By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — She underwent surgery on Jan. 11 to repair the broken thumb on her shooting hand. After the operation, University of Virginia women’s basketball player Faith Randolph recalled Wednesday with a smile, “I was like, `All right, I’m good to go.’ ”
The sling on her arm and cast on her thumb indicated otherwise. A lengthy recovery period awaited the right-handed Randolph, the Cavaliers’ only senior and their best player.
The 5-10 guard was expected to be sidelined about six weeks. She made it back in around five. After missing nine games — seven of which Virginia lost — Randolph started Sunday against Boston College and helped her team win 61-50 in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
In 36 minutes, Randolph totaled a team-high six assists and added five rebounds and four points (on 2-for-12 shooting) as the Wahoos ended a six-game losing streak.
“It was exciting, very exciting,” Randolph said, “just to be back there playing with my teammates. I had to get some of the rust off at the offensive end, but everything else felt pretty normal.”
Head coach Joanne Boyle said: “I thought she would be more tired out there and would take a minute to get her wind back. We gave her some breaks, but she was pretty good.
“Her shooting, she’s a little short on her shots. Defensively, she’s probably half a step slow. I think it’s just getting the rust off of things. But having her out there was great, not only for her sake, but [for] the flow of us on both ends of the floor. The kids just seem more calm. There’s just a different presence with her out there.”
Among the games Randolph missed was Louisville’s Jan. 14 visit to John Paul Jones Arena. With Randolph on the bench in street clothes, the Cardinals breezed to a 59-41 victory that night.
The rematch is Thursday night at Louisville. At 7 o’clock, the 11th-ranked Cards (20-6, 11-1) host the Cavaliers (14-12, 4-8) at the KFC Yum! Center in an ACC game that can be viewed online at ESPN3.
After taking on Louisville, UVA will play three more regular-season games: against Clemson (Sunday at JPJ), North Carolina (Feb. 25 at JPJ), and Virginia Tech [Feb. 28 in Blacksburg]. This has been a trying season for the `Hoos, whose lack of size has made rebounding a challenge, especially in ACC play, but Randolph has not lost hope.
“I know we’re going to finish strong and just come into the ACC tournament ready to play,” she said.
A graduate of Good Counsel High School in Maryland, Randolph was the ACC’s Sixth Player of the Year as a sophomore in 2013-14. As a junior, she led the Cavaliers in scoring (16.4 ppg) and steals (1.4 per game) and made the All-ACC second team. She was third on the team in rebounds and assists and ranked first among ACC players in free-throw percentage.
This season, Randolph is second on the team in points per game (12.8) and rebounds per game (4.3) and first in assists per game (3.3). All of which made her perhaps the one player Virginia could least afford to lose.
To compound the Cavaliers’ frustration, Randolph suffered her injury in the fourth quarter of a one-sided loss at JPJ to Notre Dame on Jan. 7, long after the outcome had been settled.
The `Hoos won their first game without Randolph, Jan. 10 at Wake Forest, but more often they were unable to overcome her absence. Randolph watched helplessly from the bench.
“She’s a gamer, and she loves being out there,” Boyle said. “She’s one of our hardest workers. She puts a lot of time into her game … I think for any player that’s as competitive as she is, it’s just really tough to sit there and watch it all.”
Even so, Randolph became a vocal leader from the sideline.
“And that’s not Faith,” Boyle said. “Faith isn’t this rah-rah kid, but she really kind of embraced that and knew we needed it.
“I always heard her voice. I think it was tough for her, but she knew it was the only thing she could do for us.”
Randolph said: “You just gotta make the best of things. Things happen like [the injury] and I try to use it as an opportunity instead of a setback. When I’m looking out there on the floor, I try to see what I can do better. I’m here to encourage and motivate my teammates when I’m not playing, rebounding for them, doing whatever I can just to stay within the team and motivate them.”
Workouts with the team’s strength and conditioning coach, Robb Hornett, kept Randolph fit while her thumb healed.
“Coach Hornett did a great job of making me stay in game shape,” Randolph said. “Some of the workouts I did were even harder than preseason.”
The injury was the first significant one of Randolph’s career, she said, and at times her rehab “was just very lonely.”
While the rest of the team was on the main court at JPJ, Hornett would put Randolph through grueling workouts in the practice gym.
“I was doing full-court layups for a long period of time, just using my left hand,” Randolph recalled. “Everything was using my left hand. It was to the point where my left hand was burning. My whole left arm was burning. But I just wanted to be back there, and I wanted to be ready to go when I was cleared to go.”
The Cavaliers’ coaches originally targeted the Louisville game for Randolph’s return. Her timetable was more ambitious. On the eve of Virginia’s game against Syracuse at JPJ last Thursday, Randolph called Dr. Bobby Chhabra, her surgeon, to see if she could play against the Orange.
“It felt good the practice before,” Randolph said. “I was just like, `What’s a few [more] days going to do?’ ”
Alas, Chhabra did not clear Randolph for that game, but she understood he was simply doing his job.
“He’s a great doctor,” she said. “He just wanted to make sure everything’s OK. He wants the best for us, and he just encouraged me throughout, so I’m really appreciative of him.”
Randolph stayed on the court for extra work after practice Wednesday morning, putting up dozens of shots with several teammates. Her right thumb was wrapped in tape, which she’ll wear for the rest of the regular season.
“It’s kind of a blessing in disguise, though, because when you shoot the ball, you’re not really supposed to bend your thumb,” Randolph said. “So it’s good form.”