Sun will face Aces’ A’ja Wilson, the reigning league MVP, for round two
Mohegan — Stephanie White, now the Connecticut Sun head coach, was coaching at Vanderbilt during the 2018 season when South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson won SEC Player of the Year honors for the third straight season and was named the consensus national player of the year.
White returns to the WNBA just in time to see Wilson at her finest once again with the Las Vegas Aces.
And then some.
“She’s incredible,” said White, whose Sun team will face Wilson and the Aces for the second time this week at Mohegan Sun Arena beginning at 7 p.m. Thursday. “She’s grown so much.
“You think about her development in Dawn’s system (South Carolina coach Dawn Staley), going from primarily a back-to-the-basket player, learning to face up and learning to make 15-foot jump shots to now having 3-point range, taking it off the bounce, moving her around the floor.
“Her intensity level is off the charts. You can’t take plays off.”
Wilson finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots during the Aces’ 90-84 victory Tuesday night against the Sun. The Aces led by 19 before Connecticut’s Bec Allen came off the bench to score six 3-point field goals in the second half, pulling the Sun within three with four minutes remaining.
Wilson, the Aces’ 6-foot-4 center, was the WNBA’s top draft pick in 2018.
She is the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player, also earning that honor in 2020, and was the 2022 Defensive Player of the Year, as well, leading Las Vegas to the WNBA championship. She is a four-time all-star and was the leading vote-getter for last year’s All-Star Game.
“I think her motor and the hunger for her to be great,” White said of what sets Wilson apart. “She does exactly what her team needs. She’s a matchup nightmare.”
Wilson was told of White’s complimentary comments.
“I feel like it’s in me, it’s in me honestly,” Wilson said of her drive. “I’m not out here just to lollygag. I have a job that I have to do. If I can’t do that, I can’t hold my teammates accountable. It’s just something that’s in me that I want to be the greatest at whatever I’m doing. I feel like it’s a disrespect to the game if I don’t.”
Wilson also spoke of the role 2015 UConn grad Kiah Stokes has played with the Aces. Stokes, who won three national championships in Storrs, started all 10 of the Aces’ postseason games last year as they won the WNBA crown.
This season, Stokes has come off the bench, with the addition of all-star Candace Parker to the starting lineup. A 6-3 center, Stokes played 17 minutes Tuesday and had four points and three rebounds.
“I’ve always said Kiah’s the anchor to our defense. A lot of people say it’s me, but I’ll pass that to Kiah 100%,” Wilson said Tuesday. “She is just always at the right place at the right time. She literally holds it down. She’s one of our glue players that sticks us together.”
The Aces are off to a 7-0 start. The Sun, led Tuesday by 22 points from Allen and double-doubles from Alyssa Thomas (14 points, 11 rebounds) and Brionna Jones (15 points, 10 rebounds) are 6-2 under White.
“Like we said in the locker roon (after the game), now everything is in our control,” Allen said following the game, in which the Sun made a second-half turnaround, outscoring Las Vegas 31-20 in the fourth quarter.
“I think the way we presented ourself at the start isn’t us so it’s really just us doing 40 minutes of how we were for the second half. It’s definitely within our grasp.”
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