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3 takeaways: Wilson shines, Martin helps in Aces’ win over Lynx

Updated May 29, 2024 - 10:33 pm

The Aces are embracing “the bull’s-eye” that comes with being back-to-back WNBA champions, and star forward A’ja Wilson is leading the charge.

Wilson powered the Aces to an 80-66 win over the Minnesota Lynx on Wednesday night at the Target Center in Minneapolis in their first road game of the season.

With 29 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, two steals and four blocks, the 2023 WNBA Finals MVP has recorded a double-double in all five games this season. She’s the first player in league history to record more than 20 points and 10 rebounds in five consecutive games.

Jackie Young added 19 points and 10 assists for the Aces (4-1), while Napheesa Collier had 18 points and 13 rebounds for the Lynx (4-2).

During her pregame news conference, Aces coach Becky Hammon said she felt the Lynx were the best team in the league at the moment, adding that the Aces still hadn’t found their identity. By the end of Wednesday’s win, she said that the team is beginning to find itself.

“That’s two games in a row where I felt good about our overall defensive effort, and I’m starting to recognize us a little bit on the defensive end,” Hammon said. “ It was a great way for us to actually come out and not necessarily say something to anybody else, but just to show ourselves how good we can be.”

Here are three takeaways from the win:

1. Wilson has no match

The game was touted as a clash between two MVP candidates in Collier and Wilson, though it didn’t take long for Wilson to illustrate that she’s in a league of her own.

“I really do think she’s the best player in the world,” Hammon said.

Midway through the first quarter, Collier blocked Wilson’s pullup jumper, and Wilson responded by rejecting an almost identical attempt by Collier on the other end. Wilson closed the first quarter by hitting a jump shot at the buzzer to give the Aces an 18-16 lead. She had eight points and two rebounds in the period, while Collier had six points and eight rebounds.

Wilson started to pull away in the battle with Collier at the end of the first half, as she led the Aces with 13 points, six rebounds and three assists. Her team went on a 10-1 run to close the first half for a 43-34 halftime lead.

Cecilia Zandalasini had the most points for the Lynx entering halftime with nine points, while Collier had seven points, eight rebounds and a steal.

Wilson’s heroics continued in the third quarter, as she notched another buzzer-beater to push the Aces up 62-56 entering the fourth.

She and Collier have a long friendship that even saw the pair record their own podcast during the WNBA’s so-called “wubble” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s always fun competing against her because she has a very unique style to her game,” Wilson said. “It’s always a great dogfight.”

Wilson said she appreciates the increased effort she and the Aces face from every opponent across the league.

“This target has been on our backs, my back, since I stepped foot in the league. So I love it. I embrace it. I have fun with it,” she said. “When it comes to being competitive, when it comes to wanting to be the best … yeah, that target gets bigger, but that’s when you shine the brightest.”

Hammon echoed that sentiment.

“You better embrace the bull’s-eye as a compliment,” she said. “The bull’s-eye means you’re the standard and everybody wants what you got.”

2. Young is key

Young almost recorded a fifth straight game with at least 20 points and six assists.

She and Arike Ogunbawale of the Dallas Wings (2019) are the only two WNBA players to accomplish the feat in four consecutive games.

There’s no overstating how complete the 2019 No. 1 overall pick’s game continues to be. She’s now the first WNBA player to record more than 100 points, 40 assists, 25 rebounds, and 10 steals over a stretch of five games.

Young has garnered consistent praise from Hammon and her teammates as she and Kelsey Plum attempt to fill the gap at point guard for the injured Chelsea Gray. Plum recorded 10 points, six assists and two rebounds Wednesday.

3. Martin effect continues

Kate Martin, the Aces’ rookie out of Iowa, is a fan favorite at Michelob Ultra Arena, but her gravity isn’t limited to home games.

“Money Martin” shirts peppered the crowd Wednesday, as she recorded nine points, three rebounds and two assists in 21 minutes.

Her corner 3-pointer is becoming a bit of a trademark, and she hit one at an opportune time against the Lynx. The Aces saw what was once a 12-point lead cut to 56-54 with 1:28 remaining in the third quarter. That’s when Martin made a 3 before Wilson closed out the period.

Hammon turned to the bench early in the win, subbing Martin in for center Kiah Stokes with four minutes remaining in the first quarter. Hammon emphasized that Martin’s playtime isn’t coming by happenstance.

“You gotta give me a reason to play you. I’m giving you three or four minutes, and they gotta be good positive minutes,” she said. “(Martin’s) been solid and impacted the games. I never called one play for Kate.”

Hammon added that Martin serves as “glue” for the Aces, aided by her experience playing with former Hawkeyes star Caitlin Clark.

The skill to play with larger-than-life players is something Aces veteran Alysha Clark exhibits as well, Hammon said. Alysha Clark had nine points, six rebounds, two assists and a steal.

“They’re pieces that help you win games and do all the little things,” Hammon said of Clark and Martin. “But probably more importantly I mean, she’s really won over her teammates, which is like the ultimate compliment.”

Martin was surrounded by appreciation from current and former teammates Wednesday.

She was given a sparkly Hello Kitty “rookie backpack” from the team, presented by Wilson, before the game. She wore it proudly when she walked through the tunnel pregame. After the game, she posed on the court for photos with a large group of her former Hawkeye teammates who traveled to watch her play.

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

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