Kiah Stokes’ experience at UConn prepared her to embrace role for Las Vegas Aces in WNBA title run | Basketball

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Kiah Stokes and her teammates used to drive from the UConn campus in Storrs to Mohegan Sun Arena to attend WNBA games as often as they could during summer sessions. With the goal of playing at the next level in mind, the former Husky center remembers sitting in the stands and envisioning herself in that position one day.

Fast forward nearly a decade and Stokes was playing in that same building as she and the Las Vegas Aces captured the 2022 WNBA Championship. They defeated the Connecticut Sun, 78-71, in Game 4 to take the best-of-five finals series 3-1.

As the final buzzer sounded, Stokes threw her hands up and ran down the court to embrace her teammates. Shortly after the trophy presentation, the Aces danced and celebrated in the visitors locker room, popping and spraying so much champagne in the process that it coated about an inch of the floor.

“In college, it’s the hardest thing you’ve done, and now that I’m a pro it’s the hardest thing I’ve done,” Stokes said standing in the lively locker room wearing a “2022 WNBA Champs” t-shirt and hat with a bottle in hand. “It’s incredible, it’s awesome. … I’m happy. My teammates are excited. We worked really hard for this and to have all our hard work all season pay off it just means the world.”

Stokes played 27 minutes in Game 4, finishing with five rebounds, two points and a steal. The stat line doesn’t jump off the page, but her teammates and coach will be quick to tell you Stokes’ impact for the Aces goes beyond stats. Championship teams come together when everyone knows their role. That’s something Stokes learned while winning three national titles at UConn from 2011 to 2015, and it’s how she excelled this season.

“She’s just been so solid,” Kelsey Plum said. “Just really proud [of her] to come in and step up in those big moments. And we’re asking her to do a lot to guard Jonquel [Jones] and all this stuff. But man, it was really cool to see her respond today.”

 

Stokes started all 10 games for the Aces this postseason after coming off the bench for the majority of the regular season. During the the last week of the regular season Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon decided to take Dearica Hamby out of the starting lineup and instead inserted Stokes alongside stars A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young. Stokes went from playing 15.4 minutes a night and averaging 2.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game to an output of 3.7 points and 7.3 rebounds in 25.9 minutes per game in the playoffs.

“Finally had a bright light come on somewhere,” Hammon joked at practice this week about the decision to play Stokes more. “You got to have those role players that know exactly what their role is in and excel and star in their role. Kiah does what this team needs her to do.

“Now she could go on another team and probably do much more. But on this team, whatever we ask of her — defend, rebound, set screens — she does to the best of her ability, and it’s helped us win a lot of games.”

Playing at UConn under coach Geno Auriemma showed Stokes how to succeed in this position. She had to find where she could impact the game in limited playing time alongside a talented group featuring Breanna Stewart, Stefanie Dolson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. In the process, she averaged at least 6.8 rebounds in her junior and senior seasons, was named the 2014-15 American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year and set a program single-season record with 147 blocks. She still ranks fourth in school history with 325 career blocks.

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