Kelsey Plum found it again Monday afternoon at Michelob Ultra Arena. That zone in which the basketball game slows down, the hoop gets bigger and she seemingly cannot miss.
“I’m just trying to let it come to me,” the Aces’ fifth-year guard said moments after scoring 26 of her 30 points in the second half of an 85-75 victory over the Dallas Wings. “Sometimes I get in trouble when I try to make it happen. I get so competitive.”
Plum continued her Sixth Woman of the Year campaign with one of the best performances of the season, helping the Aces clinch the No. 3 seed with two games to play. The 27-year-old sparked a second-half comeback with her energy and pace, converting 9 of 12 field goals and 5 of 7 3-pointers.
Las Vegas can clinch the No. 2 seed and an automatic berth into the WNBA semifinals with one more win or one more loss by the Minnesota Lynx.
“She’s going to be the Sixth (Woman) of the Year. If she’s not, there’s something wrong,” Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said matter-of-factly, referring to Plum. “She wants to be a starter. Everybody does. But for us and the way we’re structured, she’s a perfect bench player.”
Laimbeer referred to Monday’s matinee as a “playoff game” because the No. 2 seed is still on the line, but the Aces didn’t play like it during the first two quarters. They were lethargic defensively, allowing Dallas guard Arike Ogunbowale to roam freely around the perimeter en route to 16 first-half points and a 45-36 halftime deficit.
But Plum intervened in the third quarter.
A pair of transition layups preceded two 3-pointers for the former Washington star, who scored 11 straight points and teamed with Riquna Williams to fluster Ogunbowale in the second half.
She was equally effective in the third quarter, slithering around ball screens to attack the basket and relocating off the ball for open 3-pointers to help the Aces separate down the stretch.
“KP can score 30 every single night,” said teammate A’ja Wilson, who added 21 points and 12 rebounds. “The sacrifices that she makes for this team don’t go unnoticed.”
Ogunbowale made 6 of 8 field goals in the second half but was limited to 3-of-13 shooting amid intensified defensive ball pressure. She still led the Wings with 23 points. Allisha Gray scored 15 for Dallas.
Williams supplied 16 points for Las Vegas.
“We’re going for the second seed, which is very important,” Laimbeer said. “We have to play with the energy that we played with in the second half from start to finish, and we’ll be fine.”