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Graney: A defenseless Aces team deserves 6-6 record

They lost to a better team Saturday, the Aces still unable to guard anyone.

And that’s what gets you a deserved .500 record.

Yeah. Defense matters.

Yeah. The Aces don’t play any of it.

The Liberty showed up at Michelob Ultra Arena and walked out with their eighth straight win, a 90-82 final that wasn’t that close.

Take away four 3-pointers by the Aces in desperation time over the final 2:39 and this was blowout city.

It’s a frustrated Aces team for good reason. They’re 3-4 at home this season.

They lost one regular-season game here all last year.

They’re just not very good right now.

Coming to tears

Emotions boiled over afterward, as Aces star A’ja Wilson came to tears talking about assuming accountability for what is happening. Wilson always does. Always has. She willingly carries the entire load on her shoulders.

“It’s hard,” Wilson said through watery eyes and a cracked voice. “It’s really, really hard. I love my teammates so much that I will take any hit for them. Good, bad, ugly … I want to be great for my team. I want to be great for this franchise. And it’s hard as (expletive).”

She has been great, extending her WNBA record Saturday to now 17 straight games with at least 20 points. But she can’t guard all five spots.

What a gathering of 10,424 witnessed was more of the same from the Aces. They struggle mightily stopping folks, especially from distance.

Mostly, they can’t guard the dribble much at all, which leads to wide-open looks for the opposition. Or, as Aces coach Becky Hammon called them, “H-O-R-S-E shots.”

New York made seven of its first eight 3s and would shoot 43 percent for the game. It’s the major reason the Aces are 6-6.

They’re not much better than the record. At some point, talk of being competent defensively has to be replaced with action. It all starts with whoever is guarding the ball. And that hasn’t been good enough for any length of time this season.

“Down the line, player for player, we’re not very good defensively,” Hammon said. “We look unorganized. We look undisciplined. I see eight different Aces teams in a 40-minute game. There is just zero consistency. Zero.”

It all unfolded Saturday.

Jonquel Jones was the best player on the court this day, playing her way to 34 points on 12-of-16 shooting for the Liberty. She made four of five 3s. She was pretty dominant.

You can’t be this deficient at one end of the court and expect to beat good teams. It’s not time to panic. It’s just time to get better. A whole lot.

Maybe the absence of guard Chelsea Gray — yet to play this season with a leg injury — makes that much of a difference. The Aces could certainly use another perimeter defender. Someone to do something (like rotate fast enough) as opposing jumpers fall.

Lacking an edge

“We still have enough,” Hammon said. “I don’t want to make excuses. There is enough. Believe me. It is what it is. You can talk about potential and talent all day long. Great. We have that. But we don’t play together collectively as a group, defensively or offensively.

“I tell it to their faces. We do not have an edge. And we haven’t had it since Day 1 of training camp. I felt it. I’ve tried to address it. We’re just not that hungry. It’s like plugging holes in a dam. You fix this one and (another) pops open.”

It was the Aces’ sixth game in 11 days, but that’s the schedule. Every team goes through it at some point. Every team has tough stretches.

Not every team struggles defensively like this. Frustration has set in. You can hear and see it, through words and now tears.

Who are the Aces as a team? Need to find that out.

Need to guard someone. Anyone.

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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