NEW ORLEANS — Sunday’s Tulane/LSU women’s basketball game no doubt will be huge for the Green Wave.
Tulane is riding a 14-game winning streak against in-state opponents, which includes the past two contests against the Tigers. And the Wave, who will move to the Big East in 2014, will be out to prove they can beat a Southeastern Conference school after a heartbreaking home loss to Auburn on Nov. 28.
But Sunday’s clash at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center will be especially significant for Tulane redshirt sophomore guard/forward Whitney Bibbins. Not only is the contest a homecoming for the Baton Rouge native, but the game can mark another step toward full strength for Bibbins, who didn’t play last season after suffering severe concussions.
It was a crushing blow to the University High School graduate, who showed a great deal of promise during the 2010-11 season, playing in 26 games and making 16 starts as a true freshman. She averaged 7.5 points and led the Wave in free-throw percentage (.739).
But then came the head injuries, and it has been a slow but steady recovery. She returned to the court this season as Tulane posted a 6-1 start, but she has played sparingly as the team tries to ease her back into the lineup. During games, Bibbins must wear bulky protective equipment that resembles amateur boxing headgear.
Bibbins has played only four games this year with no starts, averaging 17 minutes. But she has made the most of her limited time: She ranks second on the squad in scoring at 9.8 points per game and is pulling down 4.8 rebounds per contest.
She had 12 points and six rebounds in 16 minutes of the Green Wave’s most recent game, a 73-58 victory over UNC-Wilmington on Dec. 2.
“I has kind of hesitant at first,” Bibbins said after practice last week. “But I’ve gotten more into it. I want to contribute as much as I can.”
Tulane coach Lisa Stockton has been impressed with the way Bibbins has gotten back into game shape.
“During her freshman year, she was a big part of this team,” she said. “It’s good to see her back and contributing again.”
Stockton said Bibbins is regaining her stamina and aggressiveness, which will be key to her comeback.
“Just getting that game rhythm back,” Stockton said. “She’s been really impressive in games since she’s been back. She’s getting back into shape and starting to play well.”
Bibbins said one of the largest hurdles has been adjusting to the headgear, which sometimes shifts and can make it difficult for the sophomore to ease into the flow of the game.
“It was something new to me,” she said. “I’ve had to get used to it, but it’s given me more confidence having the helmet on.”
She agreed with Stockton that building conditioning and regaining her hustle are crucial to her development. If that happens, she hopes she can get stronger on defense and more able to clean up on the boards.
In Sunday’s clash at LSU, Bibbins wants to make her homecoming an impressive one by showing how far she has come.
“Playing at home is always a good thing,” she said. “Being in Baton Rouge and playing LSU, I think a lot of people like it. It’s a big game for (the Tigers), and it’s a big game for us.
“We have to stay strong and stick to what we’re good at. We have to stay together and stay strong. It’ll be tough, but we have to fight through it and play to the best of our ability.”