Needing wins in their next two games to put themselves in solid position to have a chance at a top-two finish, the Las Vegas Aces open that pivotal stretch Tuesday night against the fading Indiana Fever.
The Aces (14-4) are currently second, 1 1/2 games behind the Seattle Storm – against whom they close the season Sunday. Las Vegas, though, has an incredibly challenging three-game gauntlet to close the season as its other two opponents before that showdown – Minnesota and Los Angeles – are fourth and third, respectively, and also in the hunt for those places that carry a bye to the semifinals of the WNBA playoffs.
Bill Laimbeer’s team is chasing a third straight win after defeating Atlanta 89-79 on Saturday. Jackie Young scored seven of her 18 points in a game-breaking 14-2 run early in the fourth quarter for the Aces as she and 2019 Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby – who contributed 11 points and nine rebounds – continue to be a formidable tandem.
“When her hometown paper talked to me the other day, and they said Jackie took over (a previous game), I said, ‘Yeah, she did,’ and they said, ‘Down here, we call that Jackie time,” Laimbeer told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Tonight, it was Jackie time.”
Young is at least making this year’s Sixth Woman of the Year Award race interesting, averaging 10.9 points and 4.1 rebounds on the season. Young has averaged 19.3 points the last three contests while shooting 63.2 percent (24 for 38).
Hamby, though, is averaging 13.2 points and 7.3 rebounds and has upped those numbers to 16.8 points and 10 rebounds over the last five contests while shooting 58.3 percent (35 for 60) and recording three double-doubles.
Indiana (5-14) enters the contest on the fringes of playoff contention and trying to avoid an eighth consecutive defeat. The injury-plagued Fever have come undone defensively of late, yielding 100.8 points per game in their last four losses after a 96-77 setback to Connecticut on Saturday.
Kelsey Mitchell scored 16 points and Teaira McCowan added 15, but Indiana allowed an opponent to shoot at least 51 percent for the fourth straight game. Slow starts have also been a problem as the Fever have trailed at halftime in all seven defeats.
“We just need to play with a little bit more pride and passion about our defense and basically everything we do,” said Fever coach Marianne Stanley to IndyStar. “Today we were in the game for a while and then all of a sudden couple mistakes happen and we got frustrated, and we can’t let frustration carry over into our playing.”
Indiana is allowing a league-worst 89.7 points per game and ranks last in defensive efficiency, giving up 112 points per 100 possessions.
Young and Hamby combined for 30 points in the first meeting between the teams as Las Vegas held Indiana to seven fourth-quarter points in a 98-79 victory Aug. 11. Angel McCoughtry added 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting as the Aces connected at a 52 percent clip from the field.