Sam Morris / Las Vegas News Bureau
Friday, June 1, 2018 | 10:50 p.m.
A’ja Wilson had never lost three games in a row in her entire life until last week, when her Las Vegas Aces fell to 0-3 on the season with a home loss to the Seattle Storm. The streak extended to four on Thursday, when the Aces fell at Seattle.
Wilson wasn’t going to let it go any further than that.
The rookie superstar scored a game-high 26 points to lead Las Vegas to its first WNBA victory, 85-73, over the Washington Mystics on Friday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
“It’s good to see a smile in the locker room,” Wilson said. “I think this is something good for us. I’m glad we got it at home so our fans could continue to come out and support us so we can build a culture here. I’m super-duper excited and the sky is the limit for this young, young team. We still have a lot to learn but it’s always good to get that win underneath your belt.”
The Mystics came into the game with a league-best 5-1 record that included a win over Las Vegas in Washington on May 22. But Vegas jumped out to a 25-17 lead after one quarter, and Wilson’s 13 first-half points staked the Aces to a 46-37 lead at halftime.
With the team’s first win on the line, coach Bill Laimbeer leaned on Wilson hard down the stretch. The 6-foot-4 center played 18 of 20 minutes in the second half, and they weren’t easy minutes, as she continually drove to the basket and absorbed enough contact to earn 14 free-throw attempts.
Laimbeer said it was important for the Aces to notch their first win, and that it was important for Wilson to deliver it.
“She has to be the one,” Laimbeer said. “She has to be the dominant force for us. She has to be the one that attacks, whether she’s tired or sore or whatever — it doesn’t matter. She’s our leader, she’s our go-to player and she can’t shrink from it. She has to embrace it and take it on.”
Wilson went 14-of-18 from the free-throw line for the game (setting franchise records for makes and attempts), and afterward she said she was no worse for wear. Though the Aces arrived in town from Seattle earlier in the day, she snuck in a pre-game nap and appeared energized throughout her 31 minutes.
“My biggest thing is, how can I produce the way that I can?” Wilson said. “How can I get points on the board? How can I help my teammates? If that’s getting to the free-throw line, that’s the way it is. I kind of took what the defense was giving me and I attacked in any way that I could.”
Wilson finished 6-of-15 from the field and also added 12 rebounds and three blocks. She is now averaging 20.8 points and 8.2 rebounds through five games, and she has scored at least 21 in each of the last three contests.
Laimbeer said that getting the ball in Wilson’s hands is the Aces’ best formula for victory.
“When we need a bucket, it’s like going to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,” he said. “We need a bucket, throw A’ja the ball, she’s either going to get a bucket or get fouled. They can’t guard her. She’s too quick. She grew up a lot tonight. She’s got a lot more to go, but I think she grew up a lot tonight.”
The Aces’ next game is Sunday at the Chicago Sky.