Maryland women’s basketball guard Blair Watson stepped on the floor for a practice in January, at a point when the team seemed to finally have stability after a turbulent offseason. The Terps were riding a 13-game winning streak, and they owed much of it to Watson’s sizzling shooting.
But the team hadn’t escaped turmoil just yet.
As Watson drove to the basket, her leg gave out. She tumbled to the floor, and guard Sarah Myers flew by as Watson laid motionless on the court.
Just as Maryland was hitting its stride, Watson suffered a season-ending torn right ACL and was reduced to a sideline advocate. In her absence, the Terps failed to win the Big Ten tournament for the first time since joining the conference and fell short of the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons.
With several new faces this year, coach Brenda Frese hasn’t given Watson as much playing time, but she’s still aided the Terps in their 6-0 start. And while she still has a way to go before returning to full strength, she’s shown glimpses of the brilliance she put on display last season.
“Blair has worked so hard behind the scenes,” Frese said. “And I said to the team in the locker room, ‘She’s not even 100 percent yet.’”
Prior to her injury last year, Watson started all 17 games for Maryland, averaging 13.8 points per game on 44.1 percent three-point shooting. With 63 threes, she was on pace to shatter the program’s single-season three-point record of 91, set by Kristi Toliver in 2008-09.
But after having surgery in February, Watson wasn’t too confident in her ability to contribute this season.
“I’m not expecting much,” Watson said during the offseason. “I know these things take time, and I know I still have a little more time to go, but I’m kinda just going to be a supporter.”
Still, she remained optimistic, saying during Media Day that the injury “was meant to happen for a reason.”
And she’s been considerably more than a supporter thus far. She’s averaging 9.7 points on 52.3 percent shooting in just 22 minutes per game, which guard Kaila Charles attributed to the work she put in this offseason.
“She’s been working ever since she got done her surgery with rehab every single day,” Charles said. “She stayed here all summer trying to get back. So you guys are going to see her mindset, her passion this season.”
In the first quarter against Dayton on Nov. 11, Watson went on a run that was as dominant of an individual stretch a player can have.
After swishing a 3-pointer from the right wing, Watson stole the ensuing inbounds pass and gave it up to guard Channise Lewis, who dished it back to her for another three from the same spot. Then, Watson picked guard Araion Bradshaw’s pocket in the backcourt and drove to the rim for a transition layup.
The eight-point blitz, spanning 32 seconds, turned an 8-7 deficit into a 15-8 advantage. Maryland never trailed again and cruised to an 82-71 victory in its second game of the season.
Watson followed up that performance with a game-high 20-point outburst in an 85-61 road trouncing of then-No. 10 South Carolina on Nov. 18. While the junior made just 1 of 6 three-point attempts in the first half, she stamped out a potential Gamecocks comeback by going 3-for-5 from deep after the halftime.
The season hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Watson. In a physical 58-51 win over Georgia in Puerto Rico last week, she struggled to generate her own offense, with only two points in 13 minutes.
But the Terps are deep enough to not have to lean on her that much in the early stages.
“Any given night, someone’s going to have a good night,” Charles said. “We have so many weapons that we need to put all of it to use to be successful.”
With another opportunity against legitimate competition coming against Georgia Tech (5-1) in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Thursday, Watson will look to showcase more than just the few flashes she’s shown thus far.
And with the Terps just a month away from their conference slate, she’ll have to get back to full strength quickly.
“It’s like she never was gone,” Charles said. “I’m glad she’s back because we’re definitely going to need her.”