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Aces shake off rust against Mercury, keep control of top seed

Updated September 9, 2023 - 4:18 pm

Coach Becky Hammon was expecting to see some rust entering the Aces’ 94-73 win Friday against the Phoenix Mercury.

The Aces hadn’t played in six days and they were facing an opponent with nothing to lose, so Hammon and the Aces expected a slow start.

“We haven’t played live in a game setting with game speed,” she said before the game.

Hammon’s prediction was spot on, as the Aces (33-6) overcame an uncertain beginning before breezing to a victory against the Mercury (9-30) at the Footprint Center in Phoenix.

The Aces can secure the No. 1 seed for the playoffs by winning their regular-season finale against the Mercury at noon Sunday at T-Mobile Arena.

Reigning WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson scored 30 points and grabbed nine rebounds in just under 30 minutes to lead the Aces. Guards Kelsey Plum had 18 points, Jackie Young added 17 points and Chelsea Gray had 14 points and 12 assists.

“It felt good just to get back on the court,” Wilson said.

Second-year guard Sug Sutton scored 18 points to lead the Mercury. She also registered the first triple-double in Phoenix franchise history, finishing the game with 11 rebounds and 11 assists.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

1. Second-quarter defense

The Mercury entered Friday with the league’s worst record. As the first quarter expired, though, center Brittney Griner scored on a hook shot to tie the game at 20, evidence of the rust Hammon and Wilson anticipated.

The Aces responded by turning up their defense in the second quarter. They held Phoenix to 11 points on 26.3 percent shooting. The Mercury had as many turnovers (five) as made field goals. Hammon praised her team’s on-ball pressure and defensive rebounding.

“We know the defense can be a separation factor for us,” Hammon said.

2. Top-seed race still on

When the Aces woke up Friday, they had a chance to clinch the No. 1 seed. By the time tipoff arrived, however, the opportunity had passed.

Minutes earlier, the Chicago Sky secured the No. 8 seed by defeating the Minnesota Lynx 92-87. The Aces needed the Lynx to win to secure the top seed Friday because of the WNBA’s tiebreaker system.

The Aces and New York Liberty can still finish the season with identical records. They split four head-to-head regular-season games, meaning the tiebreaker will go to whichever team has the best record against opponents with a .500 winning percentage or better. The Aces need the Lynx (19-20) to be involved in the tiebreaker to beat the Liberty.

Of course, if the Aces win Sunday, tiebreaker scenarios will be moot.

3. Williams remains away

Aces guard Riquna Williams’ domestic violence case was dismissed by prosecutors Thursday after her wife, the alleged victim, didn’t show up for a preliminary hearing in Las Vegas.

Williams remains on the Aces’ roster but has been precluded from team activities since being arrested July 25. She expressed hopes to rejoin the team through her lawyer Thursday, but Hammon said Williams’ status with the team hasn’t changed despite the organization being aware of the dropped charges.

“We made the statement earlier that she’s not around the team,” Hammon said, “and we stand with that today.”

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

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