Even through a flurry of serious injuries, the Terrapins women’s basketball team has remained steady in the face of hardships.
Already dealing with the loss of three players to ACL tears in just more than a month to open the season, the Terps now have to contend with the absence of forward Tierney Pfirman, who dislocated her kneecap in practice the day before the Terps’ victory at Georgia Tech on Sunday.
Pfirman is slated to miss the next four weeks recovering from the injury, a timetable that would have her return for the Terps’ final four regular-season games and the postseason. In the meantime, though, the No. 10 Terps’ season rolls on without her tonight when they host No. 11 North Carolina at Comcast Center.
“It’s our fourth one, so we’re pretty much professionals,” forward Alyssa Thomas said. “[We’ve] got to keep it moving.”
Tonight’s game is a rematch of a contest from exactly three weeks ago in Chapel Hill, N.C. The Terps held down the Tar Heels early to take a six-point lead into halftime, but the team went cold in the second half. North Carolina opened the second half on a 14-1 run and held on for a 60-57 victory.
There are plenty of differences in the Terps’ performances since then, though. While they might be more shorthanded, they haven’t stumbled since. Center Alicia DeVaughn had 11 points and 12 rebounds against Georgia Tech in her best offensive performance since Dec. 29, guard Chloe Pavlech exploded for 20 points against Miami on Jan. 10 and Thomas has continued to play at an All-American level.
“That was one of our first road games in the ACC,” Thomas said of the first North Carolina game. “A lot of nerves, not playing the way we wanted to play. But we’re a different team now. We’re more than prepared for this game.”
In the Jan. 3 matchup, the Terps (15-3, 6-1 ACC) posted a season-low 31.9 shooting percentage on their second-most shots of the season (72) and shot 2-of-14 from 3-point range against the Tar Heels (18-1, 6-0). Forward Tianna Hawkins, the ACC’s leader in points and rebounds, took a career-high 21 shots but made just nine of them.
“I thought it was really uncharacteristic of how we’ve played,” coach Brenda Frese said. “I don’t think our freshmen were prepared to go into that environment. Sometimes you have to live it and go through it. The physicality of conference play I know we weren’t prepared for, so just getting used to that level I think was really important for us.”
Since then, the Terps have won all five of their games — three in blowout fashion and the other two after holding off late pushes from their opponents. There haven’t been any lapses similar to those that plagued them at Chapel Hill, and the younger players are tailoring their games to the rigors of the conference competition.
“As I’ve played more and more ACC games, I’ve slowly gotten better,” Pavlech said. “Even the ACC games compared to our [nonconference] games, the pace is just so much faster because you get a lot of small and quick guards.”
Backcourt play was crucial in the win three weeks ago, as both Tar Heels starting guards, Brittany Rountree and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, scored a team-high 13 points, and Rountree was 3-of-6 from 3-point range.
Tonight, though, the Terps are regrouped. They once again are riding a long winning streak into a matchup with the Tar Heels, even if they’ll have to take the floor without Pfirman.
Either way, they know this time is much different than their first game of 2013.
“It humbled us and it allowed us to get better,” Frese said. “Anytime you can take that out of a game, great things are going to happen for you, and we’ve been able to do that. Since then, we haven’t lost a game. Obviously, we took a lot of lessons to be able to let us improve.”