Fever Earn Victory in First Game Against Budding Rival

By Madie Chandler | FeverBasketball.com

Caitlin Clark’s Iowa team defeated Aliyah Boston’s undefeated South Carolina team in the 2023 Final Four. Now they’re teammates.

Angel Reese’s LSU team defeated Clark’s Iowa team in that same year’s National Championship. They remain on-court rivals.

Fast forward to the 2024 season and observe Clark’s Iowa team eliminating Reese’s LSU team from the NCAA Tournament in the Elite Eight, only to meet Kamilla Cardoso’s South Carolina team in the National Championship. The Gamecocks would defeat the Hawkeyes, making Clark’s farewell to college basketball bittersweet and void of a National Championship.

Now the four meet in the WNBA, split into ranks with the Chicago Sky and Indiana Fever – two teams building on the same timeline – and both strive to lay claim to the title, “Best in the Midwest.” Indiana nabbed the victory in the first meeting for these two teams, defeating Chicago by one point, 71-70.

“It’s been this rivalry for a while,” coach Christie Sides said. “When I was in Chicago as an assistant, this was always the game…It’s exciting. These young players have come into the league and brought all this attention. I mean, it’s just just a whole different level…it’s incredible. It’s exciting. It’s fun to be a part of right now.”

Saturday’s matchup was a reunion – one underscored by notes of revenge and flares of a budding rivalry. The web of sticky history around each team’s young cores gave the matchup heightened significance, and meetings between these two teams have every opportunity to produce captivating storylines as both franchises evolve alongside one another.

The Fever executed their best defensive half this season, allowing the Sky just 33 points through the first two frames. They held Chicago to less than 20 points in three of four quarters and rode the momentum their defense provided to their first win in Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

But Chicago didn’t give it up easily.

It was a physical game, and Clark took a hard foul away from the play by Chicago’s Chennedy Carter in the third quarter.

She could have retaliated, but she didn’t. She drained a free throw and focused on keeping her team in a winning position, leading by five with 15 seconds left in the third frame.

“She’s a competitor and she kept her cool,” Sides said of Clark. “That’s exactly what she needed to do in that moment. In this game. It was a tight game…she handled it amazing.”

The game progressed with all the chippiness and urgency of a rivalry in its infancy – Cardoso and Boston battled in the post. Reese gobbled up offensive rebounds. Clark made impossible advance passes for highlight plays. But the crowd pushed the energy in the building to a breaking point.

“That’s energy we feed off of as a team,” Clark said of the fans. “…It’s fun getting to play in front of these type of environments, whether we’re here or whether we’re on the road. The crowds have just been absolutely incredible. I know our fans will continue to show up and I feel like we’re just getting started.”

Indiana led by nine points with three and a half minutes to play in the fourth quarter, but Chicago kept digging. The Sky surged with an 8-0 run to bring them within one point of the Fever with just over a minute to play. Boston, facing up her former South Carolina teammate in Cardoso, converted an and-1 opportunity to push Indiana back up by four points and ultimately seal the game for the Fever.

Gainbridge erupted. Fans – already on their feet for the close finish – had no choice but to leap in the air, arms outstretched in relief as their Fever capitalized in the clutch with a symbolic bucket.

Boston’s start to the season hasn’t been as blistering as her Rookie of the Year campaign just one season ago, but her presence on the court is invaluable to this young Fever team. Her knowledge of Cardoso’s game allowed her to position herself to score what would become the winning basket for Indiana.

“She stayed in it regardless of if her shot was falling,” NaLyssa Smith said. “You never see her drop her head, get her feelings, nothing. She played hard on defense. She rebounded for us…she screamed hard. She did everything we needed her to do. It’s not always about what’s on the stat sheet. She did big things for us. So I feel like that and-1, she deserved it.”

Indiana took game one of the four-game regular season series with Chicago, and will return to action on Sunday as they travel to New York to take on the Liberty in their second Comissioner’s Cup matchup this weekend.