All Aces: Hammon earns 1st win as coach in debut

    Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

Becky Hammon retired from the WNBA as a player in 2014 after a decorated 16-year career. In her return to the league as a head coach Friday, she appreciated her players’ passion in Las Vegas’ 106-88 victory at Phoenix.

“What made it really cool for me is I could feel their energy for me. I could feel how bad they wanted it for me,” Hammon said of the Aces’ season opener as the WNBA’s 26th season got underway Friday. “So that was probably the most special thing about it. They know there’s a spotlight, and eventually, I’ve gotta move out of it and they’ve gotta move into it. It’s about them. They’re the ones getting stops and buckets out there. I’m just there to help them.”

Indeed, Hammon’s WNBA return after eight years as an NBA assistant in San Antonio has put her in the spotlight. And against a Mercury team that was without four players — including center Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia since February — the Aces took full advantage to make the most of Hammon’s debut.

Las Vegas shot 58.2 percent from the field, including 11 of 21 (52.4 percent) from behind the arc, with Kelsey Plum making five 3-pointers. Dearica Hamby led the way with 24 points, while A’ja Wilson had 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Last season, the Aces had the league’s second-best record under coach Bill Laimbeer, but lost to Phoenix in the semifinals. Now Hammon is at the helm for the Aces, and another first-time head coach, Vanessa Nygaard, is leading the Mercury.

“Schematically, defensively, I’d said we did it right about 80 percent of the time,” said Hammon, who gave the Aces’ overall performance a B grade. “I’m a coach, I want it 100 percent of the time. I’ll stay on them. They all know, I’ve told them I’m going to coach them hard on that end of the floor. Offensively, I know their skills at times will just take over. There’s no need to get fancy; they can flat-out score the ball. I give them a lot of trust in that aspect.”

Hamby, who was 11 of 14 from the field, said Hammon’s offensive instruction fits the Aces’ talent well.

“Since the first day Becky has been here, her emphasis has been pace and space,” Hamby said. “For me, that’s how I play. We’ve always been a good transition team. But I think with this open floor, it creates a lot more opportunities in transition. And defensively, we’re scrapping. People don’t like to play against that.”

Wilson, who was the WNBA’s MVP in 2020, said, “For sure we took care of business. This is just the beginning. We still have a lot to learn from one another. But this is actually huge, just to get Becky her first win.” The Aces’ home opener is Sunday, as they face Seattle (ESPN2, 10 p.m. ET.)

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