Sun. May 26th, 2024

WNBA Clark impresses with 21 points in WNBA debut: ‘A lot to be proud of

WNBA Clark impresses with 21 points in WNBA debut: ‘A lot to be proud of

In front of a packed crowd of 6,251 fans at UT Arlington’s College Park Center, Caitlin Clark, the No. 1 pick in the 2024 WNBA draft, made her unofficial professional debut on Friday evening. Despite her impressive performance, scoring 21 points, the Indiana Fever narrowly fell to the Dallas Wings with a final score of 79-76.

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Clark, known as the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer, showcased her scoring prowess early in the game, contributing 11 of Indiana’s first 19 points. By halftime, she had amassed 16 points, including a notable stepback 3-pointer over veteran Natasha Howard. However, foul trouble plagued her in the third quarter, forcing her to spend much of the period on the bench after picking up her third and fourth fouls in quick succession.

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Returning to the game in the fourth quarter, Clark continued to make an impact, sinking her fifth 3-pointer of the night and dishing out an assist to Aliyah Boston on a pick-and-roll play. However, a defining moment came in the closing seconds of the game when, with the score tied, Howard blocked Clark’s layup attempt as the shot clock expired, providing a “welcome to the WNBA” moment for the rookie sensation.

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Clark’s impressive performance saw her tally 21 points, shooting 6 for 15 from the field and 5 for 13 from beyond the arc, tying for the game high with Dallas rookie Jaelyn Brown. Additionally, she contributed 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 5 turnovers.

Reflecting on her debut, Clark emphasized her commitment to playing aggressively and staying true to herself. “My biggest goal coming into tonight was to continue to be myself, play aggressive,” she remarked. “I thought that’s what I did. I think there’s a lot to be proud of

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While Clark garnered attention as a newcomer, it was Dallas guard Arike Ogunbowale who stole the spotlight, securing the victory for the hometown team with a clutch performance. Ogunbowale scored Dallas’ final seven points, including a game-winning, step-back 3-pointer with just 3.0 seconds remaining. Despite Clark’s valiant effort, her off-balanced final shot at the buzzer in an attempt to tie the game fell short.

The game took place amidst a vibrant sports atmosphere in the Metroplex, with the NBA’s Mavericks clinching a first-round series victory against the LA Clippers in downtown Dallas, and the NHL’s Stars engaging in their own first-round battle in Las Vegas, albeit ending in defeat. Nevertheless, fans flocked to Arlington, many showing support for Clark with signs or by donning her No. 22 jersey.

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Despite being part of the visiting team, Caitlin Clark, the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer, received an enthusiastic cheer from the crowd as she was introduced as part of the Fever’s starting lineup. The same warm reception was extended to fellow former No. 1 pick, Aliyah Boston. Although the majority of the crowd favored the Wings, there was ample support for Clark, especially as she showcased her shooting prowess by hitting four of her eight 3-point attempts in the first half. The game remained tightly contested, with the lead changing hands seven times and nine ties throughout.

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Reflecting on the exciting matchup, Clark expressed her appreciation for the intensity of the game, stating, “You couldn’t ask for a better game, really, for women’s basketball to kick off this [WNBA] year. A tremendous game coming down to the wire, both teams competing. That’s going to be the story of the entire year.”

 

Just 25 miles away from where her fame soared during her mesmerizing Final Four run with the Hawkeyes in the spring of 2023, Clark made a memorable debut by hitting her first two shot attempts of her professional career, both of which were 3-pointers. The first shot came off a baseline out-of-bounds play where Clark’s defender lost track of her, much to the delight of the Fever fans.

Reflecting on her successful start, Clark commented, “I was able to get a pretty clean look for my first shot. It’s always nice to see your first shot go in when you’re a shooter.”

Before the game, Caitlin Clark emphasized her main goal for the early WNBA action: staying true to herself. Reflecting on her performance afterward, she felt she mostly achieved that goal by being aggressive and playing hard. However, she acknowledged the need to reduce turnovers and adjust to the physicality of the WNBA. Head coach Christie Sides noted that Clark appeared fatigued and requested a substitution at the end of the first quarter.

Both Clark and Sides recognized that there will be a learning process as Clark adjusts to playing with and against such high-level talent. Clark mentioned postgame that she doesn’t have to create everything herself and can utilize screens from her teammates or set screens herself to make things easier.

Coach Sides praised Clark’s work ethic but also noted the importance of finding shots that require less effort. Wings coach Latricia Trammel attributed Clark’s quieter second half to her team’s improved defensive communication and intensity.

While fans were eager to watch Clark, they also witnessed memorable performances from Jaelyn Brown and Arike Ogunbowale, who led the Wings.

Ogunbowale, despite having a tough shooting day, highlighted the importance of teamwork and resilience in basketball.

The Fever are hopeful that Clark, along with the rest of their young core, including Aliyah Boston and Kysre Gondrezick, can propel the franchise to its first postseason berth since 2016.

Indiana has one final preseason game against the Atlanta Dream before their regular-season opener against the Connecticut Sun on May 14. Clark emphasized the importance of learning from the preseason game, watching film, and preparing for the next matchup.

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