A’ja Wilson was happy to pick up the slack for coach Becky Hammon.
“It seemed as if she had other things on her mind, but it’s OK,” Wilson said.
The Aces were joking, of course, following their 113-89 win against the Washington Mystics on Friday at Michelob Ultra Arena.
Hammon, who will be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday, had to head to the airport immediately after the press conference to catch her flight to Springfield, Massachusetts.
“I’m glad she was here physically,” Wilson said. “Mentally, emotionally, I don’t know if she was there.”
Wilson, the reigning WNBA MVP, scored a career-best 40 points while going 17 of 25 from the field in just under 31 minutes. She also had 12 rebounds, two steals and a block.
“I can’t say enough about what a competitor is,” Plum said. “We all talk about her and her talent and the way she plays the game, but I don’t know if we talk enough about her effort. I just think she plays harder than everyone.
“When you have a superstar that plays that hard all the time, it’s just unguardable.”
Plum scored 19, guard Chelsea Gray had 19 points to go with 10 assists and four made 3s, and wing Jackie Young added 17 points for the Aces (26-3), including some big 3s after Washington (13-16) tied the game midway through the third quarter.
The Aces remain undefeated at home.
Point guard Natasha Cloud scored 21 points to lead the Mystics, but left the game in the fourth quarter due to injury. Former MVP Elena Delle Donne (ankle), forward Shakira Austin (hip) guard Ariel Atkins (ankle) and guard Kristi Toliver (foot) were unavailable for Washington.
The Aces host the Atlanta Dream at 6 p.m. Sunday.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
1. Unfamiliar foes
The Aces had only 12 regular-season games remaining entering Friday — not counting the WNBA Commissioner’s Cup championship game Tuesday against the New York Liberty. Three of those matchups are against the Mystics, who played the Aces for the first time this season Friday.
Gray said the Aces watched a lot of film in preparation. She said Washington’s numerous injuries have made the Mystics look like a different team depending on their personnel.
The Mystics were the only team to sweep the Aces in 2022, and Hammon said it was strange to see a team for the first time in August.
“We’ve got to come in locked in, focused and really execute,” she said.
2. Wilson’s first half
The Aces’ offense didn’t start particularly well, but Wilson was unstoppable in the first half. She scored 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting in just 16 minutes, the highest scoring half of her career. Wilson also had seven rebounds and a steal and was perfect from the free-throw line.
Wilson accounted for half of the Aces’ field goals in the first half. Young was the only other Ace in double figures at halftime, and she was 2 of 7 from the floor.
Wilson said she felt like all her shots came in the flow of the offense, which made her proud.
“My teammates were finding me at my spots,” Wilson said. “I was just trying to make an impact. It just happened to go in for me.”
3. Plum dishes
Wilson wasn’t the only player with a great night. Plum had a season-high 10 assists against the Mystics, the first time she’s reached double figures in assists since July 1, 2022. Wilson said it’s more proof of Plum’s growth as a passer and her importance to the Aces’ offense.
Plum, who regularly deals with jokes from her teammates about how she won’t pass the ball, said it’s been hard to build a new identity from her reputation in college.
“It’s really hard after being a ball hog for that long,” Plum said. “It’s really hard. Like, you don’t mean to, but if you have the most points in college basketball, you’re a ball hog.”
Added Wilson: “Look at you, man. This is big, man. This is a celebration. Forget the 40, KP got 10 assists.”