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Jackie Young’s career scoring night lifts Aces to crucial win

Jackie Young didn’t know she was nearing a career high Wednesday night at Michelob Ultra Arena. Not until her Aces teammates told her during the fourth quarter of a 102-81 victory over the Minnesota Lynx.

“Whenever I got close, I knew they were going to get me the ball,” the third-year guard from Notre Dame said. “I just came out aggressive.”

Young scored a career-best 29 points on 14-for-19 shooting to spark the Aces, who dominated the Lynx before an announced crowd of 5,663 to strengthen their stranglehold on the No. 2 seed with three games remaining.

Chelsea Gray finished with a career-high 14 assists, conducting an offense that shot 55.1 percent from the field and committed only five turnovers. A’ja Wilson added 20 points and six rebounds, and Dearica Hamby returned from an ankle injury she suffered two weeks ago to post 14 points and six rebounds.

The Aces (21-8) lead the Seattle Storm (20-10) by 1½ games and are 2½ games ahead of the Lynx (18-10), to whom they lost twice this season. The Connecticut Sun (22-6) are the No. 1 seed.

“We were just clicking on all cylinders,” Gray said. “We were just moving the ball and being really efficient. When we’re able to do that, we’re really hard to guard.”

The Aces didn’t do that Sunday in a 92-84 loss to the Chicago Sky and emphasized the importance of execution before the playoffs. No more stagnancy on offense, they preached.

More passing. More cutting. More movement. More pace.

The Lynx raced to a 10-4 lead, but the Aces found their groove by stringing together stops and uncorking a potent transition offense. A 17-4 run preceded a 55-41 halftime lead.

Las Vegas did not turn the ball over in the first half amid immaculate point guard play by Gray and Kelsey Plum, who had 13 points and five assists.

The third quarter belonged to Young, who scored eight consecutive points to ignite the crowd and help the Aces extend their lead. Gray and Plum slithered off ball screens to probe the paint and draw extra defenders. Hamby and Wilson were active cutting to the basket. And Young stepped into open midrange jumpers and hit one after another.

“We had a talk the other day about being aggressive,” said coach Bill Laimbeer, referring to a conversation with Young. “I didn’t expect 29 points, but I’ll take it.”

Laimbeer said the Aces will have two days off before resuming practice in preparation for their final home game Monday against the Dallas Wings. The season concludes with road games against the Phoenix Mercury and Chicago. With victories in two of the final three games, Las Vegas can clinch the No. 2 seed and an automatic double bye into the WNBA semifinals.

But Laimbeer doesn’t want to look too far ahead.

“We haven’t clinched anything yet,” he said. “It’s just one win.”

Riquna Williams scored 16 for Las Vegas. Aerial Powers led Minnesota with 20 points.

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.