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Aces exorcise demons, begin quest for 1st WNBA title

Aces forward A’ja Wilson can vividly remember her first appearance in the WNBA Finals.

Wilson can still feel the green and yellow confetti raining down on her. She grimaces at the memory of watching opposing players celebrate a championship while she trudged off the court.

“I don’t like that feeling,” Wilson said. “It was disgusting. I hated it because it was one of those situations where you’re so close yet so far away.”

Wilson and the top-seeded Aces have a chance to replace those memories with new ones. After losing in the 2020 finals to the Seattle Storm, the Aces are in position again to win the franchise’s first championship.

The Aces will host Game 1 of the best-of-five finals at noon Sunday at Michelob Ultra Arena against the No. 3 Connecticut Sun.

“I’m always going to bet on myself at the end of the day,” Wilson said. “I bet on this team no matter what.”

The Aces’ march through the playoffs expelled some of the demons of postseason failures. They defeated the Phoenix Mercury, who upset the Aces in the 2021 semifinals, in the first round. They then eliminated the Storm in the semifinals, avenging their 2020 finals loss in the process

“Playing Seattle in the semifinals was a great test for us, mentally more so than physically,” said Wilson, named the league’s MVP on Wednesday.

This Aces team is different from the one Seattle swept in the 2020 finals. Wilson and wing Jackie Young are the only current members of the team who played in the series. Guard Kelsey Plum missed the season with an Achilles injury, and forward Dearica Hamby tore her MCL in the semifinals and didn’t play.

The Aces have a new front office and staff led by Coach of the Year Becky Hammon. They’ve added one of the league’s premier point guards in Chelsea Gray and veterans Riquna Williams and Kiah Stokes.

“We’ve got the talent,” Wilson said. “We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t that talented.”

Wilson said she thinks the Aces were simply happy to reach the finals in 2020 and that their lack of experience was exposed by a veteran Storm team that also won the 2018 title. This team, she said, has a better understanding of what it takes to win a championship.

“Everyone’s grown up, gotten better,” Plum said. “We’re taking it really personally that we’ve left a lot on the table in prior years.”

Most important, Wilson and Plum say this team is accountable. The trust that has been there off the court has finally led to a connection on it, and the competitive hunger has fueled them to reach this moment.

“As competitors, we’re excited,” Plum said. “We’re excited to come out and play.”

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

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