June 16, 2022
Aces notebook: A’ja Wilson ascending, Jackie Young returns
And Iliana Rupert is in town!
After only their second loss of the season against Connecticut, the Aces have won three in a row including two straight road wins over the Sparks and Wings. Las Vegas continues to dominate the WNBA and has shown a few new things during these last two road victories, starting with their best player, A’ja Wilson.
Wilson is hitting her stride
Wilson, the 2020 WNBA MVP, has played at a different level over these last two games. After having what was arguably her worst game of her career against Dallas on June 5th, Wilson has delivered back-to-back 25+ point performances. This includes a season high 35 points at Los Angeles on June 11.
Wilson looks more comfortable on offense, attacking the basket, pulling up in the mid-range and even shooting threes in defenders faces. She also is dominating at the defensive end, blocking shots, and grabbing boards. She was already an MVP candidate but if performances like this continue, she will become the frontrunner very quickly. Wilson felt like she needed to perform better after a few rough outings.
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“Every time I shoot the basketball, I want it to be one of those nights. That’s just my mindset. The ball was just going through the hoop. Like I said before, I had a rough couple games. I wasn’t performing well for my team,” said Wilson. “I definitely needed to show up this game and that’s what I was focusing on. My mentality this whole week off I was just trying to be ready and efficient for my team and I’m glad that the basketball gods were on my side tonight.”
Becky Hammon added on Wilson, “I think she’s figuring out where her spots are. You know, she didn’t really play in the offseason. So I think some of the stuff is just a little rushed. I think she’s just getting back into back into form. Not surprised by anything she’s doing. She’s super talented. We know on the offensive end, but I think her defensive has been just absolutely ridiculous this year.”
Jackie Young is back
After spraining her Ankle against Connecticut on June 2, Jackie Young returned to the Aces lineup on Wednesday against Dallas. She got the start, playing 34 minutes and scoring eight points. She wasn’t particularly efficient on the offensive end, shooting just 3-for-12 from the field, but she did a good job on defense trying to limit Arike Ogunbowale.
Having Young back is incredibly important to the Aces’ success. Not only is she having a career year and is a Most Improved Player candidate, but she also helps with the Aces’ lack of depth. Riquna Williams remains out for the Aces with a foot sprain and the Aces don’t have a ton of guard/wing depth behind Williams and Young. While Young didn’t look 100% like herself, the Aces are happy she is back on the court. However, Hammon knows it will take time for her to round back into her pre-injury form.
“It was Jackie’s first go here in a few weeks, so I thought she did great. She said she felt great, so we went with it,” said Hammon. “I thought she looked good overall, I think she didn’t have a lot of lift and so that’s going to be part of her process coming back in that live action is just getting lift under herself again, off that ankle.”
Overcoming slow starts
The Aces so far this season have been throttling their opponents. They lead the WNBA in scoring margin, outscoring their opponents by an average of 10 points per game. However, in this two game road swing, the Aces got off to slow starts. Against, Los Angeles they fell down five points with three minutes remaining in the first. However, they responded in a big way, using a 39-17 run the rest of the half to take a 17-point lead into the break and cruising to an easy victory.
It was much harder against Dallas who took a 16 point halfway through the second quarter and looked like they were on their way to handing Las Vegas their third loss of the year. However, the Aces responded in the third quarter, scoring 31 points and turning a nine-point halftime deficit into a six-point lead heading into the final frame. In both games, the Aces fell behind because they got away from the defensive principles and were giving up to many easy baskets. Once they started getting stops and were able to run in transition, they were able to make their comebacks.&nbsp;
“I think we came out we were really trash. We just came out, we were not clicking we were not on the same page. Defensively, we got away from what we do,” said Plum. “It’s Kids Day, it’s a noon game. We’re two hours behind. I just think that you know, we had to wake up and credit Chelsea you know, I feel like in the locker room she really set the tone for the third quarter. People showed up and defensively we’ve got stops were able to run and that’s when we’re our best.”
Different defensive looks
While the Aces have been known for their offense this season, their defense has been very stout as well. They have fourth-best defensive rating in the WNBA and lead the league in three-point percentage defense. A lot of their success on that side of the ball has been due tos switching up the looks their opponents see.
In the game against Los Angeles, the Aces had 72 defensive possessions, 27 of them they played zone defense according to Synergy. You could see it confused Los Angeles and they struggled to score for long periods against the Aces. Against Dallas, they only played 5 possessions of zone out of 79 defensive possessions. That low number of zone looks they threw against Dallas may have been due to the fact they played 20 possessions of zone against them in their game on June 5. The Aces have played the most possessions of zone defense of any team in the WNBA and it has confused opponents in key possessions in a multitude of their games.
Commissioner’s Cup championship-bound
With the victory over Dallas on Wednesday, the Aces have officially solidified a spot in the Commissioners cup championship game. They Aces are undefeated so far this year through eight Commissioner’s cup games and will now await the finalist from the Eastern Conference. The players are excited to be playing in the championship and like the test it brings against another playoff caliber team.
“Well, for one, we’re able to give the charity with games that we win. So that’s the bigger picture as well and yeah, we want to win it all,” said Chelsea Gray. “It’s cool like to have a little mini tournament, see where you are measured up to the people that you know you’re gonna play against in the playoffs, most likely. It’s a good opportunity for us to play and get some extra money on our books.”
Iliana Rupert has arrived
As seen on her Instagram story, the 2021 first round pick has officially arrived in Las Vegas after finishing her season with a championship in the French league. The 20-year-old, 6’4 forward is a versatile player who will have an opportunity to develop alongside this Aces team. Hammon is looking forward to getting her on the court and what she brings to Las Vegas.
“We want to get her as acclimated as soon as possible. The quicker the better. We know she’s a really young talent. So we’re excited to have her part of our group,” Hammon said.
Written by Matthew Walter
Matthew Walter covers the Las Vegas Aces, the Pac-12 and the WCC for the Next. He is a former Director of Basketball Operations and Video Coordinator at three different Division I women's basketball programs.