SEATTLE (AP) — Back in the locker room after the most lopsided opening game victory in league history, Las Vegas Aces star A’ja Wilson grabbed her phone and dialed up suspended head coach Becky Hammon.
“I just wanted to make sure we was on the right track and she said she only yelled (at the TV) twice,” Wilson said. “That’s pretty big for us, because I’m pretty sure in real life she would have been yelling more than twice.”
There wasn’t much to complain about from the Aces standpoint after opening defense of their WNBA championship with a 105-64 rout of the Seattle Storm on Saturday.
Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum both scored 23 points for the Aces in a matchup that featured several changes and absences from last season when Las Vegas beat Seattle in four games in the WNBA semifinals.
Most notable, Las Vegas was without Hammon following her two-game suspension by the league earlier this week following an investigation into former Aces player Dearica Hamby saying she had been bullied and manipulated for being pregnant.
Hammon denied that Hamby was bullied for being pregnant, saying any ill feelings between the two came from Hamby being traded.
“Obviously, it is tough not having her. But at the same time, I think we were fully prepared,” Wilson said. “Our coaches were making sure that we were prepared for this moment.”
But the Aces didn’t miss a beat without their head coach on the sideline. Acting head coach Tyler Marsh just had to decide which combinations of the Aces star-studded roster to call upon, all under the watchful and approving eye of owner Mark Davis looking on from his baseline seat.
Six Aces players finished in double figures. Wilson had 13 points and 13 rebounds, Chelsea Gray scored 14 points and Alysha Clark added 10 off the bench.
Marsh’s family made the last-minute decision to fly to Seattle for his first of two games in charge of the Aces.
“I’m a coach’s kid I’m grew up in the game grew up in coaching,” Marsh said. “So my dad, he’s been a college coach my whole life and for him to be out here just to see me coach, and for my wife and my son to be out here, that’s the sentimental part for me.”
Then there was two-time MVP Candace Parker. In her debut with the Aces, Parker added 12 points, five rebounds and three blocks. It was the trade of Hamby to the Los Angeles Sparks that clear salary cap room for the Aces to add Parker and create a roster that along with New York are the overwhelming favorites to win the league title, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Jewell Loyd led Seattle with 22 points as the Storm began what’s expected to be a rebuild season in the next chapter for the franchise. For the first time since 2002, Sue Bird was no longer part of Seattle’s roster to start the season following her retirement at the end of last season, although she was sitting courtside for Saturday’s game.
Seattle also lost two-time league MVP Breanna Stewart after she departed for New York during free agency and starting wing Gabby Williams was still in Europe, although the Storm are hopeful the restricted free agent could with the hope she’ll rejoin the Storm soon.
That left Loyd as the only core piece from last season still on the court as a contributor. She struggled badly early, missing her first eight shots and struggled to get clean looks anytime Plum had the defensive assignment. Loyd finished 7 of 25 shooting.
No other Seattle player scored more than the eight points from rookie Jordan Horston.
“It’s going to be an interesting year figuring out every single day,” Seattle coach Noelle Quinn said. “We’re battle tested early. … It’s going to be a work in progress for some teams and some teams are well oiled right now. This was just a tough challenge for this particular group.”
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