WNBA playoffs 2020 — Las Vegas Aces look to shake off ‘lazy’ and ’embarrassing’ loss

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Mechelle VoepelESPN.com

CloseMechelle 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.

It’s hard to find much Connecticut did wrong in Sunday’s 87-62 victory to open its WNBA semifinal series. It’s also hard to find much Las Vegas did right.

The Aces will need an entirely different kind of performance to try and even the series in Game 2 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

The top-seeded Aces were quick to compliment the seventh-seeded Sun, who fully outplayed them on both ends of the court. But Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer and his players were displeased with their effort. The Aces’ film session after that loss — Las Vegas’ lowest point total in an 18-4 season — was painful.

“It was definitely embarrassing. To go back and watch it, it’s even more embarrassing,” Las Vegas’ Dearica Hamby said. “They played harder than us. We didn’t look like ourselves from start to finish.

“We weren’t really locked in on the defensive end, and they were physical with us. I think it kind of threw us off, because we’re normally the more physical team. We’ve had so much success this season; we haven’t faced a ton of adversity. They got us off our path.”

The Sun had plenty of adversity in their 10-12 season. They had to climb back from their much-documented 0-5 start. But they did that. And it seemed clear in the past few weeks that Connecticut’s record was irrelevant; the Sun were going to be a tough team to beat in the playoffs.

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Sun point guard Jasmine Thomas had a career-high 31 points Sunday, while fellow starter Alyssa Thomas scored 18 and reserve Natisha Hiedeman had 14 points. The Sun shot 50% from the field for the game, holding the Aces to 33.8%. Connecticut’s DeWanna Bonner had a rough game shooting, going 2-for-12 from the field, but she still had 8 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists.

“There’s no way we are satisfied with our effort defensively,” Las Vegas’ Angel McCoughtry said. “I think defense does win games, and then the offense is created from that.”

The game was close for the first quarter, with the Sun leading 14-10. Connecticut outscored Las Vegas 50-31 in the second and third quarters, and that was that. Jackie Young got going a bit for Las Vegas late in the game, finishing with 17 points. And 2020 MVP A’ja Wilson did her part, with 19 points and nine rebounds. But McCoughtry was 1-for-8 from the field, and the Sun disrupted much of what the Aces were trying to do.

Defensively, Las Vegas missed assignments, Laimbeer said.

“It was just a laziness that hasn’t been there in the past,” he said. “It was just like we were running in mud. We weren’t up in places we were supposed to play defense to take away some of their quick shooting guards. It was just a poor effort on both sides of the ball.”

Laimbeer has a good comeback record in the WNBA playoffs. According to research by the Aces’ media relations team, Laimbeer is 5-1 in his past six playoff series when his team has lost the first game. And Connecticut expects a different effort from Las Vegas on Tuesday.

“Even though we executed our defensive plan pretty well, they missed some open shots,” Connecticut’s Briann January said. “We know they’re a good team and capable of hitting tough shots. So I guess we can take credit for some of that.”

January also said the Sun players’ past postseasons — even if some of that was with other teams — helped Connecticut.

“We have a lot of playoff experience,” she said. “When you’re in the playoffs, the intensity, the level of focus … you need to take it up.”

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