Kaitlyn Clarke recovers from an ankle injury as the Fever fails to secure a first win

INDIANAPOLIS — As if massive expectations and a brutal opening schedule weren’t big enough challenges for Kaitlyn Clark to face at the start of her WNBA career, she faced another culprit on Monday night: her left ankle.

The Indiana Fever rookie and No. 1 draft pick, who had been the subject of a relentless defensive focus during the transition to the professional game, rolled her ankle in the second quarter of the Fever’s 88-84 loss to the Connecticut Sun, an injury that left Clark sprawled on the court and clutching her ankle in pain.

Clark was unable to get to her feet without assistance and entered the locker room immediately after being assisted. The home crowd at Gainbridge Fieldhouse fell silent as Clarke’s teammates surrounded her. Meanwhile, her coach held her breath.

“I was worried,” said Christy Sides of Indiana. “a lot.”

It was the latest in a series of hurdles Clarke dealt with to begin her highly anticipated rookie season. But just as Clarke was able to maintain her composure in the face of other challenges, she likewise shook off an ankle injury, coming back in the second half to start a late run that saw the Fever (0-4) nearly pull off an upset in what would have been their first win.

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“Every basketball player has had an ankle injury,” Clark said, downplaying the injury after she scored 17 points and five assists. “If you are [haven’t]You’re not a real football player, I think. I don’t know. “It’s going to be a little rough, but I’ll be good.”

The Fever now has two losses to both the Sun and New York Liberty, experienced teams that are a combined 7-0. Losses are mounting, and so is some frustration. But Monday’s game was Indiana’s most competitive performance yet, and Clark’s contributions went a long way toward making things interesting in the fourth quarter.

She buried a 33-foot 3-pointer with 7:17 left that gave the Fever a 70-68 lead. The shot — her longest as a pro and second-longest by a WNBA player this season — was an old Clark bucket that harked back to some of her exploits at Iowa State. Predictably, this sparked a delirious response from the audience who had come looking for a reason to revolt and had been anticipating one of Clark’s huge performances.

Clarke also took control of the attack late, bringing pace and setting up post players Aaliyah Boston and Timmy Fagbenle. Ultimately, the Fever failed to capitalize on opportunities, such as a potential layup that Boston missed in the final seconds.

“I thought it was a great shot,” Clark said of her 3-pointer. “It gave us some momentum, got the crowd going. Our crowd was unbelievable. … I think you can see the progress this team is making, and that’s why it hurt so much because we were there and had a lot of chances to win the game, and then you don’t do it.” “

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Parties were encouraged by Clarke’s handling of the ankle injury. Within minutes of leaving the field, Clarke asked the coach to re-attach his ankle and quickly returned to the bench in an effort to get back into the game.

“It’s tough,” Sides said. “She didn’t want anyone to help her off the field. I love that about her. I love that’s what she goes for. She came off the field on her own, did what she had to do to get back in the game.”

Clark sat out the final 5:29 of the second quarter, but when she returned for the third quarter, she was no less sharp. That intensity was never more evident than when she was called for a technical foul with 3:37 left in the game after delivering some choice words to the referee.

“A little disappointed,” she said.

What likely added to Clark’s frustration was the defensive efforts of Sun guard Dejonai Carrington, who covered Clark throughout and thwarted Clark’s numerous efforts to launch her beloved 3-pointers.

The Fever’s 17 turnovers and huge disparity (24 to 13) are among the things that will need to change if Indiana is going to finish games like Monday’s.

“I think every team we play against has an identity, and we have to prove that,” veteran goalkeeper Kelsey Mitchell said. “And I hate to say this, but we don’t have anything for me. And I think that’s our next step. I think our next step is defining who we’re going to be. And not just what social media says. And what the world says, but who we can actually be.” “

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The Fever now embark on three road games in four days, starting with Wednesday’s matchup with the Seattle Storm.

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