Wilson scores 34, pushes Aces past Wings in opener of semifinal series

Las Vegas Aces forward A'ja Wilson, centre left, passes to guard Jackie Young while Dallas Wings forward Natasha Howard (6) and guard Arike Ogunbowale (24) defend during the first half in Game 1 of a WNBA basketball semifinal series, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, in Las Vegas. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A’ja Wilson scored 34 points, including 14 in the third quarter as the Las Vegas Aces beat the Dallas Wings 97-83 on Sunday in the opening game of the WNBA semifinal playoff series.

Wilson, who earlier in the week earned the league’s defensive player of the year award, also had eight rebounds and four blocked shots. Kelsey Plum added 25 points for the top-seeded Aces, Jackie Young scored 19 and Chelsea Gray 13. Young also pulled down 10 rebounds.

Satou Sabally led the No. 4 seed Wings with 16 points while Arike Ogunbowale added 12.

The Aces led by nine at the half and Sabally made two free throws to start the third quarter to cut the lead to 49-47. But Gray hit a 13-foot fadeaway and Plum knocked down two straight 3-pointers to give Las Vegas a 10-point lead.

Later in the third quarter, the Aces scored nine straight points to increase their lead to 66-54 before Kalani Brown converted a layup that ended a 3:21 scoring drought for the Wings

“Shots are going to go in, not go in,” said Aces coach Becky Hammon. “Nobody’s out there trying to miss. Sometimes you can help that part of the game. But you can always be on defensively with effort, focus. That third quarter, I’d love to bottle that up.”

Wings coach Latricia Trammell was happy with her bench play, which outscored the Aces 27-4, and the team only turning the ball over 12 times. However, it was what the Aces did with those 12 turnovers that made a big difference.

“That third quarter, Vegas punched us pretty hard in that area,” Trammell said. “We had 12 turnovers. Most people would think that’s pretty good, especially when you play fast. But they scored 21 points off those turnovers.”

Wilson said Hammon talks about ball movement and defensive effort as keys to the team playing its best.

“We live with good shots and we know we’re going to knock them down,” Wilson said. “Tonight we all got to our spots and we all created for one another. And that’s how we all started to pull away.”

The Aces dominated the first half, leading 45-36 on a Plum 3-pointer with 2:39 left. The Wings cut the lead to 49-45 at the half on a Sabally 3-pointer with 23 seconds to go. After a Brown steal, Ogunbowale missed a 3 at the buzzer that would have cut the lead to one at the half.

The best-of-five series resumes Tuesday night in Las Vegas.

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