Aces use defense to shut down Liberty, 78-63

Las Vegas Aces guard Lindsay Allen drives to the hoop for two points. Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Aces.
Las Vegas Aces guard Lindsay Allen drives to the hoop for two points. Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Aces.

Westchester, N.Y. – The Las Vegas Aces ran away from the New York Liberty Wednesday, 78-63, to win their third game of the season and second in a row. It was the worst loss of the year so far for New York.

In a match up that saw the Aces lead by as much as 26 points, forward Dearica Hamby lead the way with 17 points, shooting 7 of 11 from the field. Kayla McBride scored 16, A’ja Wilson 13, and Tamera Young had 10.

Hamby said Las Vegas is finally developing chemistry.

“We have a very talented roster. All of us at some point has been starters outside of the rookies and have made big contribution to our (previous) teams,” Hamby said. “So being able to have that balance when A’ja’s having an off-night, or McBride, that you know someone else is going to step up and contribute.”

The Aces did everything right against the Liberty, which included silencing leading scorer Tina Charles in the second half after her hot start, with 13 of the Liberty’s 21 points.

Charles finished the game with 19 points and a season-low one rebound. With a vintage first quarter from the veteran, Las Vegas adjusted their defense and kept Charles in check with six points and zero rebounds for the rest of the game.

No other New York player reach double-figures, as guard Bria Hartley was the closet with nine points.

The Liberty could not keep up the offensive flow. In the second and third quarters combined they only scored 24 points. Aces coach Bill Laimbeer appreciated his team’s effort.

“I thought we played very hard,” he said. “We’re young, and that is a big positive for us in that we can bring that kind of energy. Hamby played great. [Jaime] Nared played phenomenal defense.”

“(The Liberty) have a lot of good guards. Nared was on their butt all day long. I think we are learning as a team and growing as a team. I told them we’ve accomplished nothing. We just won a game. But they know that we are growing.”

The loss had its bright spots for the hosts, as both guard Epiphanny Prince and center Kiah Stokes returned to the court after sitting out the last several weeks injured. It was the first time this season that the team has had a healthy roster. The two combined for 18:56 minutes of action with three points and two rebounds.

Coach Katie Smith said she was ecstatic to have both players back, and now must work them back into the rotation.

“I thought Piph looked good! It’s just knowing the offenses, getting her lungs under her, getting her legs under her,” Smith said “It was nice to have [Kiah] again. We were searching a little bit to try to figure out what combination was going to work. We have a lot of players,and that’s just something I’m going to have to figure out.”

But even with a healthy roster, the Liberty could not get it going against Las Vegas. New York connected on a disappointing 16.7 percent from behind the arc and 50 percent from the free throw line off of 3-6 shooting.

The Liberty did shoot 13 of 19 in the paint, but focused more on heating up from three with 24 three-point attempts. The poor showing boiled over into frustration, as Shavonte Zellous received a second technical foul with 6:03 remaining, and was ejected.

Charles was adamant in the fact that improvements on both ends of the floor have to be made.

“The past few games we just have been getting lucky,” she said. “I believe we needed this. We needed to get smacked around to know what it feels like. Hopefully, we respond the next time we have practice. They were just aggressive, they got to the basket and they got whatever they wanted.”

“They executed their plays, stayed together out there, they communicated, they didn’t have any excuses and they were talking to the refs. They were doing everything opposite of what we were doing tonight. Everything that allows you to win in this league.”

Hartley, who has stepped up her game this season, said she felt the pressure from the Las Vegas defense.

“They hit shots and put pressure on our defense. We need to do a better job of making them uncomfortable and not get into their spots,” she said. “On the offensive side, we have to knock down some shots and relieve the pressure on our defense. A lot of the shots we got were open. We just need to shot a better percentage.”

Smith said her team will have to adjust quickly and get more people involved on the offensive end.

The loss marks the end of 3-5 New York’s four-game homestand, which they finished 1-3. They now hit the road for their rematch with the Minnesota Lynx Saturday, while the Aces play Friday in Dallas.