CHICAGO — The defending champion Chicago Sky hosted the WNBA-leading Las Vegas Aces Saturday.
The Sky, with an All-Star bunch that includes Candace Parker, Kahleah Copper, Courtney Vandersloot, Azura Stevens, Allie Quigley and Dana Evans, had won four out of their last five games. Their most recent win had come against the Indiana Fever, 95-90, on Tuesday.
From the start, the Sky were struggling to make a basket. They got great looks but largely came up short, especially from 3-point range where they were 29 percent during the opening quarter.
Both teams were on virtually the same pace with one another, and, as a result, it was a low-scoring quarter. As the frame came to a close, it was the dynamic duo of Copper and Evans that muscled their way to the basket and hit from downtown, picking up the intensity for the Sky. As the seconds ticked down, the Chicago started to get into a groove and found itself making shots, getting the ball back in transition and remaining effective on the boards at both ends of the floor.
At 37.6 seconds, Parker hit a big shot in the paint to put the Sky up 23-22 and that is how the quarter ended.
Parker had 7 points in the opening frame and Vegas’ Kelsey Plum had 10.
At the start of the second quarter, it was unclear who had complete control over the game as both sides were engaged in a back and forth. By the 6:22 mark, the tide quickly began turning in favor of the Aces as they not only managed to score in transition and at the foul line, but their defense was really starting to overpower the Sky. Chicago began to cool from the field. At the 5:34 mark, the Aces led 38-29.
At 4:03, Kahleah Copper scored off an epic sequence that started with a block by Azura Stevens over A’ja Wilson. The score brought the Sky within six, 37-31. But that brief moment wasn’t enough to stave off the Aces onslaught at both ends of the floor. With 2:39 left, the Aces were comfortably ahead, 45-34. As the quarter came to a close, Vegas didn’t relent and the Sky were rendered into desperation. The Aces led 51-38 going into the locker room.
The third quarter began with the Aces feeling confident and the Sky looking to get back into it. At the 4:25 mark, Wilson converted on a spectacular shot in the post to put the Aces up 60-42.
From 2:17-2:02, Sky newcomer Rebekah Gardner, a veteran overseas, scored five crucial points on an and-one and a driving layup off a steal. All of this brought the Sky crowd back into it and cut the Vegas lead to 60-49. The energy started to pick up a little bit from there. Another Sky newcomer,, Li Yueru, hit two big free throws to bring the game back to single digits at 60-51. At 51.3 second, Gardner hit two more free throws to make it 62-53.
But with 25.9 seconds left in the third, Chelsea Gray temporarily damped the hope of the Windy City faithful with an and-one drive to the basket to give the Aces a 65-53 lead.
The fourth quarter started as if the result of the game was a forgone conclusion. But the Sky attempted to thwart those plans. At the 7:23 mark, Parker scored her first basket since the first quarter to bring the game back to single digits at 68-59. At 6:34, Vandersloot temporarily put a halt to the Sky’s 3-point struggles to bring them within eight, 70-62.
The sense of a miraculous comeback and the Sky defense were starting to intensify. As the game began to wind down, Chicago took advantage of every chance it could to cut the lead. Even if any hope of winning the game diminished, they still played their hearts out.
At 1:33, Allie Quigley hit two free throws to bring it to 76-69. She followed that up with three free throws after being fouled by Plum to make it a four-point contest at 76-72. With 36.1 seconds left, Copper stole the ball and drove all the way to the hole to make it a 78-74 game.
Everyone in Wintrust held their breath, but their hopes were quickly dashed after Hamby scored off an open inbound pass to make it 80-74 with 34.8 seconds left. Plum followed that up with a driving layup of her own with 24 seconds left.
In the end, the Aces came out victorious 83-76, but the Sky refused to give in and give up. Their gusty play demonstrated why they are the champions.
Afterwards, head coach James Wade gave credit to the Aces and didn’t mince words when it came to them being the best team in the league.
“The best team. They are the best team in the league, I ain’t gonna forget it,” he said.
He also spoke of the need for his team to create synergy between their physical and mental game.
“If you have a sense of urgency, you’re in every play mentally, which leads you to being in every play physically and we weren’t. ... Once we figure that out then I think we will be a different team but we have to figure that out.”
Copper, who had 12 points, spoke to the team’s poor shooting performance.
“I think for us the adjustment is finding other ways to score,” she said. “Whether it is off of offensive rebounds or getting to the free throw line. But we can’t just rely on shooting threes because if those shots don’t go in then what is the next thing we are going to do.
The Sky (4-3) will be back home this coming Tuesday to take on the Phoenix Mercury (2-5) at 7 p.m. ET.