Aces return home to host Mercury

Four games in a span of seven days, and all on the road. That’s a recipe for disaster for a young team that doesn’t have much of a winning history in recent years.

But the Las Vegas Aces came away with a split of those four road games and now are feeling pretty good as they return to their desert playground.

Bill Laimbeer’s squad, led by rookie A’ja Wilson, returns to the Mandalay Bay Events Center on the Las Vegas Strip Sunday to take on the Brittany Griner, Diana Taurasi and the 9-3 Phoenix Mercury.

The Aces (3-8) started their road trip with a loss to the Mercury, then beat the Indiana Fever and New York Liberty before finishing their weeklong journey with a 77-67 loss on Friday at Dallas.

After the game, Laimbeer said his team made strides but has a lot to learn.

“Well, I told the players after the game that I thought it was a solid road trip for us,” he said. “We played quality teams, got a couple of wins, but we’ve got to learn the mental part of the game. Every possession counts. (Friday), we got a little mentally fatigued and it cost us.”

Veteran Kayla McBride echoed her coach’s assessment of the Aces’ play.

“Getting wins anywhere in this league on the road is a big deal, so for this young team to get two back-to-back I think was really good,” she said. “Obviously, we didn’t finish the road trip how we wanted to, but carrying this momentum, the league that we play in, the schedule that we have, we kind of have to be prepared no matter what. We’re going to travel back, get ready to play Phoenix for our home fans.”

Phoenix is coming off an 89-72 home win on Saturday night against the Connecticut Sun and extended its winning streak to seven games.

Taurasi scored 19 to lead four other Phoenix players in double figures. The Mercury held the Sun to 36.7 percent shooting from the field.

The Mercury defeated the Aces on June 10 by tightening up on defense and controlling the boards where they held a 49-40 advantage, including plus 12 on the offensive end.

Phoenix, no doubt, will employ the same strategy Sunday.

The trio of Taurasi, Griner and DeWanna Bonner were practically unstoppable and combined to score 58 points against the Aces. Griner also recorded seven blocks.

“I was just trying to keep them from scoring,” Griner said after the win. “Block the shot, keep them from scoring, give us another possession. It pumped me up to try to get another one.”

The Aces hung tough, but just didn’t have enough firepower against a veteran team.

“When we needed it, we buckled down defensively,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said after the win. “To be a championship team you have to rebound, and we did, we went and got some boards.”

Heading into Saturday night’s game against the Sun, the Mercury were averaging 82.5 points per game and giving up 79.7. The Aces were allowing 85.5 points and a league-high 37.5 rebounds per game.

Expect the Mercury to exploit the Aces’ weakness on the boards.

“I wish we outrebounded our opponents every single game, but when we need to we do,” Brondello said.