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Caitlin Clark’s rough weekend in the WNBA: What happened?

Caitlin Clark chases a loose ball.
Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark chases a loose ball while being defended by Chicago Sky guard Dana Evans on Saturday in Indianapolis.
(Doug McSchooler / Associated Press)
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Caitlin Clark had a bit of a rough weekend.

On Sunday, the Indiana Fever rookie scored the fewest points and posted the lowest shooting percentage of both her 11-game WNBA career and her four-year career at Iowa during a blowout loss to the New York Liberty.

That came a day after Clark was knocked to the floor by the Chicago Sky’s Chennedy Carter with a hip check away from the ball — a sequence that appeared to draw an enthusiastic response from Sky rookie Angel Reese and later caused some observers to wonder when Clark’s teammates will start sticking up for her.

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On the bright side, however, the Fever did win that game 71-70 for only their second win of the season. Clark had 11 points while making 36% of her shots (four for 11) on a night when her team made 39% of its shots while holding Chicago to 41%. Clark also had eight rebounds and six assists.

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“I thought earlier this season if we would have shot like this, we wouldn’t have won the game because we didn’t have that resiliency and we would have let it affect our defensive play,” Clark told reporters after the game. “So just proud of us, I thought we were really gritty.”

Clark’s weekend has sparked a lot of conversation, including a bizarre rant by Pat McAfee on his ESPN show Monday in which he described Clark with an offensive phrase while trying to defend her and her status in the WNBA. He has since apologized.

Here’s a recap:

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What happened between Clark and Carter?

After making a jumper to pull the Sky to within 53-49 with 15.8 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Carter approached Clark — who was awaiting the inbound pass from Fever teammate Aliyah Boston — and gave her a hard bump to the hip.

Clark fell to the floor on the play, which was called as a common foul at the time but upgraded by the WNBA to a flagrant-1 violation the next day.

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“I wasn’t expecting it,” Clark told reporters of the foul following her team’s one-point win. “It is what it is. It’s a physical game. Go make the free throw and execute on offense, and I feel like that’s kind of what we did.”

Said Sky coach Teresa Weatherspoon in a statement on Monday: “Chennedy got caught up in the heat of the moment in an effort to win the game. She and I have discussed what happened and that it was not appropriate, nor is it what we do or who we are. Chennedy understands that there are better ways to handle situations on the court, and she will learn from this, as we all will.”

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Who is Carter and what did she say about the Clark incident?

Carter was selected fourth overall by the Atlanta Dream in the 2020 draft but was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team midway through her second season and traded to the Sparks before the 2022 season. She played 24 games for Los Angeles and was benched for poor conduct before being waived during the following offseason.

The Los Angeles Sparks waived guard Chennedy Carter, who averaged 8.9 points and 1.9 assists last season but was benched for poor conduct.

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After taking a year off from the WNBA, Carter joined the Sky this season and is averaging 12 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists off the bench. Asked by a reporter after the game about her foul on Clark, Carter responded, “I ain’t answering no Caitlin Clark questions.”

Carter did have a bit to say on social media, though. In response to a Threads post showing video of her refusal to answer questions about Clark, Carter wrote, “& that’s that on that cause beside three point shooting what does she bring to the table man.”

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On X, one user posted video of the play before Carter’s basket and subsequent foul on Clark, which appears to show Clark throwing an elbow toward Carter and Sky forward Isabelle Harrison in the back during a rebound attempt, then appearing to turn and say something to Carter. That post read, “And a little shove in the back......,” to which Carter replied, “yeah this the play lol.”

Carter did address the incident Monday, telling reporters during a joint interview with Reese after practice, “I don’t have any regrets.”

“I think I got hit in the head the play before and it was just like one of those things that was in the heat of the moment,” Carter said. “You know, I don’t know Caitlin. I don’t know her from anywhere. But at the end of the day, this is hoops. It’s competitive. This is basketball and you’re playing against somebody like me. I classify myself as a dog, so if you’re gonna throw a punch, then I’m gonna compete with you, I’m gonna play at the level you’re giving me. But that’s just the player that I am.”

She added: “I’m seeing a lot of things — players, fans not understanding who I am as a player. You have to understand me as a person, too, and don’t just look at one tape and form an opinion about me. I’m truly a passionate person about the game, and I’m genuine. You can ask all my teammates; they’ve gotten to know me. They know the real Chennedy Carter. So I’m just saying, don’t form an opinion off of one little clip. And you didn’t even see the whole game and/or the play that led to that.”

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What’s the story with Reese and Clark?

The two WNBA rookies were rivals in college. Their teams — Clark’s Hawkeyes and Reese’s Louisiana State Tigers — played in the 2023 NCAA championship game, with LSU claiming a 102-85 victory. Late in the game, Reese was seen waving her hand and pointing to her ring finger in front of Clark, apparently showing the Iowa star where the championship ring would go. Clark reportedly made the same gesture toward an LSU player earlier in the game.

