Betnijah Laney-Hamilton and the New York Liberty did what they set out to do on Thursday: They ruined the nights of 17,000 Indiana Fever fans in Gainbridge Fieldhouse and of thousands more watching from home. Caitlin Clark’s home debut was one to forget. The rookie phenom scored nine points in a 102-66 Fever loss to the Liberty on 2-8 shooting, including 1-7 from three. She had just three turnovers — a stark improvement from the 10 in her regular season debut on Tuesday — but also committed five fouls.

Of Clark’s six three-point misses on Thursday, only one was a truly clean look as the Liberty hounded her all night.

Fortunately or unfortunately for Clark, these teams will meet again on Saturday, this time at Barclays Center for the Liberty’s home opener. It will give her a chance at revenge, while the Liberty will have to review what they did right and anticipate any adjustments.

Laney-Hamilton drew the assignment on Clark and made life difficult for her from the start. Clark’s first field goal was, perhaps, the only time Laney-Hamilton was beaten all night. The former Iowa Hawkeye gained half a step on the New York vet, getting into the lane and finishing through contact.

That was Indiana’s first basket of the night, but it only gave fans false hope.

“I thought we executed our scout really well,” Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello said. “Caitlin demands so much respect out there, and attention, and that’s what we did.”

On the Fever’s side, it’s something the team still must adapt to. Katie Lou Samuelson, who had 10 points on Thursday, said the team trusts Clark to be able to make plays. They just need to continue supporting her.

“We can do a better job of trying to help her get some space and help her get some freedom,” Samuelson said. “Teams are really, really hounding her. Full court, 94 feet. So we have to do some stuff as a unit to just flow better with that.”

But on New York’s end, it just means letting Laney-Hamilton stick to Clark like glue and use the other four Liberty defenders to help when necessary.

“And we have Betnijah Laney, I mean, what more could you ask?” Brondello added. “One of the best defenders in this league, if not the best, she’s…just committed to excellence, really, and Caitlin, it made it tough for her.”

This is nothing new for Liberty fans. Laney-Hamilton is often overshadowed by the three MVP candidates in the starting lineup, Sabrina Ionescu, Breanna Stewart, and Jonquel Jones. But as Ionescu pointed out, New York relies on the Rutgers alum on both ends.

“The way she played defense and was able to continue to do what she does offensively just shows why she is the player that she is in this league and how much of a high standard we hold her to,” Ionescu said. “She always guards the best player night in and night out.”

Liberty's Betnijah Laney-Hamilton Takes A Bigger Stage

New York Liberty forward Betnijah Laney (44) reacts after scoring a basket against the Connecticut Sun during the second half of game two of the 2023 WNBA Playoffs at Barclays Center.
John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

There was no escaping that game two for the Liberty was much bigger than game one. That’s what happens when you face Caitlin Clark — you get the hoopla that follows her. It’s great for Clark and the Fever but also gives players like Laney-Hamilton a chance to break into the consciousness of casual basketball fans.

“That's nothing new to us,” Ionescu added of Laney-Hamilton’s performance. “But I'm just so happy that she was able to go out there and do that tonight and kind of put everyone on watch to what she's really able to do.”

The Fever averaged just 4,067 fans per game last year but are suddenly the hottest ticket in the WNBA — home and away, with ticket prices on the secondary market exploding for their games.

“This is how you want everything to be and when it's a sellout crowd, when it's loud like this, it's like it's a similar playoff atmosphere feel,” Stewart said. “That's what we refer to because usually in the playoffs, all games are sold out. So we might be changing our terminology a little bit.”

To Stewart, it’s proof that there is real demand for women’s professional basketball.

“People want to be a part of this,” she added. “And the thing now is to continue to sustain it. To take the momentum that we have and turn it into something even more of a movement and to show people who aren’t watching that they’re missing out.”