Lynx rookie forward Jessica Shepard will have season-ending surgery after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee late in Saturday’s loss to the Los Angeles Sparks at Target Center.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “A rookie, trying to get to where she wants to be, getting the opportunity to play? That doesn’t happen all the time. And to have it all taken away? It’s heartbreaking.”
The injury occurred with 1:42 left in the game, when Shepard landed awkwardly after going up for a shot and being fouled by the Sparks’ Tierra Ruffin-Pratt. She fell to the floor in pain and had to be helped down the tunnel and out of the arena bowl.
An MRI confirmed the tear Sunday, and Reeve said Shepard will have surgery in 10 days to two weeks, after some of the swelling goes down.
Support from all over the WNBA showed up Sunday on Twitter, and Dallas rookie Arike Ogunbowale, a teammate of Shepard’s at Notre Dame, wore a message of support on her shoe during the Wings’ game at Washington.
The 6-3 Shepard, a second-round pick and Fremont, Neb., native, spent her first two college seasons at Nebraska before transferring to Notre Dame. She tore the ACL in her left knee as a high school senior but in her first season with the Cornhuskers earned freshman of the year and all-Big Ten honors.
A power forward with the ability to stretch the floor on offense, Shepard had emerged as a key contributor off the bench for the Lynx (4-2), averaging 4.8 points, 3.5 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game. She became only the third player to gather 10 or more rebounds (she had 13) in her WNBA debut.
Reeve said the team will not look to fill the void from outside, trying instead to make adjustments from within. “We’re still trying to figure it out,” she said. “We have some ideas. We’ll get Karima [Christmas-Kelly] back in the fold. [Napheesa] Collier has the ability to play the four. She’ll get more time over there.”
Christmas-Kelly, who missed the first three games with knee soreness and the past two because of a death in the family, will be back this week. But she is a small forward.
Collier, the team’s first-round pick out of Connecticut, played power forward in college before moving to small forward as a pro. Now that experience will be needed. Reeve is confident Collier can get the same sorts of shots at power forward, though she’ll be guarded, generally, by taller opponents. On the other hand, she could have a quickness advantage.
She leads rookies in scoring (13.3) and is second — behind Shepard — among rookies in rebounding (5.0).
The Lynx are also expecting to get both center Temi Fagbenle (Great Britain) and Cecilia Zandalasini (Italy) in early July after Olympic qualifying. Shooting guard Seimone Augustus is also expected to return, eventually, from arthroscopic knee surgery.