Updated September 29, 2023 - 9:57 pm
Arike Ogunbowale built a reputation as a big-time shot-maker at Notre Dame before she was drafted by the Dallas Wings.
So the Aces had little doubt who was going to get the ball with a chance to tie the game and just 2.7 seconds remaining Friday. Ogunbowale received the in-bound pass and launched a fadeaway 3 from the left corner.
Her shot was short, bouncing off the front of the rim — and sending the Aces back to the WNBA Finals.
The top-seeded Aces survived a scare from the No. 4 Dallas Wings before pulling out a 64-61 win in Game 3 and a sweep of the semifinal series at the College Park Center in Arlington, Texas. The defending WNBA champions finished the game on an 11-0 run to earn the franchise’s third Finals appearance in four seasons.
“We’re happy to put ourselves back in a position to win the ultimate prize, which is a championship,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said.
The Aces await the winner of the semifinals between the No. 2 New York Liberty and the No. 3 Connecticut Sun. The Liberty lead the best-of-five series 2-1 and can clinch the series in Game 4 on Sunday.
“I don’t take these experiences for granted,” All-Star guard Kelsey Plum said. “It’s a blessing. It’s so hard to get here. A lot has to go right. Just super grateful to do it with this group.”
All-Star guard Chelsea Gray had 15 points, six rebounds and four assists while playing all but 43 seconds for the Aces. Plum added 11 points and seven assists. The Aces won despite turning the ball over 20 times.
Ogunbowale scored a game-best 18 points while playing all 40 minutes for the Wings.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
1. First-half struggles
The Aces never really found their offensive rhythm, but the first half was particularly tough. They shot 40.6 percent from the floor, and went 4 of 12 from 3. No player made more than three field goals in the half, and only Plum made a 3-pointer.
The Aces’ perimeter trio of Plum, Gray and Jackie Young shot 6 of 20.
Hammon’s team also turned the ball over 10 times in the first 20 minutes, leading to nine Dallas points. The Wings outscored the Aces 10-4 in fast-break points.
2. Wilson’s scoring contained
Two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson had scored 30 or more points in her past three games, but finally cooled off in Game 3. She scored 13 points on 40 percent shooting and also had a career-high nine turnovers. Wilson also went 5 of 8 from the free-throw line after making all 10 of her attempts in Game 2.
Hammon said the Wings predicated their defense on stopping Wilson, sending more bodies into the paint and being extra physical. Gray and Plum said Wilson still had a positive impact. Her 13 rebounds led the Aces, and she added two steals and two blocks.
“We don’t win that game if she’s not in the paint,” Gray said.
3. Fourth-quarter comeback
Ogunbowale made a layup to give Dallas a 61-53 lead with 4:59 remaining. It was the final basket of the Wings’ season.
The Aces’ defense locked in for the final five minutes. A Wilson layup assisted by Gray tied the game with 2:44 left, and an Alysha Clark free-throw gave the Aces their first lead since halfway through the first quarter.
Dallas went 4 of 19 from the floor in the fourth quarter. The Wings missed all eight of their 3s, turned the ball over twice and got outrebounded 11-6.
“There were multiple times where we could’ve fallen apart, gone our separate ways,” Hammon said. “But instead, they dug in like they always do and they did it together. And found ways to win.”
Aces win 3-0
Game 1: Aces 97, Dallas 83
Game 2: Aces 91, Dallas 84
Game 3: Aces 64, Dallas 61