Michelle Smith WBB Feature: Overcoming Injuries; Cal coach honored

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On an opening weekend when every Pac-12 team was in action and the competitiveness of this conference showed itself across the schedule, a pall was cast by three season-ending knee injuries.

Oregon State junior guard Kat Tudor, Stanford junior forward Nadia Fingall and Utah senior guard Daneesha Provo all sustained injuries last Friday night. But Sunday, the news that they were all lost for the remainder of the season sent a wave of disappointment across the league, far beyond the impacted teams.

“My heart breaks for them,” said UCLA coach Cori Close. “It’s hard for the teams, their chemistry. It’s hard for the young women and their coaches. I just hate it. I hate it. As competitive as we all are, when I saw (Fingall) in sweats on the Stanford bench, I thought, ‘Darn it. These are great kids and great young women.’”

Utah coach Lynne Roberts said she heard from coaches around the league following Provo’s injury, which ends her collegiate career.

“It’s so hard,” Roberts said. “But it is nice to know that we have a community of coaches who would reach out, because they are about the kids. It’s something we’ve all experienced.”

Provo was the Utes’ second-leading scorer when she was injured in the third quarter of a hard-fought game against Arizona State on Friday. Her season-ending injury, a torn ACL, was diagnosed Saturday.

“The weekend was so hard,” Roberts said. “Losing the way we did to Arizona State, we were up by six with about a minute and a half to go and we lost on an off-balance shot. Credit to Arizona State for making the play, but it was a crusher. And then we got the news about Daneesha and I met with the team and said, ‘This is who we’ve got now.’ It’s not like she’s going to be back in a couple of weeks. So, we have to move forward.”

Roberts said she took each of her players aside and asked the to do a little more.

“She’s a three-year starter and our second-leading scorer,” Roberts said. “You aren’t just going to plug somebody in there and everything will be the same.”

VanDerveer acknowledged that her team will be impacted by Nadia Fingall’s season-ending ACL tear. Fingall, who started all 12 games she played in this season for the sixth-ranked Cardinal, was averaging 8.0 points and 4.9 rebounds a game for the Cardinal before she was injured in the third quarter of Friday night’s game vs. USC. Fingall’s injury is compounded by a foot injury to forward Maya Dodson, who is out for an indeterminate amount of time.

“It affects us,” VanDerveer said. “We will miss her scoring and her passing. It hurts us a lot. But there’s nothing that I can do about it, and there’s nothing our team can do about it. The best thing they did (Sunday) is say, ‘We are going to play hard for you.’ And they did.”

VanDerveer has seen her share of season-ending knee injuries through the years.

“ACL are the three letters of the alphabet that I hate,” VanDerveer said. “

Tudor was the Pac-12’s leading 3-point shooter with 40 made treys. She was averaging 12.3 points a game when she was injured against Washington State. It is the first season-ending injury in Rueck’s nine-year tenure at Oregon State.

“To have someone go down and not be able to come back, it’s miserable, to be honest,” Beavers head coach Scott Rueck said Sunday. “We’re going to rally around her and love her and then it’s up to us, the rest of us, to figure it out and fill in the gaps.”

It may not have happened to one of her players, but Close can relate to the experience. She tore her Achilles tendon in college.

“I am a big believer that these experiences can help you grow in ways that you can’t imagine,” Close said. “But it sure doesn’t make it any easier in the moment.”

Gottlieb honored
On Wednesday night, in a star-studded ballroom at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb was honored with a Coaching Corps Game Changer Award. Gottlieb was introduced by star player Kristine Anigwe.

Anigwe, the nation’s leading rebounder, walked to the stage in front of a star-studded room that included Warriors All-Star Klay Thompson, San Francisco Giants infielder Pablo Sandoval and former Oakland Raiders star Charles Woodson, and said that Gottlieb is a second mother to her.

“Even when I hit a wall my junior year and lost a bit of who I was, Lindsay never did. She helped me reflect on my potential and helped me get back and grow into the woman I want to be,” Anigwe said. “She’s believed in me when I didn’t always believe in myself. That’s real love…I want to be fearless, I want to be confident. I want to be like Lindsay.”

Gottlieb gave an impassioned speech about the importance of coaches to the lives of young athletes and earned a standing ovation.

“Without a doubt, the impact that I can have on the development of young people is the most important part of my job,” Gottlieb said. “As a coach and educator at a world-renowned university, it is my duty to use my platform to empower the young women that I coach in every possible way. It is my charge to urge them to believe in the excellence that they possess and encourage them to seek it. It is my mission to prepare them for a zone defense and to prepare them for class on Monday after a road trip.”

Gottlieb said that “every kid deserves a good coach.”

“Every person like me who is lucky to do it as a full-time job should take care with every word we utter and every young person we touch with our platform.”

Gottlieb has been involved with Coaching Corps since she returned to Cal as the head coach in 2011.

“To have the title of coach is such a humbling feeling every day,” Gottlieb said before the ceremony. “To be honored for doing something that I consider the most incredible job in the world is beyond me. Hard to wrap my mind around.

“When I came back to Cal, Coaching Corps was the first organization I really linked with, so to be honored by an organization whose mission I believe in so strongly is really huge. Helping all kids, especially those in low income areas, get access to good coaching, is something that I’m passionate about.”

The awards ceremony will be broadcast on NBC Sports Bay Area on January 13 (10 p.m.) and January 14 (8 p.m.).

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse. For previous Michelle Smith features on pac-12.com, visit the archives page.

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