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Aces encounter first hiccup of season, lose to Mercury

Las Vegas guard blows by Phoenix guard Kahleah Copper. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces

Las Vegas suffered its first setback of the season in a rematch from opening night that resulted in the team taking its first loss of the season.

The Aces were beaten, 98-88, by the Phoenix Mercury Tuesday, May 21 from the Michelob Ultra Arena. That marked the second meeting between the two clubs in the first eight days of the season.

“My team is probably completely confused because I was pissed after the wins and I’m not that pissed right now,” head coach Becky Hammon said. “We haven’t been playing well so it's this false sense of being good.”

Tuesday marked the third of a four-game homestand which will conclude Saturday, May 25 when the team welcomes in the first overall pick from this summer’s draft. Las Vegas will welcome in top pick Caitlin Clark and Indiana with tip-off scheduled for 6 p.m.

“We didn’t deserve to win the game,” Hammon said. “Give them credit, they came in [and] punched us in the mouth. We’ll see what we’re made of on Saturday.”

Phoenix had five players knock down two or more three-pointers as the group went a collective 16-of-33 from downtown. Former Finals MVP Kahleah Copper kept her hot hand going, pouring in a game-high 37 points on 15-of-23 shooting including five made threes.

“Eighty-eight points is enough to win a game,” Hammon said. “Giving up 98 and then continually letting Kah – that’s a couple of years in a row where she’s given up buckets. But letting her get downhill to that right hand, right hand, right hand every time. At some point, at some point we have to be able to make some adjustments out there.”

Aces head coach Becky Hammon calls out signals from the sidelines inside Michelob Ultra Arena. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces

She came out the gate on fire, scoring 13 in the first five and a half of the contest. By the second quarter, she had surpassed her 19-point output from the season opener.

“I thought maybe we could’ve switched it up a little bit earlier,” Hammon said. “But again, it was allowing a player to get to their strengths. When you’re gameplanning and you’re scouting – there was a scheme. But we come out the first two or three possessions of the game and make mistakes on the defensive end.”

Copper’s effort helped mask a poor shooting night from teammate Diana Taurasi, who ended the night with nine points on 3-of-13 from the field. She missed her first six shots from the floor before ending with all her makes from beyond the arc.

Taurasi traded threes with Las Vegas’ Kelsey Plum toward the end of the third quarter, a frame that the visitors won by eight after trailing by a point at halftime. Early in the fourth quarter, the Aces faced their largest deficit of the season and its first double-digit hole of the year.

Despite the loss, Las Vegas turned in three players with 20-plus point scoring nights led by 27 points from the aforementioned Plum. She scored 20 of her 27 in the second half and eight points in the final four minutes of regulation as the Aces went on a 15-2 run to cut the once 15-point deficit to just two.

“You just put yourself in a hole,” Hammon said. “We went on a decent run there but you have to have everything go so perfect, you have to hit every shot. There’s no margin for error.”

Las Vegas guard Jackie Young hangs in the air for two of her 23 points against Phoenix. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces

Two days removed from posting a career-high in assists, guard Jackie Young filled up the stat sheet early Tuesday night with her scoring. She raced out to 17 points in the first 12 minutes of action on 8-of-9 from the floor before finishing with 23 points on 53% shooting.

Forward A’ja Wilson added 21 points and 13 rebounds for her third straight double-double to open the season.

“I don’t really care about the offense,” Hammon said. “I really don’t. You play that defensive end and then we’ll talk about offense.”

Frontcourt teammate Kiah Stokes was the last Las Vegas player in double-figures with 11 points. Her outing was highlighted by a second quarter run that saw her drain two of her three made threes on the night.

“Kiah is our x-factor,” Wilson said. “She’s our anchor, she does a lot of little things for us that doesn’t necessarily show up in the stat sheet. But when she does show up in the stat sheet it really can be a game-changer for us.

“I’m so glad that she went 3-of-4 from the three – that’s what we need out of Kiah. It creates a lot of different mismatches, it creates having to guard her at the end of the day and if you’ll live with Kiah shooting that then cool, that’s still points on the board for us.”


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