How this Aussie went from the bench to a starring role in a championship

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Cayla George only averaged around eight minutes per WNBA game this season.

But a shock late call-up to the starting line-up resulted in one of the best performances of the Australian’s WNBA career in a title-clinching game for the Las Vegas Aces.

Cayla George celebrates the Aces’ win.Credit: Getty Images

The 34-year-old forward was lifting weights with her husband Kailu earlier this week when her coach Becky Hammon called with big news that George was being thrown into the starting line-up against New York Liberty.

The Aces were the first team in league history to lose two starting players to injury ahead of game four of the best of five series, so Hammon wanted George’s experience and outside shooting to come to the fore.

The move paid off.

George scored 11 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals in 30 minutes as the Aces won their second-straight WNBA title, winning 70-69 and clinching the series 3-1 with Aces centre A’ja Wilson named finals MVP.

Cayla George celebrates her WNBA championship win with the Las Vegas Aces on Thursday.Credit: Getty Images

Many WNBA fans made note on social media of George outscoring Liberty superstars Breanna Stewart (10 points, 14 rebounds) and Jonquel Jones (six points, 11 rebounds), who both shot poorly on the night.

The championship caps off a special return to the WNBA for George, who hadn’t played in the US league since the 2018 season.

“You are talking about her presence on the court today but her presence has been felt every day in our locker room,” Hammon said.

“Her daughter Pearl basically travels with us everywhere. I know being a momma, you feel better when your baby is with you.

“She’s been a part of our fabric. She stayed ready. I called her the other day and I said you are going to start, then I said ‘what are you doing?’ and she said she was in the weight room.

“This is the last day of the season and this girl was in the weight room at 7.30pm at night with her hubby pumping iron.

“She had no idea when or how her number was going to be called. Syd [Colson] was the same and you could look down the line [at the bench players].

“Their professionalism, you get to see the fab four or fab five whatever, but they are heavily supported by that bench.

“They hold each other accountable and this is a special group.”

Cayla and Kailu became parents last year when his sister Serina and her husband Nicholas gave them Pearl under the Torres Strait Island practice of “Ailan Kastom” (or “island adoption”).

George has enjoyed an unforgettable career run in the past 18 months leading the Melbourne Boomers to the 2021-2022 WNBL title then playing a key role in the Opals’ bronze medal at the FIBA Women’s World Cup in Sydney last year.

George then claimed her first WNBL most valuable player honours last season with the Boomers and received an offer from the Aces to make a return to the WNBA for the first time since the 2018 season.

The Aces are the first back-to-back champions since Lauren Jackson’s Seattle Storm in 2001-2002 and George joins Jackson, Penny Taylor, Erin Phillips, Tully Bevilaqua, Belinda Snell, Abby Bishop, Alison Lacey, Rachel Jarry, Sami Whitcomb and Ezi Magbegor as WNBA title winners.

Cayla George shoots a three-point shot with New York coach Sandy Brondello (back right) watching on.Credit: AP

It’s custom for the WNBA champions to be invited to visit US President Joe Biden’s White House although the timing of a visit from the Aces likely won’t be known for some months. George has signed with the Sydney Flames for the upcoming WNBL season so is expected to be back in Sydney as soon as her celebrations and commitments end in Las Vegas.

The Liberty were coached by George’s long-time Australian coach Sandy Brondello, who was chasing her second WNBA title, in her first season as coach of the Liberty after taking charge of a “Super Team” that included superstars Stewart, Sabrina Ionescu and Jones.

Brondello’s team had a three-point shot to win the game and force a game five in Las Vegas but the shot missed. The Liberty are determined to come back bigger and better next season.

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