Video: Caitlin Clark reflects on WNBA debut, discusses turnovers and more |T

Caitlin Clark reflects on WNBA debut, discusses turnovers and more

 

The national spotlight that Caitlin Clark has occupied for the last year burned as bright as ever for her WNBA debut on Tuesday night in Connecticut. Celebrity fans, another sellout crowd, and a national television audience that’s expected to rival the NBA Playoffs were all fixated on the Indiana Fever rookie and first-overall pick.

Only for the first time in recent memory, Clark — who helped bring women’s basketball into the mainstream during her record-setting college career at Iowa— failed to deliver.

She didn’t drain any of her signature 3-pointers from the mid-court logo and failed to make an impact as a playmaker in the 92-71 loss to the Connecticut Sun. Even when things did go her way, like when she pickpocketed Connecticut’s DiJonai Carrington midway through the third period, Clark followed with a bad pass that was easily stolen by the Sun forward Brionna Jones.

Her parents, Brent and Anne Clark, appeared visibly distraught on the Mohegan Sun Arena scoreboard after seeing their daughter whistled for traveling — one of her 10 costly turnovers in the game.

Clark’s night was ultimately encapsulated by a wide-open 3-point attempt that clanked harmlessly off the rim in the game’s final minutes, effectively ending any hope of a comeback. In the end, Clark had 20 points, but made only 5 of 15 field goals while finishing with a mere three assists.

‘I just had too many turnovers,’ Clark told reporters afterwards. ‘That’s not gonna get the job done.’

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) reacts during the first quarter of her WNBA debut

 

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) reacts during the first quarter of her WNBA debut

 

When asked for the biggest surprise of her first WNBA regular-season contest, Clark pointed to the ‘physicality’ of the game before returning to the frustrating topic of the team’s 25 turnovers.

‘Some uncharacteristic stuff like picking up the ball and travel, I dribble off my foot, I pass it on the inbound and turn it over,’ she said. ‘Just a few things. You have to be crisper. Those are situations where you’re just giving the other team the ball. I think collectively, 25 turnovers is going to make it really hard for us to win.’

The day began with much more optimism as the visibly excited 22-year-old grew impatient for tip-off.

‘I just want to get out there and play,’ she laughed during her pregame press conference, later admitting that ‘this is definitely up there with some of the best moments of my life.’

 

 

And at first glance, the pros looked to be every bit as easy as college ball had been for Clark, who received the biggest crowd response of any player on either team during pregame introductions.

She took the opening tip from Aliyah Boston and, after some nifty maneuvering around the Sun defense, returned the ball to her teammate for an easy bucket and her first assist as a pro.

But Clark’s transition to the WNBA quickly became more difficult over the next few minutes as she missed her first three shots, committed two controversial fouls, and soon found herself on the bench for all but the final seconds of the first quarter.

And things didn’t get any easier when she did return to the floor, largely due to the suffocating defense of 6-foot-4 All-Star DeWanna Bonner and Carrington, the latter of whom robbed Clark at mid court for an easy fast-break layup.

‘DiJonai is an athletic guard,’ Fever coach Christie Sides told reporters after falling to 0-1 on the year. ‘They had a game plan against her. It’s just gonna take some time for her to figure that speed and quickness and physicality out.’

Clark broke through midway through the second when stole a bad pass, charged up court and briefly paused at the 3-point arc, causing defenders to stop in their tracks, before continuing to the basket for a contested layup.

It may have come a bit later than she had hoped, but Clark’s first WNBA basket actually went according to plan.

‘What I’ve thought about is like, it would be nice to get a layup as my first basket and why not get a high percentage two?’ she asked reporters rhetorically during her pregame press conference.

She’d have to wait until the final minute of the first half for her first 3-pointer, and only after missing her first three attempts from beyond the arc, including one look from the logo.

Caitlin Clark (22) walks down the court after a turnover against the Connecticut Sun

 

Caitlin Clark (22) walks down the court after a turnover against the Connecticut Sun

Her disappointing debut aside, Clark’s impact has already been felt across the WNBA, where Fever games have become one of the hottest tickets in American sports. In fact, Tuesday’s game was the Connecticut Sun’s first opening-night sellout since 2003 as throngs of fans in Fever and Iowa Hawkeyes apparel packed into the casino’s 9,000-seat arena — a venue that averaged just over 6,000 fans a game last season.

And on the secondary market, where tickets are resold for many times their face value, some paid thousands to see the Des Moines native play in her first regular-season game. The median price was even around $230.

Attendees included New England Patriots players, legendary Connecticut basketball coach Geno Auriemma (who famously neglected to recruit Clark) as well as former Huskies star Jenniffer Rizotti, while the Ying Yang twins provided the halftime entertainment.

Of course, that sort of thing is nothing new for Clark, who has been playing in front of big names and sellout crowds while attracting record television audiences throughout her college career at Iowa.

 

Connecticut Sun guard DiJonai Carrington (21) fouls Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark

 

Connecticut Sun guard DiJonai Carrington (21) fouls Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark

And in that respect, it’s the WNBA that needs to adjust to Clark, and not the other way around. She and Boston, a former South Carolina star and No. 1 draft pick in her own right, have been playing in front of national audiences since they were teenagers, while the WNBA was fighting to lure college fans to the pros.

‘They’ve been part of those college teams that have those kinds of crowds every night,’ Sides said before the game. ‘So it’s probably not something too different for them, but in this arena and for the WNBA to have these sellout crowds, it’s just something we never experienced and it’s so exciting.’

Similarly, last month’s WNBA Draft in Brooklyn was the most watched in league history, and there are other encouraging metrics as well.

For instance, Tuesday’s Fever-Sun opener was wagered on more than any game in WNBA history, according to BetOnline.ag. What’s more, the total handle (amount wagered) is expected to exceed that of the Indiana Pacers’ playoff game with the New York Knicks on Tuesday night.

Even Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy put $25,000 on the Fever covering the eight-point spread against the favored Sun on Tuesday – a bet he would ultimately lose.

Indiana Fever forward Aliyah Boston turns to shoot as Connecticut's Brionna Jones defends

 

Indiana Fever forward Aliyah Boston turns to shoot as Connecticut’s Brionna Jones defends

Clark did lead the Fever in scoring on Tuesday, but that was hardly by design.

Prior to the game, she admitted there’s less pressure to score in the WNBA because she’s surrounded with such talented teammates. Clark even held out hope that she wouldn’t have to carry the scoring load as she did at Iowa, where she set the NCAA record for points.

‘I mean, hey, that would be great,’ she said.

‘I think my time in college it was like I had to do that for my team and I think now being on the professional level, it’s like seeing how I can impact the game,’ she said when asked to explain her transition from the college game to the pros.

‘Maybe it’s not an assist or it’s not a basket.’

But by the end of Tuesday’s loss, that comment was starting to look like wishful thinking.

The Fever, a WNBA bottom feeder in recent years, need Clark to score and dish like she did for the Hawkeyes. And while she may only be one game into her career, the clock is already ticking on this season.

‘The biggest thing is just to learn from it and move on,’ Clark concluded. ‘Things are gonna come fast. There’s 39 games left, and plenty of opportunities left to do what we want to do.’

Clark makes her home debut against the New York Liberty in Indianapolis on Thursday night.

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