Las Vegas, NV – Coming off a blowout win against the Wings last weekend, the Aces looked to continue their winning ways at home against the defending champion Seattle Storm on Tuesday. Despite an uneven and sometimes sloppy effort that was characterized by turnovers and rushed shots, according to head coach Bill Laimbeer, the Aces were able to gut out an ugly win in front of an announced crowd of 4,215, and were lead by off-season acquisition Liz Cambage, who recorded her first double-double in an Aces uniform, providing 14 points to go along with 13 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.
Cambage was joined in double figures by A’ja Wilson and birthday girl Kayla McBride who each recorded twelve points apiece, on 4-for-15 shooting from the field, a fact bemoaned by Laimbeer after the game.
“I was embarrassed… I thought we had no life, we laid an egg in the first half. We won the game, but I am disturbed because any adversity that comes our way, we don’t respond to it.” -Bill Laimbeer
Laimbeer went with his customarily strong starting five of Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, Wilson, and Liz Cambage along with McBride to begin the game. Tuesday was a special day for McBride personally, as it also marked the occasion of her 27th birthday. That being said, it likely wasn’t her most memorable birthday celebration as she was ailed by a stomach bug that prevented her from participating in the gameday shootaround, and left her status for the game in doubt, as she was actually still receiving intravenous fluids just a few moments before the game tipped off.
The Aces starting backcourt meanwhile continues to struggle offensively, as despite the fact that third-year combo guard Plum came out aggressive in knocking down a pull-up 3 in transition; that made 3-pointer actually marked the only made basket between her and starting point guard Jackie Young. The two struggled, evidenced by the fact that they combined to shoot 1-for-10 on the night, for just 3 points.
The already undermanned Storm, already without the services of reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart and long-time leader Sue Bird, saw the game start off on a somber note as Jewell Lloyd went down unexpectedly on a seemingly innocent play crumpling to the floor in agony after converting an uncontested breakaway layup off of a steal. The fourth-year vet out of Notre Dame, had to be helped off the floor, as she was unable to do so under her own power.
The rest of the way saw both teams seemingly doing their best to gift the other team the win, with some questionable decision-making and shot-selection
Despite trailing for most of the game, the Storm came out strong in the fourth quarter with Shavonte Zellous looking to impose her will and have her way with the at-times seemingly discombobulated Aces’ defense. She would succeed in doing so and gave the Storm a four-point advantage midway through the quarter. Wilson would knock down one of her patented midrange elbow jumpers to pull her team back to within two points, at 53-51.
Laimbeer decided to go with his customary starting 5 of Jackie Young, Plum, McBride, Wilson, and Cambage to close out the game’s final four minutes and change. The move would prove to be a shrewd one, as Cambage’s putback after a McBride miss tied things up at 53. With just under two minutes to play, bench player extraordinaire Hamby would be whistled on a very questionable charge call, and after Natasha Howard knocked down both free throws, the Aces would need a stop after coming up empty on the ensuing possession, they got it thanks to a great closeout by the ailing McBride, who shrewdly chased Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis off of the three-point line and into the teeth of the Las Vegas “D.”
When Hamby was able to convert on a tough layup attempt moments later after being fouled, the score knotted at 55 points apiece with 1:04 to go in regulation. Wilson would make a tough floater in the lane, and the Aces defense would have to come up big again to hold on for the win, Cambage made sure her presence was felt yet again, as she negated a Storm shot attempt, leading to Wilson being fouled in the ensuing scrum. Wilson would miss the first, and then convert on the second, giving the Aces a three-point lead at 58-55 with nineteen seconds remaining in regulation.
Following a timeout, Seattle would attempt to create an open look for Mosqueda-Lewis, but Wilson’s fantastic effort on the closeout enabled her to get a piece of the shot attempt.
While Laimbeer made it quite clear following the game that he was none too pleased with his team’s effort, execution, or mental fortitude, there were obviously some bright spots to build on for the Aces (6-4, now tied with Seattle for first place in the competitive Western Conference), as the second quarter in particular saw Cambage and her frontcourt mate Wilson take turns imposing their will, as each proved to be too much for any single defender on the Storm roster to handle alone.
The Aces closed out the first half strong, as the big three of Cambage, McBride and Wilson combined for 23 first-half points, with Las Vegas holding a 36-32 lead.
With the win, the Aces improved to 6-4 on the WNBA season, and pulled into a virtual tie with Seattle at the top of the Western Conference standings.
Seattle drops to 7-5 with Tuesday’s loss.
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