Aces fall to Mercury, suffer first loss of season

DJ Cabanlong-The Sporting Tribune
Kahleah Copper scored an impressive and efficient 37 points on Tuesday night, leading the Mercury to a 98-88 win over the Aces.

LAS VEGAS — When Jackie Young gets in an opponents’ face during a scuffle, you know it’s real.

The problem was, it was all too real for the Aces on Tuesday night.

They suffered their first loss of the season, falling 98-88 to Phoenix as Kahleah Copper willed the Mercury to victory with a 37-point effort. Thus, avenging their season-opening loss to the defending champs one week before.

The Mercury made a franchise-record 16 3-pointers on 33 attempts. They were two three-pointers shy of the WNBA regular-season record set by the Aces last May.

The game was all Copper’s at the outset. The ninth-year guard scored 12 of the Mercury’s first 19 points, giving Phoenix a lead that stretched to as many as 10 in the first quarter.

“I think I was just put in perfect positions,” Copper said. “I’m competitive. We came in here last week or whenever it was and we didn’t leave the court. (We were) sort of hanging our heads.

“Shout out to my coaches, for believing in me. We go into those huddles and we draw up those plays and I’m just put in a position to make a play.”

The Aces — or mainly Jackie Young — responded. She scored the first six points of the second, giving the Aces their first lead. It inspired the rest of the group to show up.

Copper and Young were going bar-for-bar in what was a spectacular battle at soldout Michelob Ultra Arena. It was the perfect example of just how deep the talent in this league goes: Two players, largely unknown to the casual fans, put on an entertaining back-and-forth battle.

The battle appeared to have an abrupt end late in the second quarter as Kelsey Plum got a piece of Copper’s leg on a blocking foul, sending the Mercury guard to the floor. Copper was helped off the court by her teammates without putting weight on her leg.

Copper, however, was to walk to the locker room at halftime with a slight limp. This set the stage for her third-quarter return and the fight was back on.

If the first quarter was Copper’s and the second quarter was Young’s, Kelsey Plum did her best to claim the third. Plum knocked down three 3-pointers and dove for a loose ball in the stands.

Her effort, though, was negated by Copper, who scored another seven points in the third quarter.

“The fact that people are coming in here and having career highs on our floor, whether that’s Hamby and in paint giving us work, or (Copper) out here, like, at some point, you’ve got to do the do,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “You have to be about it. That’s two games in a row that I thought we were not very good defensively at all, and it’s our base.”

There’s something to be said about Copper carrying the load the entire game through injury. Young, though, scored only four points in the second half.

The Aces pulled within two points on a Plum 3-pointer with 46.4 seconds remaining, but weren’t able to creep any closer.

The Aces next host Caitlin Clark and the Indian Fever at 6 p.m. Saturday. The game is sold out at at Michelob Ultra Arena. The game will be televised on NBATV.