Injuries give freshmen opportunity to step up on women’s basketball team

Freshman guard KeKe Gunter focuses on a University of West Alabama player Jan. 29 in Flowers Hall. Gunter is one of four freshmen to see playing time this season. Injuries to the team opened the door for the freshmen to step up, Tiber said.

Second-year head coach Missy Tiber had high expectations with a slew of returning starters and up-tempo offense that give opposing coaches nightmares.

The Lions got off to a fast 6-3 start, but have faltered down the stretch losing six of their last 10.

Injuries are starting to derail what seemed to be a once promising season.

“We have been beat up badly with the injury bug,” Tiber said. “I’ve seen injuries this year that I have ever seen before in all of my years of coaching.”

Second team All Gulf South Conference player Lauren Faris came back from ACL surgery to have the same injury happen again, this time to her other leg.

Rabun Wright, who tore her ACL before the start of last season hoped to have a bounce back season before tearing her ACL again prior to the season opener and missing two straight seasons.

“My athletic career at UNA has not gone exactly the way I had hoped and these injuries have been heartbreaking to me,” Wright said. “But it’s taught me how to fight through adversity and my desire to play has never wavered as I continue the path back to the hardwood.”

Senior guard Janae Lyde broke a finger, and many other players have been banged up along the way.

Due to the numerous injuries at the point guard position, Tiber had to insert freshman KeKe Gunter into the rotation.

“Coming into the season I thought point guard was our deepest position,” Tiber said. “But after all of our injuries I had to take the redshirt off of KeKe because we needed somebody to play the position.”

Gunter said she embraces the challenge of stepping into a larger role.

“With multiple injuries that happened to our team, especially our point guards, I had to step up and be able to contribute to our team by managing the floor and playing both ends,” Gunter said.

Gunter said Tiber expects much out of her even though she is a young player.

“Since I’m a bigger point guard, I can rebound pretty well,” Gunter said. “Coach expects me to be able to step up and handle the other team’s pressure and manage the court in tough situations despite me being young.”

Freshman guard Jaclyn Heath contributed big minutes early in the season but has missed the last eight games due to a finger injury.

Despite missing significant time, Heath leads the team in total assists with 61.

Freshman Jessica Brown also has been called upon to play a bigger role amid all of the injuries.

“I think my versatility has helped me be able to contribute to this team.” Brown said. “Coach (Tiber) has expected me to fill an important role even though I am young, and to be a key contributor on both ends of the floor.”

Brown averages nine points per game and shoots 33 percent from beyond the arc. The 6’1” forward offers versatility by being able to step back and hit shots from long distance, Tiber said.

The Lions are 10-9 overall and 7-8 in conference play and currently sit tied for sixth in the GSC standings.

Only teams that finish in the top eight make the conference tournament.

The Lions have lost three out of four games look to get back on track Thursday night as they host Shorter University in a conference showdown with tip time scheduled for 6 p.m.

Editor’s note: Rabun Wright contributed to this issue as a student writer.