WNBA Finals: Aces’ power trio leads Las Vegas to 2-0 series lead over Connecticut Sun

Chelsea Gray #12 high fives Kelsey Plum #10 of the Las Vegas Aces during Game 2 of the 2022 WNBA Finals.
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The Las Vegas Aces extended their advantage over the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday evening, winning Game 2 of their best-of-five WNBA Finals series in decisive fashion, 85-71. The Aces were powered by 2022 WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson, who had a game-high 26 points and 10 rebounds, and punctuated by 20-point performances from Chelsea Gray (21 points, eight assists) and Kelsey Plum (20 points, seven assists).

The Sun were paced by Courtney Williams with 18 points and five assists. Also in double figures were Jonquel Jones (16 points, 11 rebounds) and Alyssa Thomas (13 points), while Brionna Jones came off the bench to score 12.

Connecticut will host Game 3 on Thursday at 9 p.m. ET (ESPN).

Las Vegas Aces vs. Connecticut Sun: Post-game quotes

Aces’ leading scorer A’ja Wilson on her second straight double-double performance: “I’m just getting to my spots. My teammates are putting me in a situation where I’m comfortable and I’m just getting to my spots and taking what the defense gives me.

Aces’ Chelsea Gray on her performance Tuesday and what it will take to win the title on the road: “It’s gonna take every bit of every body and you know, you can see the stats, you can see the points and what it says, but it’s the toughness, the little things that’s going to get it done. … We’ve been a good road team this year, all year, so we might as well just go ahead and try to win on the road.”

Aces’ Kelsey Plum on her turnaround from six points in Game 1 to 20 in Game 2: “A’ja cussed me out before the game. That’s all I needed. About time I joined the party. They’ve been carrying us all week, so it was good to hit some shots, but we got one more.”

Aces’ head coach Becky Hammon on whether she feels like she’s proving naysayers wrong in first year as head coach: “It’s about putting these ladies in a position to win a championship. That’s been my focus. That’s why I took this job. I felt they had the talent to do it. And I felt that I can build the relationships and build a culture the right way for us to put ourselves in a position to be able to win a championship. Like I said before, we haven’t won anything yet. All’s we did is take care of home court. We did what we were supposed to do, but I’m used to people not picking me. I don’t know if you’re aware. I just do me.”

Connecticut head coach Curt Miller on the Game 2 loss: “We just, you know, felt like we were playing catch-up all night because we couldn’t string together consecutive stops. And again, we’re trying to find disruption. We’re trying to keep this high-powered offense out of rhythm. And tonight, we really struggled to do that.”

Sun’s Jonquel Jones on mindset going home for Game 3: “We’re just taking it one game at a time now. That’s all we can do. We’re gonna go back home, like you said, we’re gonna have our fans behind us, who’ve been with us the entire season, and we’re gonna use that to propel us to win. That’s all we can do.”

Connecticut Sun vs. Las Vegas Aces, Game 2: Fourth-quarter live updates

10:00 Q4: Ahead of the fourth quarter, Kelsey Plum (20 points on 7-of-11 shooting) tells ESPN about her turnaround from her six-point performance in Game 1: “It’s new day. Shooters shoot. There’s really nothing else to say. I have confidence in myself. I have confidence in God. My team has confidence in me, my coach. It’s just a matter of time.”

6:18 Q4: Sun head coach Curt Miller calls a timeout, as nearly midway through the final quarter, Connecticut has added just two points on a pair Jonquel Jones free throws. Aces lead 74-56.

4:28 Q4: Chelsea Gray pushes the Aces’ lead to 20 points after making a 27-foot three point jumper, 80-60.

1:59 Q4: Aces starters head to the bench as Sun take 20-second TO, Aces lead 82-62.

0:00 Q4: Las Vegas wins handily, 85-71, and extends their best-of-five series lead to 2-0 and stand just one win away from a franchise-first WNBA title.

Connecticut Sun vs. Las Vegas Aces, Game 2: Third-quarter live updates

9:34: Q3: Chelsea Gray opens the scoring in the second half with a jumper from 19 feet, putting the Aces back up by 10 at 47-37 and satisfying the record-breaking, sold-out crowd (video below) at Las Vegas’ Michelob Ultra Arena.

7:11 Q3: A 7-0 run that included two buckets from Alyssa Thomas and a three-pointer from Jonquel Jones makes it a three-point game. Aces lead 49-46.

6:03 Q3: Chelsea Gray limps off the court after making a driving layup to put the Aces back out front by seven (video below). She’s got 10 points and seven assists. Gray exits at the timeout and heads back to the Aces’ locker room.

3:38 Q3: A’ja Wilson sinks a bucket from 18 feet to give Vegas another 10-point lead at 58-48. She now has 20 points, as does Kelsey Plum. Gray comes back out from the locker room (back in the game at 3:00 mark).

0:00 Q3: The Aces hold a 14-point lead for the second time during the game, heading into the fourth quarter at 68-54. Riquna Williams nailed 24-foot three-point jumper at the 22.3 mark and A’ja Wilson (22 points) added two from the line with 0.5 left.

Connecticut Sun vs. Las Vegas Aces, Game 2: Second-quarter live updates

6:59 Q2: Sun go on a 6-0 run of their own, edging closer the Aces at 23-29.

5:55 Q2: Kelsey Plum follows up a 3-pointer from 25 feet with a layup to give the Aces another double-digit lead at 34-23.

2:48 Q3: A’ja Wilson extends Vegas’ lead to 13 points (41-28) as she hits 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

19.3 Q3: The Aces call a timeout after the Sun go on a 9-2 run, cutting the deficit to six points. Aces lead 43-37.

0:00 Q3: A’ja Wilson gets a bucket with 1.6 left as the Aces take an eight-point lead into halftime (45-37). Wilson leads all scorers with 18 points, with Kelsey Plum adding 13. Jonquel Jones leads the Sun scorers at the half with 11; Courtney Williams had 10.

