June 1, 2021 

How the Aces can keep up their momentum against Connecticut

A vital test awaits Las Vegas

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The common denominator in Las Vegas’ overwhelming back-to-back victories over the Indiana Fever was selfless basketball.

Despite having a short bench, the Aces managed to rack up the points in both games, passing the 100-point mark in each match-up. Their 113-77 win on Friday marked the most points scored by the team in franchise history, and they followed it up with another 101-78 win Sunday afternoon.

There’s no shortage of offensive weapons for Vegas, with every available player scoring on Friday (six in double-digits) and all but Destiny Slocum scoring on Sunday (five in double-digits). So how does that factor into their road game against the Sun Tuesday?

Buckets all around

With every passing game the Aces have looked more and more in tune with each other. Their fluid ball movement and quick pace are a sure sign that the team is starting to really gel together — from Chelsea Gray’s no-look passes, to Liz Cambage’s dominance in the paint, to Slocum’s fearlessness as a rookie.

The pieces are starting to come together, and as A’ja Wilson said was so necessary before the start of the season, they’re starting to look as good on the court as they do on paper.

You never know which player will get hot on any given night with this team. It could be Jackie Young (who set a career-high 27 points against Phoenix), it could be Dearica Hamby (who was the leading scorer in both games against Indiana, with 25 and 22 points respectively), it could be Liz Cambage (who just notched her second double-double of the season). It really could be anyone.

And with Gray dishing out the assists like they’re going out of style (12 on Friday and 5 on Sunday), it can be incredibly difficult to defend Vegas.

But even if there’s not one standalone star, the team is really excelling at sharing the ball and spreading the scoring throughout starters and the bench.

Head coach Bill Laimbeer credits much of the unselfishness to A’ja Wilson. Last year, Wilson’s MVP year, she knew she had to put the team on her back and really step up herself. But this is a completely different team.

“A’ja knows coming to the season that her MVP may not ever happen again unless we’re just so dominant winning championships, because her stats will be down,” Laimbeer said. “And that’s okay by her — all she wants to do is win. She’s won a college championship, MVP, now she wants to win a WNBA championship. So it starts with her, and everybody else sees that and feeds off it.”

The most important thing to note here is that the shooting power doesn’t stop when the bench comes in. The Aces have depth, and even without Kelsey Plum and Angel McCoughtry they’ve been able to put up scary numbers.

There’s no denying the offensive prowess is locked in for the Aces, especially after these two games against the Fever. But the key to bigger success is still solid defense.

“We have offensive weapons across the board, including the bench players, especially when Plum gets back,” Laimbeer said. “So we’re going to score points. Now the question is can we stop somebody consistent.”

And that’s exactly the question the Aces will have to answer against 6-2 Connecticut on Tuesday.

Breakthrough for Bay Bay

A player that really started to stand out over these last two games was Riquna Williams. She averaged 7.5 points over the first four games, but turned it around and dropped double-digits in both games against the Fever (18 on Friday and 16 on Sunday).

The biggest difference in Williams on Friday was her effectiveness from beyond the arc. She made four of her eight attempted threes, and then four of her attempted five on Sunday.

This, combined with players like Gray, Young and Slocum who can be deadly from deep, makes Vegas a much more well-rounded team. As we saw in the first match-up against the Sun, the paint was crowded. Teams know to protect the paint at all costs against Vegas, but if they can find success with the long ball that’ll make them even more dangerous.

The Aces aren’t known as a team that shoots threes, but developing this aspect of their game is what could be the last step to turning them into a championship team.

Block party

Liz Cambage put together quite the stat line Sunday (13 points, 13 boards, 5 blocks and 4 assists), but her only focus right now is playing the best defense she possibly can.

“We’re a team of superstars — we’re a team where any one person could go up on any given night and we just got to come out and play a team game, play to our strengths and focus on who is hot that night,” Cambage said. “Right now, all I’m focused on is rebounds and blocking shots and protecting the paint.”

The energy Cambage brings to the paint is infectious. When she swats away a shot, you can see how fired up she and her team get over it.

That circles us back to Laimbeer’s big key for his squad: energy. Cambage’s leadership on defense along with her attitude feed into the team’s energy, just like Gray’s stealthy passes do, just like Wilson’s swaggy drives to the basket do.

“When Liz is engaged defensively, you can’t shoot over her. Not only does she block shots, she intimidates shots — and she’s a solid rebounder, she’s all of the above,” Laimbeer said. “She knows she’s playing with great players that carry the load, all she has to do is her part. And her part is to play defense and put the ball in the basket.”

Joy(ner) to the Sin City

On Saturday, the Aces waived Emma Cannon and signed Joyner Holmes. She was quick to make a splash in red and black.

Holmes came into Sunday’s game late, logging just under seven minutes. In that time, she quickly got on the board with a bucket, which was then followed by back-to-back threes, for eight points total.

That’s quite the first impression.

So what can we expect from Holmes? What do the coaches want to see from her?

“Just coming off the bench, rebounding, running and knowing what I bring to the team,” Holmes said when asked about her first discussions with the coaching staff. “I’m a real versatile player, so just being able to do the things I need to do — and my size with my capabilities — but also just bringing what I can. I think I’ll develop a lot here and I’m excited to be here.”

It seems like it’s going to be a pretty good fit. If she’s provided with the time to develop and grow into her role off the bench, Holmes will be a valuable asset for Vegas in their run back to the playoffs this season.

But first, the Aces head to Connecticut to take on the Sun at 4 p.m. PT Tuesday. Something tells me this will be the vibe on the plane.

Written by Sydney Olmstead

Pac-12 and Las Vegas Aces reporter.

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