Welcome to the WNBA: Kaitlyn Clark’s regular season debut wasn’t easy

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Welcome to the WNBA. Don’t say Diana Taurasi didn’t try to warn everyone.

Katelyn Clark is no longer at Iowa, even if the gameday vibes at Mohegan Sun Arena make that impression. If Connecticut Sun’s Alyssa Thomas didn’t make it clear in the first few minutes, Dewanna Bonner finished the job.

The 15th-year veteran hung around for nearly a minute, drawing a three-point play that pushed the lead to 16 and running out of time for any Clark heroics. A few steps back, Thomas let out one of the night’s many protest screams. A sellout crowd of 8,910 — still short of the Suns’ 2023 season high — answered the call again in the waning seconds when DeJonai Carrington led them to celebrate a 92-71 Connecticut victory.

No generational talent, whether she’s in college or eventually turns pro, is going to walk into a senior team’s house and light it up in her new debut. The Connecticut Sun is a franchise so used to dishonoring disrespect that they built an entire identity around it. For months now, all they heard was how Clark would set the league on fire, win the MVP and one day break the scoring record.

The only record the rookie claimed on opening night was the Indiana Fever’s turnovers (10) — the most in a WNBA debut. The team total of 25 was more than Clark’s quiet 20 points on an inefficient 5-of-15 shooting (4-of-11 from 3) in her first official WNBA game.

Connecticut Sun guard DeJonai Carrington (21) fouls Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22), Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in Uncasville, Kan.  (AP Photo/Jessica Hill) during the third quarter of a WNBA basketball game

“Connecticut came in and they punched us in the mouth tonight,” Indiana Fever head coach Christy Said said. “That’s who they are. The Connecticut Sun are a good team.

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“I thought our first couple of possessions were OK and then they kind of went on a run and we really struggled to score,” Clark said. “So I would definitely agree with Coach.”

To put it more bluntly: reality hits hard. That’s all Taurasi was saying.

Clark said his first impressions of his first game revolved around physicality. Ender Thomas, an up-and-coming moment for the league, excited fans from the moment the schedule was released and Clarke announced she would enter the WNBA draft. Two quick fouls by Clark forced him to the bench halfway through the first quarter, and Thomas gave the seniors an early lead. The crowd roared, and Thomas walked to the free-throw line and smiled.

As Clark comes into the night, the spotlight shifts to the shoulders of Thomas and his two torn labrums. The MVP runner-up nearly averaged a triple-double last season with a 13-point, 13-assist, 10-rebound performance to finish just short of the second-closest MVP vote in league history.

“For me, personally, I felt like a lot of people felt last season was a fluke and it’s not going to happen again this season,” said Bonner, who moved into fifth on the all-time scoring list on Tuesday. “So [Thomas] It’s huge for her to set the tone and be like, ‘Yeah, it wasn’t a fluke, I’m back.’

Thomas, an 11-year veteran, cut through a defender to recover his own shot early in the fourth, and because Sun head coach Stephanie White doesn’t like guard matchups, she stuck Thomas with Clark on the perimeter. . The fourth quarter was Clark’s most aggressive and successful until the vet said.

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“Fans of the WNBA who have been around for a while know exactly what kind of player she is,” White said. “To introduce her to a new audience, [to] Introduce her versatility, her competitive spirit and the way she approaches the game [and] Her profession? It was huge. Tonight is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever wanted to happen.

Millions followed Clarke and from the college ranks to the WNBA, Thomas’ talent is on every roster. She’s done everything, been everywhere, she’s done it her whole life. But Carrington, a three-year reserve who will move into a starting role this year, is the best fit for Clark.

“It’s automatic because that’s what she does. She’s an elite defender,” White said of the matchup.

Clark gave Aliyah Boston the starting points for the fever – Clark wanted to complete a task – which Clark had said earlier in the day – before the excitement subsided. Clark missed his first three attempts and didn’t score the first points of his career until the 5:24 mark of the second quarter. It was the play she had predicted two hours earlier.

“Honestly, I thought it would be nice to get a layup as my first basket,” Clark told reporters. “Why not get a higher percentage to start with, right?”

They all fell short against the Suns’ elite defense. Clark’s expected first 3 fell from 26-feet with 30 seconds to go before the break. He scored three more in the contest, some Sun scoring in response, but nothing to start the iconic run of Iowa lore. Clark added three assists and made two more saves in foul trouble over the next three quarters.

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Nalisa Smith continued her strong preseason with 13 points as the Fever’s other double-digit scorer, but she was 5-for-12 from the field. Boston struggled again to find shots and scored four points (2-for-6 shooting). Erika Wheeler and Kelsey Mitchell come off the bench as they return from an ankle injury that cost her 8 runs the season before. Fever Sun attempted 50 shots for 66.

Fever holds promise, but that skill will take more than 10 practices and two preseason warmups. Pages began the day by describing the team’s May schedule as “unbelievable” in strength, and called it “pleasant” by the end of the night. The team returned to its rental home at midnight Tuesday to prepare for its home opener against championship runner-up New York Liberty on Thursday. The Fever head to Brooklyn for a rematch on Saturday.

The truth is, there are no real days off in this league. Tougher enemies come faster than Clark’s 3s. Leave the movie as the main option and have no time for team practice.

“The biggest challenge for me, and that’s what I told them, is that you don’t have time to sit in this game and be mad or upset,” Sides said. “We’ve got to step up. We’ve got to go to New York and figure out what we did tonight and do it better.

Clarke and Smith echoed this sentiment. It’s “back to the drawing board,” Clark said, and it’s in their favor to execute, Smith added. They never said it would be easy.

“I know the outside world thinks I’m going to do some amazing things, but it might take a while,” Clark said at the morning shootaround. “If things aren’t right right now, or if a game isn’t as amazing as I want it to be, be kind to yourself, keep learning, and keep building on it.”

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