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Aces tie for No. 1 seed, beat defending champion

Updated August 11, 2022 - 10:09 pm

Aces wing Jackie Young wasn’t going to be stopped. Surrounded by a sea of blue and black jerseys with 3:49 left in the third quarter, Young leapt above all of them, grabbed an offensive rebound and laid it back in.

She drew a foul for her trouble, too. As she turned toward the announced crowd of 6,055 at Michelob Ultra Arena during her walk to the free-throw line, Young did something even rarer.

The All-Star smiled.

“I just tried to be aggressive,” she said.

The normally stoic Young scored 16 points in the third quarter as the Aces beat the reigning-champion Chicago Sky 89-78 at Michelob Ultra Arena on Thursday in a matchup between the top-two seeded teams in the WNBA.

The win gave the Aces the tiebreaker for the season series against the Sky. They can clinch the No. 1 seed with a win Sunday.

“I thought we saw some resiliency today,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said.

Young scored 22 points overall with five rebounds, while guard Kelsey Plum had 25 points and made four 3-pointers. Reserve guard Riquna Williams also had 12 points. Chicago wing Kahleah Copper had 28 points, leading all scorers.

The Aces (25-10) will play their regular-season finale at noon Sunday when they host the Seattle Storm.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

1. Playoff rotation

Before the game, Hammon was noncommittal about who was going to replace Dearica Hamby.

“I don’t think just one person fills in the gaps,” Hammon said. “Our principles are our principles, so it doesn’t matter if it’s the starting five, the bench coming in, everyone is expected to compete.”

However, after one half, it was clear: Iliana Rupert is going to play significant minutes in Hamby’s absence. Williams and Kiah Stokes are the other trusted pieces of the playoff rotation outside of Plum, Young, A’ja Wilson and Chelsea Gray.

Hammon played a tight, seven-player rotation in the first half. She didn’t experiment or have tryouts against the top-seeded Sky. The game seemed like a preview of who will see the floor in the coming weeks.

2. Lockdown defense

Hammon was insistent that this was just another game, but the Aces defense apparently didn’t get the message. After a slightly underwhelming performance against the Atlanta Dream in Tuesday’s 97-90 victory, the Aces buckled down from the start against Chicago.

“To hold a team like that — three quarters in the teens — is very difficult to do,” Hammon said.

They held the Sky (25-10) to 33 points in the first half on 35.5-percent shooting. For the game, the Aces grabbed 10 steals and forced Chicago into 17 turnovers. The Sky went 3 of 21 on 3-pointers and sharpshooter Allie Quigley scored four points, going 0 of 5 from deep.

“Caught them a little bit on an off night shooting-wise,” Hammon said. “But I’ll give some of that credit to our defense for being disruptive.”

3. Aces stay calm

Despite the deficit at halftime, the Sky stayed close in the second half. Chicago burst out of the locker room on a 8-0 run. However, the Aces stayed composed and kept the Sky at arm’s length.

Chicago cut the deficit to single figures multiple times in the fourth quarter, but the Aces always had an answer. Plum scored four points and assisted a big 3-pointer by Stokes, who scored seven of her nine points in the final quarter.

“We’re starting to build up some trust,” Hammon said.

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

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