Liberty forward Kayla Thornton and Fever guard Caitlin Clark battle...

Liberty forward Kayla Thornton and Fever guard Caitlin Clark battle for possession after Thornton swiped the ball away from Clark in the first half of a WNBA game at Barclays Center on Sunday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The WNBA’s new four-star attraction returned to Barclays Center on Sunday night to play for the second time. This time the questions about rough stuff toward Caitlin Clark followed the Fever rookie from Indiana to Brooklyn after Saturday’s incident with Chicago’s Chennedy Carter.

Clark got knocked down on a hit from her blind side by Carter before an inbounds play late in the third quarter of the Fever’s win. She handled it as if it were no big deal, and the league changed the call from a common away-from-the-ball foul to a flagrant 1 earlier Sunday.

So it was on to the next stop — and it wasn’t a fun stop for Clark and the Fever.

A sellout crowd of 17,401 saw the Liberty easily win their third straight game and ninth straight against Indiana, 104-68. Betnijah Laney-Hamilton scored 20 points, including the 2,000th of her career. Jonquel Jones had 18 points and 13 rebounds and Sabrina Ionescu added 16 points.

And Clark? Well, she had the worst game of her pro career for a tired Fever team that was playing its 11th game in 20 days and dropped to 2-9.

The Liberty, who matched their inaugural team’s 7-2 start for the best in franchise history, used a variety of defenders against Clark, starting with Laney-Hamilton, and held her to 1-for-10 shooting and a career-low three points. Clark left in the fourth quarter after having an ear bumped on a screen. She was said to be OK after the game.

Said Ionescu: “I think collectively as a team, we understand who kind of the head of the monster is on that team and trying to just make everything tough and difficult.”

Clark has handled the whole issue of the heavy physicality she has faced at this level as no big deal. It takes her back to her first two years at Iowa.

“I was still pretty frail,” she said. “I still am pretty frail, but I feel like I added quite a bit of muscle over my college career. That was probably the tactic early on in my college career, too, just be really physical with her because she’s not probably as strong as everybody else.

“But also, I grew up playing basketball with the boys, so it’s always been physical and feisty. And then I grew up with two brothers. Things were very, very physical, a lot of blood, a lot of tears, whatever it was. So I’m definitely prepared for it.”

Liberty coach Sandy Brondello called Carter’s foul “probably inappropriate. That’s not what we do.”

The Fever have been sending clips to the league of hard contact on Clark, trying to get the top overall pick in the draft some  calls.

Indiana coach Christie Sides said: “New rookies, No. 1 picks — players, they want to show that they’re vets in this league and they want to make it hard on these rookies.”

Clark is averaging 15.6 points, 6.4 assists and 5.1 rebounds.

“Caitlin, she’s a fabulous player, so she’s going to get a lot of attention naturally,” Brondello said. “I think she’s handled herself brilliantly, to be quite honest.”

The Liberty took this first of five games in the race to reach the Commissioner’s Cup final after winning it last year. They went ahead 26-6 in the first quarter and led 55-37 at halftime.

The Fever, who also had Aliyah Boston leave with an ankle issue in the fourth quarter, cut it to 12 in the third, but the Liberty responded with a 24-5 run to go up 81-50.



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