A near-half court shot made by Katie Lou Samuelson at the buzzer of the third quarter cut the Seattle Storm’s deficit to just four points, but the Las Vegas Aces (1-1) managed to not squander a big lead, winning the fourth 30-18 and the game 96-80 on Tuesday night at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett. Wash.
Jackie Young notched a career-high 21 points and added 10 rebounds, which tied a career high, to lead the Aces.
“I actually didn’t know (it was a career high) until they said in the locker room,” Young said. “I really just tried to go out there and just be aggressive. I know my teammates have the confidence in me and they trusted me and so I just have to have that same confidence in myself. I just have to have an aggressive mentality every time I step on the floor.”
Reigning MVP A’ja Wilson had 18 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and three blocks and her frontcourt mate Liz Cambage added 18 points, eight boards, and three blocks. Offseason acquisition Chelsea Gray improved upon her performance in Las Vegas’ season-opening loss to the Storm (1-1) with 11 points and seven assists, many of which were stylish.
Things were clicking for the preseason favorite Aces in a way they weren’t in their surprising 97-83 loss to the defending champs, who lost Natasha Howard, Alysha Clark and Sami Whitcomb to trades/free agency.
“The difference in the game today no question was our defensive effort,” said Aces coach Bill Laimbeer. “We were very active on defense. The other day we missed a lot of assignments. We had a couple days of practice to iron it out. We still got a long way to go, we’re still learning each other. But I think overall our activeness on defense is what set the tone for this game.”
After Samuelson’s clutch shot, the Aces opened the fourth by pounding the ball inside to Cambage, who stepped up to score six points in the first 1:44 of the frame. After Cambage’s 3-point play with 8:16 to play, Vegas led 74-62 and it led by at least 10 the rest of the way.
“It was key,” Gray said of Cambage stepping up. “They had a little moment going into the fourth, especially with a shot like that, you know you got the fans, you feel like the rim gets a little bit bigger for her. So we come into the fourth, we really wanted to hammer down, get some easy stuff, get some easy scores and get us back in the flow of things.”
The Aces raced out to a 14-4 lead and closed the opening quarter on a 15-0 run to lead 31-14 entering the second. The Storm then won the second by three and the third by 10.
Riquna Williams and Kelsey Plum each contributed 10 points for the winners, who also received eight points and six boards from Dearica Hamby in what was a total team effort. The Aces showed just how talented their rotation is.
“(If feels like) we’re ok,” Williams said of bouncing back. “I mean the first game, that was our first game playing together. And not even having all our pieces because we lost Angel (McCoughtry to an ACL and meniscus tear). But it felt good to know that we’re ok and making the right steps to where we want to be.”
Seattle superstar Breanna Stewart followed up her 28-point, 13-rebound performance in the opener with 26 and 11 on Tuesday, while Ezi Magbegor had 14 points and 13 rebounds in defeat. Jewell Loyd chipped in with 17 points and Samuelson had 13.
Phoenix Mercury (2-1) over Washington Mystics (0-2), 91-70
Brittney Griner had 14 points and 10 rebounds and Brianna Turner had 10 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Mercury, who gradually increased their lead quarter by quarter. Diana Taurasi (17 points), Skylar Diggins-Smith (10 points, five assists), Kia Nurse (12 points) and Sophie Cunningham (12 points) were all in double figures as well and the Mystics couldn’t match Phoenix’s depth.
The Mercury had eight players with five or more points (Alanna Smith and Megan Walker were the other two) and the Mystics had just five. Tina Charles was great with 22 points and 12 rebounds in defeat. Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins added 18 and 12 points, respectively, but it was not enough.
Phoenix outrebounded Washington 50-34 and won despite turning the ball over 19 times.