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3 takeaways: Aces knock off WNBA-leading Sun — PHOTOS

Updated June 21, 2024 - 10:17 pm

The Aces felt they started turning the corner defensively Wednesday, minus the lapses and “silly stuff” coach Becky Hammon thought were too common in the second half.

Against the team with the league’s best record, they doubled down for their best performance of the season.

A’ja Wilson had 26 points and 16 rebounds to push the Aces to an 85-74 win over the Connecticut Sun on Friday at Michelob Ultra Arena.

Wilson extended her WNBA record with her 19th consecutive 20-point game and 14th to begin the season. The reigning Finals MVP recorded her ninth double-double of the season to go along with two blocks and two steals.

Guard Kelsey Plum had 18 points, and forward Alysha Clark had 11 points off the bench to help the Aces (8-6) win consecutive games for the first time since May 25-29.

The Aces are just 4-5 since those back-to-back victories over Indiana and Minnesota, but they moved to 2-0 since point guard Chelsea Gray returned to the lineup from a foot injury suffered in the WNBA Finals in October.

“Losses teach you a lot of lessons,” Wilson said. “It brings out a lot of stuff, because winning disguises a lot of stuff. The biggest thing that came out of our losses is we just didn’t want it. The other team wanted it more.”

The Sun (13-2) entered the day allowing a league-best 70.7 points per game and with the second-best defensive rating in the league (93.3).

It was the Aces that turned it on defensively, holding the Sun to 28 first-half points and leading 45-28 at halftime. Connecticut answered and cut the lead to 54-47 in the third quarter.

The Aces closed the frame on a 9-3 run to lead 63-50.

“When you’re talking about defense, it has some skill, but a lot of it is wanting to do it,” Wilson said. “That’s the biggest thing that switched up for us on the defensive end.”

Here are three takeaways from the win:

1. Offensive glass

The Aces shot well from the field (47.7 percent) but struggled from 3-point range, going 6 of 24.

One way they were able to offset that number was winning the offensive rebounding battle convincingly.

The Aces held a 10-3 edge on the offensive glass. A majority of those rebounds came on hustle plays from those missed 3s that helped keep the offensive flow going.

Plum and Clark hit three 3-pointers each, combining to go 6 of 13.

“That’s something we’ve been wanting to do is get those 50-50 balls and the long rebounds,” Hammon said. “Just being more active on that end, especially on nights when the ball isn’t going in the hole for us.”

2. Gustafson shines

Part of that rebounding contribution came from backup center Megan Gustafson, but she did more than rebound Friday.

Gustafson had five points and six rebounds in 11 minutes off the bench and played strong defense against MVP runner-up Alyssa Thomas. The Sun’s all-around star was held to six points and seven assists while battling foul trouble.

Gustafson, a former Iowa star who signed with the Aces as a free agent in the offseason, was a plus-19 at one point before garbage time minutes brought her to a plus-5. She and starting center Kiah Stokes combined for 16 rebounds.

“I thought she did a great job coming in, impacting the game,” Hammon said. “Solid. At the end of the day, I want solid, and she gave us solid minutes.”

3. Getting involved

Gray, playing in her second game, scored her first basket of the season on a stepback jumper with 2:51 remaining in the third quarter. The All-Star point guard missed her first six shots before that make.

Rookie center Jessika Carter played the final 3:25 in her second WNBA game. Carter, a second-round pick by the New York Liberty in this year’s draft (No. 23), was signed by the Aces on Sunday and played the final minute Wednesday.

Carter missed two free-throw attempts in the final minute Friday.

“I’m so glad my teammates are flourishing and are doing it in their own way, because that’s what makes us great,” Wilson said. “To see people being great in their respective roles and feels, I love it. I wish I could bottle it up and show everybody.”

Contact Danny Webster at dwebster@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DannyWebster21 on X.

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