Aces quiet Clark-mania with big win over Fever

DJ Cabanlong-The Sporting Tribune
Las Vegas Aces defeated the Indiana Fever on Saturday night and improved to 3-1 on the season as Caitlin Clark and the Fever fell to 1-6.

LAS VEGAS — The Caitlin Clark effect arrived in Las Vegas on Saturday, but like the rest of the WNBA so far, the Aces seemed to have the antidote.

They defeated the Fever by a score of 99-80, moving to 3-1 on the season. Clark and the Fever fell to 1-6 with the loss but will get a bit of a scheduling break after withstanding an early-season gauntlet to the best of their abilities.

Early on, it did seem like the defending champs were caught in the crosswind of everything that surrounded Clark’s one-night stop. Becky Hammon’s defense looked discombobulated, giving up a season-high 28 points in the opening quarter.

Clark finished the first with three points and two assists on 1-of-3 shooting, with the made field goal being a three-pointer over an outstretched Plum. Plum herself scored nine points in the quarter with Clark drawing her assignment for much of the opening frame. Temi Fagbenle and Kelsey Mitchell led the first quarter push from Indiana with six points each.

The second quarter was much closer to the type of outing that was expected. The Aces outscored the Fever 22-10, with Jackie Young leading the charge with 8 points in the quarter and a game-high 17 at halftime. In addition, Young was a remarkable +16 for the quarter.

The third was more of the same from the Aces. This time, it was the two-time MVP A’ja Wilson who shouldered the load and led the team with 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting for the quarter, plus five rebounds. When it was all said and done, Wilson left Michelob Ultra Arena on Saturday as the fourth player in WNBA history to record four straight 20 point, 10 rebound games.

“I feel like I’m just kind of going with the flow,” said Wilson. “Whatever was out there, I was just going to be like, alright, let me just go put the ball in the orange hoop. This year, I feel like I’m really kind of just trying to pick the defense apart and get into my spots. I sometimes settled a lot last year…This year, I feel like I’m starting to really dissect the game a little bit more, watching it a little bit more, and then taking what the defense gives me.”

The Aces held a 72-56 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The moment then became Kate Martin’s, as Clark’s Iowa teammate and fellow rookie scored nine points in the final quarter. This included an and-one that rolled around the rim before falling through the net to send Michelob Ultra Arena into a tizzy.

Martin ended up with 12 points, four more than her former Hawkeye counterpart Clark who finished with eight. That was certainly the biggest surprise of a night that went largely as planned. Martin celebrated with an Iowa contingent after the game that included just-retired coach Lisa Bluder and her replacement, Martin’s aunt Jan Jensen amongst others.

It was a dream night for Martin, whose performance forced Clark to step aside as the game’s most intriguing story. But for the 23-year-old from Edwardsville, Ill., the biggest thing was just being there.

“We’re both living out our dreams right now,” said Martin. “We both always wanted to get to this point and we’re doing that right now. We’re just really grateful that we’re in this position and we have this opportunity. So it’s pretty cool to experience that with your best friend.

Rookie Dyaisha Fair checked in for her first WNBA minutes late in the fourth quarter. With Fair’s entrance, each of the four leading scorers in NCAA Division 1 Women’s Basketball history made an appearance during the contest.

The Aces open their first road trip of the regular season Wednesday against the Lynx in Minnesota. They will then play in Atlanta and Dallas next week before making their way back home for a June 7 match up against the Seattle Storm.