A’ja Wilson and the Las Vegas Aces face the Dallas Wings in the WNBA semifinals. The Aces are trying to become the first team to repeat as champs since Los Angeles in 2001-02. Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

NEW YORK — A’ja Wilson and the Las Vegas Aces cruised through the opening round of the playoffs and now stand six wins away from becoming the WNBA’s first repeat champion in over two decades.

Next up for the defending champions are the Dallas Wings – a team that handed the Aces one of their few losses during the regular season. New York faces Connecticut in the other semifinal matchup. Both best-of-five series begin Sunday.

Las Vegas, which is looking to be the first team to repeat as champs since Los Angeles in 2001-02, had no trouble sweeping Chicago. The Aces didn’t trail in winning both games. Now Wilson and her teammates will have to deal with the formidable front line of the Wings, which features 6-foot-7 Teaira McCowan, 6-4 Satou Sabally and 6-2 Natasha Howard.

“They are going to clog the paint up. That’s their bread and butter. It’s rare you see all five crash (for rebounds),” Wilson said. “When it comes to Dallas, they are all crashing. … The biggest thing is playing to our strengths. It’s really clogged because they are a big team. For us, we got to play to our strengths and figure that out.”

In the lone victory this season over Las Vegas, the Wings outrebounded the Aces by 10.

Rebounding also will be key in the New York-Connecticut series. The Liberty swept the four games this season and have a huge advantage on the inside with Breanna Stewart and former Sun star Jonquel Jones. Connecticut is without star center Brionna Jones, who tore her Achilles’ tendon in June.


“It’s no secret our size is an issue. So our discipline has to be great, and our attention to detail,” Connecticut Coach Stephanie White said. “Offensively, we have to make them work and find ways against their length, speed and athleticism to get good looks.”

Jonquel Jones has been playing great in the last few months, and New York went 14-0 when she’s had a double-double this season. She was instrumental in the team’s sweep of Washington in the opening series.

The Liberty will need to find a way to slow down Connecticut’s dynamic duo of Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner.

“They’re two players who aren’t afraid of moments or to make big plays,” White said. “They’ve just continued to rise to the challenge.”

Thomas has been a huge reason that the Sun have advanced at least this far the past five seasons.

“The common denominator in all of them is Alyssa Thomas,” Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve said. “I don’t know of a player with a greater will to win. That’s a player who just puts her team on her back.”

Here are other tidbits for the semifinals:

CHAMPIONSHIP PEDIGREE: Of the four teams left, only Las Vegas has won a title in its current city. The Wings won three championships when the franchise was in Detroit (2003, 2006, 2008). New York and Connecticut have reached the WNBA Finals a combined eight times and never won.

MVP RACE: The three leading candidates for the league’s MVP award – Wilson, Stewart and Thomas – have gotten their teams this far. The WNBA will announce who wins its top individual award on Tuesday before Game 2.

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