Friday July 19th, 2024 11:24PM

A sellout for a WNBA preseason game? Welcome to the league's Caitlin Clark era

By The Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — More than three hours before Caitlin Clark made her WNBA debut with the Indiana Fever in a preseason game against the Dallas Wings on Friday night, some fans among the sellout crowd were lined up outside the arena dressed in No. 22 University of Iowa jerseys.

And Clark put on a show.

The two-time NCAA women’s basketball player of the year led all first-half scorers with 16 points in 16 minutes and finished with a team-high 21 points in the Fever’s 79-76 loss. She was 6 of 15 from the field including 5 of 13 from deep, and had three rebounds, two assists, four fouls and five turnovers.

Her 21 points tied for the game high with Dallas newcomer Jaelyn Brown.

“My biggest goal coming into tonight was to continue to be myself, play aggressive,” Clark said. “I thought that’s what I did. I think there’s a lot to be proud of.

“The crowd was great all night. That’s what you expect with a sellout. Those are going to be the same for the crowds all year long. So whether they’re cheering for you or cheering against you, you’d better get used to it.”

She even had a chance to send the game into overtime. Dallas’ winning basket by Arike Ogunbowale came with three seconds left and Clark’s 3-point attempt from the right corner at the buzzer fell short.

“You couldn’t ask for a better game,” Clark said.

Clark’s first pro basket came on a 28-foot 3-pointer near the left sideline less than a minute into play when the defense lost her momentarily on a baseline inbounds play.

“I was able to t a pretty clean look for my first shot,” she said. “It’s always nice to see your first shot go in when you’re a shooter.”

She hit four 3-pointers in the half and added two of three free throws when fouled on a shot behind the arc.

She was scoreless in the third period and sat for the final five minutes after collecting her fourth foul.

Christina Edge, who lived in Iowa for 35 years before moving to the Dallas suburb of Rowlett three years ago, was one of the fans who showed up early. She said arriving that early at the University of Texas-Arlington’s College Park Center would increase her chances of landing a photo with the basketball phenomenon.

“It’s my birthday,” said Edge, who said her son gave her the ticket as a birthday gift, “and I just want a picture with her!” She carried a bright yellow posterboard sign advertising that plea.

Pailynn Amos, 9, was also outside the arena wearing a yellow Clark jersey with her own sign — “When I grow up I wanna be just like her.”

Rebecca Amos, Pailynn’s mother, made the approximately hour-long drive from the town of Ennis.

“I watched her (on TV) like crazy,” Rebecca said. “So, she (Pailynn) just kind of grew to her. Then we were like, ‘Wow, now she’s in Dallas.’ We could actually go see her!”

Clark received a rousing ovation before tipoff when introduced with Indiana’s starters.

While Clark had plenty of fans in attendance, Wings fans didn’t give her a pass. As she dribbled past her defender at midcourt during the first half, one woman shouted, “Get her! Get her!”

The WNBA’s first preseason game was played the same night the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks hosted the LA Clippers in Game 6 of a first-round playoff series about 20 miles away.

The exhibition game was the first of two for the Fever before Clark makes her regular-season debut on May 14 at the Connecticut Sun.

The game sold out all 6,251 seats soon after it was announced on Dallas’ schedule, specifically requested by Wings president and CEO Greg Bibb after Clark declared in February she would leave college for the WNBA with one year of eligibility remaining. Indiana won the lottery for this year’s first pick last December.

A local television crew recorded the Fever’s arrival at DFW International Airport on Thursday. During Clark’s media session on Friday morning, she addressed the request to sign a couple’s ultrasound picture.

“That was definitely a first,” she said, with a laugh.

Other WNBA players welcomed her.

“It’s really great that Caitlin’s bringing all this attention to women’s basketball, so I’m really grateful for that,” Wings center Kalani Brown said.

“This is what women’s basketball has deserved for quite some time now,” said Fever center Aliyah Boston, last season’s WNBA rookie of the year and college player of the year. “It’s better late than never. I’m really excited for what’s to come for this league.”

The Wings last month said they had sold out their season-ticket allotment, which accounts for about 2,500 seats.

Indiana will return to College Park Center to play twice during the regular season. The team plays July 17 in the last game before the WNBA’s nearly monthlong Olympic hiatus and one day after the MLB All-Star Game at the Texas Rangers’ home stadium less than three miles away. The Fever also play there Sept. 1.

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AP WNBA: https://apnews.com/hub/wnba-basketball

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