By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers
PORTALES — Whether it’s on the basketball court or in a conversation, Tiana Bryant knows exactly where Heather Brown is, and vice versa.
With three players — Rochelle Vance, Elizabeth Richards and Riikka Lehtonen — suffering season-ending ACL injuries within a week of each other — the Brown/Bryant familiarity is something the Zias will need to count on.
“Between Riikka and Elizabeth was 30 points,” Brown said, before Bryant added, “That’s 37 percent of our offense.”
Brown and Bryant helped make part of that deficit up by combining for 39 points in Thursday’s 66-63 win over Texas A&M-Commerce.
“I think they’re both leaders on the court, and they know their roles,” Zia coach Dan Buzard said. “Now we just need more out of them, and I thought they really stepped up and played well.”
It’s a formula that the Zias will need to count on to have any chance at a Lone Star Conference postseason berth.
“I thought we had the people put together to possibly get an NCAA regional berth,” Buzard said. “I don’t think our goals have (changed). We’re just going to have to step up and try to do it with the people we have right now.”
There’s no telling who those people might be right now, as the Zias’ opening-night roster looks more like a hospital sign-in sheet.
Besides the three ACL injuries, the Zias have recently been without guard Missy Kirkland, who has been day-to-day with an ankle injury, and spent the second half without guard Rosalyn Elliott, who suffered a minor foot injury during second-half warmups Thursday night. Buzard said both are expected to play today against St. Edward’s.
The rest of the roster is still up in the air. Two players on Thursday’s roster — Kayla Britain and Amber Davis — were last-minute additions from the Zia volleyball team. Neither played, and there’s not much indication if they will tonight.
“No miracles are going to pop in here and replace the girls who went down,” Buzard said.
Instead, they’ll have to rely on familiarity.
“It helps that Heather and I have played together for two years,” said Bryant, the Roswell Goddard alumnus, who transferred to the Zias after a season at the University of New Mexico. “We know each other better than anybody on the team.”
If the starting lineups hold from Thursday, the Zias will start Brown, Bryant, two sophomores (Erika Cook and Brittney Gillespie) and junior college transfer Ashley Sutton. Cook had six points, Gillespie had a career-high eight rebounds and Sutton’s shot-clock beating 3-pointer turned out to be the game-winner against the Lions.
“We had some great contributions from some other players,” Buzard said. “When we substitute, we don’t need to have a letdown. We need to have something pick us up. There are a lot of things they can do.”
But most of the burden will still fall on Brown and Bryant. Both know it’s coming.
“It’s a big shock (losing so many teammates), but things happen,” Brown said.
Just then, her teammate chimed in.
“That’s the set of cards that we were dealt,” Bryant added.