Sophomore center Nalini Miller has always been a key part of the USF women’s basketball team. Not having her in the lineup for the past month has shown she just might be the most important player on the team.
The Bulls (14-8, 4-4 C-USA) were 11-4 when Miller went down with a strained hamstring. Since then, they have gone 3-4.
But their record doesn’t tell the whole story. USF has been getting beaten in the paint and on the boards without Miller. Opposing centers have had their way with the Bulls and will post double-doubles on many occasions.
Not having Miller’s presence under the hoop has also allowed opposing guards to drive to the lane at will, not having to worry about Miller’s shot-blocking ability, and her absence on the offensive side has made USF a much more perimeter-oriented team.
It pains Miller to have to watch from the sidelines.
“I want to be there so bad for my team,” Miller said. “It is very hard having to watch from the bench.”
The good news is that Miller will definitely be back in time for the Conference USA tournament, which starts March 3, and she may even be back a week earlier.
“I’m taking it day by day,” Miller said.
Millers’ teammates want her back in the lineup almost as much as Miller herself.
Junior center Sharon Cambridge is affected more than anyone by Miller’s injury. Cambridge is Miller’s backup and has been starting in Miller’s absence.
“It’s hard not having Miller out there,” Cambridge said. “She is our biggest body and not having her is a huge factor since she contributes a lot for us, especially since we are down so many bodies right now.”
Miller’s teammates will play without her in the lineup this weekend as they host East Carolina on Saturday. The Pirates (7-13, 3-4 C-USA) have struggled at times this year, but have beaten the Bulls two straight years and can jump over USF in C-USA standings with a win.
USF is in a must-win situation if they want to earn their first NCAA tournament berth. If the Bulls lose to East Carolina, they would have to win their last five games for a realistic shot at a tournament bid, which might not be an achievable feat. The women are winless on the road this season and three of their last four are away from the Sun Dome.
Though help may be on the way in Miller’s return. For USF’s sake, just hope it’s not too late.