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 revealed to be a dislocated right kneecap. Roughly an hour later, the Terrapins 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 Terrapins still managed a 66-57 victory behind a rotation of seven players, with no starter logging less 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 ACC) tries to overtake Duke and North Carolina in the ACC. The next test comes Thursday night against the No. 11 Tar Heels (18-1, 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 her ACL against Nebraska in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. One month earlier, sophomore point guard Brene Moseley tore her ACL during a scrimmage the evening before the team was to conduct media day at Comcast Center.
A reserve last season, Moseley was in line to become a starter until the injury. But the first-team All-Met from Paint Branch continues to provide leadership and encouragement off the court, 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 against the Yellow Jackets. Thomas also played 40 minutes for the first time this season and has gone at least 37 minutes in six of the last 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 in which the Terrapins shot 24 percent in the second half.
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. The Tar Heels escaped for good when junior guard Katie Rutan, who has moved into the starting rotation with Pfirman out, had her desperation three-point attempt bounce off the rim as time expired.
Since then the Terrapins have won five in a row, including twice against teams that were ranked at the time. Maryland has won its last four games by an average of 20 points, its last two home games by an average of 21 and 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 figures 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.”