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Young’s third quarter explosion leads Aces comeback against Mercury

Becky Hammon had to lay down the law.

The Aces played a disappointing first half against the Phoenix Mercury on Tuesday, and during halftime their coach let them know they weren’t meeting their own standard. She got the response she wanted.

“I hate getting on them like that, but I call it like I see it,” Hammon said. “Luckily for me, they’re all very mature individuals and professionals.”

The Aces beat the Mercury 86-74 at Michelob Ultra Arena. Led by a strong third quarter from wing Jackie Young, they stormed back and turned a tightly contested game at halftime into a double-figure win.

“She’s just playing with a lot of confidence,” guard Chelsea Gray said.

Young earns her deal

Fresh off signing her new two-year extension, Young proved why the Aces and Hammon wanted to keep her around.

Young was efficient in the first half, picking and choosing her spots to score eight points. The former Notre Dame star scored 11 of her 19 points in the third quarter, including two momentum-changing 3-pointers. That helped the Aces (4-1) outscore the Mercury 30-12, allowing the Aces to reclaim the lead after trailing by four at halftime.

Her biggest accomplishment might have been serving as the Aces’ primary defender on Diana Taurasi. Young helped to hold Taurasi to eight points on 16.7 percent shooting, just a game after the five-time gold medalist scored 24 points against the Seattle Storm.

“We all know she’s a great player,” Young said. “We just try to make it tough on her.”

Gray keeps Aces afloat

For most of the first half, guard Kelsey Plum and forward A’ja Wilson struggled on offense. Wilson’s mid-range jumper from the left elbow with 1:30 remaining in the first half was the first field goal either player made during the first 20 minutes.

Instead, the Aces offense was fueled by Chelsea Gray. Hammon said the point guard is no longer on a minutes restriction but added the team is still trying to get her up to game speed after an ankle injury caused her to miss most of training camp.

Gray looked as good as she has all season against the Mercury (2-2). She led the Aces with 11 points in the first half — utilizing her full arsenal of mid-range jumpers, 3-point shots and layups.

“She’s well on her way,” Hammon said.

She finished the night with 14 points and nine assists.

Different Mercury, same result

The Aces may have faced the Mercury once already this season, but some key additions for Phoenix made it a different team from the one the Aces beat 106-88 on opening night.

“They’re playing faster for sure,” Hammon said before the game.

Guard Diamond DeShields and forward Brianna Turner, who both missed the opener while completing their overseas obligations, made an immediate impact for the Mercury, combining to score seven of Phoenix’s first nine points. DeShields finished the game with 11 points, while Turner scored seven.

The Mercury are still missing Brittney Griner, who is being detained in Russia. But Tuesday’s Phoenix squad is much closer to the one which may challenge the Aces for the top seed in the West.

The Aces continue their homestand Thursday at 7 p.m. when they host the Minnesota Lynx at Michelob Ultra Arena. Former Aces coach Bill Laimbeer will be honored at the game.

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

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