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Recap: Jackie Young carries Aces through early struggles, closes out Sparks

Jackie Young was there in the beginning; she was there in the end for the Las Vegas Aces.

Las Vegas Aces v Los Angeles Sparks
Jackie Young has impressed in the scoring column at the start of 2023, much like she did at the start of 2022.
Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Jackie Young (game- and career-high 30 points) buried three treys over a span of two minutes and four seconds in the fourth quarter so that the Las Vegas Aces could maintain a lead over the Los Angeles Sparks and win 94-85 Thursday night at Arena in Los Angeles.

Young was 4-of-7 from three and 12-of-18 from the field in the game, which did not feature Sparks superstar Nneka Ogwumike, who was out with a non-COVID illness.

Despite N. Ogwumike’s absence, the Sparks (1-1) led by as much as 12 and were in control until late in the third quarter. They played with a ton of spirit, right down to when Karlie Samuelson hit a deep three to cut their deficit to five with 59 seconds remaining. LA would get no closer over the remainder of the game, but it certainly frustrated A’ja Wilson and the super-team Aces (2-0), who were playing without head coach Becky Hammon. Hammon was serving the second and final game of her suspension for the way she handled offseason negotiations with Dearica Hamby, who is now on the Sparks and had 11 points and three steals on Thursday.

Wilson (19 points, 13 rebounds, two blocks) was called for a technical and a flagrant 1 not far apart in the third, contributing to the Sparks regaining a double-digit lead. But not long after that, the Aces went on a 10-0 run to take a two-point lead; they then led throughout the fourth.

2022 Finals MVP Chelsea Gray shot above 60 percent from the field and from beyond the arc, which she of course made a habit of doing during last year’s playoffs. She finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and two steals and hit a mid-range shot that made it 89-79 Aces with 1:30 to go.

Jordin Canada, who is not known as a 3-point shooter, cut LA’s deficit to 85-79 with a trey at 2:50 remaining. This after Young hit a wide-open triple from the right corner to make it 85-76 with 3:07 to play.

Young also cashed in from downtown at the 5:11 and 4:42 marks of the fourth, giving Vegas leads of eight and nine, respectively.

A 4-0 stretch of the Aces’ key 10-0 run came on one possession. Wilson made a layup, missed the and-1 free throw, got the rebound and made another layup to cut it to 59-57. Young scored the game’s next two buckets to give Vegas the lead. It led by four entering the fourth.

The build-up to this 10-0 run featured a ton of emotion from Wilson. She yelled about not getting a foul call after making a layup, which led to a tech point for LA that made it 52-45 Sparks. Not too long after, Wilson was called for a flagrant 1 for pushing Layshia Clarendon to the floor. Clarendon made 1-of-2 free throws, and on the Sparks’ ensuing possession, awarded because of the flagrant, Chiney Ogwumike made a layup to push LA’s lead to 57-47.

Canada’s first steal of the second frame was quickly turned back over to the Aces, but her second led to a Joyner Holmes fast-break layup that made it 29-17 Sparks. A Clarendon three at the buzzer of the shot clock would later return the contest to a 12-point LA lead (at 32-20).

The Aces finally got serious about cutting it close when Gray made a right corner three that brought them within six at 36-30. Later, a 4-0 Vegas run would cut it to 38-34, which is close as the Aces would get in the second period. The run began with a Young block, which led to a Young layup in transition, and concluded with a Young steal turned Young scoop layin. Young led Vegas with 13 points and three steals in the first half.

LA answered the 4-0 run with an 8-0 run of its own and would lead by 10 at the break. C. Ogwumike began the run with a 3-point play and then scored again off a nice pass from Hamby. Samuelson then hit a three in transition for another 12-point Sparks lead before Wilson closed the half with two free throws. Wilson was 1-of-8 from the field with six points over the opening 20 minutes.

The Sparks looked comfortable right away. Lexie Brown came around a screen for a beautiful mid-range swish that got LA on the board and tied it at 2-2, and then Clarendon made a layup high off the glass to tie it at 4-4. A Brown three off a Sparks steal gave LA a 7-4 lead; Hamby followed with a layup that forced an early Aces timeout.

Sparks legend and current Ace Candace Parker scored the first bucket out of the timeout; it was a three that cut the LA lead to 9-7. But Brown answered with a straightaway three and then C. Ogwumike made a deep two that made it 14-7 Sparks. A Hamby 3-point play would make it 17-9 and a Brown mid-range make would make it 20-9. LA went on to lead by 12 twice before the second quarter began.

Natalie Nakase was the acting head coach of the Aces in this win.

C. Ogwumike finished with 19 points, eight boards, three helpers, two swipes and two rejections while Brown (6-of-9 from the field) was good for 15 points, five assists and three steals.

Wilson was 11-of-13 at the free throw line. The Aces won despite committing nine more turnovers than the Sparks. Vegas won field goal percentage 52.5 to 42.1, 3-point percentage 43.5 to 36.8 and free throw percentage 78.6 to 70.