John Locher / Associated Press
Indiana Fever’s Erica Wheeler, of Team Wilson, reacts after making a 3-point shot against Team Delle Donne during the first half of a WNBA All-Star game Saturday, July 27, 2019, in Las Vegas.
Saturday, July 27, 2019 | 3:32 p.m.
A’ja Wilson, through a hoarse voice and in a walking boot, addressed the crowd before the game. Liz Cambage opened her team’s scoring with a 3-pointer and jokingly shoved Kayla McBride off her when McBride had the audacity as a guard to try and take the ball up court.
The Aces were center-stage at the WNBA All-Star Game at Mandalay Bay Events Center on Saturday as Team Wilson picked up a 129-126 victory over Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne’s team. More than the game, All-Star Weekend was a chance for the league to show off Las Vegas as one its premier basketball towns, and introduce the rest of the league to Aces fans.
“This was a chance for us to really show out and really get the same treatment we’ve been getting,” McBride said. “This community has embraced us and loved on us no matter what happened and we’re just trying to give it back to them any way we can, and today was one of those days.”
The Aces enter the second half 13-6 with a two-game lead for first place in the Western Conference. They just missed the playoffs last season, then swung a big trade in the offseason to land Cambage from Dallas. Already they are one of the favorites to win the WNBA title, and have become an elite on-court team.
Off the court isn’t too shabby either. WNBA’s stars raved about the city during their trip for All-Star weekend, and in just their second year in Las Vegas since their relocation, the Aces have become the sort of model the WNBA is looking for.
“Las Vegas being the entertainment capital of the US, at least in many people’s eyes, so it’s great for the brand,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. “We need to do this in every market and all of our 12 franchises to make sure we’re maximizing the momentum around women’s sports and women’s basketball.”
The game had all the shenanigans that make All-Star Games so fun. It wasn’t just the Aces.
Chicago guard Allie Quigley drained a three in the face of wife Chicago teammate Courtney Vandersloot face during the third quarter. Indiana guard Erica Wheeler, who stands 5-foot-7, jumped on the back of 6-9 Phoenix center Brittney Griner like a koala, then took a jump ball against the 5-8 Vandersloot. Griner attempted four threes and hit none, so resorted to dunking four times in faux frustration.
There were 9,157 in attendance — shy of a sellout — but the crowd was still a raucous one. The fans were engaged throughout the game and when Wheeler was named game MVP after a game-high 25 points, the first undrafted player in league history to grab the honor, the fans started an MVP chant as Wheeler fought back tears.
Las Vegas passed its first test as an WNBA city showcase city with flying colors. And if one player has her way, it won’t be the last time the All-Star game comes to the Strip.
“It was electric, it was positive and I think we should have it here every year,” Wilson said. “It was really nice to just have, like (McBride) said, to have people go through what we go through on a daily basis, just the love and energy from the fans.
“It was just fun, it was great energy around the town.”
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