LAS VEGAS – A rebound, a few swift dribbles up court, a bold move to the hoop – it was Lindsay Sherbert revealed, if not as her old self, then as a reasonable facsimile, playing with the practiced abandon so prized by her Gonzaga teammates.
Then came the collision and a fall, and a disturbing flashback, and in a mere second everything but the silence was siphoned out of Orleans Arena. What is worse than unlucky? What makes unfair seem like a gift by comparison?
On the floor beneath the Gonzaga basket, Sherbert rolled and writhed in considerable pain, and most eyes focused on her left knee, as it was already encased in a bulky brace – and as it was too much to handle the mix of fear and despair on her face.
This was not déjà vu. This was déjà cruel.
When the women’s half of the West Coast Conference basketball championships reconvenes for Monday afternoon’s semifinals, Sherbert may well reclaim her place in the Gonzaga rotation. That’s two days away, and even after her ugly looking crash in the moments before halftime of the Bulldogs’ tournament opener on Friday there was some thought in the locker room that she might be able to Willis Reed it out there for the second half.
She made it as far as the bench to cheer on the surge that propelled her teammates to a 70-50 quarterfinal win over Loyola Marymount.
Beyond that, well, it’s a big step. Rising from her seat for the postgame reception line, Sherbert seemed capable of just gingerly ones.
Surely this is not what she envisioned for her senior year, nor what anyone envisioned for her.
“That’s what so hard,” said teammate Elle Tinkle, “because you can ask every single one of us who’s the most competitive person on the team, and it’s her.
“She just loves the game and loves playing, and for that to happen to her, just so disappointing.”
Gonzaga’s season was just five games old when Sherbert first injured her knee – a strain of the posterior cruciate ligament – during the Zags’ 79-67 loss to Iowa. The one good takeaway was that surgery wasn’t necessary. Six weeks of rest and rehab was.
At this point, Sherbert was probably reconciled to the fact that her college basketball career would be one of hiccups and speedbumps. As a freshman at Cal, she made the Pac-10’s all-freshman team. Then she endured a coaching change and a production decline before seeking a restart at Gonzaga.
Not only was she welcomed, former coach Kelly Graves gushed that “she has the opportunity to not only be one of the best players in our conference, but one of the best players in the country.”
Except that the role she finally settled into was one of supersub – 22 minutes and 10 points a game, capable of impacting the game inside and out.
If early returns suggested more out of her senior year, the injury would dictate less once she returned after missing 13 games.
“It takes a while, when you come back from an injury, to see how you fit back in,” said Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier. “I felt like we were finally comfortable with where she was and when to go to her.”
Complicating matters was that the Zags, after a halting 6-4 start, started to find themselves after Christmas. Tinkle didn’t just pick up some of Sherbert’s minutes, she became a go-to presence. Other teammates upped their contributions, and Fortier noted that “it was good for Lindsay to see that someone else could pick up the burden – that she wasn’t going to be letting the team down not being out there.”
Which is not to say she wasn’t desperately wanted.
“When she finally came back, we knew it wasn’t going to be the same old Lindsay,” Tinkle said. “But she’s stepped up in so many games regardless of how many minutes she’s played, and she still does the things we need her to do.”
And when Sherbert drilled a pair of 3s in her third game back, “Our team was so pumped for her,” Fortier said.
On Friday, that emotion required redirection. The Zags couldn’t create any separation from the WCC’s No. 8 team until Fortier engaged subs Shaniqua Nilles, Emma Stach and Chelsea Waters and pressed the Lions into pudding.
“That’s kind of my normal role,” said Nilles, “but I know there was a mood change when we saw Sherbs go down. I took it upon myself to try to keep everyone together and keep the energy up.”
Never easy and sometimes impossible. The Lions discovered as much earlier this season when they lost both point guards and leading scorers, Deanna Johnson and Taylor Anderson, to ACL tears in the space of five weeks.
“Sometimes,” said LMU coach Charity Elliott, “you just can do so much.”
Someone seems all too determined to drive that message home to Lindsay Sherbert.
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