With the slimmest of leads in the standings, the Las Vegas Aces picked up a much-needed win to keep its hopes of clinching the league’s top seed allowed.
Las Vegas downed Phoenix, 94-73, Friday, Sept. 8 from the Footprint Center in the team’s final regular season road game. With the win, the Aces improved to 33-6 with one more game left to play on the regular season schedule.
“Even if [the top seed] was solidified, we still can’t be complacent about who we are,” forward A’ja Wilson said. “We have so much more that we have to learn, we have so much more that we have to work through and build so that’s my sole goal as one of the leaders on this team, to help us not get complacent.”
Coming into Friday’s matchup, Las Vegas had been gifted a six-day break before heading into the final stretch of the season. Not to mention, the team had beaten the Mercury in six straight meetings including the first two this season.
“It felt good just to get back on the court,” Wilson said. “Like [head coach Becky Hammon] said the rust wasn’t that surprising in the beginning but it definitely felt good just to get back on the court – I don’t think we’ve had that many days off in a minute.”
Now, the Aces have one more regular season obligation and it comes against the same Mercury team it saw most recently. Las Vegas and Phoenix will conclude the regular season with a meeting Sunday, Sept. 10 from the T-Mobile Arena.
A win on Sunday means clinching the No. 1 seed heading into the WNBA Playoffs. A loss by the New York Liberty would secure the spot for Las Vegas as well.
In this meeting against the Mercury, the Aces caught its rhythm in the second quarter to the tune of a 28-11 win in the frame to take a 17-point lead into the halftime break.
Phoenix only came into play with eight active players with future Hall-of-Famer Diana Taurasi also missing the contest. Perennial all-star Brittney Griner avoided near disaster as she twisted her ankle early in the second quarter. Soon after, she’d head right to the locker room before returning to action later in the frame.
“We were really solid,” Hammon said. “It always starts with our ball pressure, keeping people in front but there’s a fine line of not following people around, people have to feel us. Then we rebounded.”
About midway through the second quarter, Las Vegas went on a 13-2 run to build its largest lead of the game at 11 points. One frame earlier, the Aces shook off a slow start with a 10-0 run.
The Mercury attempted to stage a comeback with just under four minutes left in the third quarter. Phoenix pushed forward with a 8-2 run that was countered by a 6-0 run by the visitors over a 54-second span.
That response from Las Vegas ran the lead to 20 points. Not long after, the team would go up by as many as 30.
“I wanted them to get a decent run in,” Hammon said. “We’ve been off for six days so I wanted them to get some run in. That was really the only goal: Stay healthy and work on some cardio.”
Wilson posted a game-high 30 points on 13-of-17 shooting to go along with nine rebounds. Fourteen of her points came in the first half on her way to her fifth 30-point game of the season.
“It’s not a question in my mind that [the MVP] is the person sitting next to me,” Gray said. “And she averages the amount of points that she does in a lot less time so if we just go by the numbers: We’re in first place right now, we’re in the driver’s seat [and] I’m playing with the best player in the league right now.”
While Wilson missed out on a chance to record her 23rd double-double of the season, Gray did just that with 14 points and 12 assists. The double-double goes down as her ninth of the season.
In the fourth quarter, Gray moved into ninth all-time in assists in league history.
“There’s a high-degree of difficulty [on Gray’s passes],” Hammon said. “Also, there’s a high-degree of catching them because when people have elite vision like that a lot of times – our players have learned to keep their heads on a swivel.”
Guards Kelsey Plum and guard Jackie Young added 18 and 17 points respectively for the Aces.