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The Las Vegas Aces fell in a hole—a big one—early on Friday against the Phoenix Mercury. The Aces trailed by as many as 23 in the first half but clawed their way back to tie the game at 56 in the third quarter. They didn’t have enough left in the tank as the Mercury quickly built their lead back up to double digits and notched their first win of the 2020 season.
“The lead story is the effort we put forth is unacceptable,” Aces head coach and president of basketball operations Bill Laimbeer said postgame. “I saw it in shootaround today and I warned ‘em. They didn’t bring the intensity necessary in this league to win basketball games…[Phoenix] did what they wanted to do offensively. We didn’t take anything away.
“We shot terribly in the first half because we weren’t into it; we weren’t engaged. And that’s disappointing. I told them very much so in the locker room afterwards how disappointed I was. My basketball teams will not play like that. We’ll play as hard as we can every second we’re on the floor. And if we had, we would have won this basketball game even though we got behind by 23. Those are two stories. One of them is our effort was not there, and the second was we needed Lindsay [Allen] very badly to get us organized out there.”
The Aces announced about two hours to Friday’s tip-off that Allen would miss the game after returning an inconclusive positive result from COVID-19 test. Following league safety procedures, the team announced that Allen would be isolated off campus until she returned a second consecutive negative test. Lindsay Gibbs reported on Saturday that Allen had returned another negative test and re-joined the team at practice.
Danielle Robinson replaced Allen in the starting lineup on Friday. Guards Jackie Young and Sugar Rodgers played a combined 32 minutes off the bench. Rodgers gave the team a nice spark, knocking down four of her eight 3-point attempts. Angel McCoughtry scored a team-high 18 points in 22 minutes, and A’ja Wilson tallied 17 points and eight rebounds on 7-of-19 shooting.
Laimbeer said postgame that he felt he played Wilson a few too many minutes (16) in the first half and that it wore on her later in the game. Wilson saw it differently. The All-Star forward put the loss on herself and made it clear that she wasn’t pleased with her offensive performance.
“That is unacceptable for me,” Wilson said of the 7-for-19 shooting line. “I take full accountability of that. I gotta be there for my team. I have to knock down shots…I put this loss on me because we can’t afford that. I can’t do that to my team.”
Some untimely turnovers really took the wind out of their sails, but the Aces only finished with 10 on Friday evening. Phoenix shot 57 percent from the field, including 11-of-19 shooting by Diana Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Bria Hartley from beyond the arc. All three players saw clean windows to pull-up coming off screens, and additional lapses left that trio of guards open for more open catch and shoot looks.
The Aces announced the signing of Cierra Burdick on Friday. The team hopes to have the 6’2” forward officially join the team for practices and games early next week after working her way through league protocol upon arrival on the IMG campus in Bradenton, Florida. The Aces dressed nine players on Friday. Allen re-joining the team would get them back to 10, and Burdick would make it 11. Laimbeer felt Allen’s absence made a big difference on Friday. Wilson agreed.
“I think it was tough on our guards,” Wilson said postgame. “Lindsay is someone that really keeps our team organized. She really pushes our tempo. She’s our starting point guard. She’s someone that can lead us, make sure we’re in our places and running things that we need to do and our spacing. Missing her tonight was a big deal for us.”
The Aces will face the Dallas Wings on Sunday afternoon. Sunday’s game is one of 10 Aces regular season contests currently scheduled to air nationally on one of ESPN, ESPN2, or ABC. Then after two days off, the Aces will kick off one of their toughest stretches of the season: six games in 11 days, including their two regular season meetings with the defending champion Washington Mystics.