BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) — With a trip to the WNBA Finals in the balance, league MVP A’ja Wilson took over and carried the Las Vegas Aces to the championship round.
Wilson had 23 points and 11 rebounds, Angel McCoughtry added 20 points and the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces held off the No. 7 seed Connecticut Sun 66-63 on Tuesday night to advance to the franchise’s second WNBA Finals.
“Knew it was my time to put the team on my back,” said Wilson, who had 11 points in the final period, including making nine of 10 free throws. “Thought I was in cruise control throughout the whole season. When the fourth quarter came had to flip the switch. Felt like I did that. The job still isn’t done.”
Las Vegas will play on Friday against Seattle, which advanced to its second championship series in three seasons on Sunday after sweeping Minnesota. The Aces’ franchise hadn’t reached the finals since doing so as the San Antonio Silver Stars in 2008.
“This is the finals. The two best teams in the league going at it,” Wilson said. “It was ugly, but we got a win. End of day we’ll go back and watch film on ourselves and Seattle.”
Carolyn Swords and Danielle Robinson each grabbed 10 rebounds for Las Vegas, which overcame 18 turnovers. The Aces were without Dearica Hamby, last season’s sixth woman of the year, because of a season-ending knee injury. She averaged 13 points and 7.1 rebounds during the regular season.
Las Vegas trailed 49-39 early in the third quarter but went on a 13-0 run, with McCoughtry, Wilson and Kayla McBride combining for 13 points, to take the lead.
McCoughtry missed a free-throw line jumper and Connecticut guard Jasmine Thomas called a timeout with 13.4 seconds left, down 66-63. Thomas received the inbounds pass and got it to DeWanna Bonner at the top of the arc, but her contested shot didn’t hit the rim as time expired.
Alyssa Thomas, dealing with a shoulder injury, had 22 points and 10 rebounds for Connecticut, which was going for its second straight trip to the finals. Bonner had 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Connecticut was held to 18 second-half points.
“Credit their defense a little bit, continued to congest us,” Connecticut coach Curt Miller said. “We struggled at times on the defensive glass. … Shoot under 25% for a half, I don’t care what level you coach at you don’t win a lot of games when you shoot under 25% for a half.”