It was a pretty typical play when Sara Scalia collided with a Wisconsin opponent setting a screen during their rivalry game Jan. 3, but the result was atypical.
The Gophers’ sophomore from Stillwater separated her right shoulder, the one integral in her sweet shooting stroke. She registered the pain at a seven out of 10, lacked regular range of motion, and what she did next wasn’t normal, either.
Scalia took an injection to numb the pain and played 35 minutes in another rivalry game against Iowa three days later. She made four 3-pointers and registered a season-high 18 points in a loss.
“It just shows us how tough she really is,” said teammate Gadiva Hubbard. “I couldn’t imagine, especially with it being her shooting shoulder. Super tough. I’m still not sure how she’s doing it to be completely honest with you.”
Scalia missed one game against Penn State on Jan. 10, but she played in the last two games against Maryland and Nebraska. She will keep playing through the soreness when Minnesota (3-7, 2-6 Big Ten) plays Penn State (4-6, 1-5) at 5 p.m. Monday in University Park, Pa.
“Just the toughness, grit, all those words that you use as a 19-year-old kid … to come in and leave it all out there every night,” Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen said Sunday. “I played her 36 minutes at Nebraska. I couldn’t take her off the floor.”
On top of her four made threes in the sorely needed win over the Cornhuskers last Thursday, Scalia had season highs of seven rebounds and six assists against only one turnover. Minnesota had lost seven of eight before topping Nebraska.
“Initially it was pretty painful, but I knew it really wasn’t going to get worse,” Scalia said. “The pain was the pain. So I knew that I could just play through it. Now it’s just sore as I’m playing, but it’s really not that painful.”
Stillwater girls basketball coach Willie Taylor isn’t surprised by Scalia’s desire to not leave the court. When she was named Pioneer Press East Metro Player of the Year and was racking up 22.8 points per game, opposing teams would throw double- and sometimes triple-teams at her, getting physical in the process.
“If you get physical with her, she will get physical back,” Taylor said with a laugh.
“Sara Scalia is not normal,” he said. “She loves the game that much to play. If you are going to keep her on the bench because of a separated shoulder, she is going to start getting in arguments with Lindsay because Sara wants to be on the floor.”
Scalia missed the first two games of the season due to a shin injury, a product of overuse. She was out for six weeks total, but most of that layoff came before this season’s late start in early December.
“I’m usually in the gym every day, putting in work, and I wasn’t able to,” Scalia said. “I was injured, and I think that mentally and physically caused me to have the slow start.”
Scalia shot 20 percent from 3-point range in her first three games, but she has been shooting 36 percent from deep in her last four — each through the injury.
Whalen wants players to want to put in the extra work to get better but knows there must be a line drawn when it’s just too much, even for Scalia.
“I know she hated not being in practices and not being available for those first nights of competition,” Whalen said. “What did you learn? And for her, it’s just saying something to the trainer and making sure that you are listening to your body.”
Scalia’s body told her it was too much to play against Penn State two weeks ago, but now her body is telling her she can gut it out against the Nittany Lions and the rest of the Big Ten.