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3 takeaways from Aces’ win: Rookie earns praise in WNBA debut

Updated May 18, 2024 - 7:56 pm

Los Angeles Sparks coach Curt Miller said before Saturday’s game it feels like he’s preparing for a playoff matchup every time he touches down in Las Vegas.

As such, the Aces and Sparks came out and played like it was the postseason.

A’ja Wilson scored 22 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and led the back-to-back champion Aces (2-0) to a 89-82 win Saturday at Michelob Ultra Arena. Former Aces forward Dearica Hamby had a career and game-high 29 points for the Sparks (0-2).

Wilson was held to just two points on 1-for-8 shooting the first quarter and the Aces trailed 18-16. The team went on a 17-1 before halftime, however, to take a 42-33 lead heading into the break.

Wilson made eight of her final 12 shots in the victory and notched her second double-double of the season. She has 78 in her career, the fourth-most among active players.

Rookie Kate Martin made her WNBA debut during the fast-paced, physical matchup. She scored three points and made an impact in several other facets to send the sellout crowd into a frenzy.

Here are three takeaways for the win:

1. Martin shines

Martin, the former Iowa standout the Aces drafted in the second round in April, made her first WNBA appearance when she subbed in for veteran Alysha Clark with 3:12 remaining in the first quarter.

The 23-year-old was plus-11 by the end of the second.

Martin made several key plays, like grabbing an offensive rebound with 2:48 left in the second quarter after Wilson missed a free throw. Clark made a 3 the ensuing possession.

Martin then scored her first career points after making a 3 of her own with 1:13 left in the quarter. The announced crowd of 10,286 went crazy afterwards.

Martin even blocked a shot from Sparks center Li Yueru, who is listed at 6-foot-7. Kelsey Plum chest bumped her new teammate after the highlight play.

“She just doesn’t make mistakes,” coach Becky Hammon said of Martin. “She executed our schemes really well — better than some other people, maybe at times that you would expect. She plays so hard. Her sense of urgency and attention to detail has just really been there the whole time.”

2. Back to the future

Martin wasn’t the only rookie who earned the spotlight.

Cameron Brink, the No. 2 overall pick in April’s draft, had three blocks in the first quarter alone. She rejected Wilson once and Jackie Young twice.

“She has a really, really bright future,” Wilson said of Brink, who finished with five blocks.

Hamby’s ties to the Aces still loomed large as well. The 30-year-old was traded by the Aces while pregnant in 2023 and scored the first points of the game at the free-throw line after being fouled by Young.

Hamby told reporters after the game she was emotional in her return to Las Vegas last season. But she promised her teammates she wouldn’t “be soft this time.”

Hamby finished 12 of 16 from the field and added nine rebounds.

3. Adjusting without Gray

Young ran the offense Saturday with point guard Chelsea Gray out for the second straight game with a lower left leg injury.

She did an impressive job. Young scored 22 points and dished out a career-high 11 assists, which earned her praise from Wilson.

“Jackie is one of the best two-way players in this league and now she’s been able to facilitate,” Wilson said.

Plum and Clark added 17 and 13 points, respectively.

The Aces may not be without Gray for long. She said rumors she’s out for the season are “not true.”

Gray hasn’t played since getting hurt in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals on Oct. 15. Hammon said she is looking to ease Gray back into action given the WNBA has a packed schedule this season thanks to the Summer Olympics.

“She’s never down with taking it slow,” Hammon said. “So yeah, I’m gonna have to make her take it slow.”

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

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