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Earlier this year, Clark was drafted No. 1 overall by the Fever, while Reese was taken by the Sky at No. 7 overall. Last month, Reese tweeted, then deleted, a comment that was interpreted as a slam toward Clark and the idea that the WNBA’s surge in popularity and the league’s decision to allow charter flights for the first time this season can be credited to Clark alone.

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Saturday’s game was their first meeting as WNBA players. When Carter fouled Clark, Reese could be seen jumping from her seat on the Sky bench and applauding.

“my dawg fasho , got all my teammates,” Carter wrote on Threads about Reese’s reaction.

Reese also appeared to give Clark an elbow while boxing out during the fourth quarter. Clark fell to the floor on that play as well but has been called out by some fans for exaggerating the impact of the hit.

Reese, who finished the game with eight points and 13 rebounds, was fined $1,000 by the WNBA on Sunday for not making herself available for reporters after the loss to the Fever.

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She told reporters Monday: “When we go out there and play super hard, compete every single day, it’s not personal. I promise you. It’s based off our stories and where we’ve come from. We’ve come from so many different places that you guys have never seen or would never understand. So just being able to go out there and play with that chip on our shoulder every single night, that’s just what we do and that’s just who we are, and you have to accept that.”

She added: “I’ll take the bad guy role. I’ll continue to take that on and be that for my teammates. And if I wanna be that, I know I’ll go down in history. I’ll look back in 20 years and be like, ‘Yeah, the reason why we’re watching women’s basketball is not just because of one person. It’s because of me, too.’ And I want you all to realize that — like, it’s not just because of one person. A lot of us have done so much for this game.”

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What are others saying?

Matt Barnes, whose 15-season NBA career included four years with the Clippers and two with the Lakers, took to Instagram to call out Clark’s teammates for not having their star player’s back in such situations.

“I mean, throughout the season, she’s been getting beat up. Hard screens, elbows, knocked down,” Barnes said in a video posted Sunday. “It is what it is. She’s not the first, she won’t be the last. .... Where are the rest of the Indiana Fever at?

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“I’ve seen a couple of girls smirk when she’s got knocked down, half-ass to pick her up. Like, y’all supposed to protect the asset, protect the star. And although this is a team, she’s the star. You always protect your star. I was someone who protected the stars .... And you wonder why you sit at the bottom of the league right now, it’s because y’all don’t protect each other, man.”

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Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green suggested on Instagram that “Indiana better go invest in an enforcer ... FAST!” Clark’s boyfriend Connor McCaffery, a former Iowa basketball player, liked a pair of X posts that expressed the same sentiment.

Carter responded to that notion Sunday with an X post, telling all those who feel that way to “hoop or shut up.”

And then there was McAfee, who opened his show Monday with a lengthy, pro-Clark monologue that received a lot of attention — not for McAfee’s overall message, but because he called her “a white b—.”

Here’s the context:

“I would like the media people that continue to say, ‘This rookie class, this rookie class, this rookie class.’ Nah. Just call it for what it is,” McAfee said. “There’s one white b— for the Indiana team who is a superstar. …

“Is there a chance that people just enjoy watching her play basketball because of how electrifying she is? ... Maybe. But instead we have to hear people say that we all like her ‘cause she’s white. And she’s only popular because the rest of the rookie class is doing what they’re doing. ... What you have is somebody special and we’re lucky she’s here in Indiana.”

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Later in the day, McAfee wrote on X that he should not have used the offensive phrase.

“No matter the context ... even if we’re talking about race being a reason for some of the stuff happening,” McAfee wrote. “I have way too much respect for her and women to put that into the universe. My intentions when saying it were complimentary just like the entire segment but, a lot of folks are saying that it certainly wasn’t at all. That’s 100% on me and for that I apologize… I have sent an apology to Caitlin as well. Everything else I said… still alllllll facts.”

ESPN declined to comment for this article.

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What happened during Sunday’s game

In addition to her poor shooting night, Clark also pulled in just two rebounds while contributing five assists and two steals. She left the game early in the fourth quarter after hurting her left ear while getting bumped on a screen. She went to the locker room a few minutes later, but returned to the bench late in the game.

“I think collectively as a team, we understand who kind of the head of the monster is on that team and we are trying to just make everything tough and difficult,” Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu said after her team’s third game against Indiana this season. “Obviously, they came off a back-to-back, so it’s a little bit tough for them as well. But she’ll figure it out. It’s not that big of a deal to have a game like that.”

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Asked about Clark’s performance after the game, Fever coach Christie Sides spoke generally about her players’ fatigue after opening the season with 11 games in 20 days.

“Their legs were shot. I mean, that’s where everything stems from, your legs, when you shoot the basketball — especially for threes,” Sides said. “They’re shot, they’re gassed, so everything was a little short.”

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The Fever are off until a road game against the Washington Mystics on Friday.

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