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Caitlin Clark’s wake-up call: Indiana Fever rookie struggles with TEN turnovers in WNBA debut as Connecticut Sun earns 92-71 victory in front of sold-out crowd

The spotlight Caitlin Clark has occupied over the past year was brighter than ever for her WNBA debut Tuesday night in Connecticut. Celebrity fans, another sold-out crowd and a national television audience expected to rival the NBA playoffs were all obsessed with the Indiana Fever rookie and No. 1 overall pick.

Only for the first time in recent memory, Clark — who helped bring women’s basketball into the mainstream during her record-breaking college career at Iowa — failed to deliver on her promises.

She drained none of her trademark three-pointers from midcourt and failed to make an impact as a point guard in the 92-71 loss to the Connecticut Sun. Even when things went her way, like when she robbed Connecticut’s DiJonai Carrington midway through the third period, Clark followed with a bad pass that was easily caught by Sun forward Brionna Jones. Her parents, Brent and Anne Nizzi-Clark, looked visibly distraught on the scoreboard at Mohegan Sun Arena after seeing their daughter whistled for traveling — one of 10 costly turnovers in the game.

Clark’s night was ultimately summed up by a wide-open 3-point attempt that rang harmlessly in the final moments of the game, effectively ending any hopes of a comeback. Ultimately, Clark finished with 20 points, but made just 5 of 15 field goals while finishing with just three assists.

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) reacts during the first quarter of her WNBA debut

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) reacts during the first quarter of her WNBA debut

The day started with much more optimism as the visibly excited 22-year-old couldn’t wait to be informed.

“I just want to go out and play,” she laughed during her pre-match press conference, later admitting that “it’s definitely one of the best times of my life.”

And on the surface, the pros seemed just as easy as college ball had been for Clark, who received the biggest crowd response of any player on either team during pregame introductions.

She took Aliyah Boston’s early tip and, after some nifty maneuvering around the Sun’s defense, kicked the ball back to her teammate for an easy bucket and her first assist as a professional.

But Clark’s transition to the WNBA quickly became more difficult over the next few minutes as she missed her first three shots, committed two controversial fouls and quickly found herself on the bench for every second of the first quarter , except the last ones.

And things didn’t get any easier when she returned to the court, largely due to suffocating defense from 6-foot-4 All-Star DeWanna Bonner and backcourt partner DiJonai Carrington, who latter having robbed Clark in the middle of the field for an easy fast break layup.

Clark broke through midway through the second when he stole a bad pass, charged down the court and briefly stopped at the 3-point arc, forcing defenders to stop in their tracks, before continuing toward the basket for a contested layup.

It may have come a little later than she had hoped, but Clark’s first WNBA basket went as expected.

Caitlin Clark (22) goes down the court after a turnover against the Connecticut Sun

Caitlin Clark (22) goes down the court after a turnover against the Connecticut Sun

“What I was thinking about is it would be nice to have a layup as the first basket and why not get a high percentage of twos?’” she rhetorically asked reporters during her press conference pre-match.

She would have to wait until the final minute of the first half for her first 3-pointer, and only after missing her first three attempts from beyond the arc, including a look at the logo.

Clark’s impact has already been felt throughout the WNBA, where Fever games have become some of the hottest tickets in American sports. In fact, Tuesday’s game was the Connecticut Sun’s first sold-out opening night since 2003, as crowds of fans in Fever and Iowa Hawkeyes gear packed the casino’s 9,000-seat arena — a venue that averaged just over 6,000 fans per game last season.

Attendees included New England Patriots players, legendary Connecticut basketball coach Geno Auriemma (who neglected to recruit Clark), and former Huskies star Jenniffer Rizotti, while the Ying Yang twins provided entertainment at halftime.

And on the secondary market, where tickets are resold for several times their face value, some paid thousands of dollars to see the Des Moines native play her first regular season game. Keep in mind that the Connecticut Sun commanded an average ticket price of just $33 last season en route to a playoff berth.

Of course, this sort of thing is nothing new for Clark, who played in front of big names and sold-out crowds while drawing record television audiences throughout his college career at Iowa.

Connecticut Solar guard DiJonai Carrington (21) fouls Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark

Connecticut Solar guard DiJonai Carrington (21) fouls Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark

And in that regard, it’s the WNBA that needs to adapt to Clark, not the other way around. She and Boston, a former South Carolina star and first-round draft pick in their own right, have been playing in front of national audiences since they were teenagers, while the WNBA struggled to lure college fans to the pros.

“They’ve been one of those college teams that has that kind of crowd every night,” Fever coach Christie Sides said before the game. “So it’s probably not something that’s very different for them, but in this arena and for the WNBA, having these sellout crowds, it’s just something we’ve never experienced and it’s so exciting.”

Likewise, last month’s WNBA draft in Brooklyn was the most-watched in league history, and there are other encouraging metrics as well.

For example, Tuesday’s Fever-Sun opener was bet on more than any game in WNBA history, according to BetOnline.ag. Additionally, the total amount (amount wagered) is expected to exceed that of the Indiana Pacers’ playoff game against the New York Knicks on Tuesday night.

Even Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy put $25,000 on the Fever on Tuesday, covering the eight-point spread against the favorite Sun – a bet he would eventually lose.

Indiana Fever forward Aliyah Boston turns to shoot as Connecticut's Brionna Jones defends

Indiana Fever forward Aliyah Boston turns to shoot as Connecticut’s Brionna Jones defends

Clark led the Fever in scoring Tuesday, but that wasn’t intentional.

Before the game, she admitted that there was less pressure to score in the WNBA because she was surrounded by very talented teammates. Clark even offered hope that she wouldn’t have to carry the scoring load like she did at Iowa, where she set the NCAA scoring record.

“I mean, hey, that would be great,” she said.

“I think during my college years it felt like I had to do this for my team and I think now being at the professional level it’s like seeing how I can impact the game.” , she said when asked to explain her transition from college. game to the pros.

“Maybe it’s not an assist or it’s not a basket.”

But by the end of Tuesday’s loss, that comment was starting to seem like wishful thinking.

The Fever, a bottom-feeder in the WNBA in recent years, needs Clark to score and play like she did for the Hawkeyes.

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