Aces outscore L.A. by 14 in the fourth
LAS VEGAS—Kelsey Plum was due.
The third-year guard poured in 17 of her 20 points in the fourth quarter as the Las Vegas Aces surged past the Los Angeles Sparks in front of the biggest crowd to date (8,470) in nearly two seasons at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Plum reflected postgame on a regular season that has included big peaks (21 points, five 3-pointers in a June win in Minnesota; 16 points in an August win over Connecticut) and valleys (3-of-32 shooting across a five-game stretch in June; a 10-of-37 stretch and move to the bench in August).
“I’m really trying to work on not being too high or too low,” she said. “There’s been a lot of low points for me this year professionally, personally. I think just being able to continue to have that confidence in yourself that, ‘I can do this. I’m here for a reason.’ That type of belief, it’s not easy.
“You fail a lot in this league. Everyone is so good. The last time we played L.A., I was 3-for-13. The time before I was 0-for-8. The time before that, I was 4-for-10. I don’t forget about that stuff.
“I think for me, just continuing to stay aggressive. I’m so grateful that I have teammates that always encourage me and always believe in me. That’s what I was thinking.”
Aces head coach and president of basketball operations Bill Laimbeer pointed to the immediate contributions of the team’s late-season addition and how she may have already made a positive impression on Plum in practice.
“Epiphanny Prince came off knee surgery. What’s today? Today’s Saturday. Thursday was her first time going fullcourt up and down since last year. She came in and made some big shots for us and big plays. More importantly, in practice, she showed us a different way to play.
“I think that rubbed off on Plum tonight. I think Plum saw how Epiphanny did it in practice. Plum came down the stretch and did exactly what Epiphanny Prince does: Come off the screen and raise in the big’s face—something she has not done the entire season and in her career. Whether it’s a one-out or whether it’s a trend, time will tell.”
In just 12 minutes, Prince scored 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting.
“I had to prepare myself mentally because at shootaround [Laimbeer] told me, ‘You’re getting some minutes tonight,’” she said. “At first, I was joking with [Aces general manager] Dan [Padover], ‘You told me that we were gonna work my way into this.’ I was happy to be out there. I was happy to be playing. When you’re sidelined for a while, you just get really excited to start playing again.”
Prince had her knee scoped in May. She went overseas after the 2018 WNBA season but wasn’t able to play without pain. The scope came with an original timetable of 6-8 weeks. Entering the 2019 offseason as an unrestricted free agent, she wanted to take some time to weigh her options and try to find a team capable of making a deep playoff run.
On talent alone, Laimbeer and Padover struck gold in simply having the opportunity to simply bring Prince into the fold so late in the season. Prince quickly getting into game shape and Plum peaking at the right time coming off Saturday’s performance would give the Aces the off-the-bounce shot-making element they’ve missed in so many games this season.
“I think Piph is an incredible scorer,” Plum said. “The way she gets her shots off, even the last few days I’ve just been trying to pick up little things. She came in the game and she was super aggressive and gave us that boost. It kind of opened up the floor.”
The Aces did struggle to contain Riquna Williams, who went for 37 points on 10-of-22 (7-15 3PT) shooting. L.A.’s sharpshooting guard got loose early darting around some screens and leveraged that pressure on the defense by earning 11 trips to the foul line.
Williams also made some incredibly difficult shots with a hand in her face, something opponents are used to seeing from Sparks All-Star point guard Chelsea Gray. She shot just 3-of-13 from the field on Saturday.
That total included 2-of-6 shooting with Tamera Young, who has started in Plum’s place the past two games, as the primary defender.
“We had size on [Gray], TY most of the game,” Laimbeer said. “I thought that was a big positive. Plum was on her for a little while. She tried to post up but we helped, took that away a little bit. But overall, I thought we did a nice job. Our bigs corralled her and didn’t let her penetrate in the lane.”
Sparks All-Star forward Nneka Ogwumike played just 11 minutes. Rookie center Kalani Brown started the second half instead. Ogwumike rejoined her teammates on the bench moments later but did not play at all in the second half due to an undisclosed illness.
The Aces sit at 20-12 in the No. 3 spot after Saturday’s win. They’ll have a few more practice days at home before heading to Atlanta then Phoenix for their final games of the regular season with L.A. and Chicago vying to leapfrog them in the standings.
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