A’ja Wilson’s historic streak, Aces defense shine in Sun upset

What a statement win for the Aces.

A’ja Wilson and Chelsea Gray with flames and Sun logo to the sideThe Las Vegas Aces continued their three-game homestand Friday with an exciting, high-energy 85-74 win against the Connecticut Sun. Though defense has been a struggle all season for the Aces, the huge victory against the Sun was a defensive battle from start to finish.

Two-time MVP A’ja Wilson once again led her galaxy of star athletes to victory with an outrageous 26 points. This is her 19th consecutive game with 20-plus points, and she is now the only player in WNBA history to do it.


“The biggest thing this year for me was just preparation,” Wilson said after the win. “I just wanted to make sure I was ready for the moment at all costs and my teammates are allowing me to do so.”

“She’s a little too humble,” Kiah Stokes said of Wilson’s modest response. “She really sets the tone for us. When A’ja’s going, we’re all going.”

Friday night’s game was the season’s first meeting between the Sun and the Aces. Las Vegas hosted the Sun at Michelob ULTRA Arena after Jackie Young scored 32 points in the Aces’ 94-83 victory against the Seattle Storm this past Wednesday.

The back-to-back champions snapped their three-game losing streak with the win and are now 5-5 at home. Wednesday’s game against Seattle was a little different, of course. The game marked the long-awaited return of the Point Gawd, Chelsea Gray, who had an immediate impact and handed out seven assists in 16 minutes after coming off the bench.

The Aces’ matchup with the Sun featured that same spirit from Gray. As soon as she stepped on the court late in the first quarter, the crowd went wild. She fed off the energy and went in. She put up four points, with two rebounds, one assist and a block.

“She’s the true point guard,” Coach Becky Hammon said at the postgame conference. “She keeps you calm; she gets you in spots. It’s not just always about scoring; there are multiple ways you can impact the game.”

Before the Aces-Sun clash, the defending champs had won six of the last eight meetings with Connecticut, including a 3-games-to-1 series victory in the 2022 WNBA Finals.

Having said that, here are more takeaways from the electrifying game between the Aces and the Sun.

Aces show championship pedigree in win vs. Sun

Las Vegas Aces forward A'ja Wilson (22) celebrates after the game against the LA Sparks at Crypto.com Arena.Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
“We prep for these big moments so we can shine bright,” Wilson said of their win.

The showdown is the type of gameplay for the Aces that leads to a three-peat. The Sun was a tough team to beat, coming in on a nearly perfect run.  On numerous occasions, precise and aggressive moves were made to stop the ball, especially early on. Coach Becky Hammon called a relatively long timeout in the first quarter, likely to discuss defense strategy. And it showed.

“When you’re struggling from the floor, the worst thing you could do is force it because you’re just going to struggle more,” Hammon said. “You have to get more disciplined, more intentional about moving with purpose and getting the ball popping.”

Connecticut usually only allows 70.7 points per game, the fewest in the league. But the Aces, led by the two-time MVP in Wilson were not simply allowing them to get their way. The star-studded Las Vegas team was close by the end of the third quarter with 63 points and effectively surpassed the 70.7 average in the fourth quarter with seven minutes to spare.

The best defense against the Sun for the Aces was their offensive strategy. The space-and-pace model the team leans on is clearly in use even more now, with Gray back on the court.

There was also a real hustle from Megan Gustafson, who put up five points in the 11 minutes she played. Alysha Clark came out the gate ready to help lead the Aces to victory. Clark was the one who pushed the team past 70 points with a nice 3-pointer late in the three.

“Our bigs’ defense tonight especially was on point. Not only did they defend, but they rebounded,”  Hammon added. “Just a lot of attention to detail and a high care factor.”

Chelsea Gray’s return helps the Aces solidify identity

While Gray’s shooting is not quite back to what it used to be just yet—though she did pull off a nice step-back jumper in the third quarter—her handle of the ball is pure perfection. She simply keeps the ball moving.

Let’s face it: Gray’s assists game is one-of-a-kind and always on point. But Wilson reminded everyone that the Point Gawd is so much more than an assist.

“I know a lot of people love her fancy passing. It’s great. But Chelsea gets us organized. She gets us to a flow and to a system that we’re very comfortable and used to,” Wilson said after the win against the Sun.

The Suns boast the third-best defensive rebounding team in the WNBA, grabbing 73.1% of all available defensive boards. While defense hasn’t been their strong suit, Gray’s ball movement has helped the team find its rhythm. It is also clear that losing can make you better.

“Losses teach you a lot of lessons,” Wilson said. “When you’re talking about defense, it has some skills, but a lot of it is just wanting to do it.”

Hammon added, “Our defense has been more intentional; they’ve been playing it harder, we’ve been having better pick-up points. Just more of a unit.”

Becoming a unit is part of the team’s winning spirit. Whether cheering each other on or dancing together before and during games, it creates an uncanny synergy on and off the court.

“Our identity is slowly starting to become us,” Wilson furthered.

“I told them they’ve gotta have Mudita,” Hammon shared. Mudita is a Sanskrit word meaning appreciative joy for others. The team videographer coined the term, saying that’s what the players have the ability to do. It’s just about doing it. Mudita is certainly played out on the court and during practices for the back-to-back champs.

“When you’re talking about identity, I think that’s been a part of our identity for the last two years has been that authentic joy for not only playing with each other, but for each other,” Hammon noted.

A’ja Wilson continues to prove she WILL be the MVP

Wilson’s 26 points and 16 rebounds marked the 85th double-double of her career, which ranks seventh in WNBA history.

“She’s a beast, she just always does it the right way,” Hammon said in her postgame presser.  “She is still more concerned with pulling greatness out of her teammates.”

Her leadership was displayed when she teared up in the postgame conference after an emotional loss to the New York Liberty. Wilson continues to lead the team on and off the court. Leadership and accountability have repeatedly proved to be necessary to her.

“She just wants to win at the end of the day,” Hammon added.

Las Vegas is back on the road on June 27, when the Aces travel to Chicago for a 4 pm PT tip against the Sky.