Breanna Stewart gets better of A’ja Wilson in WNBA All-Star Game

LAS VEGAS — The music blaring overhead couldn’t be more appropriate as Team Stewart took the floor for the WNBA All-Star Game on Saturday night. Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” poured out of the speakers for a team featuring three members of the New York Liberty: Breanna Stewart, Sabrina Ionescu and Courtney Vandersloot.

With the all-stars congregating at Michelob Ultra Arena, the Las Vegas Aces were heavily represented in location and on the floor, with captain A’ja Wilson having selected teammates Chelsea Gray, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum.

It was of little surprise that the teams atop the WNBA standings were front and center throughout all-star weekend: They remain heavy favorites to meet in the WNBA Finals after building loaded rosters in the offseason. On Saturday night, with much lower stakes, Team Stewart prevailed for a 143-127 win over Team Wilson.

Afterward, Wilson acknowledged there’s a little something there between her and Stewart. This was the second straight game that the pair served as all-star captains.

“I feel like … the rivalry speaks for [itself] and we just have fun,” he said. “We compete at a high level when we’re going against each other. That’s what it’s all about — just having fun.”

The Aces opened the weekend with a win in Friday’s all-star skills challenge, with Plum and Gray leading the way. Whom did they defeat? The Liberty’s Ionescu and Vandersloot, of course.

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Then Ionescu dominated the three-point contest, missing just two shots. That set a WNBA record, and she seemed to be on a mission after losing the previous competition.

Gray joked afterward that she hopes Ionescu isn’t that hot when the teams meet again — they will battle three more times in the regular season, with an Aug. 6 game at New York next. (Las Vegas won the first meeting, 98-81, last month at home.) But Ionescu remained sizzling Saturday night, producing 18 points, eight assists and six rebounds.

The construction of the all-star teams was familiar: Wilson and Stewart quickly focused on their cohorts. Gray was the No. 1 pick, and Young went No. 3 as Wilson went straight for her teammates who were voted starters. Stewart had to work through the starting pool but then took Vandersloot and Ionescu with her first two picks of the reserve rounds. Gray had jokes before the game, saying she and Wilson wouldn’t trap Young on defense as in the 2022 game.

“It’s a great vibe,” Gray said, “to be able to experience this with them. It’s amazing. I’m so proud of them and how they’ve been playing up to this point. But it’s a great experience when you’re able to do it with teammates. You’re coming here together, leaving here together. We’re kind of on the same path right now.”

The teams continued to go at each other Saturday — within the friendly confines of the all-star matchup, of course. Midway through the second quarter, Plum buried a four-pointer, and moments later Ionescu came down and ripped the twine for four points herself.

In the end, Team Stewart guard Jewell Loyd of the Seattle Storm put on a show; the league’s leading scorer was named MVP with an All-Star Game record 31 points, including 10 three-pointers. Stewart finished with nine points, nine assists and six rebounds; Vandersloot called it a night with just two points.

Plum was in line for another all-star MVP award if Team Wilson had prevailed; she scored 30 points. Wilson added 20, Young had six, and Gray finished with five points, seven assists and six rebounds.

The postgame interview session turned into a party with Brittney Griner, Stewart and Wilson onstage together cracking jokes about who stayed out too late Friday night. Wilson said her team didn’t adhere to curfew, and Griner asked whether she made curfew?

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Ionescu didn’t buy in to the direct competition with the Aces but did say it was nice to have Liberty teammates on her side.

“We’re here because of one another, and the accomplishments that we’ve been able to have on an individual level is fueled by us helping one another,” she said. “So it’s been nice to share the locker room and see familiar faces and to get a win.

“Obviously, we were hoping Stewie was going to pick us and kind of thought she would. All we wanted was a win, and we got that.”

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