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Aces counting on defense ahead of Washington Mystics matchup

The Aces have averaged more than 95 points per game during the first two games of the Becky Hammon era. With a more modern scheme emphasizing space, shooting and transition offense, they already are setting the tone for this WNBA season.

“Last year’s team was a triangle, overloaded, slower-paced, and intentional about post-ups,” Seattle Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. “Becky’s offense is more free-flowing. It’s NBA-like.”

Hammon doesn’t believe the Aces offense is the difference maker between her team and the other top contenders in the WNBA. Instead, she attributes the team’s early success to her defense.

“If you want to be great, it takes a tremendous amount of effort defensively,” Hammon said. “The last two games we were able to do that.”

Either way you look at it, the Aces (2-0) are undefeated going into Tuesday’s 4 p.m. game at the Washington Mystics (2-0) — the only other undefeated team in the WNBA — and star forward Elena Delle Donne.

Facing two teams with dominant, All-WNBA post players to open the season, the Aces’ defense has been the constant as the offense has occasionally gotten stuck or shown a propensity for turnovers.

In the season opener against the Phoenix Mercury, the Aces held forward Tina Charles, the 2021 WNBA scoring leader, to 15 points on 5-for-16 shooting.

The Aces had more of a challenge against the Storm. Former WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart scored a game-high 21 points on 42.1 percent shooting, but as the two teams battled down the stretch, the Aces’ defense asserted itself, holding the Storm to 15 points in the fourth quarter while scoring 27 of their own to seal the 85-74 win.

It’s the third time Hammon’s defense has held a team to just 15 points in a quarter this season.

“Credit to our girls, we were able to reel it back in, tighten back up and sew up the loose ends defensively,” the Aces coach said.

Hammon has been particularly impressed with the defense of star forward A’ja Wilson. Playing all of her minutes at center this season, she was the primary defender on Charles.

Against the Storm, though, it was her help defense and effort which stood out. Wilson had five blocks Sunday, punctuated by a huge swat against Seattle’s Gabby Williams in transition in the fourth quarter. It was part of a big sequence for the Aces that ended with a layup for guard Chelsea Gray.

Hammon thinks Wilson has been incredibly focused and prepared for her new matchups at center since the moment training camp began.

“There should be talks about her being one of the best defensive players in the league,” Hammon said. “She’s proven it night in, night out.”

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

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