What had promised to be a season of vindication and fulfillment for North Carolina State's Ginger Rouse has instead been a time of frustration and disappointment.

A painful back injury, first incurred early in her freshman year, has consistently hampered the junior guard, who twice was The Washington Post's player of the year while at Fairfax's Robinson High School. After missing all except three games last year, she has played in only nine of the team's 15 games this season, and will sit in the stands when the 12th-ranked Wolfpack (12-3) play at 14th-ranked Maryland (8-4) in an ACC game today at 5.

"At this point, I don't know if I'll ever be 100 percent again," said Rouse sadly. "It's real frustrating. I had trouble when we played Georgia Tech (on Jan. 3). I had felt really good before that, but when I pushed off my foot during the opening tap, I got this really sharp, intense pain in my right hip.

She played briefly against South Carolina three days later, but has not played since, except for a little shooting around in practice this week. "I just got tired of playing at 50 percent," the 5-foot-11 guard said. "I was starting, but I couldn't be depended on. I decided I just couldn't play like that.

"I felt some tightness when I worked out this week, but that was to be expected since I hadn't played in a while. And then there's the just plain fear of hurting -- that hinders you, too."

Despite the injury -- a slipped disc incurred while she was playing tennis -- Rouse average 9.2 and 14.4 points her first two years, and became known as one of the finest shooters in the country. One Wolfpack fan honored her marksmanship (53 and 56.4 percent from the floor) by giving her a T-shirt that reads: "There's good. There's very good. And then there's my jump shot."

But the injury recurred after three games last year, and Rouse was forced to sit out the rest of the season. She decided to forego surgery in favor of six months of rest, then intensive therapy and rehabilitation. She played in a summer league in Venezuela, then returned to N.C. State this fall impatient to rejoin the team.

Her diligent efforts at therapy appeared to pay off, as Rouse -- touted for all-America honors by the school -- averaged 11.3 points while making 50 percent of her field-goal attempts. Since the injury worsened, however, she has put her basketball career on hold while she decides whether to play any more this year. Or ever again.

"It was pretty traumatic for me at first, thinking I might not every play again," she admitted."There's a possibility I can play. I'm taking it day by day. But if I don't, I've got nothing but good memories."