Connecticut Sun vs. Las Vegas Aces, Game 2: First-quarter live updates

8:26 Q1: The Sun and Aces pick up where they left off Tuesday, trading baskets as the two teams tie at 6-6 early. A’ja Wilson is first on the board again (video below).

3:45 Q1: Well more than halfway through the first quarter, the tug-of-war continues … A’ja Wilson leads all scorers with eight points, while Courtney Williams has put up six for the Sun. Tied at 14 as Las Vegas takes a timeout.

1:55 Q1: Aces go on a 7-0 run, started and capped by Chelsea Gray (video below), sandwiched around a 3-pointer from Jackie Young. Aces lead 21-14 as Sun call a timeout.

0:00 Q1: Las Vegas ends the quarter on a 9-1 run, finishing the first quarter with a 23-15 lead.

WNBA Finals Game 2: What’s at Stake

  • Now in their fifth year as the Las Vegas Aces, the franchise is looking to capture its first WNBA title under first-year head coach and 2022 WNBA Coach of the Year Becky Hammon. This marks the second time the Aces have appeared in the Finals, after losing in a three-game sweep to the Seattle Storm in 2020. Las Vegas looks to extend its lead to 2-0 before heading to Connecticut for Game 3 on Thursday.
  • The Connecticut Sun aim to get a win on the road Tuesday and even the series as they look to win the franchise’s first ever WNBA title. The Sun have previously qualified for the WNBA Finals three times (most recently in 2019).

Refresher: Wilson’s double-double leads Aces to 67-64 win over Sun in Game 1

The top-seeded Las Vegas Aces jumped out to a 1-0 series lead on Sunday with a narrow 67-64 victory of the third-seeded Connecticut Sun in their best-of-five 2022 WNBA Finals.

Newly minted 2022 WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson led Las Vegas with 24 points and 11 rebounds, while Chelsea Gray added 21 points and Jackie Young chipped in 11 as the franchise won its first WNBA Finals game in franchise history.

The Sun were led by Alyssa Thomas with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Jonquel Jones added 15 points, and Brionna Jones came off the bench to score 12.

What they’re saying ahead of Game 2 between Connecticut Sun and Las Vegas Aces:

Aces coach Becky Hammon on Game 1 win: “Obviously had a rough night offensively. Give credit to (the Sun’s) defense and give credit to us missing. I thought it was a little bit of both. But that’s a tough team. This is where they like the score to be, and we’ll go back, look at the film and make some adjustments. Happy that we won. It’s better than losing, but there’s a lot of things that we can do better.”

Hammon on A’ja Wilson: “Her leadership, who she is, she got (the) ‘it’ factor. She got ‘it’ factor. She gets it. She understands leadership. Because I don’t really know her as a person. I was watching like everybody else was watching from afar. She’s got beast skills. She’s a beast human. She’s a good one. I’ll go to battle with her any day.”

Sun coach Curt Miller on Game 1 loss: “Unfortunately the big stat line difference tonight in a lot of areas was their ability to get to the foul line and play through contact, and we struggled to get to the foul line and any kind of offensive rhythm there in the second half, and that’s a credit to their defense. But you know, really pleased with holding that high-powered offense down and got the style of play we wanted. So we are encouraged but I’m disappointed that it didn’t equate to a win.”

A’ja Wilson regarding getting the Aces’ first win under their belts: It was a game we needed. It was a game we needed not necessarily because, oh, it’s our first win. It’s because it’s something that this is huge for us. These are statement games in a way and when you are playing a good team like Conn, you have to really lock in at all costs. It was good to have a game underneath our belt. The crowd was great and now we have to get ready for Game 2.

Alyssa Thomas on her takeaways from Game 1: “After this game, we have to have a lot of confidence. I mean, this is a three-point game and we had a chance to tie. I think we are very confident and we know that all you need is one (win), and then there’s two games at our place. So, there’s some things we can clean up — of course we can make more shots — but overall we played a hard game.”

Las Vegas Aces vs. Connecticut Sun: Leading scorers ahead of WNBA Finals’ Game 2

Aces leading scorers (postseason points average):

  • Chelsea Gray, 23.6
  • A’ja Wilson, 21.0
  • Kelsey Plum, 17.0
  • Jackie Young, 12.1
  • Riquna Williams, 6.3

Sun leading scorers (postseason points average):

  • Jonquel Jones, 14.4
  • DeWanna Bonner, 12.7
  • Alyssa Thomas, 11.9
  • Brionna Jones, 10.2
  • Natisha Hiedeman, 8.7

2022 WNBA Finals Schedule: Las Vegas Aces vs. Connecticut Sun

Note: Games marked with an asterisk (*) are if necessary

  • Game 1: Sunday, Sept. 11 — Connecticut at Las Vegas
    • Las Vegas won, 67-64 (3 p.m. ET on ABC)
  • Game 2: Tuesday, Sept. 13 — Connecticut at Las Vegas 
    • 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
  • Game 3: Thursday, Sept. 15 — Las Vegas at Connecticut 
    • 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
  • Game 4*: Sunday, Sept. 18 — Las Vegas at Connecticut 
    • 4 p.m. ET on ESPN
  • Game 5*: Tuesday, Sept. 20 — Connecticut at Las Vegas
    • 9 p.m. ET on ESPN

MORE WNBA: 2022 WNBA Finals — Las Vegas vs. Connecticut schedule, how to watch, results

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
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The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.

How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.

Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.

More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.