The Las Vegas Aces have not needed to wait long for someone to step up to fill the void created by the injury to star forward A’ja Wilson.
Dearica Hamby looks to continue making the most of her increased role Thursday night when the Aces face the Los Angeles Sparks.
Hamby was the sixth overall pick in the 2015 draft while the team was located in San Antonio. The 6-foot-3 forward started most of the Silver Stars’ games her first two seasons but made just three starts in her previous 84 games over the past three seasons.
Following Wilson’s injury, though, Hamby has looked completely at ease and in rhythm in helping Las Vegas (14-6) enter this contest on a three-game winning streak. She had 18 points and a season-high 11 rebounds Tuesday night as the Aces flattened the Dallas Wings 86-54, leading a balanced effort that picked up star center Liz Cambage. The All-Star had a run of 50 straight games in double figures end after being held to six points on 1-of-12 shooting.
“People always talk about the post-All-Star hangover,” Hamby, who has averaged 18.7 points and 9.0 rebounds starting the last three games, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I think we did a really good job of setting the tempo really early and playing good defense.”
Aces coach Bill Laimbeer was pleased with the win, as no starter had to log more than 25 minutes and all 10 players who dressed scored.
“I’m very happy for our bench. Got to give them a lot of time,” Laimbeer said after watching his reserves total 47 points on 18-of-29 shooting. “There aren’t many games in this league where you can really play extended bench minutes like we did today. (Gives) them some confidence.”
Los Angeles (11-8) is looking to gain traction in the playoff race as it opens a crucial four-game homestand with this contest. The Sparks, who played 11 of their 19 games before the All-Star Game on the road, are seeking a fifth win in six games as they play for the first time since the break.
They have gone 2-1 since starting guard Riquna Williams was suspended 10 games by the league as a result of her April arrest in a domestic violence incident that included two felony counts. First-year coach Derek Fisher is also waiting on star forward Candace Parker, who has been limited to seven games with hamstring and ankle injuries and has not played since July 9.
Nneka Ogwumike has shouldered most of the scoring burden without Williams and Parker and has averaged 21.0 points in her last five games. That has helped create space on the perimeter for Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, who hit six 3-pointers and scored 23 points in the Sparks’ 78-66 win over Atlanta on July 23.
“I think we all just stay in our lane, stay in our place. We take our chances and take our shots when we’re open,” Ruffin-Pratt told The Athletic. “We have players like Chelsea Gray and Nneka who are our leaders, and we look to them for a lot. When we can take some pressure off them, and make the open ones, that makes the game a lot easier.”
The home team has won both games by double digits in the two meetings this year, with Los Angeles posting an 86-74 victory June 27 as Williams, Parker, and Gray paced the Sparks with 18 points apiece.
(Dearica Hamby photo courtesy Las Vegas Aces official Twitter account)