A’Ja Wilson returns after month-long ankle injury, helps Aces clinch postseason berth

The Aces’ star power forward was back like she’d never left, scoring 25 points and dominating the lane

CHICAGO – The beginning of Sunday night’s entertaining battle of contrasting styles between the Chicago Sky and Las Vegas Aces was no different than the last month of Aces games. Dearica Hamby started at the four position, while A’Ja Wilson, nursing a sprained ankle back to health, rode the bench. Then Hamby held her own and the Aces played like the bruising, relentless top-three team they are. Nothing to see here, folks.

However, midway through the quarter, with his team out to a 9-5 lead, Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer quite literally played his ace. (Sorry). For the first time since sustaining her injury on July 19, A’Ja Wilson returned to game action. (Sorry again, that needs correcting). She returned to game domination, leading the Aces to a 100-85 win that clinched the franchise’s first postseason berth since 2014, and its first since moving to Las Vegas in 2018.

The Aces went 6-3 in Wilson’s absence, but nonetheless were more than happy to let her put on a show at Wintrust Arena. And it didn’t take her long to re-establish herself in her domain: the lane. She looked plenty mobile fighting through defenders after nine games on the bench, recording her first point on a free throw after contact near the rim. On the Aces’ very next possession, she drew contact again, made the bucket, missed the ensuing free throw, and finished a four-point possession with a lay-up.

It was safe to say, at this point, that Wilson was back in business.

“She came with the right energy,” said Aces coach Bill Laimbeer, who also said he started Hamby to maintain his team’s rhythm and ease his superstar back into full-time work. “She had something to prove to herself and everybody else that, OK, she’s out for a long time, she’s ready to go again. I thought she played a whale of a game.”

But she didn’t stop there. Virtually playing starter’s minutes, Wilson went 7-for-14 from the field, tallying 25 points, grabbing eight rebounds and even blocking four shots. While she was quiet in the third quarter, she drew a crucial foul (and made her free throws) to keep the surging Sky at a safe distance of eight points, and shortly afterwards sunk a put-back jumper to increase that lead to 14, all but officially burying the dagger with 4:36 remaining. That’s not bad production off the bench, where Wilson found herself sitting at tip-off for the first time since her freshman year at South Carolina.

After the game, Wilson credited her physical therapist and teammates, and especially spoke highly of her fellow lane-enforcer Liz Cambage, who reeled off a 23-10 double-double in a dominant performance that Chicago was hopeless to contain. It was the first time this season that this dynamic duo has both scored over 20.

“That’s what two good players do,” Wilson said. “We find each other and get into a flow of things. We can trust each other. That’s the biggest thing. We’ve formed this bond and this trust that we can trust one another that we can score the basketball and pass in the right situations.”

Cambage, who turned 28 today, said Wilson looked like she’d never left, and that having her back on the court was “the best birthday present ever.”

“It’s something that’s been happening all season with me and A’Ja,” Cambage said. “That four-five, it’s a relationship where we see each other better than the guards because we’ve got that height advantage. It’s lob city all day with me and A’Ja, I could do that all day, I love doing that. But give me my assists girl I’m trying to get a triple-double!”

Both players and their coach were relatively lowkey about wrapping up a postseason berth, saying there is plenty left to play for seeding purposes. Nonetheless, Wilson and her teammates appear to be firing on all cylinders at the right time, and there’s nothing wrong with basking in the glow, even if it’s just for a moment.

“We’re taking it in,” Wilson said. “This is definitely something special for our franchise and we’re just happy to be in this situation. We know we still have a lot more games to be played and we can’t let up. Yes, this is something we should celebrate but we’ve got a game coming up on Tuesday that we need to focus on.”

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