Clark impresses with 21 in WNBA preseason debut

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ARLINGTON, Texas — In front of a soldout crowd of 7,000 at UT Arlington’s College Park Center, 2024 No. 1 WNBA pick Caitlin Clark made her unofficial professional debut Friday evening, scoring 21 points in the Fever’s narrow 79-76 defeat at the hands of the Dallas Wings.

Newcomers may have come out to catch a glimpse of Clark, but Dallas guard Arike Ogunbowale ensured the hometown team came up on top, ending the contest on a personal 7-0 run and sinking a game-winning, step-back 3-pointer with 3.0 seconds to play.

On a huge day for sports in the Metroplex — in downtown Dallas the NBA’s Mavericks host a potentially series-clinching first-round matchup against the LA Clippers, while the NHL’s Stars could do the same with a win in Las Vegas — fans filtered to Arlington, many with signs for Clark or wearing black and gold shirts with No. 22 from her time at Iowa.

Despite being from the visiting team, the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer received a thunderous cheer as she was introduced as part of the Fever’s starting five, as did fellow former No. 1 pick Aliyah Boston.

Twenty-five miles away from where Clark’s fame took off in the spring of 2023 with a mesmerizing Final Four run with the Hawkeyes, the rookie sensation hit her first two shot attempts of her pro career, both 3-pointers — the first with Wings fans still on their feet waiting for the hometown squad to get on the board.

Clark scored 11 of Indiana’s first 19 points before finishing with 16 in the first half, highlighted by a stepback 3-pointer against veteran Natasha Howard. She went scoreless in the third quarter and sat on the bench for much of the frame after picking up her third and fourth fouls in quick succession.

Upon re-entering the game in the fourth, Clark hit another 3-pointer, her fifth on the night and found Boston for an assist on the pick-and-roll, but she later had a sort of “welcome to the WNBA” moment when, with the game tied and less than 30 seconds to play, Howard blocked her layup attempt. Her final shot at the buzzer in an effort to tie the game fell short.

Clark finished with a final statline of 21 points (6 for 15 shooting, 5 for 13 from 3), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 5 turnovers.

Rookie Jaelyn Brown (21 points) and Ogunbowale (19) paced the Wings.

The Fever are hoping Clark and the rest of their young core, which includes Boston and 2022 No. 2 pick NaLyssa Smith, will lift the franchise to its first postseason berth since 2016, franchise- and league-great Tamika Catchings’ final season before her retirement.

Indiana has a final tune-up Thursday against the Atlanta Dream in Indianapolis before taking on the Connecticut Sun on the road May 14 in their regular season opener.

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