Dearica Hamby was all alone under the basket.
With the Aces clinging to a four-point lead against the Chicago Sky and 36 seconds remaining in the game, the team needed someone to make a play. Hamby was supposed to set a screen to free up one of the team’s guards for the in-bounds pass. After her defender left to double team though, Hamby dove to the basket, where Aces wing Jackie Young found her for an easy layup.
“I was just waving my hands because I was so open,” Hamby said.
Hamby’s basket pushed the Aces lead to six and effectively secured the team’s sixth consecutive win, beating the reigning WNBA champion Sky 83-76 Saturday at Wintrust Arena in Chicago.
Aces coach Becky Hammon admitted her team struggled to shoot the ball, but was encouraged by their effort on defense.
“A good win and a great test for us,” she said.
Hammon’s gamble pays off
The Aces coach had to make a decision. The Sky (4-3) shot a respectable 35 percent from 3-point range entering Saturday, but their combination of forward Candace Parker and wing Kahleah Copper were punishing opponents in the paint, too. Hammon had to choose which shots she was willing to concede.
Hammon decided to focus her defense on protecting the interior. Initially, it seemed like the wrong choice. Chicago hit four 3s in the first quarter to take an early 23-22 lead.
“You’ve got to ride the wave,” she said.
Her bet worked. The Sky went 1-for-21 from 3-point range during the final three quarters, missing 18 consecutive 3s at one point.
While the Aces (8-1) were content to let the Sky launch 3s, they refused to let any of those attempts come from Chicago’s veteran sharpshooter Allie Quigley.
Young, the Aces best perimeter defender, hounded Quigley for the entire game. She scored eight points on 1-for-10 shooting, with her first and only made field goal coming with 1:53 remaining in the game.
Aces survive fourth-quarter scare
Chelsea Gray isn’t looking forward to watching the tape from Saturday’s game.
“That last four minutes is going to be rough on film,” she said.
The Aces endured a late push from the Sky, but the fourth quarter was filled with some dramatic highs and lows. They forced Chicago into a crucial inbounds violation with three minutes remaining, but also committed four of their seven turnovers during the final ten minutes.
“We kind of got out of character for a second,” Hamby said.
The Aces had just enough to propel them to the win though. A’ja Wilson scored six of her game-high 22-points in the fourth quarter. Kelsey Plum added five points during the final 10 minutes and came up with a huge steal against Parker with two minutes remaining which turned into free throws.
Chicago exposes bench struggles
It’s no coincidence the Sky’s biggest runs came near the end of the first and third quarters.
Hammon’s squad is top-heavy and so far, few teams have been able to keep up with her starters. The bench hasn’t been as productive. Saturday, the Aces second unit scored zero points, going 0-for-5 from the field
“They’ll shoot better next time and they’ll still get in the game,” Hammon said.
Forward Theresa Plaisance finished the game minus-6 in 13 minutes, guard Aisha Sheppard was minus-9 during nine minutes of play and center Kiah Stokes was minus-7 in about 11 minutes.
The Aces return home from their short road trip to play the Connecticut Sun at Michelob Ultra Arena on Tuesday at 6 p.m.