All Images/Photos ctsy of Malik Ricks
Las Vegas, NV – The Las Vegas Aces’ began their second season playing in the desert with a preseason home game against the Minnesota Lynx Sunday afternoon at the Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus. If Sunday’s game was any indication, the Las Vegas faithful will be in for an exhilarating season of basketball all summer. Sunday’s preseason slate saw reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year A’ja Wilson (16 points, 6 rebounds) and the team’s returning second-leading scorer from last year, Kayla McBride (18, 5 assists) setting the tone early, pushing the Aces to a sizable lead, aided by the exciting play from Las Vegas’ 1st Round Draft Pick Jackie Young (18 points, 4 rebounds).
However, in the end, it was the steady play and solid free throw shooting down the stretch that would allow the visiting Lynx to seal the game. While Coach Bill Laimbeer did acknowledge that the stakes for this preseason game were relatively low, he did also state that the intensity from players -and coaches- on both sides was more akin to a late regular season game.
The Aces held a comfortable lead throughout most of the game’s first thirty minutes, but behind the consistently resilient play of Odyssey Sims, the Aces found themselves entering the fourth quarter clinging to a one-point lead, following a deep pull-up 3 by Sims just before the end of the third quarter.
Sugar Rodgers did her part, coming off the bench and draining a pair of threes on back-to-back possessions early in the fourth. Despite it being a preseason game with the stakes being relatively low, Laimbeer elected to come back with his heavy hitters, re-inserting both Wilson and Young with just under six minutes to play in the fourth.
Following a pair of turnovers that led to easy buckets in transition, the Aces found themselves with a six-point deficit with 3:55 to go in the fourth. Sims would continue to have her way probing the Aces defense. Veteran pivot Caroline Swords pitched in, converting on a tough contested layup and the subsequent foul shot, and then pulling down a clutch rebound on the defensive end that would lead to Young nailing a clutch baseline jumper that was heavily contested to bring the Aces to within two, at 74-72 with just under a minute to play.
However steady play on the ball and sound free throw shooting down the stretch enabled the visiting Lynx to salt away the 79-75 win.
Wilson, McBride, and Young did the lion’s share of the work in the early going, as Wilson and Young tallied seven and eight points in the first quarter, respectively.
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Not to be outdone, the other Aces opened the game strong as well, as Kelsey Plum was on the money with a brilliant bounce pass to Jackie Young who ignited the crowd with back-to-back baskets in transition, to give the hometown Aces an early 2-point advantage, and prompted Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve to burn a timeout and halt the proceedings momentarily.
Laimbeer’s crew came out of the timeout strong, forcing a shot clock violation, followed by a nice baseline jumper by Wilson, who then made another winning play, blocking a shot on one end that led to a three-point play by Young, who made a tough shot and was fouled in the act. Wilson would continue her impressive play with another midrange jumper, and then a nice contested layup down low, resulting in a 17-9 lead for the Aces.
However, before Laimbeer’s crew could blink, the Lynx had rallied, led by the strong play of Odyssey Sims, who paced the visitors with six points in the opening frame.
McBride continued to impress on the offensive end deftly, deciding when to switch between pushing the pace and probing the defense and pulling back and allowing her teammates
Later, Laimbeer would actually be issued a surprising technical foul after disagreeing with one of the officials, that actually saw the Lynx briefly take the lead after Seimone Augustus converted the technical free throw.
McBride would later regain the lead, the momentum, and the energy of the crowd when she put together a pair of impressive plays, knocking down a long jumper from the corner, and then keying a fast break with a steal that resulted in a beautiful contested layup in transition off of a beautifully unselfish touch pass from Kelsey Plum back to McBride
The hometown Aces entered the locker room with an eight-point advantage, 40-32 at the half. McBride and Wilson lead the team with 13, and 10 points, respectively.
Young would again demonstrate why Laimbeer and the Aces’ brass thought so highly of her, as she once electrified the crowd by converting on another three-point play, to give the Aces a thirteen-point advantage at 49-36.
Laimbeer’s counterpart on the Minnesota bench, Reeve, would also later be assessed a technical for berating a game official. Sims would again show why she is one of the top two-way players in the game, capping off a nice sequence by deftly sinking a tough floater in the midrange to pull her team within nine points of the Aces.
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