Thursday, July 5, 2018 | 10:08 p.m.
The Las Vegas Aces have built a fast-paced, offensive identity, but on Thursday it was the team’s defensive effort down the stretch that secured a key 84-80 win over the Chicago Sky.
Rookie center A’ja Wilson led the way with seven blocks, including three in the fourth quarter, and the Aces scratched out their toughest victory of the season by holding Chicago scoreless for the final 3:52 (until a desperation 3 from Chicago beat the buzzer after the game had been decided).
Wilson scored 24 points on 10-of-23 shooting, but head coach Bill Laimbeer said it was her play at the other end of the floor that turned that game in Las Vegas’s favor.
“[Wilson] struggled offensively in the second half,” Laimbeer said. “A little unfortunate, she missed some easy shots, but she hung tough, and coming down the stretch she made a lot of blocks. She gave up that 3-ball at the end that she’s going to hear about from me tomorrow, because she was supposed to switch and she missed her assignment, but overall I thought she made the big plays defensively for us. I think it was a good team effort defensively in the second half.”
The game was tied 51-51 at the half, and Chicago went into the locker room having made 51.4 percent of its shots from the field, including 7-of-11 from 3-point range. That changed in the second half, as Wilson and guards Kayla McBride and Kelsey Plum led the defensive turnaround.
Chicago scored a layup to trim the Aces’ lead to 78-77 with 3:52 to play, and Las Vegas went 1-of-5 from the field the rest of the way (with two turnovers), but that was enough to protect the lead. During that span, the Aces forced Chicago to go 0-of-5 with three turnovers before Courtney Vandersloot connected on a meaningless 3 with four seconds remaining.
Las Vegas limited the Sky to 34.3-percent shooting in the second half and just 5-of-19 (26.3 percent) in the fourth quarter.
Wilson said being able to win games on the defensive end will be a necessity if the Aces are to make a playoff push over the season’s second half.
“Defense wins games,” Wilson said. “That’s what you need to win later on in the playoffs. There are going to be nights when things aren’t falling, things might not be going the way you need it offensively, but if you get stops the offense will come … We had to get stops, whether it was stop their penetration, stop their 3-balls, anything. That’s what helped us really get this win.”
McBride led the way for Vegas offensively with 28 points on 11-of-21 shooting, but she echoed Wilson’s statement about the importance of winning with defense.
“We’re trying to get to the playoffs and we treated this game like a playoff game,” McBride said. “In order to be a great team you have to be able to get stops when it counts, so we were just trying to dig down deep. I think we gave up 50-something points in the first half and only 27 in the second half, so that’s what we’re capable of.”
Las Vegas is now 7-12 on the season and 2.5 games behind the Atlanta Dream for the WNBA’s eighth and final playoff spot.