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Aces look to avenge most recent loss, leaning on veteran center

Reigning WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said the Aces did a decent job for about three quarters during their most recent game against the Dallas Wings.

The Aces led by six points entering the fourth quarter July 7 in Arlington, Texas. Then, the Wings held Wilson and her teammates to just 12 points the rest of the way to pull off an 80-78 upset.

“We settled at the 3-point line a lot,” Wilson said Friday. “We kind of fed into their game plan — and they had a good game plan against us — but we fed into it.”

Wilson and the Aces (22-2) have a chance to get some revenge at 3 p.m. Sunday when they welcome the Wings (14-10) to Michelob Ultra Arena.

Since losing in Texas, the Aces have won six straight. However, the Wings enter Sunday as one of the hottest teams in the league. Their victory against the Aces launched a five-game win streak, and Dallas has six wins in its past seven games to claim the fourth-best record in the league.

“There are definitely things we know we can do better,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “Overall, the game there was really just about the fourth quarter. We were taking care of business there up until that point, and then the wheels kind of came off. Now it’s just about tightening up the loose screws and making sure they don’t come off again.”

Coincidentally, the most recent meeting between the Aces and Wings was the last game Candace Parker played before leaving with an injury, first with a right ankle sprain before being declared out indefinitely after undergoing surgery on a fracture in her left foot July 24.

However, the answer to Parker’s absence may have been hidden on the stat sheet that night.

Despite scoring zero points, veteran center Kiah Stokes was plus-4 in 21 minutes for the Aces during the loss to the Wings. Two days earlier, when the teams played in Las Vegas, Stokes was plus-22 in 17 minutes during an 89-82 Aces win.

“Kiah is one of the pros I love to play with because she’s always at the right place, at the right time and she makes the right decision no matter what,” Wilson said. “She stays in her role. She knows exactly what we need from here, and she goes out and executes.”

Stokes started the final four regular-season games of the 2022 season and the entire playoff run to help the Aces win the first WNBA championship in franchise history.

She has won at every level, leading Linn-Mar High School to the 2010 Iowa Class 4A championship, picking up three NCAA championships at Connecticut and winning a EuroLeague Championship with Turkish club Fenerbahce last year.

Hammon praised Stokes’ defensive versatility. She’s averaging just 2.6 points and 5.8 rebounds, but she is also accounting for 1.2 blocks per game, forming a strong low-post defense with Wilson.

Hammon said Stokes has been a perfect complement to the team, and her height will be needed against Dallas, one of the biggest teams in the league.

“Here’s the deal,” Hammon said, “at the end of the day she fits right in because she doesn’t need the ball. She just does all the dirty work for the four that do.”

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

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