May 21, 2021 

How the Aces found their groove

Las Vegas adjusted, here's how

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A’ja Wilson jumper. Photo by Abbie Parr, via Las Vegas Aces.

What was the difference-maker for the Aces in their second match-up of the season? I think A’ja Wilson put it best after the game: “Everyone came out shooting shots.”

And that may be putting it lightly. This looked like a completely different team than the one that took the court in Saturday’s opener. Players are starting to settle into their roles, and some (I’m looking at you, Jackie Young) are already thriving.

Six Aces scored in double figures Tuesday night, highlighting how deadly their versatility has the potential to be this season.

Settling in

After Saturday’s loss, nearly everyone on the team — including head coach Bill Laimbeer — cited chemistry as the big focus this early in the season. The Aces had looked like a brand new team out there in the opener, disjointed and off-pace.

They looked the exact opposite on Tuesday night. Vegas controlled the pace of the game and looked more like themselves as they drove to the basket and drew fouls. In fact, the Aces went 16-for-18 from the free throw line, while Seattle went 9-for-12.

They jumped out to a solid start, scoring on their first five possessions (4-4 from the floor, 2-2 from the stripe) to lead 10-2. That run saw five different players score, setting the tone for the coming versatility throughout the game.

The Aces would go on to lead at the end of every quarter, despite some strong runs from the Storm. The momentum of the game could’ve easily shifted in Seattle’s favor when Katie Lou Samuelson hit a buzzer-beater from just inside the half-court line to bring the score within four.

But Vegas stayed cool in the final frame, opening with a 15-4 run to pull away with the eventual 96-80 dub.

Chelsea Gray and A’ja Wilson. Photo by Abbie Parr, via Las Vegas Aces.

The Aces turned the corner on their long range shooting, making 6 of their 15 attempts from beyond the arc. This compared to just three total threes shot in Saturday’s match-up.

Their defense also stepped up compared to Saturday’s outing, and Laimbeer credits that for the win.

“The difference in the game today, no question, was our defensive effort — we were very active on defense,” Laimbeer said after the game. “The other day we missed a lot of assignments and we had a couple days of practice to iron that out. We still got a long way to go, we’re still learning each other, but I think overall activeness on defense set the tone for this game.”

All of this shows the team is starting to settle in as players become more comfortable with their new roles. This was especially visible in Chelsea Gray, who dealt some sneaky passes and got off a few killer shots.

The growth from Saturday was glaring — Vegas was playing confident, fast, aggressive, relentless basketball. Simple as that.

Wilson and Laimbeer have been stressing that building up this team’s chemistry is going to be the key to winning a championship this season, and Tuesday was a strong indicator that may not take very long at all.

Spreading the love

The Aces’ greatest strength was on full display Tuesday night: their versatility and flexibility. The game saw not one, not two, but six players reach double-digit scoring. I’m gonna hit you with the numbers.

  • Jackie Young: 21 points, 10 rebounds, 2 steals

  • A’ja Wilson: 18 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks

  • Liz Cambage: 18 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks

  • Chelsea Gray: 11 points, 7 assists, 2 steals

  • Kelsey Plum: 10 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals

  • Riquna Williams: 10 points, 3 assists

Destiny Slocum also saw her first brief minutes of WNBA play.

It was a record night for Young, whose 21 points were a career-best. It was also her second-ever double-double. She was also a big threat at the charity stripe, going 8-for-8 in the first quarter and eventually finishing 10-for-10 — after not taking any free throws in the first game.

“I know my teammates have confidence in me and they trust me, and I have that same confidence in myself,” Young said after the game. “I just have to have an aggressive mentality no matter who we’re playing against.”

Jackie Young had a career night Tuesday. Photo by Abbie Parr, via Las Vegas Aces.

There was no shortage of energy or effort from the Aces in this game. The Vegas bench outscored the Seattle bench 18-10. This team is deep, and that’s going to take them far. This is still just the second game of the year, and look how much the chemistry improved over a few days.

If they continue to share the ball and score like this (and if they clean up their defense even more), they’ll be scary come playoff time.

Filling KP’s shoes

There is one hiccup though.

This was Kelsey Plum’s last game with the Aces for a little while. She’s heading overseas to compete for USA Basketball in the 3-on-3 qualifier tournament, so she’ll miss about six games here at home.

Laimbeer and his squad will have to dig deep and find an answer to that missing piece. The way everyone stepped up on Tuesday is a good sign, plus there’s still rookie Destiny Slocum who has yet to really make her mark on the league.

“It’s unfortunate she’s going to go away for a few games, but she had a good training camp and she’s really confident in her own ability — she just needed a game like this to get back on track,” Laimbeer said of Plum. “She’s going to go play for USAB and hopefully she stays healthy, and when she comes back we’ll get a big push.”

Kelsey Plum. Photo by Abbie Parr, via Las Vegas Aces.

The Aces head back to Las Vegas with confidence for their home opener against the Los Angeles Sparks will tip off Friday at 7:30 p.m. PT.

Written by Sydney Olmstead

Pac-12 and Las Vegas Aces reporter.

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