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Wilson’s double-double leads 2-time champion Aces past Mercury 89-80 in season opener

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A’ja Wilson had 30 points and 13 rebounds, and the two-time champion Las Vegas Aces opened their season Tuesday night by holding off a late rally by the Phoenix Mercury to win 89-80.

Jackie Young added 23 points for Las Vegas and Kelsey Plum scored 19. Diana Taurasi led the Mercury with 23 points, Kahleah Copper scored 19 and Natasha Cloud and Rebecca Allen each finished with 14.

Before the game, the Aces were given their championship rings and the banner was unveiled, raised and placed next to the 2022 one. Then at the game’s first timeout, the announced sellout crowd of 10,419 was encouraged to sing along with “We are the Champions.” That’s the largest-ever crowd for the Aces in Michelob Ultra Arena.

Aces minority owner and seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert and Las Vegas Raiders coach Antonio Pierce were among those sitting courtside.

The Aces went on an early 21-3 run to go up 29-11 late in the first quarter with Wilson scoring 17 points, but the Mercury didn’t go away quietly. They trailed just 42-41 at halftime, taking advantage of an Aces team that made 1 of 11 3-pointers in the first half. Phoenix made 8 of 17 from long distance.

The game remained close until the fourth quarter when the Aces slowly pulled away, taking as much as an 83-71 lead before the Mercury again rallied by scoring nine points in a row to make it a three-point game with 1:17 left.

Kiah Stokes and Young then combined to go 6-for-6 from the free throw line to seal the victory.

Both teams were shorthanded. The Aces were without point guard Chelsea Gray, still recovering from a lower left leg injury suffered in last year’s WNBA Finals. Phoenix’s Brittney Griner is out indefinitely because of a broken toe.

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