Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019 | 9:55 p.m.
The Aces made mistakes down the stretch, but A’ja Wilson bailed her team out by scoring their first nine points in overtime to lead Las Vegas to an 84-79 win over the Phoenix Mercury on Tuesday.
The contest carried heavy implications for the Aces, who entered the night 1.0 game behind the Connecticut Sun for second place (and a first-round bye in the playoffs). And with Phoenix star Diana Taurasi serving a one-game suspension, it seemed like Las Vegas would be able to pad its record without much worry.
Instead, Phoenix guard DeWanna Bonner made some circus shots in the second half to keep the game close, and the Aces fumbled away chance after chance to seal the win. Wilson and guards Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum each missed point-blank layups in the closing minutes, and a late turnover cost Las Vegas a chance at a final shot at the end of regulation.
With the game tied 73-73, Phoenix had possession as the clock wound down in the fourth quarter. Guard Leilani Mitchell drove and had her shot blocked by Vegas center Liz Cambage, who then scooped up the loose ball with less than five seconds to play. Instead of calling timeout, which would have given Las Vegas a chance at a game-winner, Cambage swung her arms and elbowed Bonner in the face; after a referee review, Cambage was tagged with an offensive foul and possession went back to Phoenix with 2.2 seconds on the clock.
The Aces escaped regulation when Phoenix center Brittney Griner missed a jumper at the buzzer.
Wilson went to work from there. Though she started the game just 2-of-11, Wilson proved unstoppable in extra time, scoring on three consecutive possessions and giving the Aces the lead each time.
The Aces led 80-79, when Wilson drove from the elbow and worked her way to the rim for a layup to give Vegas a 3-point lead with 11.8 seconds remaining.
Wilson said a subtle shift in her attitude helped her come out blazing in the extra period.
“When it comes, it comes,” Wilson said. “I think the biggest thing that changed for me is I just let the game come to me. I probably threw up shots that I shouldn’t have thrown up [earlier in the game], but the fact that my teammates still trust me with the basketball is something I take a lot of pride in, and I knew that I had to execute the best way that I could.”
After a defensive stop, Aces forward Dearica Hamby hit a pair of free throws to make it official.
The win improved Las Vegas to 19-9 on the season. The Aces trail first-place Washington by 1.5 games and second-place Connecticut by 0.5 games, and they’ll have a chance to overtake the Sun on Friday when they travel to play at Connecticut.
Wilson finished with 19 points on 6-of-19 shooting, while Cambage posted 19 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks.
Las Vegas head coach Bill Laimbeer credited Wilson’s hot streak for covering up the Aces’ miscues.
“We missed a lot of easy baskets that could have put the game away,” Laimbeer said, “but at the end of the day, we persevered. A’ja was struggling the whole night and all of a sudden she made all of the big plays down the stretch. That’s who she is.”
Bonner and Griner each scored 24 to lead the Phoenix effort.