By Carl Adamec
STORRS, Conn. — The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team had hoped for the best but the news could not have been worse concerning Brianna Banks.
The Huskies’ sophomore guard tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee during Saturday’s game against St. John’s and will miss the remainder of the season. An MRI taken Sunday confirmed the injury and she will have surgery at a date to be determined.
Banks was injured with 10:02 left in the first half on a drive to the basket when she collided with St. John’s Briana Brown. Banks was called for an offensive foul. She was helped off the floor by athletic trainer Rosemary Ragle but returned to the Huskies’ bench with a wrap on the knee to watch the second half.
“When Rosemary said she twisted her knee, right away you’re thinking ‘Man, I hope that’s not what I’m thinking it is,’ ” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Monday. “When the results came in I don’t think it was a big surprise to anybody. When it came back in last night it was pretty nauseating to be honest.”
With the team together watching Super Bowl XLVII Sunday night, Auriemma opted to wait until Monday morning before telling Banks about the MRI results.
The Newnan, Ga., native has been among UConn’s most improved players. After being a non-factor most of her freshman year, she was averaging 7.3 points and 1.7 rebounds and was one of only four Huskies to appear in every game. She had three points in the minute-plus she played against St. John’s at Carnesecca Arena.
“You go from where she was last year to where she is this year and how much she’s improved and how much she’s worked to get her game to where it is and her mind to where it is and obviously you’re disappointed from anyone that has to go through that,” Auriemma said. “It’s a little more disappointing because of how far she’s come. It’s one of the cruelties of this game, of any game. It can be taken from you that suddenly.”
Banks will be the seventh player on UConn’s 11-player roster to miss a game due to injury/illness, joining Kiah Stokes (6 games), Morgan Tuck (3 games), Bria Hartley (2 games), Breanna Stewart (2 games), Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (1 game), and Stefanie Dolson (1 game). Dolson, who missed Saturday’s game with St. John’s with flu-like symptoms, practiced Sunday and Monday and will play Tuesday night when the third-ranked Huskies host Marquette for a Big East game at Gampel Pavilion (7 p.m., SNY).
The last time more players missed time in a season due to injury/illness was in 2000-01 when nine players sat out games.
All-American Svetlana Abrosimova (16 games, foot surgery) and Shea Ralph (5 games, knee surgery) did not play in the NCAA tournament. Ashley Battle was a long-term loss (30 games, elbow surgery) and ended up redshirting. Others sidelined were Maria Conlon (8 games, mononucleosis), Kelly Schumacher (6 games, foot), Morgan Valley (3 games, knee), Diana Taurasi (2 games, ankle), Tamika Williams (2 games, ribs), and Sue Bird (1 game, back spasms).
Fifth-year senior guard Caroline Doty is one of the four Huskies to play in all 21 games. As UConn fans know, she has torn the ACL in her left knee three times and sat out the final 22 games of the 2008-09 season and the entire 2010-11 campaign. She knows what Banks is going through.
“I’m giving her space,” Doty said. “It’s so hard now, letting it sink in. It’s a terrible thing an athlete like her has to go through it. She’s strong. She’ll do well. But if she needs someone, I’m going to be there for her.”
Freshman guard Moriah Jefferson could pick up many of the 17 minutes per game Banks was getting.
Jefferson has played in all 21 games and is averaging 3.7 points and 1.7 assists in 16 minutes per outing.
“It will be even more important now for Moriah to be ready to play regardless of what she’s asked to do,” Auriemma said. “Sometimes when you’re forced into a situation you have a tendency to respond because you don’t have a choice. You have to. Moriah’s been able to contribute much more since we got back from Christmas than she did before Christmas time. So this next month she’ll get a chance to do all the things she came to Connecticut to do.”
But it won’t be all on Jefferson. As things usually are at UConn, it will be a team effort.
“We’ll be there for Brianna and we’ll do everything we can,” UConn senior Kelly Faris said. “But it’s hard. She had finally started to make progress and was making a difference in games. It sucks. It really does.”