Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau
Friday, June 22, 2018 | 9:56 p.m.
A’ja Wilson didn’t play the best game of her young career on Friday, but in true superstar fashion she made the big plays down the stretch to lead the Las Vegas Aces to an 88-78 win over the New York Liberty.
Wilson, the rookie No. 1 overall draft pick, finished with a sparkling line of 20 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks, but her real impact was made in the final three minutes.
The Aces were protecting a 74-71 lead with 2:58 to play when New York guard Sugar Rodgers appeared to have an open lane for a layup. Wilson closed quickly, however, and blocked the shot from behind to preserve the slim lead.
Two possessions later, the Aces led 76-73 when Wilson caught a pass at the elbow, drove the lane, drew a help defender and kicked it out to Tamera Young on the baseline. Young knocked down an open 15-footer with 2:08 to play to make it a 78-73 game.
Liberty star forward Tina Charles missed a jumper on the ensuing possession and Wilson snared the rebound in traffic. After running some time off the clock, Wilson stuck a pick-and-pop jumper from the free-throw line to give Las Vegas an 80-73 lead with 1:37 to play.
That sequence essentially sealed the victory for the Aces, who have won two games in a row to improve to 5-9 on the season.
Wilson said she takes pride in helping her team win in other ways besides scoring, and she was particularly proud of her clutch assist to Young in the final minutes.
“I love the assist game,” Wilson said. “I love it. That’s an aspect I really don’t get to show a lot, so anytime I can assist my teammates and help them get a bucket, I’m super-duper excited.”
Wilson shot just 5-of-14 from the field, and though she made the difference in the fourth quarter, Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer said the Aces need Wilson to dominate entire games.
“She was tired and I told her you can’t get tired — there’s no such thing as tired in our league,” Laimbeer said. “So she pushed through it for the most part, made a couple plays down the stretch. If she plays with the fire and intensity, she’s unstoppable. When she floats around like she did tonight for a large part of the game, she’s just a normal good player. We want the great A’ja Wilson.”
While the Aces waited for Wilson to come through in the end, it was forward Kayla McBride who kept the team afloat for most of the game. McBride scored a season-high 27 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including a 4-of-5 showing from 3-point range. The Aces were plus-11 in McBride’s 33 minutes.
After opening the season with a four-game losing streak, the Aces have now won five of their last 10 games and four of their last six. With 20 games remaining in the WNBA regular season, Las Vegas is just two games out of eighth place and the league’s final playoff spot.
Despite the team’s improved play, Wilson said she’s not looking at the standings just yet.
“We’re good. I think we’re in a place where we’re not satisfied, we’re working and we’re growing and that’s where we need to be at this time of the season.”