Caitlin Clark, Fever Lose WNBA Opener to Connecticut

Rookie sensation scores 20 points, but 10 turnovers mar pro debut.

AP/Jessica Hill
Guard Caitlin Clark of the Indiana Fever scores her first basket against the Connecticut Sun during the second quarter of a WNBA basketball game, May 14, 2024, at Uncasville, Connecticut. AP/Jessica Hill

Recalling the details of the professional debuts of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, or even Sue Bird might be difficult for even the most ardent basketball fans. As the years pass, Caitlin Clark’s first WNBA game Tuesday night against the Connecticut Sun at Uncasville, Connecticut, won’t be a prominent memory, either.

Her 20 points in the Indiana Fever’s 92-71 loss was marred by 10 turnovers, foul trouble, and 5-of-15 shooting from the field, proving college basketball’s all-time leading scorer has plenty to learn when it comes to playing with professionals. Yet, the official start of the 2024 WNBA season is not only the beginning of what figures to be a special career — it’s also a new era of unprecedented interest in women’s basketball.

“It’s the first one,” Ms. Clark said after the nationally televised game from the Mohegan Sun Arena. “There’s going to be good ones and there’s going to be bad ones. You have to learn from it, move on, and be ready to go again.”

Connecticut, which finished 27-13 last season, proved too experienced, too physical, and too motivated for the Fever, coming off a 13-27 season. Guard DiJonai Carrington took defending Ms. Clark as a personal challenge, making the first half a nightmare for the former Iowa star. Ms. Clark went scoreless for the first 15 minutes, missing her first four shots, and struggled to get an open look against Ms. Carrington.

The Sun guard stripped Ms. Clark of the ball and converted an easy layup to give the Sun a 46-31 lead late in the second quarter. Ms. Carrington finished with 16 points and two steals. Connecticut forward Alyssa Thomas had 13 points, 13 assists, and 10 rebounds for her 12th career triple-double.

“When my teammates trust me and they put that faith in me, it gives me a lot of confidence,” Ms. Carrington said. “This is what they expect from me every night whether it’s Catlin or whoever else. This is the standard.”

The Fever will make their home debut on Thursday against the New York Liberty in front of a sellout crowd excited about Ms. Clark and the start of the WNBA season. And while her impact on the court is only going to grow, Ms. Clark’s impact off the court is already transforming the league.

Indiana flew to Connecticut on a charter flight as part of the league’s newly launched full-time charter program. The league also announced new expansion plans, including a team at Toronto beginning in 2026 and with a Bay Area franchise set to debut next season.

Viewership is already up based on the coverage of the WNBA draft, when 2.45 million viewers tuned in to ESPN, the largest audience for any WNBA telecast since 2000. This comes just as the WNBA is negotiating with Disney on a media rights deal after Amazon and CBS Sports recently extended their partnerships.

Future opponents are moving their games against Indiana to bigger arenas to accommodate the expected crowds. Ticket prices are soaring on the secondary market, and star players in the league are receiving endorsement deals on the heels of Ms. Clark signing a reported $28 million contract with Nike.

A recently released Skims ad campaign sure to attract eyeballs features rookie Cameron Brink of the Los Angeles Sparks, Kelsey Plum of the Las Vegas Aces, Skylar Diggins-Smith of the Seattle Storm, Ms. Carrington, and a retired three-time WNBA champion, Candace Parker.

On the court, Ms. Clark got a taste Tuesday night of what to expect for the rest of the season. Fans not only want to see her, opponents want to beat her. Her 10 turnovers were the most all-time in a WNBA debut.

“They punched us in the mouth,” Indiana’s coach, Christie Sides, said of Connecticut, who claimed a 49-39 lead at halftime and outscored the visitors 27-14 in the fourth quarter. Indiana committed a staggering 25 turnovers overall.

“I would have liked to have played better,” Ms. Clark, who scored 13 points in the second half, said. “I think all of us would say that. As a team, we would have liked to have shown a better product because we’ve had some really good practices leading up to this game. But the biggest thing is to learn from it and move on. Things are going to come fast. This season goes fast. There’s 39 games left and there’s plenty of opportunities to do what we want to do.”

Ms. Clark said she didn’t feel any added pressure leading up to her pro debut despite the hoopla. It was Connecticut’s first sellout of a home opener since their inaugural game in 2003. “I thought it took me a while to settle into the game,” she said. “I thought the second half was a lot better minus some of the turnovers. It’s just about getting more comfortable and that’s going to come with experience and getting to play with these girls. The more games I play the more comfortable I’m going to get.”

While the Fever were making their debut, the New York Liberty, last year’s runner-up to the two-time defending champion Las Vegas Aces, defeated Washington 85-80.

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