COLLEGE PARK — — When players from the 11th-ranked Maryland women's basketball team entered the locker room Friday, the song "Stronger" by Kelly Clarkson was on repeat over the speaker system. The video and lyrics were on the television as well, serving as encouragement for a team that has absorbed more season-ending injuries during the past six weeks than during the entirety of coach Brenda Frese's 10-plus years in College Park.
The most recent of those three anterior cruciate ligament tears has left starting guard Laurin Mincy awaiting surgery on her left knee, which she hurt in the second half a 90-71 victory over No. 21 Nebraska in Wednesday's ACC/Big Ten Challenge in Lincoln. Mincy landed awkwardly with approximately 15 minutes to play, and she went to the bench for good after scoring a season-high 16 points, including 4-for-4 from 3-point range.
The second ACL tear of Mincy's career leaves the Terps (4-1) with eight active players heading into Monday night's game against No. 2 Connecticut in Hartford as part of the Jimmy V Classic. It's the first time in program history Maryland will play Connecticut (6-0), which has won six NCAA titles since 2000 and seven overall.
"I thought maybe Geno would give us his second five to help us with our depth, or lack of depth, I should say," said Frese, referring to Huskies coach Geno Auriemma, whose roster includes 10 players who average at least 14 minutes per game and five who average at least 10 points per game.
With Mincy out of the lineup, Maryland's current backcourt has no players who were on the active roster last season. Sophomore Brene Moseley was in line to start at point guard this season, but the first-team Washington Post All-Met from Paint Branch High School tore her ACL during a scrimmage Oct. 21.
That leaves freshman Chloe Pavlech as the starting point guard and Katie Rutan at shooting guard. Rutan, a 3-point specialist, transferred to Maryland last season from Xavier but had to sit out per NCAA rules.
"It's a shock because that's three ACLs in what, like a span of a little over a month?" Rutan said before practice the other day at Comcast Center. "It's crazy to think about, but I think our mentality now is we feel bad for her, it's our teammate down, and it's never a good feeling, but I think we're really all going to come together and make up for it and be even a tighter and stronger-knit team from now on."
Said junior All-America forward Alyssa Thomas: "Of course it's tough losing Laurin, but we've just got to stick together even more and just pick everybody up. Everybody's crucial. We can't really get down on ourselves or think about it. We've just got to keep moving forward."
In addition to Pavlech, the other Terps freshmen will be asked to contribute that much more, Frese said, in the absence of Moseley and Mincy, who was averaging more than 25 minutes per game through five games this season and was the team's second-leading scorer last season.
Some of the increased scoring responsibility figures to fall to freshman center Malina Howard, who is averaging nearly 8 points and just over 24 minutes per game. Howard is the centerpiece of Frese's most recent recruiting class, and Connecticut was among the schools the 6-foot-3 high school All-American from Twinsburg, Ohio, initially was considering.
Howard in part chose Maryland because of the school's tradition of strong frontcourt players under Frese. Howard's 5.4 rebounds per game have helped the Terrapins rise to first in the country in rebounding margin (plus-28), and Maryland's field-goal percentage of .508, which is seventh in the country, includes Howard's 53.6 percent shooting.
"It's definitely really exciting," Howard said of playing Connecticut on national television. "It's going to be a good test for us. It's just going to help us come together more as a team. It's really cool because growing up I never thought all this would be happening, but I'm so excited I get to be a part of all this and to get to play against UConn."