Athletes and coaches aren’t the only ones putting in the extra time this week to help their teams prepare for the NCAA Tournament.
Doctors and coaches play a big role with wounds leaving question marks on several top teams. A look at the programs that could see their league dreams impacted by missing or returning players in March:
The Fighting Irish (25-5) won the ACC regular season title, but lost star Olivia Miles to a right knee injury in their Feb. 26 win over Louisville. Miles, who was averaging 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists, missed both of his team’s games in the ACC Tournament and his return is uncertain.
The No. 3 seed Notre Dame, who faces Southern Utah (23-9) in the first round, had already lost fifth-year goaltender Dara Mabrey to a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a tibial plateau fracture in his right knee in a Jan. 22 win. on Virginia.
Notre Dame’s tournament hopes may well hinge on when Miles can return and how effective she is once she does.
“She’s going to be with the doctors a bit more this week, but she’s making progress,” coach Niele Ivey told reporters on Sunday.
UConn’s prospects of earning a 15th consecutive trip to the Final Four suffered a blow before the start of the season when National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers and new freshman Ice Brady both suffered season-ending knee injuries.
The No. 2-seeded Huskies (29-5) then lost leading scorer Azzi Fudd for 22 games with two separate knee injuries and guard Caroline Ducharme for 13 games with a concussion. Only two Huskies, Lou Lopez Senechal and Aaliyah Edwards, have played every game this season.
Fudd, who averaged just under 18 points before being injured, and Ducharme, a 3-point threat, both returned to help the Huskies through the Big East Tournament, although neither was in fine form: Fudd averaged just 8.3 points over the three games and Ducharme scored a total of four points.
The team, which faces Vermont (25-6) on Saturday, hopes that, like last year, when Bueckers returned from a knee injury just before the playoffs, the return of Ducharme and Fudd can help propel the Huskies in the title race.
Cyclones (22-9) won the Big 12 tournament despite the absence of injured post player Stephanie Soares The 6-foot-6 forward tore the ACL in her left knee in a Jan. 8 loss to Oklahoma.
Soares, a two-time NAIA Player of the Year before his transfer from Masters University, averaged 14.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game in 13 games.
Coach Bill Fennelly hopes the NCAA will give Soares an extra year for Iowa State.
In the meantime, the fifth-seeded Cyclones will have to rely on one of the best players in the country, Ashley Joens, to help them get to Texas. Joens, a career-high 3,000 point scorer, had 28 points and 10 rebounds in Iowa State’s victory over Texas for the league title.
The Cyclones face Toledo (28-4) in the first round.
The Longhorns (25-9), Big 12 regular season champions, are another team looking to recover from a series of injuries.
Players who were part of the Texas rotation missed a total of 45 regular season games. The biggest loss came when 6-foot-1 striker Aaliyah Moore suffered a torn ACL on December 13. The second had started every game before the injury, averaging 11.2 points and 4.8 rebounds.
Sonya Morris (quadruple) and Ndjakalenga Mwenentanda (ankle) are also bumped, but coach Vic Shafer expects them both to come back when the No. 4 seed takes on East Carolina (23 -9) in the first round.
Forward Taylor Jones is back from a lower-body injury that kept Oregon State out of trade for nine games late in the season. She also missed 21 games with a shoulder injury last year for the Beavers.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE
North Carolina State (20-11) is a No. 7 seed after losing to Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament.
The Wolfpack were missing guard Diamond Johnson, who was hampered by a right ankle injury that also cost him seven regular season games. Johnson, who leads the Wolfpack in scoring (12.3 points) and assists (3.5 per game) hasn’t played since Feb. 16.
She was held off to give her ankle more time to heal and could be back for the first-round match against Ivy League champion Princeton (23-5).
The Highest Ranked Hoosiers may have to play at least their first weekend of the tournament without reserve forward Kiandra Browne, who suffered a hip injury in the quarter-finals of the Big Ten tournament. Browne had to leave the ground in a wheelchair.
The Hoosiers ended up losing in the semifinals to Ohio State, losing a 24-point halftime lead.
The 6-foot-2 forward hasn’t played a big part in Indiana’s success this year. A thumb injury has limited her to just 10 minutes in seven games this year after playing 30 games a year ago.
Coach Teri Moren told reporters Sunday that Browne’s injury was to the hip muscles and could take “a few weeks” to heal.
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