Aces impose their will in first matchup with Seattle

Battle for the No. 1 seed intensifies; teams to square off again next week

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The Las Vegas Aces led by as many as 21 in the second half to improve to 10-3 on the season with Saturday’s win over the 11-3 Seattle Storm. Saturday’s game was the first of two matchups between the two teams atop the WNBA standings in less than a week’s time.

Angel McCoughtry got out to a strong start getting to the free throw line and pulling down four offensive rebounds in the first half. Las Vegas closed the first quarter with an 8-2 spurt to take a one-point lead. Danielle Robinson knocked down a jumper, followed with a steal that led to a fast-break layup and got the free throw line on the team’s final offensive possession of the period. Dearica Hamby stole the inbounds pass with 1.2 seconds remaining to tack on another layup.

The Aces separated in the second, outscoring Seattle 26-11. A unit with Carolyn Swords and four bench players added seven points to the lead to start the period. Las Vegas continued adding to the lead as A’ja Wilson re-entered the game as they took at 16-point lead into the break.

“I expect that from our bench,” head coach and president of basketball operations Bill Laimbeer said postgame. “They can play duration minutes, too. Jackie [Young], DRob, and [Dearica] Hamby can run all day which is pretty remarkable. If the second unit is going, I'm riding with ‘em.”  

Hamby was a big presence defensively, spending a considerable amount of time guarding 2018 league MVP Breanna Stewart. Robinson and Jackie Young converted several looks in the paint in that first half. And ultimately, the Storm didn’t have any answers for Wilson, who took over in the second quarter both as a scorer and as a passer as the Aces added to that eight-point lead.

In a string of four possessions, Wilson first found Young for a spot-up 3-pointer. McCoughtry extended the possession with an offensive rebound, and Wilson polished it off with a putback. Wilson found Robinson on a cut moments later for a layup, then found Carolyn Swords for another. Wilson earned a trip to the free throw line the next time down as the Storm sent a double team. Those free throws pushed the Las Vegas lead to 14.

Seattle and Las Vegas were the top-two teams in offensive efficiency coming into Sunday’s games, and both rank in the top four in defensive efficiency. The Aces continued to control the defensive glass, where they’ve been the league’s best team to date. These teams also ranked in the top two in keeping their opponents off the foul line. The Aces also get to the line more than any team in the league. That strength won out on Saturday; Wilson led the way with 12 of the team’s 25 free throw attempts.

Laimbeer felt that his team set the tone with their focus on the defensive end. “No question our defense carried us tonight; I think we came out with a ton of energy defensively,” he said postgame. “Didn't give them any second shots...took away some of their offensive patterns that they like to do.”

Wilson continued to command the defensive glass; McCoughtry and Wilson collected 14 rebounds apiece. Seattle shot just 7-of-26 on 3-pointers. For the most part, the Aces got back to set their defense and eliminate easy looks in transition. The Storm had to work deep into the shot clock; many of the looks they did get from the outside were contested.

“The pace of the game, the flow of the game is always key,” Wilson said postgame. “When you get stops, then you can flow easily into your offense. Our biggest thing is that we're there and that we trust one another. Sometimes we anticipate things and get out of our system. But once we're trusting one another in our defensive system, you see the results on any team across the board.”

Stewart took 18 of her 25 field goal attempts outside the paint according to WNBA.com and only made six of them. Natasha Howard and Jewell Loyd started the game poorly, combining to shoot 2-of-14 from the field in the first half.

Seattle got as close as five in a last-ditch comeback effort in the fourth. Kayla McBride, just 3-for-10 from the field in this game, got by Jordin Canada and tossed in a floater to provide an answer. Robinson found McCoughtry all alone for a layup to break Seattle’s press and went 3-of-4 at the charity stripe to put this one on ice.

“I thought Seattle today was a tired basketball team,” Laimbeer said. “I saw that against Indiana.” The Fever defeated the Storm on Thursday. Now after two days off, Seattle will get chances to immediately avenge those losses to Indiana (on Tuesday) and Las Vegas (Thursday, 10 ET, CBS Sports Network).

Keep an eye on the injury report for Seattle as starting guard Sue Bird (knee) and forward Morgan Tuck (knee) did not play on Saturday. Las Vegas, too, will enjoy two days off before facing Dallas on Tuesday leading up to Thursday’s big rematch with the Storm.