this was really good for me. But my teammates have been super encouraging, always believing in me. I think that just gave me the confidence, finally, to just play like I can play.”
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