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Aces add new face as second half begins with team on a roll

Updated July 20, 2023 - 8:52 am

It’s almost hard to remember how different the Aces’ situation was at this point a year ago.

Coach Becky Hammon’s team limped into the All-Star break last season. They had lost five of their past seven games, including a 104-95 loss to the Chicago Sky, whose 28-point comeback set the WNBA record for largest deficit overcome in a game.

This season’s All-Star break arrived with the Aces looking indomitable. They’ve only lost two games all season, and they lead the league in points scored per game (94.0) and fewest points allowed (78.6).

“I’m just glad we’re winning going into All-Star break,” reigning WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said July 14. “Last year we were not doing that, so it’s pretty good to see us in a different element, have other people in our locker room, just kind of take a deep breath and regroup.”

The Aces (19-2) begin the second half of the season at 7 p.m. Thursday when they play the Storm (4-16) in Seattle.

While the Aces’ march toward a second consecutive championship has looked inevitable at times, the players insist they’re learning lessons and not taking anything for granted.

“I’ve learned that I don’t know enough, to be honest,” guard Kelsey Plum said when asked to reflect on the first half of the season. “This is kind of new territory.”

Plum and point guard Chelsea Gray said this team is more mature than the group that won the franchise’s first championship a year ago. Plum mentioned Chicago’s record-setting comeback as an example of the Aces’ growth. She said their ability to avoid major momentum shifts so far this season is a sign of their maturity, knowing when they need to execute a play or make a stop to keep the game under control.

Gray said this Aces team has seen its communication and trust increase this season with veteran leadership in the locker room helping to integrate new players into the championship core. She said this feels like a completely different campaign from last season.

“You can’t do the same thing to get it done the next year,” Gray said.

Those traits will be important going forward. Veteran guard and trusted reserve Riquna Williams hasn’t played this season because of a lower back injury. Two-time league MVP Candace Parker — who helped lead Chicago’s historic comeback in 2022 — suffered an ankle injury before the All-Star break and will likely be unavailable against the Storm.

Williams and Parker’s absences forced the Aces to sign rookie guard Ashley Joens, a 2023 second-round draft pick out of Iowa State, to an emergency hardship contract Wednesday because they only had nine active players.

Plum said the Aces have a level of consistency and competitiveness that has helped them cope with any challenges.

“We’ve got people who love big moments,” she said. “So when I look across at who we’re playing against, I just have a lot of confidence in each one of these individuals.”

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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