Aces downplay blowout of Liberty in superteams’ first clash

M.A. Voepel, ESPN.comJun 30, 2023, 01:28 AM ET

CloseM.A. Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

The first meeting of so-called WNBA superteams was really just about how super the defending champion Las Vegas Aces are.

The New York Liberty still have three more matchups with the Aces, all in August. In the meantime, though, everyone in the league is looking up to Las Vegas, which beat the Liberty 98-81 at Michelob Ultra Arena in one of Thursday’s biggest shows on the Strip.

“They were really on point tonight and exploited us in many areas,” New York coach Sandy Brondello said. “They’re like a well-oiled machine, really. We’ve got to be a little more disruptive.

“We’re all capable defenders. … You’ve just got to commit to that side of the ball, because that’s what wins championships. Getting our butts kicked like that, that’s a good thing in the end. What are we going to do about it — that’s the key.”

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The rest of the WNBA squads get irritated by mention of the moniker superteams, and even the Aces and Liberty don’t seem fond of it. But it did create a buzz for the matchup.

And even if this game wasn’t very close, both teams are typically entertaining.

“I think we play a fun style for the [players] and the fans, as does New York,” Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon said. “Getting up and down — people like to play that way, shooting a lot of 3s. When the ball gets popping and everybody is happy with their teammate’s success, I think that is contagious.”

The Aces earned the superteam label by bringing back their 2022 championship core plus adding two-time MVP Candace Parker and another veteran who has WNBA title experience, Alysha Clark. Meanwhile, the Liberty brought aboard one former MVP via trade, Jonquel Jones, and another, Breanna Stewart, via free agency, which is also how they obtained standout guard Courtney Vandersloot.

The Aces are now 14-1, with their only loss coming to the second-place Connecticut Sun, who are 12-4. The Liberty are in third place at 10-4.

Thursday, every Aces starter scored in double figures, led by Kelsey Plum’s 18 points. The team shot 58% from the field and had 32 assists with just seven turnovers.

“This is a group that takes care of the ball,” Hammon said. “We can get ahead of ourselves sometimes, but it’s really fun to play with great passers.”

The Aces’ ability to continually find the best shots has taken a toll on every WNBA defense. Las Vegas leads the league in scoring, averaging 93.1 points per game.

“We had a great game plan coming in,” Brondello said. “We didn’t execute it so well, but part of it was because of what they did, how fluid they were. They scored on us on post-ups and mismatches in our rotations. They’re in the right place all the time. They’re a scary team.”

Parker, who finished with 15 points, six rebounds and five assists, has been part of other superteam-type matchups, such as in 2016 and 2017, when she was with the Los Angeles Sparks facing the Minnesota Lynx in back-to-back WNBA finals showdowns.

“I think that elevated the WNBA,” Parker said. “Anytime you have a rivalry … you’re able to bring attention.”

That said, she and the Aces really aren’t putting any emphasis on the superteam concept because they know the rest of the WNBA is trying to knock them off. Sunday, they’ll face the only team to beat them, the Sun, at 3 p.m. ET on ABC.

“There’s a lot of really good teams in this league,” Plum said. “We approach every game the same way, and we play the same way. We’re going to go out there and compete.”

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