A sellout for a WNBA preseason game? Welcome to the Caitlin Clark era of the league

ARLINGTON, Texas – More than three hours before Caitlin Clark made her WNBA debut with the Indiana Fever in a preseason game against the Dallas Wings on Friday night, some fans among the sold-out crowd lined up outside the arena wearing No. 22 University of Iowa -sweaters.

And Clark put on a show.

The two-time NCAA Women’s Basketball Player of the Year led all scorers in the first half with 16 points in 16 minutes and finished with a team-high 21 points in the Fever’s 79-76 rout. She was 6 of 15 from the field, including 5 of 13 from deep, and had three rebounds, two assists, four fouls and five turnovers.

Her 21 points were tied for a game high with Dallas newcomer Jaelyn Brown.

“My biggest goal tonight was to be myself and play aggressively,” Clark said. “I thought I did. I think there is a lot to be proud of.

“The crowd was great all night. That’s what you expect at a sale. They will be the same all year round for the crowds. So whether they’re cheering for you or cheering against you, you better get used to it.

She even had the chance to send the game into overtime. Dallas’ winning basket from Arike Ogunbowale came with three seconds left and Clark’s three-point attempt from the right corner at the buzzer fell short.

“You couldn’t ask for a better game,” Clark said.

Clark’s first pro basket came on a 28-foot 3-pointer near the left sideline less than a minute into the play when the defense temporarily lost her on an inbounds baseline.

“I was able to look pretty sharp for my first shot,” she said. “It’s always fun to see your first shot when you’re a shooter.”

She hit four 3-pointers in the half and added two of three free throws when she was fouled on a shot from behind the arc.

She was scoreless in the third period and sat for the final five minutes after picking up her fourth foul.

Christina Edge, who lived in Iowa for 35 years before moving to the Dallas suburb of Rowlett three years ago, was among the fans who showed up early. She said arriving that early at the University of Texas-Arlington’s College Park Center would increase her chances of getting a photo with the basketball phenom.

“It’s my birthday,” said Edge, who said her son gave her the card as a birthday gift, “and I just want to take a picture with her!” She carried a bright yellow billboard announcing that plea.

Pailynn Amos, 9, also stood outside the arena, wearing a yellow Clark jersey with her own sign: “When I grow up, I want to be just like her.”

Rebecca Amos, Pailynn’s mother, made the approximately one-hour drive from the town of Ennis.

“I watched her (on TV) like crazy,” Rebecca said. “So she (Pailynn) just grew into her. Then we thought, ‘Wow, now she’s in Dallas.’ We could actually go to her!”

Clark received a rousing ovation before tipoff as he was introduced with Indiana’s starters.

Although Clark had many fans in attendance, Wings fans did not give her permission. As she dribbled past her defender in the center half during the first half, a woman shouted: ‘Get her! Get her!”

The first game of the WNBA preseason was played on the same night the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks hosted the LA Clippers in Game 6 of a first-round playoff series about 20 miles away.

The exhibition game was the first of two for the Fever before Clark made her regular season debut on May 14 at the Connecticut Sun.

The game sold out all 6,251 seats shortly after it was announced on Dallas’ schedule, specifically requested by Wings president and CEO Greg Bibb after Clark declared in February that she would be leaving college for the WNBA with one year of eligibility remaining come. Indiana won the lottery last December for this year’s first pick.

A local television crew captured the Fever’s arrival at DFW International Airport on Thursday. During Clark’s media session on Friday morning, she made the request to sign a couple’s ultrasound scan.

“That was definitely a first,” she said, laughing.

Other WNBA players welcomed her.

“It’s really great that Caitlin is bringing all this attention to women’s basketball, so I’m really grateful for that,” Wings center Kalani Brown said.

“This is what women’s basketball has been deserving of for a while,” said Fever center Aliyah Boston, last season’s WNBA rookie of the year and college player of the year. “It’s better late than never. I am very excited about what is to come in this competition.”

The Wings said last month they had sold out their season tickets, which seat about 2,500.

Indiana returns to College Park Center to play twice during the regular season. The team will play its final game before the WNBA’s nearly month-long Olympic hiatus on July 17 and a day after the MLB All-Star Game at the Texas Rangers’ home stadium less than three miles away. The Fever will also play there from September 1.