May 24, 2021 

A rookie, a point gawd and a big walk into The House

Highs and lows from Aces' first weekend at home

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This weekend saw highs and lows from the Las Vegas Aces in their first homestand. They were slicing and dicing on Friday against the Los Angeles Sparks (W, 97-69), but their energy was notably lower in Sunday’s 72-65 loss to the undefeated Connecticut Sun.

Head Coach Bill Laimbeer says he still expects some bumps in the road as the team starts to come together, but what he won’t stand for is digging a hole they can’t climb out of.

The winning cards are all in hand for the Aces, especially as players start to settle into their roles… now, it’s just a matter of consistency.

Slocum if you got ‘em

Rookie Destiny Slocum saw her first solid chunk of WNBA play this weekend, spending over 30 minutes on the court over the two games. In Friday’s matchup, she contributed 6 points and 4 assists, followed by 3 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 assists Sunday.

But Slocum’s presence on the court is felt beyond the numbers. When she came in off the bench Sunday, she provided a much-needed boost to the team’s energy. She was hungry — guarding the basket, taking fearless shots and even diving after a run-away ball.

This, combined with Hamby’s fire off the bench, helped give the Aces a big push toward a comeback in the second quarter. But ultimately, they couldn’t follow through. Laimbeer needs that high energy from everyone throughout the entire 40 minutes.

“[Hamby and Slocum] gave us a bit of a spark and got us back in the game … But the first and third quarters were the starters’ business, and they got their asses whooped,” Coach said after the game. “That’s a difficult hole to climb out of and it can’t continue. We need energy from everybody.”

Slocum’s teammates seem to already have confidence in her and her mentality. Vets like A’ja Wilson and Chelsea Gray trust her and expect her to come with that energy to every minute of play. And Slocum is taking it all in stride, soaking in as much knowledge as she can.

“Being able to just be around all these individuals that have mastered their craft and are working on it each day — I’m just thankful I have the opportunity to be here,” Slocum said. “Since day one [Coach Laimbeer] has told me to be ready when my number’s called, and I think that’s the only thing I can really do. Not really have an expectation, but just know when I get in there that I can be a value to this team in a lot of different ways. Just come out and not hesitate.”

Destiny Slocum. Photo by Abbie Parr, via Las Vegas Aces.

Slocum’s contagious energy off the bench and her steady efficiency are especially crucial for the Aces right now, who are missing Kelsey Plum — likely for four more games.

And Slocum is unafraid to fill those shoes.

Gray matter

Chelsea Gray’s deadly court vision has started to shine through for Vegas, especially in Friday’s match-up against Los Angeles.

Her ability to find passes and create scoring opportunities is proving to be a big weapon for the Aces (did anyone really expect anything different?). After all, it’s why they call her the Point Gawd.

Her secret to success is simple: “If the shots are there, take them. If not, pass the rock.” That mantra led to every available Ace scoring in Friday’s game against the Sparks, with Gray herself leading the way with 18 points, followed by Wilson, Hamby and Jackie Young with 17 a piece.

Chelsea Gray. Photo by Abbie Parr, via Las Vegas Aces.

And despite the lackluster outing for Vegas’ starters in Sunday’s game, Gray still managed to pave a path to 13 points, 5 assists and 2 steals. She sees every game as a learning opportunity, especially at this point in the season where she’s still adjusting to a new team’s system.

“You never really want to say that you’re peaking in the beginning,” she said after Sunday’s game. “We learn from this game, whether we won or lost. We know we didn’t play well, we didn’t play to our strengths at all. But I think we’re gonna be fine. Keep communicating and keep our heads up.”

Big Liz energy

Six-foot-eight Liz Cambage has an undeniable presence in the paint, defensively as well as offensively. In fact, in Sunday’s loss she notched her 2,000th career point. She also hauled in 7 rebounds and swatted away 4 shots.

Cambage was even deadlier on Friday, dropping 11 points and bringing in 10 rebounds. Her biggest critic is herself, almost always saying post-game that she expects more out of her game.

She’s hard to miss, with both an aggressive play style and a larger-than-life attitude. This one-two combo gives the Aces a competitive edge, as her teammates feed off that energy and utilize her ability to put in shots from under the basket.

But after this weekend, you may be hearing more about a negative interaction between Sun head coach Curt Miller and Cambage.

Cambage took to Instagram to give her personal account of what happened — saying Miller referenced her body weight while arguing with an official about a call.

“If there’s one thing about me, I will never let a man disrespect me. Ever,” she said. “The next time you try to call out a referee, you know trying to get a call being like, ‘Come on, she’s 300 pounds.’ I’m gonna need you to get that right, baby, because I’m 6’8”… I’m weight 235 pounds and I’m very proud … Don’t every try to disrespect me or any other woman in the league.”

The Sun later released a statement Monday morning on behalf of Miller.

A league source tells The Next the Aces are in contact with the league about the incident, so don’t consider this matter closed just yet.

Up next, the Aces hit the road to face off against the Phoenix Mercury on Wednesday at 7 p.m. PT.

Written by Sydney Olmstead

Pac-12 and Las Vegas Aces reporter.

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