No. 11 North Carolina
@No. 10 Maryland
TV: Comcast SportsNet
The 10th-ranked Maryland women's basketball team was near the end of practice Saturday when starting forward Tierney Pfirman collided knee-to-knee with a scout player and collapsed in considerable pain.
Athletic trainers and coach Brenda Frese tended to Pfirman as she lay on the court with an injury later revealed to be a dislocated right kneecap. Then roughly an hour later, the Terps boarded a bus to the airport for a flight to Atlanta to play a game the next day against Georgia Tech.
Down two starters and one reserve even before Pfirman's injury, the Terps still managed a 66-57 victory behind a rotation of seven players, with no starter logging fewer than 33 minutes.
Pfirman is expected to miss four to six weeks, according to athletic department officials, so Frese has little recourse but to lean heavily on her remaining starters as Maryland (15-3, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) tries to overtake Duke and North Carolina in the conference. The next test comes tonight against the No. 11 Tar Heels (16-1, 6-0) at Comcast Center.
"No, I've never seen anything like it," Frese said. "I don't know if I've ever seen another team have to go through as many injuries. But credit this team. They keep finding a way to win, and they keep playing for each other, and they're leaving everything out there. It's amazing to watch just how hard they're playing, not using it as an excuse."
Pfirman was injured two months after junior shooting guard Laurin Mincy tore an anterior cruciate ligament against Nebraska in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. One month before that, sophomore point guard Brene Moseley tore an ACL during a scrimmage the evening before media day at Comcast Center.
A reserve last season, Moseley was in line to become a starter until the injury. But she continues to provide leadership and encouragement off the court, even staying behind with Pfirman on Saturday after practice until Pfirman's mother arrived in College Park.
Moseley caught a later flight to Atlanta to join her teammates and watched as junior forward Alyssa Thomas scored a season-high 28 points. Thomas also played 40 minutes for the first time this season and has gone at least 37 minutes in six of the past seven games.
"We're conditioned to play minutes like this," said Thomas, who was named ACC Player of the Week for a second straight time. "I think we'll be fine. We'll be able to handle another 40 minutes of [North Carolina's] physicality."
The last time the teams played, Jan. 3 at Carmichael Arena, Maryland missed 17 of 19 shots during one stretch and needed eight minutes to score its first field goal after intermission. Those offensive lapses contributed to a 60-57 loss.
Maryland nonetheless had multiple chances to win or tie in the closing minutes because North Carolina failed to make the front end of three consecutive one-and-one free-throw tries.
Since then, the Terps have won five in a row, including twice against teams that were ranked at the time. Maryland has won its past four games by an average of 20 points and its past two home games by an average of 21; it is 9-0 this season at Comcast Center.
"Definitely, we have a lot to go out and prove," said freshman center Malina Howard, whose playing time is likely to expand in the wake of Pfirman's injury. "Of course losing to them, we want to get the win and make sure we focus on us and what we do, not what they're going to do, but how we can make ourselves better."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun