Reality doesn’t hurt as much as before for Cierra Burdick.
The fractured metacarpal in her right hand has healed and she’s shed those nasty, uncomfortable casts.
She will start at forward for No. 11 Tennessee (20-5, 11-1 SEC) in an SEC women’s basketball game against Auburn (14-11, 3-9) at 7 tonight at Thompson-Boling Arena. The game will not be televised but can be viewed online at UTSports.com.
Burdick missed eight games in January. Her hand injury resulted from doing extra work on her defense with former UT men’s player Bobby Maze. She returned on Jan. 31 against Mississippi State and has logged five games in what essentially amounts to a second season.
But the sophomore forward is not yet back to her former playing form. She’s still recovering her dexterity and resetting the skills that enabled her to average 8.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game before the injury.
That part still stings.
“I want to come back 100 percent,” she said. “I want to be as strong as I was before I got hurt but I realize
that’s not reality.”
Burdick’s ongoing frustration contrasted with Wednesday’s injury-related occurrence. Isabelle Harrison, who underwent surgery on Feb. 1 to address the lateral meniscus in her left knee, took part in Tennessee’s practice. Although there was no official update on the sophomore center’s condition, her recovery appears to be accelerating.
In Harrison’s absence, Burdick has been moonlighting at power forward. She’s familiar with the position from her playing days at Butler High in suburban Charlotte and USA Basketball. And she’s embraced one of its primary responsibilities: rebounding.
“I’ve been a lover of rebounding since I started playing the game,” she said. “I take pride in it. That is something I can do that doesn’t take much skill. That takes heart. Thankfully I can grab the ball with two hands now.”
Her devotion was displayed during a second-half possession last Sunday against Vanderbilt. She gathered three offensive rebounds in furious succession. Two of them, though, followed her missed putback shots. The end result of Burdick’s effort was her fourth foul, which sent her trudging to the bench with her shoulders slumped.
“There’s been a couple of sleepless nights, not totally sleepless but nights where I’ve stayed up thinking about it,” Burdick said of the ongoing process. “When you love the game so much and you just want to be so great, it’s tough.”
Sunday’s sequence reflected the state of Burdick’s play. Since returning, she’s averaging 5.8 rebounds per game, which isn’t far off her pre-injury average. But she’s scoring just five points per game and shooting 35.7 percent from the floor.
Burdick said that she’s recovered the range of motion in her right hand. She’s still working toward full strength and recouping reflexes.
UT assistant coach Dean Lockwood has assisted Burdick with about 10 minutes of extra shooting after virtually every practice. He described her as a perfectionist, who’s prone to being impatient.
“You definitely want to be aware of it, reach out and do anything you can to help,” Lockwood said of Burdick’s situation. “But we can’t spend a whole lot of time swimming backwards. We can throw the rope and keep bringing you in but the ship has to sail.”
As she reels in her game, Burdick said that she’s received support from Lady Vols fans via social media. She’s expressed her aspirations on Twitter as a means of self-motivation.
“Hoping that it’s all for the good,” she said. “That’s what you have to believe and have faith in.”