Angel Reese leads the way in Sky's rivalry victory over Fever's Caitlin Clark

CHICAGO – With 43.4 seconds left and the clock stopped on a foul, Angel Reese walked alone to the distant Chicago Sky basket, smiling and clapping with that familiar look on her face.

Forget Vogue and the Met Gala, this was a real catwalk.

After two losses to the Indiana Fever in Indianapolis, Reese and the Sky were in the lead, in control, and Reese knew it.

Although the rest of the basketball after that moment was a bit hectic, to put it politely, Reese and Sky held on to win 88-87 over Caitlin Clark and the Fever on Sunday in a loud, packed Wintrust Arena.

Round 3 goes to Angel Reese and the Chicago Sky.

In the week leading up to the match, Sky forward Marina Mabrey told a few of us that if this really was a rivalry, she hoped it would be billed as “Sky-Fever” and not “Caitlin Clark vs. Angel Reese.” Mabrey knew the drama was good for the competition, but didn't think the two tightly controlled rookies needed the extra weight.

But let's be honest: Clark and Reese are inexorably linked after their college fights. After two wins over Clark in the WNBA portion of this personal series, it was Reese who came out on top in a nationally televised ESPN match, and she needed that.


Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark are inexorably linked. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Associated Press)

On the 40th anniversary of the Ryne Sandberg Game on the North Side, Chicago got the Angel Reese Game in the South Loop.

In the win, which lifted the Sky (6-9) just past the Fever (7-11) in the WNBA standings, Reese had 25 points and 16 rebounds. It was her eighth consecutive double-double and she became the first rookie with a 25-15 line since A'ja Wilson in 2018.

Ryno's statue outside Wrigley Field was unveiled at the same time this game tipped off, but there was no better place to be in Chicago than Wintrust Arena. This was a real, big basketball game. There was no viral drama about technical fouls, no jealousy or chips on the shoulders. They were just two up-and-coming teams starring rookies with championship dreams.

It was a sold-out venue with 9,872 spectators. Tickets went for hundreds of dollars on the secondary market and Sky issued 75 media accreditations.

There were many celebrities, although most were of local descent. Caitlin Clark superfan Jason Sudeikis sat next to Chance the Rapper on one side of the court, while Knicks point guard and suburban Chicago native Jalen Brunson sat next to rapper Lil Durk on the other side. We had a halftime concert from Durk and a pregame set from Vic Mensa. Bears president Kevin Warren probably would have made a speech if anyone had asked. Reese got a huge hug from Hall of Famer Sheryl Swoopes after the game.

“I mean, obviously it's good for the game,” Reese said. “Good for women's basketball, but also good for women's sports. You see NBA players, rappers and legends who have been in the league for a long time coming out and showing their support. Everyone is watching now. I think this is one of the most important moments right now. We just keep going. I think both teams did a fantastic job putting on a show. And it was fun. I had a great time. I'm sure the other team had a great time. So I'm just happy we won tonight.”

I don't doubt Reese, but I'm not so sure the Fever had a great time after jumping out to a 15-point lead in the third quarter. They had plenty of opportunities along the way, but seemed out of sync on offense, shooting 5-for-17 from the field and committing four turnovers in the fourth. Although she still finished with 17 points and 13 assists, Clark was nearly invisible late in the game.

Meanwhile, Reese spurred the Sky to victory with 10 points and 5 rebounds in the fourth.

“It was great, you know,” said her rookie teammate Kamilla Cardoso, who was pretty great herself with 16 points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes. “Just her energy. I feel like she brings a lot of energy to all of us. It wears out.”

There was a moment midway through the fourth when Fever forward NaLyssa Smith scored on Reese and made the “too small” gesture. On the other end, Reese scored on Smith and fouled out for a three-point play. The two barked at each other for the rest of the game, although Reese would later express coyness about Smith's disrespect.

“My teammates had to tell me about that,” she said, laughing. 'I didn't even know she did that. Thats crazy. Me and NaLyssa, I've been competing against each other since I was at Maryland and she was at Baylor, so it's nothing. No hard feelings. Me and Nalyssa are just two great competitors.”

Their back and forth spiced up the end of the match. That's for sure. This is just entertainment after all. And while Clark knows how to turn heads, Reese's game is in trouble. While Clark has made her fame and fortune as a long-range shooter and passing whiz (some of her passes Sunday lifted me out of my starting spot), Reese can win a game in the paint.

Just before she walked down the court clapping, Reese had a play called for her after a timeout and she hit a jump hook just outside the restricted area to put the Sky up 86-84.

“I'm a dog,” Reese told ESPN's Holly Rowe. “You can't learn that.”

But, she later explained, you can teach her how to improve. Movie review helps.

Reese, who came into the game shooting less than 40 percent from the field and 75 percent from the free-throw line, shot 8-of-12 and 9-of-11, respectively. Although she had “only” three offensive rebounds, below her league-leading average of 4 .7, she led everyone with 13 defensive rebounds. She had only one personal foul in 36 minutes.

“I was finally efficient tonight,” she said. 'Finally I didn't get into trouble. I got some rebounds. I mean, I've turned the ball over three times, but I feel like I'm only getting better. I gain confidence. I watched film with T-Spoon (coach Teresa Weatherspoon). I watched film with David (Simon, the player development coach). He showed me every shot I missed, every shot I missed around the basket. That's why today I tried to take my time and finish around the basket. I'm getting and-1s and I'm more efficient, so I'm going to keep trying to grow every game.”

It wasn't just her coaches who advised her to slow herself down with the ball.

“(Atlanta Dream forward) Tina Charles told me I was getting as much time as I needed around the basket, and that's what I took away today,” Reese said.

Time. It's something both Reese and Clark are fed up with. They went straight from the NCAA Tournament to the WNBA season, and it seems like it's been one big news cycle since March. But every time someone says something Reese says, I want to remind them that she's only 22 years old. The same goes for Clark, who faces unreal expectations and an endless culture war beyond her control.

“I'm a perfectionist,” Reese said. “So it's quite difficult. I'm very hard on myself, and I'm not trying to get grace for myself, but I've been trying to get grace for myself. My teammates and our coaches did a great job of texting me and saying, “You're doing great. You're fine. You're doing very well.' I have a lot on my plate. There's a lot going on, and it's something I need to put my mind at ease.”

When it comes to their rivalry, we obviously judge them based on wins and losses.

Reese won the national title in 2023 and Clark got revenge this spring, albeit in the Elite Eight. Clark took the first two in the WNBA and Reese took the third. They will play again in Chicago at the end of August with a possible playoff spot on the line.

I predict Chicago and the WNBA will have Sky Fever again.

(Top photo: Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

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