Aces receive championship rings in home opener, pummel Sparks

While the Vegas Golden Knights were playing an important game less than 2 miles down Frank Sinatra Drive at T-Mobile Arena, the Las Vegas Aces were throwing their own house party at Michelob Ultra Arena.

Ionescu, Stewart, Vandersloot help Liberty hand Sun 1st loss of season

Two female basketball players are seen fighting for the ball at the beginning of a half.
The Las Vegas Aces collected their championship rings, unveiled their banner commemorating last year's WNBA title, and cruised to a 93-65 blowout of the visiting Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday. (@WNBA/Twitter)

While the Vegas Golden Knights were playing an important game less than 2 miles down Frank Sinatra Drive at T-Mobile Arena, the Las Vegas Aces were throwing their own house party at Michelob Ultra Arena.

A sellout crowd of 10,191 cheered as the Aces received their championship rings from owner Mark Davis, continued to emit electricity as the team's new game introduction played on the jumbotron, and roared endlessly as Las Vegas dismantled the Los Angeles Sparks, 93-65, on Saturday night.

"It's a great environment," WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. "To sell out the home opener here for the ring ceremony is great, especially when the Knights are playing down the road. That's pretty outstanding that they sold out tonight. So we love the fan base here and we love Vegas."

A'ja Wilson had 23 points and six rebounds to lead the Aces, who led 31-13 after the first quarter and 59-28 at halftime. Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young added 19 and 16 points, respectively.

For Los Angeles, it was Nneka Ogwumike leading the way with 16 points, while Karlie Samuelson chipped in with 13.

The game was merely a sideshow, though, as the night seemingly belonged to the fans who were there to see the unveiling of the championship banner hanging next to Aces coach Becky Hammon's retired jersey, the players receive their championship rings and the entertainment throughout the night.

Grammy and American Music Awards winner Anita Baker performed the national anthem, and platinum recording artist Coi Leray performed at halftime.

"We wouldn't be able to wear these rings without y'all," Wilson told the energetic crowd.

Now with the Sparks, after an offseason trade, Dearica Hamby was the first player from last year's championship squad to receive her ring.

"Obviously a moment that I know I should probably be proud of and embrace," Hamby told The Associated Press before the game. "I mean, me getting a ring is special, but I'm going to do it for the fans."

And the fans reciprocated with an exuberant response as she and Davis embraced at midcourt.

It's the type of energy the defending champs expect all season, considering the franchise has taken things to another level in time for the season.

Earlier this year, the Aces opened their new 64,000-square-foot facility in nearby Henderson, adjacent to the Las Vegas Raiders' headquarters, which many of the players said has set a new standard for every franchise in the league.

They held their media day earlier this month inside Vu Studios, a multi-story production facility with increased technological capabilities. The payoff came Saturday night when several video creations from that day played out on the arena's jumbotron, including veteran Sydney Colson appearing to run through a forest with an axe as Michael Jackson's "Thriller" plays while closing out the scene by replicating Jack Nicholson's notorious scene in "The Shining."

Which they did loudly for her when Colson scored on a breakaway for her first points of the game with 4:24 left in the game.

It was a scene Engelbert appreciated not only for the Aces, but the entire league.

"I think you see what a great sports town Vegas is, and the Aces were here even before the Raiders," Engelbert said. "Whenever a franchise has a first win in their history, like Chicago in '21 and Vegas last year, I think it helps lift the entire league."

Liberty hand Sun 1st loss of season

Breanna Stewart scored 11 of her 21 points in the decisive third quarter to lift the New York Liberty to an 81-65 win over the visiting Connecticut Sun on Saturday.

Stewart, who scored a franchise and career-high 45 points in her home debut last Sunday, took over in the third. The Liberty trailed 38-32 at the half before putting up 25 points in the period. Stewart hit three of New York's five 3-pointers in the quarter and also had four steals to give the Liberty a 57-51 lead heading into the fourth.

Courtney Vandersloot kept the momentum going in the final quarter, both by scoring and finding open teammates. She finished with 18 points and 10 assists for the Liberty (2-1). Sabrina Ionescu added 17 points.

Tiffany Hayes scored 16 points and DeWanna Bonner added 14 to lead the Sun (3-1), who lost in the WNBA Finals last season.

Saturday marked the first regular season game that Jonquel Jones played against her former team. The 2021 MVP was traded in the off-season from Connecticut to New York as part of a three-way deal that sent Liberty guard Rebecca Allen to the Sun.

Jones had played her entire career with Connecticut since being acquired in a draft day trade in 2016 from Los Angeles. Allen had spent the first seven years with New York. The Liberty honoured the fan favourite with a tribute video during a timeout.

Jones scored the first basket of the game, but didn't do too much after that finishing with seven points. The Liberty led 7-4 early before Connecticut scored 10 straight points.

New York was able to cut into that lead, but trailed 38-32 at the half.