On Sunday night, Las Vegas Aces fans got a taste of what South Carolina women’s basketball fans witnessed over the past four years — A’ja Wilson is really, really good.
Taking the floor at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas for her WNBA preseason debut, Wilson was dominant in her first game as a professional, an exhibition contest against the Chinese national team.
In nearly 22 minutes of play, Wilson scored 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting to lead her team. She also pulled down seven rebounds, tied for the team lead, dished out three assists and went 4-of-5 from the free throw line, as the Aces won, 98-63.
“We wanted to establish her and her presence on our basketball team,” Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer told reporters after the game. “We wanted to show the world what capability she has, especially in the pro game — the lane is so much bigger, that she can operate. One of her greatest strengths is she can drive the basketball quick and aggressively, and so the lane is a lot (more) open for her.
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“She still had a little nerves at the start, missing some free throws, but overall I thought it was a really solid performance for her.”
“I felt good. It felt really, really good,” Wilson said of Sunday’s game. “I feel like we had great energy as a team, great chemistry. We’ve only been playing together for about a week, so for us to come out and really come together is something special.”
Wilson is coming off a senior season with USC in which she averaged 22.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, sweeping every national player of the year award in the process. She was selected No. 1 overall in the WNBA draft by the Aces and was invited to the U.S. national team training camp at the end of April but could not attend as she finished up her final classes at South Carolina.
The U.S., led by Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley, also faced the Chinese national team to end their camp, and won that game 83-46. No American scored more than 16 points in the contest.
Also making her U.S. professional debut Sunday, former Gamecock Alaina Coates took the floor for the first time as a member of the Chicago Sky. Coates was drafted in 2017 but missed the entire season with an injury. She played briefly overseas this offseason, but in her first WNBA action against the Atlanta Dream, she had two points, one rebound and three blocked shots in 21 minutes.
Coates plays again on Monday in the preseason against another former USC player, Tiffany Mitchell, and her Indiana Fever. Other Carolina alums Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis open their preseason with the Dallas Wings on Monday as well.