Column: Why Sky-Fever Round 1 is an example of why the WNBA veterans still run the league

Exactly two months ago, Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese faced off with Iowa and LSU, respectively, in Albany in the NCAA Elite Eight.

The two faced off again in Indianapolis on Saturday afternoon with the Indiana Fever and Chicago Sky on an ESPN-televised game. The Indiana vs. Chicago 

That was where the attention went. That wasn't the story Saturday.

Sure, Clark and Reese made their mark. Clark had 11 points, eight rebounds and six assists while Reese had eight points and 13 rebounds. But, they weren't shining.

The outstanding 2024 WNBA rookie class will always fill the headlines. The day-to-day operation and success of the league remains with the WNBA's established veterans. 

Don't believe me? Ask the rooks.

"My vets have prepared me for this moment," Reese said. "They've put the confidence in me to kind of guard probably the best player usually on the other team. Yeah, so just being able to have confident vets, confident coaches in me has just been great."

Saturday was the first installment of Sky-Fever, the first of four match ups that highlight the carryover of Clark and Reese's collegiate rivalry into the professional ranks.

The Fever took the first round, but the Sky still showed they have a team with the presence of mind to be in any game.

It starts with having the right frame of mind.

The players didn't say there was any extra juice to this game because of the rookies participating. Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso played it off before the game tipped off.

"Obviously it's great competing against other rookies for sure because I think we've done a great job being able to help elevate the game," Reese said. "I'm just excited for another opportunity to play the game I love and I love basketball so much, so I'm excited to be here."

Cardoso, who made her debut against the Fever with 11 points and six rebounds in limited minutes, said there was no extra motivation to get back on the court to matchup against Clark and the Fever.

"It was never about this game," Cardoso said. "I wanted to come back whenever the doctor told 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."

The sold out crowd was into it. The players never got too chippy, though.

Aside from Chennedy Carter knocking Caitlin Clark to the floor, a brash and unwise decision from a player that has to know better, there wasn't any play that stood out as a classic rivalry defining moment.

I'm not downplaying Carter's hard foul. Like I said, it was a bad move, but it wasn't a back-breaking moment. It elicited a social media response and a response from Clark, but that's all.

Carter did not answer any questions about it after the game.

"I wasn't expecting it, but I think it's just like, just respond," Clark said. "Come down, let your play do the talking. It is what it is. It's a physical game. Go make the free throw and then execute on offense."

The Fever executed on offense, but it was on the back of Kelsey Mitchell, the veteran from Ohio State, who scored 18 points. Carter, hard foul aside, still led the Sky with 19 points. Marina Mabrey had 15, Dana Evans had 12.

Reese played well. Clark played well. The veterans were the difference.

Mitchell, Aliyah Boston, Kristy Wallace and NaLyssa Smith were all in double figures and delivered Indiana its first win. Boston's three-point play with a minute to go gave Indiana a four-point lead. 

This isn't just the case in Indiana. A'ja Wilson is demolishing teams as she averages 26.5 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. Dearica Hamby and Alyssa Thomas are leading the league in rebounds and assists, respectively. 

The only rookie in the top five of any categorical per game average is Sparks' rookie Cameron Brink, who is third in the league averaging 2.7 blocks per game. Even she deferred to the veterans on Thursday.

"There's a bunch of media with Calin, Angel and I and other rookies," Brink said. "They're the ones who have been doing it for longer."

The Sky would not have been in the game if it weren't for Carter and Mabrey. Cardoso played well, but was on a minute restriction. The Sky's shots were not falling, but the veterans still pushed through and made plays that gave Chicago multiple chances to win the game or send it to overtime.

Saturday's game was a disappointment for a team that showed its potential against the Sparks when the Sky shared the ball and made opportunistic plays. But, in any game, they can't be completely counted out.

That's not due to Cardoso or Reese. I'm not downplaying their talents, because both are talented enough to be cornerstone pieces, but it's hard to be a massive difference maker seven games into their rookie seasons.

There's a reason players like Breanna Stewart, Candace Parker and Maya Moore only come around once or twice a decade. It's okay if a rookie isn't that much of a difference maker right away.

The Sky are plenty successful through seven games. Plenty others on the outside didn't think they'd win three games through the first seven.

That's thanks to the veterans the Sky have. 

They gave the Sky a chance to win on Saturday. Indiana's veterans just made one more play.


Cardoso shines but Fever hold off Sky to win first installment of Reese vs. Clark at WNBA level

The game plenty had circled since the start of the 2024 WNBA season finally played in Indianapolis.