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Geno: Hardships expected, but Clark ‘targeted’

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Stephen A. implores WNBA to protect Caitlin Clark (2:42)Stephen A. Smith says the WNBA needs to protect Caitlin Clark because of her importance to the league. (2:42)

UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma said that although WNBA rookies must go through “the growing pains of being a professional basketball player,” he thinks the Indiana Fever‘s Caitlin Clark has been “targeted” with physical play.

“Is she facing the rookie challenge, the rookie hardships that are inherent with being a rookie? Yes,” Auriemma told reporters in Connecticut before the UConn Coaches Road Show on Tuesday. “She’s also being targeted.”

Clark was shoulder-checked from behind by Chicago Sky guard Chennedy Carter before the ball was inbounded during Saturday’s game. Clark was knocked down in what was a non-basketball play and was initially ruled a common foul, but it was upgraded to a flagrant 1 foul by the WNBA upon review Sunday.

After the game, Carter refused to answer questions, which Auriemma called “junior high stuff.”

Chennedy Carter’s foul on Caitlin Clark during Saturday’s game — in which Carter shoulder-checked Clark from behind and knocked her down before the basketball was inbounded — was upgraded to a flagrant 1 by the WNBA on Sunday. Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire

Auriemma also said high-profile players entering a professional sports league are likely to attract extra attention from opposing teams, but he thinks it’s more extreme with Clark, who was the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft.

“I don’t remember when [Michael] Jordan came into the [NBA], guys looking to go out and beat him up,” Auriemma told reporters. “I don’t remember when [Larry] Bird and Magic [Johnson] came in the league and elevated the NBA, them getting targeted and getting beat up just because of who they were and the attention they were getting.

“Appreciate the fact that now’s the time [for the WNBA]. I get it. It’s long overdue. Why are you blaming that kid? It’s not her fault, because you would trade places with her in a minute, but you are not there. You’re not her. So, you’re [complaining] that she’s getting what she’s getting.”

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By contrast, some of Auriemma’s most prominent former players have had a different take on the situation.

“I don’t think there’s any jealously or pettiness that is fueling dirty play,” former UConn/WNBA player and ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo said on “NBA Today” on Monday. “Now, is the attention she’s getting on the defensive end unprecedented for a rookie? It absolutely is. We have never before seen a rookie picked up 94 feet from the basket when she doesn’t have the ball in her hands. We’ve never seen a rookie being face-guarded 35 feet from the basket when she’s on the weak side of the floor.

“Are veterans being physical with her? They are. But I have not seen anything excessive or anything dirty until that Chennedy Carter hit. … Chennedy gave a previously toothless argument some fangs.”

New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 WNBA draft who won four NCAA titles at UConn with Auriemma, told reporters after Tuesday’s game vs. the Fever that physical play is a normal part of the WNBA that all players face and adjust to.

“This is the best league in the world. Nobody’s going to give you anything easy,” said Stewart, the two-time MVP who has faced Clark and Indiana three times this season. “[It’s about] understanding that and learning how to play through it at this level. They’re the fastest, the strongest, the quickest. That’s why this is the WNBA.

“Continue to pay attention to what we do, understand that we’re trying to bring our best basketball. When we’re playing against other teams, we’re obviously trying to win. But … as a collective, we’re trying to bring this league to a better place altogether.”

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Updated: Juni 5, 2024 — 10:34 pm

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