A'ja Wilson, Becky Hammon and 'resilient' Las Vegas Aces favored to win third WNBA title in a row

Full Screen
1 / 5

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - Las Vegas Aces' A'ja Wilson holds up the championship trophy as she celebrates with her team their win in the WNBA basketball finals against the Connecticut Sun, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, in Uncasville, Conn. The two-time defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces are favored to win the title again. They return their core four players to the roster from a team that became the first in more than 20 years to repeat as champions. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

HENDERSON, Nev. – The two-time defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces are flush with an array of accomplished pros, all with seemingly a singular focus while fans are buzzing about the arrival of Caitlin Clark.

Kate Martin, a rookie trying to make the Aces roster and a Clark teammate at Iowa, is adjusting to the environment.

Recommended Videos

“It’s hard not to get star struck every day I walk into the facility,” Martin said.

That's understandable. It's been hard for everyone to keep up with A'ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and the Aces. They became the first team since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001-02 to win consecutive titles when they beat the New York Liberty in four games of last year's WNBA Finals.

Now the Aces are trying to become the first team to win three straight since the Houston Comets won the first four WNBA championships in league history in 1997-2000.

The Aces are plus-100 favorites to win it again, according to BetMGM. New York at plus-230 is the only team close to the champs.

Anticipation again is high in Las Vegas. The Aces led the WNBA in attendance last season with 9,551 fans per game, and this March became the first team in league history to sell out its season-ticket allotment.

Last season, however, will be tough to top. The Aces won a league-record 34 games during the regular season, thanks partially an expanded 40-game schedule. Their .850 winning percentage was fifth best of all time.

But four days after winning the championship and being named WNBA Finals MVP, Wilson promised at the victory parade, “We’re going to do this ... again.”

“I'm sure a lot of people think we're arrogant in some cases, but we're us and we're true to us,” Wilson said. “So we can't worry about what anyone else has going on or what they bring in here. We've just got to worry about ourselves. Yeah, we're going to get everybody's best game. I think that's what makes us great.”

Wilson said the Aces want to be tested and that “no one wants it to be a cakewalk.”

Even with its history-making season last year, Las Vegas faced challenges along the way.

Former two-time MVP Candace Parker didn't play after undergoing foot surgery in late July, and Gray and Kiah Stokes didn't play in Game 4 against the Liberty also because of foot injuries.

Gray's injury, in particular, seemed to be a particularly devastating setback. She was named WNBA Finals MVP in 2022 after a four-game victory over the Connecticut Sun, a five-time All-Star point guard.

Even without Gray, the Aces managed to pull out a 70-69 victory over the Liberty.

“We're used to dealing with adversity,” coach Becky Hammon said. “I think (perseverance) is definitely a talent they have been forced to develop. I don't know if we've always had that. Being a resilient group has become a staple and an identification piece for us.”

Many opponents might have different definitions of adversity after watching the Aces roll through last season. They also went 60-16 over the previous two years.

The Aces have succeeded with a group of four core players, a mix of regular-season and WNBA Finals MVPs, All-Stars and No. 1 overall draft picks.

Three of the four — Wilson, Gray and Young — are signed through the 2025 season. Plum's contract ends after this season unless she reaches an agreement to extend it.

“I think it's everything to be able to keep that chemistry and build off it year after year,” Plum said. “We've been building this thing for a while, so there's definitely a lot of pride in that. The city takes a lot of pride in that. This organization takes a lot of pride in that. There's a lot of loyalty here.”


AP WNBA: https://apnews.com/hub/wnba-basketball

Recommended Videos