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What Aces can learn from A’ja Wilson’s uncharacteristic Game 1

A’ja Wilson finished with just eight points on 10 shot attempts in the Aces’ Game 1 loss Sunday. (Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

When the Seattle Storm held on in the fourth quarter to upset the Las Vegas Aces in Game 1 of the semifinals on Sunday, A’ja Wilson — the Aces’ best player — hadn’t heard her name called over the loudspeaker in a while.

In the 76-73 loss, Wilson made just three shots, her second-lowest total of the season. That statistic sounds bad on paper, and in reality, it’s even worse. With 10 shot attempts, and only one in the fourth quarter, Wilson’s offensive presence was virtually non-existent for the Aces.

The MVP candidate leads the team in scoring, averaging 19.5 points per game, and does so in an efficient manner, making 50 percent of her shot attempts. But on Sunday, Wilson finished with just eight points on 30 percent shooting as her team fell at home to the No. 4-seeded Storm.

Wilson has been the focal point of the Las Vegas offense all season, but the Aces failed to get her involved in a big way and, as a result, enter Game 2 on Wednesday in a 1-0 hole.

Let’s break down Wilson’s performance by quarter.

First quarter

Seattle started the game hot, jumping out to a 26-15 lead, while the Aces made just four shots in the opening 10 minutes. Wilson didn’t record a single point in the first quarter, but she did have four attempts, her highest total of the four periods.

Wilson is a capable shooter in the midrange and from long range, averaging 37.3 percent from the 3-point line this season, but her best basketball is played in the paint. She scores 65.1 percent of her points from inside the arc, averaging a league-high 12.1 attempts per game from 2-point range and making 6.4 of them.

But in the first quarter on Sunday, Wilson took two jumpers from the free-throw line — one of which was blocked — and attempted two 3-pointers. In total, she had seven touches, none of which came in the paint and three of which were to help set up the Aces’ offense rather than take to the rim herself.

Second quarter

The second period was Wilson’s most productive of the contest, as she scored six points and helped the Aces cut the deficit from 11 points to seven.

She had eight touches, with five coming in scoring position and two in the low-post position. Wilson scored on both post-ups. On the first, she faked middle, took a one-dribble spin to the left side and finished over Magbegor as Seattle guard Stephanie Talbot came over to help. Her second made shot was on a two-dribble step-through to beat fellow MVP candidate Breanna Stewart.

Her other three touches in scoring position resulted in a missed jumper, two free throws and a whistle on Talbot that sent her to the bench with three fouls and led to an inbounds play for the Aces.

Third quarter

The Aces started to claw their way back into the contest during the third quarter, and they trailed by three points going into the final frame. But they continued to neglect their centerpiece, which led to disjointed and inconsistent offense.

Wilson doesn’t need to shoot on every possession, but she does need to be involved. If Wilson catches in scoring position, the Storm have to react, often sending multiple defenders to help. That leads to openings for the rest of the Aces players and high-quality shot attempts.

But in the third quarter, Wilson had four touches and only two in scoring position. The first led to a double team and a tie-up, while the second resulted in a bucket as Wilson caught the ball at the free-throw line and drove past Stewart.

Fourth quarter

As the Aces fought to take the lead or force overtime in the fourth quarter, their top offensive player had one shot attempt. It was the only time she got the ball in scoring position and one of just four total touches for Wilson in the final period.

Las Vegas took its first lead with 6:15 left in the game as Riquna Williams knocked down a 3-pointer. From there, the lead evaporated as Jewell Loyd capped a 26-point performance with 11 points and an assist in the final five minutes of play. Kelsey Plum missed two looks from 3-point range in the last 25 seconds, and the Storm closed out the victory on the road.

The Aces will have a very hard time advancing to the Finals or winning a WNBA championship without Wilson’s constant involvement. Their game starts with Wilson in the paint, and that’s what will drive them to success. After learning their lesson on Sunday, Las Vegas needs to emphasize getting her post touches early and often in Game 2.

The Aces have lost consecutive games just three times this season, so expect Coach of the Year Becky Hammon to make adjustments and find ways to get Wilson more involved. Otherwise, Las Vegas will likely be facing a similar outcome Wednesday.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Rose Lavelle hoping to return to play ‘in the next couple of weeks’

uswnt midfielder rose lavalle trains on a soccer field in florida
When healthy, Rose Lavelle is a trusted asset in the USWNT's midfield. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Rose Lavelle is hoping to return to the field soon. 

The 28-year-old midfielder has been sidelined with a lower leg injury since the Gold Cup in early march. Since then, she has yet to play for new club Gotham FC in the NWSL. She also missed a potential USWNT appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in April, where senior team newcomer Jaedyn Shaw saw success assuming Lavelle's role in the attacking midfield. 

At the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media showcase on Monday, Lavelle told reporters that she’s doing well and hopes to be back soon.

"I’m doing good — I’m hoping I’ll be back in the next couple weeks," Lavelle said. "It’s frustrating to start the year off with an injury, just because I feel like you come off preseason and you’re revving to go, so it’s so annoying."

Lavelle is still looking to compete for one of just 18 Olympic roster spots. When healthy, she ranks as one of the national team’s most trusted assets, but considering this most recent injury, her health is an obvious concern. Faced with an onslaught of experienced competitors and young talent, incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes will have some big decisions to make when selecting the Paris-bound squad — a reality Lavelle seems to be taking in stride as she works to regain full fitness.

"We have so many special players, we have so much depth, and so many different weapons to utilize on and off the bench," Lavelle said. "Unfortunately that means really good players are going to get left off, too. And I think for all of us, it’s just about being ready for whatever role is given to us, embracing that, and looking to put it into a collective picture so that we can go into the Olympics ready to go."

