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Aces know challenge Storm present in semifinals

Aces All-Star A’ja Wilson knows she can’t control everything.

The ballots for the 2022 WNBA MVP have already been cast. She can’t go back in time. She can’t give the voters one more transcendent performance to sway their decisions.

However, when Wilson steps onto the court Sunday to face off against Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart, the other front-runner for MVP, she can bask in the joy of playing her sport at one of the highest levels of competition in the world.

“We’re going to give the people what they want,” Wilson said.

Sunday, the No. 1-seeded Aces will play Game 1 of their best-of-five WNBA semifinal series against the No. 4 Storm. It’s a rematch of the 2020 WNBA Finals and will feature seven former No. 1 overall picks — Wilson, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young for the Aces, Stewart, Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd and Tina Charles for the Storm.

“This matchup with the Storm is always going to be a good matchup, no matter what,” Wilson said. “I mean, you have phenomenal players in this series, so I think we’re all just excited to play and have fun.”

The Storm have been the gold standard of the Western Conference. They’ve made the playoffs in each of the past seven seasons and won the championship in 2018 and 2020. Seattle has finished lower than the No. 3 seed just once since 2016.

While Seattle looks to extend its dominance and send Bird, the WNBA’s all-time assist leader, into retirement on a high, the Aces are trying to assert themselves as the next great team. This is their fourth consecutive trip to the semifinals. However, they’re still searching for a first championship in franchise history.

The Aces came close to claiming the elusive first title in 2020, as Wilson won the MVP and the Aces took the No. 1 seed, but they ran into the Storm and an indomitable Stewart in the Finals. The 2018 MVP scored 37 in Game 1 and averaged 28.3 points for the series, setting the foundation for a Seattle sweep.

“They’ve experienced a lot,” Aces point guard Chelsea Gray said. “Even their younger players have still had a lot of experiences and they’ve won before.”

Stewart, the league’s leading scorer, has been back at her best after missing the playoffs due to injury in 2021, and this Storm defense is one of the elite units in the WNBA. On June 29, Seattle forced 17 turnovers against the Aces to secure an 88-78 win.

That was Seattle’s only victory against coach Becky Hammon’s team this season. The Aces won the season series 3-1, and beat the Storm twice in the final four games of the regular season.

Wilson says past results don’t matter in the playoffs, though, and believes the Aces have to focus on their own game to be at their best starting Sunday.

“We know Seattle’s a good team. They wouldn’t have made it this far if they weren’t,” Wilson said. “We’ve really just got to lock in on us, our systems and our principles.”

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

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