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Aces prepare for Wings’ big challenge inside in WNBA semifinals

The top-seeded Aces have seen a lot of the No. 4 Dallas Wings this season. Coach Becky Hammon understands the challenge her team faces in the WNBA semifinals.

“They’re kind of peaking at the right time,” Hammon said. “We’ve got to come in and handle our business, execute the schemes we’ve been working on here for the past couple days.”

The Aces and Wings begin their best-of-five semifinal series at 2 p.m. Sunday at Michelob Ultra Arena. The Aces won the season series 3-1, but Dallas is the only team in the WNBA that beat the Aces, the No. 2 New York Liberty and No. 3 Connecticut Sun this season.

Dallas is arguably the biggest team in the league. The Wings rely on a pair of 6-foot-7-inch centers — Teaira McCowan and Kalani Brown — to complement perennial All-Star guard Arike Ogunbowale. Coach Latricia Trammell also has size on the wings in forward Natasha Howard (6-2) and 2023 Most Improved Player award winner Satou Sabally (6-4).

“They’re a handful,” Hammon said. “They send three to the boards, sometimes four. Rebounding is definitely the key to this next series.”

The Wings’ size played a major factor in their 80-78 win against the Aces on July 7. Dallas won the rebounding battle 36-25 and scored 16 second-chance points, despite the Aces still having the now-injured Candace Parker available. McCowan, a longtime rival of Aces forward and reigning league MVP A’ja Wilson dating back to their college years, had a 14-point, 12-rebound double-double.

“The growth I’ve seen from Teaira has been crazy nice,” Wilson said. “She’s finally in a system that utilizes her. They work around her.”

The Aces seemed to find a response for the Wings since that defeat. After Parker’s injury, Hammon went small in the final two games against Dallas.

Recently crowned Sixth Player of the Year Alysha Clark scored 12 points and was plus-6 in just under 23 minutes during the Aces’ 104-91 win against the Wings on July 30. The veteran wing then played 27 minutes and scored 11 as the Aces beat Dallas 104-84 on Aug. 8.

“She just can cover a lot of ground, plays multiple positions,” Hammon said. “That’s invaluable, especially in my system where we like to spread defenses out with shooting.”

Most notable from these two games was the Aces’ ability to limit Dallas’ centers with speed. McCowan was minus-16 in 10 minutes while being held scoreless Aug. 8. Brown scored 16 points, but was minus-17 in more than 20 minutes. The Aces also scored 13 fast-break points.

“They’re always going to play to their strengths, and we’re going to play to our strengths,” Hammon said. “They’re probably bigger and longer than us, but we’re faster overall.”

Hammon is encouraged by the defensive performance she’s seen from her team so far during the playoffs. The Aces were extremely effective in limiting the No. 8 Chicago Sky’s trio of guards — Kahleah Copper, Marina Mabrey and Courtney Williams — in a first-round sweep, and Hammon expects to see similar commitment to the defensive game plan in the semifinals.

“We’re going to have our hands full,” Hammon said.

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

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