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Kamilla Cardoso impresses in Chicago Sky debut as Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese showcase WNBA’s bright future

INDIANAPOLIS — Kamilla Cardoso’s introduction to the WNBA was delayed — but the center could not be denied in her debut for the Chicago Sky.

After missing the first six games of the season with a shoulder injury, the rookie center played her first minutes as a professional in a 71-70 loss to the Indiana Fever that also served as a reunion with Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark.

The game reflected the whirlwind experience of a WNBA rookie. Exactly two months had passed since Clark and Reese faced off for the last time as collegiate rivals in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. A week later, Clark and Cardoso played the final game of their college careers for the national championship.

Those memories were fresh for all three rookies as they took the court — and drove another wave of excitement for the sellout crowd of 17,274 fans at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

For Cardoso, Clark and Reese, the NCAA is already several games behind them. But Saturday offered another snapshot of how their dominance at the college level can propel future success for their careers and for women’s basketball.

“There’s a lot of young stars on both teams that people really love coming from the college game to the professional level,” Clark said. “This is fun. These are the types of games that people get really excited about.”

Despite a back-and-forth offensive performance from both teams, the Sky’s loss highlighted each rookie’s ability to transition their game into the WNBA.

Cardoso admitted it took a few minutes to settle into the game — “When I first went into that game I was stressing and I’ve never stressed for a game in my life,” the rookie laughed — but she found her footing in the second quarter. The center finished with 11 points and six rebounds in 18 minutes as she played under restriction returning from injury.

Clark had a quiet game with 11 points but dished out six assists. Reese logged eight points and 13 rebounds in another well-rounded performance for the dominant rookie class.

“I think we all feel the pressure because everybody’s coming at us,” Reese said. “They didn’t think it was going to translate to the next level. I think all the rookies have done a great job translating it to the next level so I’m really proud of all of us.”

The history is thick between the trio of rookies. Reese and Clark earned a spotlight after trading taunts on the court in the 2023 NCAA championship. Cardoso and South Carolina dealt the deciding blow to Clark’s Iowa team in this year’s NCAA title game.

Their perceived rivalries often overshadow the collegiality of this rookie class, who rose to prominence side-by-side as teammates and opponents in AAU and youth national team competitions. Clark and Reese, for instance, began playing against each other in high school and have grown into two of the highest-demand players in women’s basketball.

“She’s been so dominant at what she does ever since we played in high school,” Clark said. “And that just hasn’t changed. She’s always had a knack for being able to rebound the ball and that’s just translated immediately to the WNBA. She’s so good at reading the ball off the glass, going and getting it and getting extra possessions for her team. Those are the little things that help your team win.”

Cardoso and Clark became closer over the last year when they were featured in an ESPN documentary highlighting their senior collegiate seasons.

While Clark had plenty of praise for Cardoso’s skills on the court — saying the center is “just scratching the surface of her potential” — she emphasized that her greatest respect is for Cardoso’s ability to overcome challenges throughout her career.

“She’s been through a lot in her life,” Clark said. “Her story is just super inspiring. It just really puts your life into perspective, it puts basketball into perspective. I’m really happy for her. This is what’s giving her family a better opportunity and I think that’s the coolest thing in the world. I’m a big fan of hers.”

Although the reignition of collegiate rivalries stood as a central storyline for Saturday’s game, the most important feature of the loss for the Sky was Cardoso’s return to the court.

But Cardoso didn’t care about getting back on the court in time to rematch against Clark — she just wanted to play basketball again.

“It was never about this game,” Cardoso said. “Whenever the doctor called me, I was ready to come back. I was trying to come back early. They didn’t let me. So I’m just excited to be out there on the court.”

Despite the hype surrounding matchups between Reese, Cardoso and Clark, playing different positions meant they spent little time facing off on the court. Cardoso’s main challenge was guarding former South Carolina teammate Aliyah Boston, who tallied 10 points, eight rebounds and four blocks to anchor the Fever.

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The only chippy moment of the game was between Clark and Chennedy Carter, who hip-checked the rookie in the third quarter before the ball had been inbounded. Carter declined to discuss the foul after the game and both players said there were no words exchanged before or after the play. Carter led the Sky’s offense with 19 points and six assists.

The loss highlighted the Sky’s greatest offensive needs: improved efficiency from the free-throw line and the 3-point arc. Marina Mabrey logged both of the team’s 3-pointers as the Sky went 2-for-12 and were outscored 36-6 by the Fever.

The Sky could not capitalize on a game-tying opportunity with a two-point deficit in the final seconds, as Mabrey missed the first of two free throws with six seconds remaining. The Sky finished 12-for-18 from the free throw line.

After their third clutch loss of the season, coach Teresa Weatherspoon said the missed opportunity was a crucial learning experience for the Sky.

“We’re just learning to win,” Weatherspoon said. “We’re understanding what it takes, offensively and defensively. Nothing more than that.”