Indiana Fever start fast, run out of gas in loss to defending champs Las Vegas Aces

LAS VEGAS -- The Indiana Fever finished its first West Coast road trip of the season with a loss to the Las Vegas Aces, 99-80, at Michelob Ultra Arena on Saturday. It was the Fever's third game in four days and second of a back-to-back.

The Fever (1-6) will return home to Gainbridge Fieldhouse for a three-game homestand this week.

'I’m excited to go home.' Fever finish gauntlet of opening road schedule.

Here are three observations:

Caitlin Clark faces off against best friend, former teammate

For the first time in years, Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin were on different sides of the ball. The two were in the starting lineup for four years at Iowa with two consecutive national championship appearances before they were both picked in the WNBA draft: Clark first, Martin 18th.

"She's the ultimate teammate, the ultimate person, ultimate leader," Clark said of Martin before the game on Saturday. "She's going to do whatever she can for her team, just a super unselfish person ... she has a personality about her, and she was my teammate, but also one of my best friends. So, I've been lucky."

Clark and Martin came into the game together near the end of the first quarter -- Martin checking in for the first time, while Clark was retuning from a short rest period. In their first play on opposite sides of the ball, they fought for a rebound; Clark won.

Martin guarded Clark, and vice versa, in moments throughout the game, and there were multiple times were the Aces rookie grabbed her former teammate's rebound.

Temi Fagbenle enters starting lineup

Christie Sides made a coach's decision lineup change for the second straight game, putting Temi Fagbenle into the starting up over third-year starter NaLyssa Smith.

Smith had been struggling on the defensive end of the ball in the Fever's past couple games, and Fagbenle proved herself as a tenacious defender and a spark of energy — something Indiana needed on the second day of a back-to-back against the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

Fagbenle had already taken some of Smith's minutes. On Friday night, she played over 30 minutes with 17 points in the Fever's win over Los Angeles. Smith played 14.

Saturday, Sides just made it official. Fagbenle played 26 minutes for 13 points and eight rebounds against the Aces, marking her first start for the Fever. Smith was the first player off the bench, and she played 18 minutes for eight points and six rebounds.

Fever's strong start fizzles out

In the first quarter, Indiana didn't look like a team that was on the second day of a back-to-back. The Fever looked like a team that could contend with the defending national champions.

The Fever dominated the lane in the first quarter with 16 paint points on their way to a 28-24 lead — their first 1Q lead this season. After that, though, the Fever's offense fizzled out. While the Fever got up by as many as six points at the beginning of the second quarter, the Aces went on a 20-6 run throughout the rest of the quarter to reclaim the lead.

As Indiana's defense started to slack, the Aces outscored the Fever 26-18 in the third quarter, shooting over 50% from the field and going up 16 points. It seemed like the Fever got tired, which is understandable.

One of the factors coming into this game, especially for the Fever, was the stark difference in schedules to start the season. Saturday night was the Fever's seventh game in 12 days, with five of them on the road. It was Las Vegas' fourth game of the season and first since Tuesday, all of them at home.

Along with the Aces having a more experienced, veteran team, the odds were stacked against the Fever.

Indiana ended up pulling most of its starters by the four-minute mark of the fourth quarter, and Fever rookie Celeste Taylor entered the game for the first minutes of her career. Victaria Saxton also got into a game for the first time this season.

How many points did Caitlin Clark score?

Clark had a quiet scoring night with eight points on 2-of-8 shooting (2-of-5 from 3-point range). She added seven assists and five rebounds in 28 minutes.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indiana Fever, Caitlin Clark run out of gas in loss to Las Vegas Aces