Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark looks to pass the ball...

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark looks to pass the ball defended by New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart in the second half of a WNBA basketball game at Barclays Center on Saturday, May 18, 2024. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The fans filled Barclays Center to the rafters for a view of two marquee attractions in this Saturday matinee — the 2023 WNBA finalist Liberty making their 2024 New York debut and the new face of women’s basketball, Indiana’s Caitlin Clark, making her New York debut.

They saw a very good show from both.

The Liberty completed a home-and-home sweep of the Fever with a 91-80 victory in front of a national TV baudience and the loud sellout crowd of 17,735, a regular-season record for the team.

“It felt like a playoff game to be honest, but I think [it’s] just the buzz around us,” Sabrina Ionescu said. “Everyone came to watch us and understanding what we were able to accomplish last year, and I believe a lot of new basketball fans really fell in love with our team, especially here in New York.

“And so it’s kind of coming back and showing them what we’ve improved on and what we’ve worked on.”

Clark drew attention, too.

She turned in the best shooting and scoring effort of her three-game-old pro career. The 22-year-old point guard went 9-for-17, including 4-for-10 from three-point range, en route to 22 points. She had eight assists and six rebounds, although she also committed eight turnovers.

“I think that obviously the buzz and just the eyes that Caitlin has brought from Iowa now to the WNBA is going to be a collective win for all,” Breanna Stewart said.

Stewart, the 2023 MVP, topped the Liberty with 24 points. Jonquel Jones delivered her second straight double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Betnijah Laney-Hamilton had 13 points. Ionescu had 12 on four three-pointers. Courtney Vandersloot contributed 10 points and five assists.

So the Liberty, with their 2023 starting five back, are off to a 3-0 start.

“Year 2, these players know how to play with each other and the system that we have,” coach Sandy Brondello said.

Clark is learning about playing at this level on the fly for the Fever (0-3), who have lost eight straight to the Liberty.

The No. 1 scorer in D-I history and No. 1 overall pick in the April draft now is facing older, longer and more physical players.

“This is the best of the best,” Clark said.

Clark posted a double-double in Indiana’s opening 92-71 loss at Connecticut on Tuesday night, but not really the kind you want — 20 points, 10 turnovers.

Then the Liberty, with Laney-Hamilton at the forefront, held her to 2-for-8 shooting and nine points Thursday night in their 102-66 win at Indiana.

The transition game to the WNBA for Clark will require some patience.

“I think that’s honestly going to be the biggest challenge for myself coming from college to the professional level is first of all the physicality, but also understanding this is a young group; this is a young team,” Clark said. “I’m young. It’s going to be a learning process.”

Fever coach Christie Sides isn’t sweating over that.

“She’s a student of the game,” Sides said. “She wants to get better. She wants to learn. Caitlin is going to be fine. She is a great player.”

This was her first time playing in New York at any level, and she looked more like her old Iowa self.

Clark went 4-for-5 from the floor, including 2-for-3 on three-pointers, and scored 10 points to go with three assists in the first quarter.

“Obviously, she’s a knockdown shooter,” Stewart said.

But after Clark pulled up and sank a three-pointer to give Indiana a 14-13 edge, the Liberty closed the first quarter on a 20-8 run to go up 33-22.

They had the touch over those first 10 minutes, shooting 70.6%, including 7-for-9 from beyond the arc.

Then the Liberty floored it.

Nyara Sabally converted a three-point play to start the second quarter. Vandersloot fed Laney-Hamilton, who fed it back to Vandersloot for a layup. Laney canned a three-pointer. So did Jones.

It was an 11-2 run, opening it up to 44-24.

Later in the quarter, Clark launched a three-pointer from 33 feet away — good.

Ionescu then launched one from 28 feet away — good.

The Liberty were up 50-29. By halftime, it was 57-37, and they had made 12 of their 15 three-pointers, tying a franchise record for a single half. The starting five went on to set a WNBA record with all five making multiple three-pointers.

“We’ve got some great shooters,” Brondello said.

The lead grew to 23 in the third. Indiana got within 13 late in the period before the Liberty took a 73-58 advantage into the fourth.

The lead slipped to 12, then climbed to 21. The 11-point final margin was as close as it got.

“Our chemistry is building,” Jones said. “We understand how to trust each other, and it’s showing out there.”



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