A record-setting third quarter broke open a close game and propelled the Aces to their third victory of the young season over the Phoenix Mercury.
Guard Kelsey Plum scored 15 of her 24 points in the third quarter for the Aces, who set a franchise record for points in a quarter en route to a 100-80 victory Saturday at Michelob Ultra Arena.
The Aces turned a two-point halftime lead into a 22-point lead after a 38-point third quarter and improved to 6-1 for first-year coach Becky Hammon.
“The second and third quarter we really buckled down defensively,” Hammon said. “I’ve been preaching the whole time, when we can play out of our defense, we become very dangerous.”
Here are three takeaways from the game:
1. Third-quarter avalanche
The Aces struggled on offense in the first half, particularly shooting the 3, but Plum changed their fortunes in the third quarter.
She hit two quick 3-pointers, opening up the Mercury defense. Her range allowed Chelsea Gray to find success around the rim, and the Aces went on a 10-3 run to begin the half.
“Offensively, we got out and were able to run on them a little bit,” Hammon said.
The Aces’ defense got several stops to create transition opportunities. Forward Dearica Hamby, in particular, gashed the Mercury (2-4) after turnovers, and the Aces scored 10 fast-break points in the third quarter.
Hamby scored 11 of her 13 points in the quarter for the Aces, who were 4 of 6 on 3-pointers in the third after making just two in the first half.
2. Guarding Diana Taurasi
Mercury star Diana Taurasi has terrorized defenses for years. The Aces might have the key to containing her.
In the three games, the Aces have held Taurasi to 31 points on 8-for-31 shooting, including 2 of 18 on 3-pointers. Her three worst scoring performances this season have come against the Aces. She scored 14 points Saturday but was 4 of 14 from the field.
“It’s about making those really great players just work for everything,” Hammon said.
Wing Jackie Young has been the primary defender on Taurasi. Her perimeter defense has become just as important to the Aces as her scoring, but Young refused to take full credit.
“It’s a team effort, getting stops on defense,” she said.
3. Kiah Stokes steps up
Center Kiah Stokes has barely been in the United States for a week and is still learning Hammon’s system.
None of that mattered Saturday. The Aces needed someone to help deal with Mercury center Tina Charles in the post. Hammon turned to Stokes, who anchored the paint defense and allowed forward A’ja Wilson to play in a help role.
“We haven’t practiced it, and they just went out and executed,” Hammon said.
Stokes played seven crucial first-half minutes and was plus-6, the highest on the team at the time. Hammon said she will continue to give Stokes opportunities to play with Wilson, especially against bigger opponents.