The North Carolina women’s basketball team knows what it’s like to play without Jessica Breland.
After missing all of last season, the senior forward and versatile leader could be out of commission for 10 or more days with a knee injury. But this time, Breland’s teammates know exactly how to deal with her absence.
With games against conference foes Virginia and Virginia Tech in Carmichael Arena this weekend, the Tar Heels (17-3, 3-2 ACC) have no choice but to make the best of the shake-up.
“(Her injury) is a big impact in any type of game,” senior Cetera DeGraffenreid said.
“She would have been a great asset to help us out … but I think we just need to refocus and go with what we have and know we played those two teams without her last year.”
Breland missed all of the 2009-10 season as she received treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and the Tar Heels struggled through a sub-par season where they finished 19-12.
Back on the court, Breland has paced the Tar Heels in scoring four times so far in the 2010-11 campaign, and she has led in rebounding eight times. She also leads the team in total defensive rebounds.
Though the injured Breland will likely leave a large hole in the starting lineup for two or three more games, her teammates are confident they can pick up the slack.
“Sometimes we use her as a safety net,” junior Laura Broomfield said. “Everyone, including me, knows that we have to bring our best every game and even more so now.”
And Broomfield might very well be the answer to the Tar Heels’ prayers.
Broomfield has started just two games this season, but the junior tops the team in total rebounds and had a career-high 19 points from the bench in UNC’s win against Wake Forest on Thursday.
Broomfield started in Breland’s place when UNC played Maryland on Sunday, and though the Tar Heels lost 88-65, the Maryland-native’s nine rebounds and two steals in 17 minutes on the court proved she can be a successful substitute.
But that doesn’t mean Broomfield doesn’t feel the pressure.
“Especially with (Jessica) being gone, I have to stay on the floor as much as possible,” Broomfield said. “I also have to bring what we’re missing from her, which is more rebounds, and stepping up my intensity on defense.”
North Carolina has lost two of its last three games and has been outrebounded in all three. The No. 15 Tar Heels will face an uphill battle until Breland is healthy again, but the squad is determined to learn from its recent mistakes.
Though for the time being younger forwards will be taking her senior teammate’s spot on the starting lineup, DeGraffenreid is sure they’ll do Breland proud.
“Broomfield comes in off the bench all the time and gives us a great spark,” DeGraffenreid said. “She goes in there, she’s relentless to the board …. I’m confident they can go in and put some scores up.”
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