Sports

Caitlin Clark struggles early in WNBA debut before scoring 20 points in Fever's loss to Connecticut

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — (AP) — The Caitlin Clark era in the WNBA has officially begun, although it got off to a slow start.

Clark went scoreless for nearly the first 15 minutes, before getting more comfortable and finishing with 20 points in the Indiana Fever's 92-71 loss to the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday night.

She knows she'll have to play better and has a lot to work on, but also understands that it's only the first game in her career.

“It was physical and obviously it wasn’t like the best start,” Clark said. “It was just a lot of things to learn from.”

Clark said before the game that she wouldn't get too caught up on her play in her first game.

“If something isn’t perfect, my life’s not going to end,” she said. “If, you know, we lose the game tonight, my life’s not going to end. I’m just going to learn from it and come back on Thursday and try to help us win.”

One thing that Clark definitely will want to improve on is her turnovers. She had 10 of Indiana's 25 — many unforced.

“Some uncharacteristic things, like pick the ball up and travel, dribble it off my foot,” she said. “A few things that, you know, you have to be crisper.”

Clark got off to a really slow start as she missed her first four shots before finally getting on the board midway through the second period. The NCAA's all-time Division I scoring leader stole the ball around the foul line and drove the length of the court before laying the ball in. Clark had said before the game that she thought her first basket would come on a layup since it was a "high-percentage" shot.

Clark later added two free throws and hit a 3-pointer with 29.9 seconds left in the first half to finish the opening 20 minutes with seven points, hitting two of her seven shot attempts.

She carried some of that momentum into the third quarter when she scored five of her points to try to rally the Fever, but it just wasn't enough.

“We got to help her out, better job coming back to the ball,” Fever coach Christie Sides said. “We worked on that several times this week. We have to do a better job getting someone back to the ball.”

Before her first basket, Clark struggled and got into early foul trouble. Her first shot was a drive to the basket that bounced hard off the glass and into Aliyah Boston’s hands for a putback. Clark missed a runner in the lane, and then her 3 from the left wing just rimmed out. She did have an assist on one basket and threw a nifty behind-the-back pass to teammate Boston, but last season's Rookie of the Year was called for a traveling violation.

Meanwhile, Clark was called for two fouls on the defensive end. The second one drew loud boos from the sellout crowd. The crowd gave the No. 1 pick in the draft a loud ovation when she was announced in the pregame introduction.

Before the game, Clark admitted she was eager for her WNBA debut. It was one of four games on the league's opening night to tip-off the WNBA's 28th season. New York, which was runner-up in the WNBA Finals, rallied to beat Washington 85-80 to start the evening.

She sat around most of the day at the hotel and had to wait to get on the court when her team arrived nearly 2 1/2 hours before tipoff.

“I just want to get out there and play,” she said. “I got plenty of time to sit and think about it. Still this is exciting. This is fun. ... There's just a different buzz in the air.”

Even before playing a WNBA game, Clark has left her mark in the pros. The league's draft had record viewership, and her No. 22 Indiana Fever jerseys have been flying off the shelves. There were hundreds of fans walking around the arena in Clark jerseys and T-shirts.

Three WNBA teams have already moved their games to bigger arenas to keep up with the demand for tickets to watch her play. Her debut in Connecticut is sold out — the first sellout for the Sun in a season opener since they played their inaugural game at Mohegan Sun Arena in 2003 after moving from Orlando. There's also a huge media turnout with nearly four times the number of credentials issued for this game than a normal Sun contest.

This was the second sold-out crowd Clark has played in front of in her extremely young WNBA career. Her preseason game in Dallas was sold out, too. More than 13,000 fans also turned up for her only home preseason game.

Clark's home debut will be Thursday, when the Fever host the New York Liberty.

“Our preseason game was tremendous, doing it for real is going to be a lot of fun; it's going to be loud," Clark said. "Use the environment to our advantage.”

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AP WNBA: https://apnews.com/hub/wnba-basketball

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