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Aces coach Becky Hammon ejected in loss to Sparks

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MAY 21: Head coach Becky Hammon of the Las Vegas Aces looks on in the fourth quarter of a game against the Phoenix Mercury at Michelob ULTRA Arena on May 21, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Mercury defeated the Aces 98-88. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The Las Vegas Aces didn’t lose their fourth game of the 2023 regular season until Aug. 19. At that point, they had 28 wins.

Nine games into 2024, they have the same loss total, and that fourth defeat was compounded by an ejection to coach Becky Hammon. The two-time defending champs were already without starting guards Chelsea Gray and Jackie Young in Los Angeles, and then lost Hammon to an ejection in the fourth quarter.

It is the first ejection of a coach in the WNBA this season.

Hammon earned her first technical for protesting a no-call on A’ja Wilson in the third quarter. She continued to get in the ears of the referees as the game wore on and received a second technical for leaving the coaches’ box. Hammon said she was trying to tell her team to blitz on defense but crossed the halfcourt line, thus getting an early exit.

The Aces were whistled for eight fewer fouls than the Sparks, but both teams commented on the physical nature of the game and a number of fouls that went uncalled.

“We got beat up on the glass a little bit, we got beat up in general,” Hammon said. “Play on. That’s how it goes in this league.”

Las Vegas hasn’t come close to approximating its world-beating start from a year go. With a healthy Gray and Candace Parker, the Aces raced out to a 19-2 record before the All-Star break. This year has come with more challenges. Gray has yet to play.

Parker and Cayla George have been essentially replaced by Megan Gustafson, who missed both of her 3-point attempts and was minus-11 in 11 minutes Sunday. Gustafson was nominally brought in as a floor spacer but has made 21.4 percent of her 3-point attempts.

That has caused Las Vegas to rely heavily on its big three of Wilson, Young and Kelsey Plum. With Young unavailable Sunday, a larger burden fell on Wilson and Plum. Wilson, who leads the league in free-throw attempts with eight per game, got to the line 11 times Sunday.

There were no obvious no-calls like when she was hit across the head against the Dallas Wings last week without a whistle, but there were numerous pleas from Wilson and the bench for more fouls from the referees. Wilson earned a technical at the same time as Hammon’s first for her complaints.

Wilson also took a hard fall on a foul from Cameron Brink, causing play to be stopped for a couple minutes.

Plum, who struggled shooting (7-of-22 shooting from the field), also received a technical foul in the third period after she was knocked down by a Dearica Hamby screen. The techs were the first of the season for all three of Plum, Wilson and Hammon.

Afterward, Wilson was optimistic about the direction of her team, even with a poorer record than expected.

“I really, really love these moments, because when October rolls around, it’s a whole different ballgame,” Wilson said. “First two years for us, it was beautiful. We were good. We were rolling, and it’s not this time, and that’s okay. We still got a mighty dog in this fight.”