COLLEGE PARK -- The regimen has become routine for Bonnie Rimkus.
Every day before the Maryland women's basketball team practices, Rimkus hops onto one of the padded tables and waits for Phyllis Sanders, Maryland's assistant athletic trainer, to connect a heating pad and a muscle stimulater to her back.
The treatments last for only 15 to 20 minutes, but they've been going on for weeks now and show no signs of ending soon.
"I strained it a little bit during preseason. I don't need any time off, but she [Sanders] might say something different," Rimkus said with a sly grin.
Rimkus is the player to which most of the No. 23 Terps' fortunes for this season and today's game against top-ranked Tennessee are hitched. She says the pain is "nothing major," yet she appears to expend a great deal of effort to compensate for it.
"Sometimes I feel it a little bit, especially during the [Southern California] game, when I took that dive over the press table," Rimkus said.
That was the game in which Rimkus, a 6-foot-4 senior forward, scored a career-high 36 points and pulled down 15 rebounds.
Her performance -- the best individual scoring game by a Maryland player since Dafne Lee (Walbrook) had 39 against Wake Forest in February, 1990 -- helped the Terps nearly overcome a 23-point, first-half deficit.
The Terps (4-1), who trailed by one in the last two minutes, lost, 92-85, to the No. 12 Women of Troy, but in the process Rimkus attracted a lot of notice, especially from USC coach Cheryl Miller and center Lisa Leslie, who between them have six All-American designations.
"I didn't think she could do half the stuff she did," said Leslie, a contender for national Player of the Year honors. "I was really surprised. She hit three threes, and then she'd step into the lane and drive. I didn't really adjust to her until it was too late."
Miller said: "She's big, but she has a quick first step and a good touch. She has a nose for the basket and a great feel for where the ball will come off [the rim]."
Rimkus leads Maryland in virtually every offensive category, including scoring (21.0), field-goal percentage (52 percent), three-point percentage (63 percent), and she trails point guard Karon Ferguson by one for team leadership in assists.
But she is proudest of her contributions on the defense, where she leads the Terps in rebounding (11.4) and steals (10), and is tied with Monica Adams for the lead in blocks (six).
"I've picked up my defense, and that's a little exciting," Rimkus said. "Since I've been here, the question with me has never been my offense. I just kind of decided this summer and the off-season that I would concentrate on defense."
Rimkus, who was Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year three years ago, stayed here during the summer rather than go home to Pittsburgh and played in a women's summer league at the University of the District of Columbia, as well as in countless pickup games on campus with men.
"Playing against the guys really helped me a lot," Rimkus said. "They're still a lot quicker, and I feel a little quicker on defense for playing with them, even if you can't see it."
Rimkus, never heretofore considered a good defensive player, is a visibly improved defender. Her size and relative quickness allows her to play on the perimeter, making it difficult for shorter players to shoot over her.
The back treatments, the improved defense and her willingness to play through pain are sure signs that Rimkus, who sat for most of the past two years, has accepted her increased responsibilities.
But there is also a sense of urgency. This is, after all, Rimkus' last hurrah, her last chance to win a national championship and to make a favorable impression on scouts who might offer her a contract to play overseas after she's finished her schooling.
"It's her senior year," Maryland coach Chris Weller said. "All of a sudden, you really appreciate the opportunity. Most seniors have their best years then. Bonnie has really dedicated herself. She's a sturdy player, and she should be doing these things."
To be sure, the season is young, and there are lots of games and lots of treatments in the training room to come for Rimkus. But, with any luck, all the sacrifice and pain may pay off in an All-American bid.
"I'd be lying if I said I haven't thought about that. But every player in the country has thought about it," Rimkus said. "You have to put that aside and think about the team. It's a team sport, and the team should come first. Whatever may come out of the team's success is just a bonus."