Aces adjust at halftime, comeback to beat Sparks
Halftime adjustments were critical in the most recent Las Vegas Aces win as the team improved to 2-0 to open the year without their head coach Becky Hammon.
Closing out a brief two-game road trip to start the year, Las Vegas beat Los Angeles, 94-85, Thursday, May 25 from the Crypto.com Arena. At halftime, the team faced a 10-point deficit to the Sparks.
“Just great overall effort in the second half,” acting head coach Natalie Nakase said. “Incredible credit to our staff, they were unbelievable – they were by my side and next to me every two seconds so they were great.”
Nakase sat in the seat of acting head coach one game after assistant coach Tyler Marsh assumed the same role. With this game, Hammon has completed her two-game suspension given as part of the sanctions following an investigation by the WNBA.
“Credit to the girls, they adjusted,” Nakase said. “Everything that kind of came to my mind in the game, the reaction was what I’ve learned from Becky. I mean, she is hands down one of the best coaches in the world. So I’m very lucky to learn under her and I felt her a little bit.”
Now, the Aces will head home to the Michelob Ultra Arena for the first time this season where they will celebrate their Ring Night and raise a banner commemorating last year’s championship run.
“I can’t wait,” forward A’ja Wilson said. “I can’t wait – I know we have a game to prep for and I know that it’s going to be a big game that we need to win but I’m not going to lose that moment. I’m going to stay within that moment and take it all in because it’s big.”
Las Vegas will host Los Angeles Saturday, May 27 with tipoff scheduled for 6 p.m.
In the most recent matchup between the two teams, the Aces used a 31-17 third quarter. The frame was highlighted by a 12-0 run to take the lead for the first time since being up, 4-2.
The Sparks held a lead as large as 12 points in the first quarter before the visitors went up by as many as 10 in the final quarter.
“I wasn’t too nice,” Nakase said. “They just had to wake up a little bit more on defense. We just kind of came out a little too casual so [we’re] just learning from that. We got more physical, we started to blitz a little bit and then offensively, we moved the ball.”
Wilson picked up a flagrant foul along with a technical foul within a minute and a half span about midway through the third quarter. The 12-0 run that changed the game came on the heels of these fouls.
“My teammates continued to talk to me,” Wilson said. “[They continued to] uplift me and tell me not to talk because obviously, I would’ve gotten kicked out of the game because I got a tech. I just have to approach it the way that I can, I’m not going to let anyone think they can walk over us.”
Wilson scored six straight points during that stretch en route to posting her second straight double-double to start the year with 19 points and 13 rebounds with four coming on the offensive end.
Guard Jackie Young scored a career-high 30 points including 11 points in the fourth quarter to close the show. All of those 11 points, highlighted by three vital three-pointers, came in the final 5:11 of regulation.
Early in the second quarter, Young scored seven straight points dating back to the end of the first to keep Las Vegas afloat. In fact, her lone field goal near the conclusion of the opening frame broke a scoreless stretch of more than two minutes from the Aces.
“That’s Jackie,” Wilson said. “That’s Jackie and I’m so glad that she’s coming within herself. Like I said before on CBS, ‘Jackie’s one of the best two-way guards we have in this league. She does it all.’”
Los Angeles guard Lexie Brown erupted for 10 points in the first quarter to help the Sparks sustain their early lead. However, she’d be held to just five points the remainder of the game while now being guarded by Young and reserve forward Alysha Clark.
“We just wanted someone bigger [on her],” Nakase said. “Just because shoving was allowed tonight. So, [guard Kelsey Plum] got bumped and so we decided to put someone bigger and stronger on her.”
Former Los Angeles players Chelsea Gray and Candace Parker scored 16 points and 10 points respectively. Gray added eight assists and two steals while Parker tallied eight rebounds and a block.
Former Las Vegas forward Dearica Hamby played in her first professional game against the Aces after spending the first eight years of her career with the franchise, dating back to its days in San Antonio.
Hamby was traded to the Sparks in late January before calling for discrimination due to her pregnancy. Part of the punishment for Las Vegas was Hammon being suspended for two games as well as losing a first round pick in the 2025 WNBA Draft.
Hamby posted a final stat line of 11 points, five rebounds, two assists and three steals.