Sports

Breanna Stewart ruins Caitlin Clark's home debut by leading Liberty past Fever 102-66

INDIANAPOLIS — (AP) — Indiana Fever rookie Caitlin Clark learned some tough lessons from her first two WNBA tests.

She's struggled with fouls, expectations and, like most rookies, making a smooth transition from college ball to the pro level. And, here, there's no grading curve, as Clark found out Thursday night.

Two-time league MVP Breanna Stewart ruined Clark's regular season home debut by scoring 31 points to lead the New York Liberty to a 102-66 win in front of a sellout crowd of 17,247.

“I think this is how you want everything to be, you want a sellout crowd like this,” Stewart said. “It gives you a little bit of a playoff atmosphere feel because usually in the playoffs, the games are sold out. We might be changing our terminology if we're just going to continue to set the precedent of sellouts home or away."

Clark's presence has changed everything about the women's sport — except the wins and losses for Indiana, which hasn't made the playoffs since 2016 is now 0-2 in the Clark era.

This game was Indianapolis' most anticipated rookie debut since Peyton Manning with the NFL's Indianapolis Colts in 1998, but things didn't go according to plan and.

She picked up three fouls in the first half and a fourth early in the third quarter. When Clark went to the bench early in the second quarter, she took out her frustrations on a towel and at one point after a Fever miscue she flipped the ball over her head to the ref.

Clark finished with nine points, seven rebounds and six assists and showed some progress by finishing with three turnovers — none after the first quarter — and a dramatic improvement over the 10 she had in Tuesday night's season opener. Clark also was 2 of 8 from the field and just 1 of 7 on 3-pointers.

“I have great perspective of on everything and I think the same is true of my college career,” she said before the game. "There were some moments that were absolutely amazing and there were some moments where I was not happy with how I played and how I performed and how my team performed. But that’s just life. That’s just basketball.”

Clark did not speak with reporters after the game though she did two lengthy interview sessions earlier Thursday.

Sabrina Ionescu and Jonquel Jones each scored 14 for New York, which has won eight straight over Indiana. Jones also had 10 rebounds.

Aliyah Boston had a game-high 12 points and seven rebounds, and the Fever came away looking to do more to help Clark.

“People are playing her aggressively and we can do a better job of trying to help her get some space and get free,” Indiana forward Katie Lou Samuelson said. “We want her to keep fighting. We want to keep figuring out the best way to work with her and, like I said, I think we can continue to help her.”

The Liberty didn't just make life difficult for Clark, they made things tough for Indiana.

Stewart helped New York seize control by taking a 25-16 lead after one quarter. And when the Fever cut the deficit to 32-27 midway through the second quarter, Stewart answered with four straight points to spur a 12-0 run that gave the Liberty a 44-27 cushion late in the first half.

Indiana finally responded by closing the third quarter with 12 straight points, the first seven coming courtesy of Clark, to make it 67-56 after three.

But the defending Eastern Conference champs opened the fourth quarter on a 12-0 spurt and cruised to their second straight victory.

MAKING THE TRIP

Indianapolis is quickly becoming a favorite destination for Clark's former teammates and coaches. Ex-Hawkeyes guard Gabbie Marshall showed up and posed for a photo with her longtime friend following Clark's first home preseason game last week.

On Thursday, the entourage included former coach, Lisa Bluder, who announced her retirement Monday, and new Hawkeyes coach, Jan Jensen — Bluder's longtime assistant.

UP NEXT

The Fever and Liberty head back to New York on Saturday for a rematch.

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