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3 takeaways from Aces’ loss: Rookie makes first WNBA start

Updated June 9, 2024 - 10:53 pm

The Aces’ start to the season reminds coach Becky Hammon of the novella “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.”

The back-to-back WNBA champions can’t stay consistent.

“We’re one team in Minnesota,” Hammon said. “We’re another team in Atlanta. We’re one team in Dallas, we’re another team against Seattle.”

The Aces (5-4) illustrated her point a few hours later in a 96-92 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks at Crypto.com Arena on Sunday.

The team opened the game with a 14-0 run. The Sparks (4-7) recovered to trail just 44-43 at halftime. Los Angeles then took control of the second half of the game.

Hammon exited the court with the Aces down five with 23 seconds remaining after receiving a technical foul. Alysha Clark made a 3-pointer to bring her team within two points with 1.1 seconds left, but Los Angeles held on for the win.

A’ja Wilson led the Aces with 31 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Kelsey Plum added 24 points and five assists. New addition Tiffany Hayes scored 17 points.

Dearica Hamby had 18 points for the Sparks after recording a career-high 29 in the Aces’ 89-82 win over Los Angeles on May 18.

Rookie guard Kate Martin got her first WNBA start in the loss. She scored 13 points and made all three of her 3-point attempts. She added four rebounds and three assists.

The loss dropped the Aces to 1-2 in Commissioner’s Cup play. It was also their second straight defeat and fourth of the season.

Here are three takeaways from the loss:

1. Rookie gets respect

The Aces, down to nine healthy players with Jackie Young, Chelsea Gray and Kierstan Bell out, needed production from Martin.

The second-round pick out of Iowa rose to the occasion. She scored 11 points before halftime Sunday.

Martin battled throughout the game with rookie Rickea Jackson, the fourth overall pick in April’s draft. Jackson hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 41-41 in the second quarter. Martin answered immediately with a 3 on the other end to give the Aces the lead back.

She continued to produce in the second half. Martin had an impressive driving layup in the third quarter to stop a 7-2 run by Los Angeles.

2. Wilson keeps making history

Martin repeated something she has often said after Sunday’s game. She believes Wilson is the best player around.

“Not only is she the best player in the world, she’s the best player I’ve ever been around,” Martin said.

Wilson scored at least 20 points for the 14th consecutive game, setting a new WNBA record in the process. She also became the third-fastest player to reach 4,000 career points Sunday.

Wilson continues to contribute on the defensive end as well. She has blocked a shot in 18 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the league.

3. Embracing adversity

The Aces have lost three of their last four games.

It’s a different situation than the one they were in last season. The Aces didn’t lose their fourth game until August last year on their way to a second consecutive WNBA championship.

Hammon and Wilson still laughed and smiled through Sunday’s postgame news conference instead of sulking. Wilson joked she missed Hammon during the final seconds of the game. Hammon laughed as she explained she was penalized for crossing half court as she attempted to tell her team to blitz on defense.

“These times are hard, but I guarantee you they will not last forever. I was just saying in the huddle, we’re going to be good,” Wilson said.

Wilson added things will change in the postseason. She expects to get the last laugh again when that time comes.

Contact Callie Lawson-Freeman at clawsonfreeman@reviewjournal.com. Follow @CallieJLaw on X.

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