Shafir to sit remainder of season out
Naama Shafir walked deliberately, making certain she did not put too much weight on her right leg as she made her way across Savage Arena to address the media Tuesday afternoon.
It was the opposite of the free-flowing style of play by which she electrified crowds on the same hardwood court for the last three seasons.
What was the same, however, was the infectious smile the Israeli-born point guard has also become well-known for.
“It’s hard,” Shafir said. “I never thought I would get injured like that. You can’t really prepare for it. But I am trying to stay positive and be there for the team.”
Shafir’s optimism might be surprising to some, considering she learned last weekend she will miss the remainder of the 2011-2012 season as the result of a torn anterior crucial ligament in her right knee.
“When it first happened my heart sank,” said UT head coach Tricia Cullop. “Not only because she’s a great player, but because she’s a great kid. She has sacrificed so much to be here and was looking forward to having a tremendous senior year.”
Cullop insists that Shafir will continue to be an important part of the Rockets 2011-12 campaign. She said since the injury, Shafir has taken on a coaching role, instructing teammates from the sideline.
“We’re not going to lose her leadership,” Cullop said. “Because she’s still going to be on the bench and she’s still going to be a part of a lot of our practices and games leading from the sideline.”
Shafir admits that adapting to her new position has been difficult, though.
“You really want to help and you don’t know how,” Shafir said. “You try to talk to them but you just want to be the one to do it.”
The Mid-American Conference Player of the Year candidate was injured while driving to the basket in the opening minute of the Rockets game at Indiana last Friday. She tried to return to the game later in the half but was unable to put significant weight on her injured knee.
UT rallied in Shafir's absence to pull out a 69-58 win.
“I think our players are resilient,” Cullop said. “I was very, very proud of how they handled the Indiana game because it happened in the first few seconds. They reacted in the way that I expected them to – with great courage. And we won the game.”
Shafir was averaging 9.3 points, a team-best 3.5 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.5 rebounds this season before sitting out for the first time in 107 games in a loss at Arkansas State on Sunday.
Last season, the First Team All-MAC honoree averaged a team-high in points (15.3) and assists (5.1), in addition to posting 3.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals a contest.
Shafir was crucial to the Rockets 2011 WNIT Championship run, torching Southern California for a career-high 40 points in the finals en route to earning tournament MVP honors.
“Obviously we lose a go-to player who had the ball in her hand a lot of the game,” Cullop said. “We’re going to have different people try to step up and fill those roles. We’re going to have to change some offensive sets that we run because obviously things that Naama was good at – other kids can score but they may score in a different way.”
So far Courtney Ingersoll has carried the scoring load since Shafir was sidelined. The senior guard has averaged 17.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals the past two games.
“Courtney has definitely taken some of that on her shoulders already,” Cullop said. “I’ve really been impressed with her leadership. When we’ve been in some close situations, you can tell she’s firing up her teammates and getting them focused on what’s most important.”
Sophomore guard Andola Dortch is expected to continue filling in for Shafir at point guard the remainder of the season.
The speedy Dortch is averaging 12.2 points and 2.8 assists and leads the team with over three steals a game. But Dortch is also first on the team with nearly four turnovers a contest and she has found herself in foul trouble recently.
“Andola Dortch showed in the Indiana game that she can handle that same pressure [as Shafir],” Cullop said. “But we may have to, when she is out of the game, do point guard by committee.”
Sophomore shooting guard Janelle Reed-Lewis is expected to head that committee, but Cullop is hopeful that freshman guards Inma Zanoguera and Stephanie Recker will contribute to the effort.12
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