Kate Paye tapped to take VanDerveer’s place at Stanford

new stanford head coach kate paye spins a basketball on the court
Stanford associate head coach Kate Paye has officially been promoted to head women's basketball coach. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

Stanford has found its replacement for legendary head women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer in associate head coach Kate Paye.

The Cardinal confirmed the hiring on Tuesday via a press release. Paye was largely expected to replace the longtime head coach, as the college mentioned they were still negotiating Paye's contract when they announced VanDerveer's retirement.

In Tuesday's statement, Paye reported that she was "humbled" to have been tapped to lead the women’s program.

"Stanford University has been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead its women’s basketball program," Paye said. "I’d first like to thank Tara, who has played such a pivotal role in my career for her friendship and guidance. It’s not what she’s done, but how she’s done it, that has had such a profound impact upon me."

A Woodside, California native, Paye played under VanDerveer from 1992 to 1995, taking home a national title her freshman year. After graduation, Paye briefly joined San Diego State as an assistant coach before making her professional debut with the ABL's Seattle Reign in 1996. After finishing her playing career with the WNBA's Seattle Storm, she joined the team’s coaching staff in 2007 and has been with the organization ever since, picking up another national title win — this time as associate head coach — in 2021. Paye's brother John played quarterback for Stanford from 1983 to 1986, while also serving as a point guard on the basketball team.

In her own response, VanDerveer said that she was "grateful" that Stanford picked Paye to follow in her stead. Last week, the decorated coach stated that this year would be her last after 38 seasons at the helm and three national titles under her belt.

"She has long been ready for this opportunity and is the perfect leader for Stanford at this time of immense change in college athletics," VanDerveer noted. "Kate was the choice for this job and I am confident she will achieve great success as head coach."

After a record-breaking Draft Night, WNBA roster cuts loom

2023 WNBA no. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston playing for the indiana fever
Despite going No. 1 overall in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Aliyah Boston had to fight hard to make it onto Indiana's roster. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 2024 WNBA Draft has officially concluded, leaving the newly minted rookie class facing a tough road ahead.

Only 144 roster slots are available throughout the league’s 12 teams, the reason why the players are sometimes referred to as the “144.” And Monday’s draft picks are set to join a large group of established players competing for those same roster spots, from seasoned veterans to young athletes determined to prove their value on the court.

Last year, just 15 of the league’s 36 draftees made it onto their drafting team's opening-day squad.

In reality, there are oftentimes fewer than 144 spots available, as not every team maxes out their roster. Per the league's CBA, each team roster must maintain a minimum standard of 11 players, but those lists can include players out with injuries or on other forms of leave. Players can also be assigned to short-term hardship contracts, something waived players must be prepared for at any point during the season.

Earlier this week, Laeticia Amihere — a 2022 national champion with South Carolina who currently plays for the Atlanta Dream — took to TikTok to provide some insight into the WNBA training camp process. 

"You can either get drafted on Draft Night, or you can get signed by a team," she said. "Once that happens, you go to training camp literally like two weeks later... Basically everybody's got to try out. There's 12 roster spots, and there's like 18 people at the at the trial."

@laeticiaamihere Replying to @dantavius.washington #wnba #draft ♬ original sound - Laeticia Amihere

Amihere also had an important point to make: Getting cut does not signify a player’s abilities. 

"If you get cut after training camp, that does not mean you're not good," she said. "That does not mean that player sucks, don't stop supporting that player. Literally, there's so many reasons somebody can get cut."

"If you guys look at the best players in the league, most of them have bounced around teams," she added. "And I promise you it is not a bad thing, it's just how the league is."

Things, however gradually, are changing. With Golden State's WNBA team scheduled to launch in time for the 2025 season, league expansion is just around the corner. On Monday, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the league is aiming to grow to 16 teams by 2028. But by then, it might be too little too late for the generation of talent emerging from an increasingly competitive NCAA system.

WNBA draft shatters records with 2.45 million viewers

wide shot of BAM during the 2024 WNBA Draft
It wasn't just attendees that were glued to the on-stage action at the 2024 WNBA Draft. (Photo by Melanie Fidler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Monday night’s WNBA draft added to the nationwide uptick in record-breaking women's sports viewership, pulling in 2.45 million viewers throughout the nearly two-hour broadcast and peaking at 3.09 million, according to an ESPN release. 

That number shatters the previous draft viewership record — 601,000 in 2004 — which was fueled primarily by then-No. 1 pick Diana Taurasi entering the league after UConn's historic three-peat March Madness performance.  

The 2023 WNBA draft drew 572,000 viewers, the most for any televised WNBA event since 2.74 million tuned in to NBC for a Memorial Day matchup between the New York Liberty and Houston Comets back in 2000.

While many came to watch Caitlin Clark get drafted No. 1 overall, it’s important to note that viewership didn’t take a massive dip after the superstar shooter left the stage. The numbers show that a bulk of the audience stuck around to watch the remainder of the show, making 2024's event not just the most-viewed WNBA draft in history, but also the most-viewed WNBA program to ever air on ESPN platforms.

Draft Day's popularity is yet another sign indicating an expected rise in WNBA regular season viewership. Clark and Iowa's NCAA tournament showdown with the Chicago Sky-bound Kamilla Cardoso's South Carolina side drew a record 18.7 million to ABC's Sunday afternoon broadcast. Banking on this trend, 36 of Indiana's upcoming 40 games are set to be shown on national television. In-person ticket sales are also soaring, leading the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces to re-home their matchup with the Fever to a venue that can accommodate some 6,000 more fans.

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