296 days. That’s how long it’s been since Chloe Bibby tore her left ACL less than a minute into Mississippi State’s home game against South Carolina midway through last season.
As with any ACL injury, it’s been a long road back for the Bulldogs star, but this weekend saw Bibby return to the court for her first official game since that night in January as Mississippi State took on Southern Miss.
Bibby started the game, and after missing an early jumper, gave the Bulldogs faithful exactly what they had come, not only to see, but to expect from the Australian as a corner three swished through the net five minutes in. Yes, she had knocked down three of four from deep in an earlier exhibition game against Lubbock Christian. But there was something different – almost cathartic – about watching Bibby do it in a game that counted, as if this made the long-awaited comeback real.
However, that would be just the start for the junior who will be expected to lead the Bulldogs this season, both on and off the court. Bibby demonstrated exactly why she is one of coach Vic Schaefer’s go-to players, leading Mississippi State with 16 points, including 2 of 3 from deep and a perfect 4 from 4 at the charity stripe. The Warracknabeal product also corralled six rebounds in her 25 minutes as Mississippi State dominated the 2nd and 3rd quarters to ease to a 91-58 victory over Southern Miss.
One game down, but there is a long road ahead for both Bibby and her team as they look to secure back-to-back SEC Tournament successes as well as a third Final Four in four years. They may have lost the likes of Teaira McCowan, Jazzmun Holmes, and Anriel Howard from last year’s team, but with their talismanic Australian back in the lineup, the Bulldogs will be there or thereabouts in March.
However, Bibby’s was not the only comeback worthy of mention. Washington State graduate transfer Louise Brown had secured a dream spot at the storied Tennessee program, only to find herself out with an ACL injury of her own prior to the 2018/19 season. Mercifully, the NCAA granted Brown a sixth year of eligibility, during which she too will become a leader for her team in a time of relative upheaval for the Lady Vols. Head coach Holly Warlick was relieved of her duties after seven years to be replaced by fellow Lady Vols legend Kellie Harper, whilst star guard Evina Westbrook has transferred to UConn.
Brown came out strong in her first game, coming off the bench to connect on her first five shots as a Lady Vol before grabbing six second half-rebounds as Tennessee held off in-state foes East Tennessee State 72-68. Brown would finish the game with 11 points and 8 rebounds, earning a first Tennessee start in the team’s 63-36 victory over Central Arkansas.
Then, of course, there is Courtney Woods. The hot-shooting Queenslander just about had safety personnel scrambling for extinguishers as she repeatedly caught fire on offence for the first seven games of the 2018/19 campaign. However, a 28-point outing against Nevada would be Woods’ last appearance of the season as she too tore her ACL late in the contest on a fairly innocuous move to the basket. Fortunately, Woods was able to redshirt last season and return for a Northern Illinois side set to be among the top teams in the Mid-American Conference.
Like Bibby and Brown, Woods has begun the season encouragingly, even if the result may not have come for Northern Illinois in their opener as the Huskies fell 59-53 to Harvard. Despite shooting 1 of 10 from beyond the arc, Woods was able to contribute to the scoreline in other ways, hitting 6 of 12 from two-point range and 7 of 8 from the free throw line on her way to 22 points.
Future opponents will be hoping Woods doesn’t find her range from beyond the arc, but don’t bank on it: the senior shot 41.8% from three-point land in her last full season in 2017/18, and is just 18 made threes from breaking the Northern Illinois career record.