A’ja Wilson sparks Aces in home-opening win over Seattle Storm

Aces forward A'ja Wilson (22) drives past Seattle Storm center Ezi Magbegor (13) in the first h ...

Becky Hammon knew she felt the fans’ support. She’s sure her players could feed off the crowd’s energy and emotions, too.

“I thought they got loud at the right moment,” Hammon said.

The Aces outlasted the Seattle Storm 85-74 Sunday night, as A’ja Wilson’s 20-point performance helped Hammon claim her first home victory in front of 6,212 fans at Michelob Ultra Arena.

“For us, it was just about handling business ourselves,” Hammon said.

Wilson, who took just eight shots in the season opener against the Phoenix Mercury on Friday, was looking for her shot early. With the Storm missing starting center Mercedes Russell, out with a nonbasketball injury, Wilson went right at her replacement, Ezi Magbegor. She used a mix of post touches and midrange shots to score eight points on 4-for-6 shooting in the first quarter.

With Wilson drawing the Storm’s attention, wing Jackie Young continued to step up as a reliable second scoring option. Young, who scored 20 against the Mercury, had 10 points in the first quarter.

“I trust her instincts out there,” Hammon said. “Probably most importantly, I trust her mind and feel for the game.”

The Storm stayed close, mainly because of turnovers. The Aces committed nine in the first half, which turned into 10 Seattle points.

But the Aces’ defense prevented the turnovers from derailing the team’s first 20 minutes. The Storm shot just 30.8 percent in the first half, including 4 of 16 on 3-pointers. Guard Sue Bird was held scoreless in more than 15 minutes, and the Aces took a 39-33 halftime lead.

“Our defense won us that game, not our offense,” Hammon said.

The Storm poured on the pressure in the third quarter. Wilson continued to punish the Seattle defense, but Breanna Stewart matched her shot for shot. Stewart got just about anything she wanted, with a mix of midrange shots, drives to the basket and 3-pointers.

Wilson’s heroics came at a time when her teammates struggled. The Storm (1-1) mixed in some zone defense, which gave the Aces problems. The starting backcourt of Kelsey Plum and Chelsea Gray combined for nine points on a combined 2-for-12 shooting through three quarters.

The bench didn’t fare much better, scoring six points while the Storm’s bench scored 23, led by Epiphanny Prince’s 11 points.

Plum finally came alive in the fourth quarter. She hit two 3-pointers, as the offense finally found some rhythm to create a 10-point buffer with five minutes to play.

Stewart and guard Jewell Loyd helped Seattle cut the deficit to four points, but a Gray 3-pointer with 30 seconds left sealed the win.

Young scored 19 and Plum 18, and Dearica Hamby added 10 points to go with a career-best 19 rebounds.

Stewart led all scorers with 21 points, and Loyd scored 19.

“I didn’t want to let this one get away,” Hammon said.

The Aces play Tuesday at the Washington Mystics to start a two-game road trip.

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