Every time she shoots the basketball, A’ja Wilson wants to have “one of those nights.”
She certainly had one Saturday.
Her best night of the season.
Wilson powered the Aces to an 89-72 road win over the Los Angeles Sparks, posting a season-high 35 points to go with 11 rebounds, four blocks and two steals. Dearica Hamby supplied 20 points and eight rebounds, and Kelsey Plum added 17 points and eight assists.
Nneka Ogwumike scored 15 to lead the Sparks (5-8)
The Aces (11-2) led by as many as 26 points without wing Jackie Young, who is nursing a sprained ankle and should be available in about a week, coach Becky Hammon said.
“We came out, executed our game plan — especially defensively. And just did a good job of knowing the scouting report, knowing the schemes,” Hammon said. “Then, obviously, A’ja had a big night.”
Here are three takeaways from the victory:
1. All about A’ja
Wilson made a prophet out of Hammon, who said before the game that the 25-year-old superstar “should be in every conversation” regarding the WNBA’s individual awards.
“She’s involved in every play — offensively and defensively,” Hammon said. “There’s really no way to calculate her value and her impact.”
The 2020 MVP bolstered her 2022 case by attacking and finishing at the basket, scoring from midrange and willing her way to the free-throw line. Her 35 points equal the second most of her career, four off her high of 39 in 2019.
But it was her defense that most impressed Hammon.
Wilson deterred shots at the rim and used her length and mobility to disrupt action away from the basket in her 33 minutes.
“Our offense really comes from our defense,” Wilson said. “We got into a groove on the defensive end, which led us to (play) pretty decent on the offensive end.”
2. Limiting Liz
To that point, the Aces stymied Sparks center Liz Cambage, limiting their former All-Star to six points and six rebounds. Wilson guarded her former teammate, getting help from Hamby and backup Kiah Stokes. Hammon also employed zone defenses designed to clog the lane and encourage 3-point attempts.
As a result, Cambage couldn’t consistently catch the ball near the block, and a 7-of-22 outing from 3-point range didn’t exactly loosen the lane.
“It’s Becky’s philosophy in how we’re aggressive, and we don’t play behind (Cambage in the post),” Plum said. “Throughout the season, our post players are tremendous. I don’t know why A’ja isn’t the heavy favorite for Defensive Player of the Year.”
3. Don’t forget about Dearica
Hammon noted that she doesn’t have to call a play for Hamby, who is still averaging a career-high 13.5 points. She ran the floor in transition and spotted up for three 3-pointers, showing confidence amid some struggles from deep.
Hamby was shooting 25 percent from 3-point range before her 3-of-3 outing against the Sparks. If she’s converting, she’s “kind of not guardable, just because she’s so athletic and big putting the ball on the floor,” Hammon said.
“In the offseason, that’s all I worked on,” said Hamby, referencing her 3-point shot. “I’m happy to see the ball go through.”
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