Paul VI's Ariana Freeman knocks down a shot by Good Counsel's Liz Gittings during a January 2012 game. Freeman returned Friday after a knee injury knocked her out of the lineup for six weeks. (Ricky Carioti/Washington Post)

Paul VI forward Ariana Freeman caught a break right before Christmas, when a doctor told her that the knee injury she suffered on Dec. 15 against St. Anthony’s (N.J.) was a level-three MCL sprain. By avoiding a torn ACL, Freeman could feasibly return late in the season of her senior year and be ready to join Louisville fully healthy after she graduates this spring.

“I was just praying that it wasn’t anything serious,” she said.

Still, Freeman was staring down a treacherous road to recovery. The rehabilitation process started with just being able to walk in the school hallways, and slowly it progressed to short workouts in the gym. On Friday, six weeks after she suffered the worst injury of her short but sensational basketball career, Freeman officially returned to the Panthers’ lineup against Holy Cross. She scored 14 points in the hard-fought, 55-45 victory, and on Saturday she dropped 22 points in a 16-point win over Good Counsel.

“It feels so great to be back on the floor with my team again,” Freeman said.

The return of Freeman, who was a first team All-Met a year ago, couldn’t come at a better time for a team with an eye on the WCAC championship in a few weeks. Still, Paul VI Catholic weathered the middle of the season without its star; the Panthers went 11-4 in the 15 games Freeman missed, including 9-1 in league play. The guards were solid during that stretch, with Lindsay Oblitey (10.9 ppg) and Jasmine Whitney (10.9) increasing their offensive production, and junior center Jonquanae Cole has been one of the league’s top post players as of late. Cole seemed to be at her best against Paul VI’s toughest opponents over the last month, averaging 19 points in games against McNamara, Elizabeth Seton and Good Counsel.

Host B.J. Koubaroulis runs through the top plays from the week of basketball in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area. (Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

Freeman, who averaged 18.5 points in her first six games of the season, continually asked her the team’s coaching staff to let her come back and play limited minutes in January. But in retrospect, patience was the best option. She’s back just in time for Wednesday’s showdown against St. John’s (13-5, 9-2), knowing full well that her team is already capable of beating the Lady Cadets without her.

“I’ve had great support system around me and people just telling me, ‘No, just hold on. You’ve got to think long term,’” Freeman said. “Now that I’m back, I’m happy, I’m excited. I’m ready to go.”

All-Met Watch: Week 7

Rankings: The Post’s Top 20