League-leading Aces have no trouble with Sparks, 89-72

Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld photo.

The Las Vegas Aces dominated the Los Angeles Sparks Saturday, 89-72, but all the top team in the WNBA could talk about afterwards was how relieved they were to have improved.

A’ja Wilson, who scored just 8 points in the Aces’ last game six days earlier, said her focus was what drove her in leading the team to the win with 35 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks.

“I had a rough couple games, (and) I wasn’t performing well for my team, so I definitely needed to show up for my team,” she said. “This whole week off was try to be ready and be efficient for my team.”

Las Vegas shot 50-60 percent for most of the way, and out-rebounded their opponents 41-30. Dearica Hamby put up 20 points, Kelsey Plum 17 and Chelsea Gray 10, as starter Jackie Young sat out a second straight game with an ankle sprain. They are 11-2, and are favorites to win the league title.

But Hamby said that like her teammate, the win got a monkey off her back.

“I’ve had a mental roadblock the last few weeks, and it was nice to get my confidence back,” she said. “My teammates have been encouraging me to shoot it, so it was nice to see the ball go into the basket.”

As impressive as the offense was for the Aces, who never trailed, it was their defense that shone the brightest. They held the Sparks to 36 percent shooting and limited center Liz Cambage and key reserve Brittney Sykes to 6 and 3 points, respectively.

Coach Becky Hammon called it “a quality win” for Las Vegas.

“I thought we came out and executed our game plan, especially defensively,” she said. “They did an exceptional job with a tremendous amount of energy.”

Wilson said their offense comes from their defense, and against Los Angeles, they were able to get into a groove.

“Every last one of us brings something different, and that’s what we need to complete a possession in our league,” she said.

Hamby, a two-time winner of the Sixth Woman of the Year award, has been a starter under first-year coach Hammon, who had high praise for her.

“She’s somebody that can impact the game in so many different ways,” Hammon said. “She scores 20 and I don’t call a play for her all night. She finds ways to effect the game. And she’s not guardable because she’s so athletic and big, putting the ball on the floor.”

Los Angeles played its first game under acting head coach Fred Williams, after head coach Derek Fisher was fired earlier in the week. Nneka Ogwumike lead the way with 16 points, while Katie Lou Samuelson added 13 and Jordin Canada, 10.

Williams said that though the team struggled with shooting, they turned the ball over just 13 times, while forcing 19 – a good sign.

“We’re trying a little too hard,” he said. “They’ve got to have the practice of getting the timing down. My thing is, I want 75-80 shots per game, and we’ve got to raise that.”

“(We need) more pressure in the back court, more sideline out of bounds plays. Offensively I need to see more zones; we’ve got to have sharper passing schemes in zones.”

Hammon has brought a new style and energy to the Aces. Both she and Plum received technical fouls in the fourth quarter, though they lead by 20 points. Hammon said it is all a part of her coaching philosophy.

“I’m trying to establish culture here, so I don’t care if we’re up 20 or if we’re down 20 – I’m coaching them hard, and I’m coaching them the same way,” she said. “And they’re going to play the right way, whether we’re up 2, down 2, up 40, down 40. It doesn’t matter – it’s about us, and again reinforcing that identity in who we want to be and where we want to go.”