Caitlin Clark needs time to adjust to WNBA: 'Just learn from it and move on.'

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Leading up to the Indiana Fever’s season-opener against Connecticut, Caitlin Clark was pondering a detail: How did she want to score her first basket?

It’s not something she can entirely control; she has to take the best shot available, and she always hopes it goes in. But in a perfect world, she wouldn’t repeat her long-range 3-point shot that broke the Division I women’s basketball scoring record.

Instead, she wanted to go for a classic layup.

“What I've thought about is that it'd be nice to get a layup as my first basket,” Clark said pregame. “Why not get a high percentage to start it off, right?”

As fate would have it, that’s what happened. About halfway through the second quarter, Clark was scoreless. Then, she stole the ball at midcourt, raced down the court past Sun center DeWanna Bonner for a quick layup. Those were two of the 20 points Clark scored in her official Fever debut — the second-most debut points in franchise history.

More: Caitlin Clark, Fever struggle with turnovers, fouls in season opener vs. Sun

Throughout the preseason and the season-opener, Clark has shown her scoring will translate from the college game to the pros. She scored a team-high 21 in Indiana’s first preseason game against Dallas on May 3, then 12 against Atlanta on May 9.

Her 3-point range is also still on point — she went 4-of-11 beyond the arc on Tuesday, marking a new Fever debut record for 3-pointers made.

“Caitlin was able to get out on some looks, and she was able to knock them down,” Fever coach Christie Sides said.

There were both good and bad aspects of her debut, which ended in a 92-71 Fever loss, and that’s normal for a rookie who was playing with her college team just a month ago.

“Obviously, I'm disappointed, and nobody likes to lose, like, that's how it is,” Clark said postgame. “But I don't think you can beat yourself up too much about one game, and I don't think that's going to help this team … just learn from it and move on.”

One of the biggest transitions from college to the WNBA is the difference in physicality between the two leagues. Players will not hesitate to go through contact if it means they can get a basket, draw a foul or both. The Connecticut Sun is also one of the most physical teams in the league. The Sun drew two quick fouls on Clark in five minutes of game time, forcing her to sit for most of the first quarter.

"It wasn't like the best start in the first half for myself, get into foul trouble and you got to sit on the bench and try to come back into the game and get into a little bit of a flow," Clark said. "But obviously, too many turnovers. That's not going to get the job done. But there's just a lot of things to learn from."

The Sun forced Clark to turn the ball over 10 times, which was the most in a debut game in WNBA history — breaking Cynthia Cooper-Dyke’s previous record of nine in 1997.

Some of it came down to physicality — the refs don’t call the game the same way in the WNBA as in college, and players are allowed to push around.

Some of it, too, came down to small miscues.

“Definitely the physicality, but I think also, just like some uncharacteristic stuff — I pick up the ball and travel, I dribble off my foot, I pass it on the inbound and turn it over,” Clark said. “So just a few things that are just you know, you have to be crisper. Those are situations where you're just giving the other team the ball.”

More: How Sun guard DiJonai Carrington limited Caitlin Clark in season-opener

Finally, some of it came down to poor communication. Some of Clark’s turnovers came because of double-team situations where she didn’t have anyone to throw the ball to.

“We've got to do a better job of coming back to the ball,” Sides said. “We worked on that a couple times, several times this week, just knowing that that was going to probably be what they were going to do … but we have to do a better job of getting somebody back to the ball.”

The Fever are made up of a young core of Clark, Aliyah Boston, NaLyssa Smith and Kelsey Mitchell, all of whom have seven years or less of experience. Connecticut is anchored by DeWanna Bonner and Alyssa Thomas, both who have over 10 years of time in the league.

Bonner and Thomas have been playing with each other for years, while Clark and the rest of the Fever have been playing with each other for weeks.

Clark struggled in aspects of the season-opener, and honestly, that was the likely scenario. She’s coming out of her college season and had less than three weeks to work with and integrate herself into a completely new team. She brought over some habits that don’t work in the WNBA, and it will take time for her to break those habits. Not to bring out the old cliche, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Clark will be fine; she just needs more time to adjust.

Follow IndyStar Fever Insider Chloe Peterson on X at @chloepeterson67.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Caitlin Clark struggles in opener. She needs time to adjust to WNBA.