Caitlin Clark struggles in WNBA debut as Connecticut Sun dominate Indiana Fever

Smothering defense by the Connecticut Sun torpedoed the much anticipated pro basketball debut of Indiana Fever rookie Caitlin Clark.

The two-time national college player of the year struggled for much of her first WNBA regular-season game as Clark labored for each of her 20 points in Connecticut’s convincing 92-71 victory.

“There’s a lot to learn from, it’s the first one,” Clark told reporters after the game. “There’s going to be good ones, there’s going to be bad ones.”

In the Sun’s first home-opener sellout since 2003, fans at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville divided their allegiance by cheering for both the hometown team and Clark in the most celebrated pro introduction in women’s basketball history.

The building roared when Clark drilled each of her four 3-pointers but highlights were hard to come by. Connecticut forced the Fever guard into a game-high 10 turnovers, among 25 Fever giveaways, and kept her to just a trio of assists.

“Obviously too many turnovers — that’s not going to get the job done,” Clark said. “There’s a lot of things to learn from.”

Clark added: “I would have liked to have played a little better tonight.”

She picked up a pair touch fouls in the first quarter, leading to an early break on the bench. And when Clark was on the floor, Connecticut’s DiJonai Carrington and her teammates gave the 2024 No. 1 draft pick little room to operate.

Clark didn’t score her first points until there was 5:24 left in the second quarter. The rookie gained a little more offensive footing in the second half, scoring 13 points after intermission.

But turnovers were still an issue, with five giveaways in each half.

“I thought it took me a little while to settle into the game,” Clark said. “I thought the second half half was a lot better minus some of the turnovers.”

Fever coach Christie Sides said Clark was not to blame for all 10 turnovers.

“We’re got to help her out, we’ve got to do a better job of coming back to the ball,” the coach said.

Carrington insisted Tuesday’s defensive lockdown of Clark was just another day at the office, no matter the national spotlight shined on Mohegan Sun Arena.

“This is what they expect from me every night whether it’s Caitlin or whoever we’re playing,” she said. “This is the expectation, this is the standard.”

Sides said she’s confident Clark will be able to adjust to the length and speed of elite defenders like Carrington.

“(The Sun) had a game plan against her and it’s just going to take some time for her to figure that speed and quickness and physicality out,” Sides said. “We try to rep it and mimic that at our practices with our practice guys as much as we could. But it’s just not the same.”

Carrington’s strong game was only marred by leg cramps that sent her to the locker room for a portion of the second half.

“I got to hydrate better so that’s on me, less coffee,” she laughed.

Meanwhile, Connecticut veteran DeWanna Bonner scored 20 points and climbed to No. 5 on the WNBA’s all-time scoring list.

Indiana is pinning its hopes on Clark as the franchise seeks to improve on a conference-worst 13-27 record last season.

The Fever’s home opener is set for Thursday against last year’s WNBA runner-up, the New York Liberty, at 7 p.m. ET at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

That game will be streamed on Amazon Prime and aired locally on NBC affiliate WTHR in Indianapolis and WWOR in and around New York City.

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