Catchings tore the anterior cruciate ligament Monday during the second-ranked Vols' 66-59 win over No. 21 Mississippi State. ``We lost our best player and leader,'' Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt said. ``She was injured the way she played the game _ all out and hard on every play.''
The 6-foot-1 senior, who finished with a game-high 17 points and 13 rebounds, fell hard on her right knee after driving to the basket with 5:34 remaining and Tennessee ahead 55-46.
She stopped to shoot the ball, was fouled and then crashed to the floor in obvious pain. The crowd of 11,643 went silent as team doctors and Summitt attended to her. Catchings, a two-time All-American, was helped off the court and put into a wheelchair.
``She fell hard and landed on that knee, but she said she didn't feel anything when she went down but that it was hurting,'' Summitt said. The coaches had hoped that because Catchings didn't hear or feel a pop, which normally indicates torn ligaments, the injury wasn't be serious.
Catchings was to undergo an MRI later Monday and have surgery later this week. A freshman on the Lady Vols' 1998 national championship team, Catchings was one of four seniors for Tennessee. She was admired by the younger players, especially Tennessee's four freshmen.
``This is a close team. Tamika has been a big sister to our four freshmen. The four of them were particularly torn up and crying,'' Summitt said before learning of the severity of the injury. ``They were all upset. Catchings was moved to a perimeter position for this season and seemed to be learning her new role. She slashed to the basket, crashed the boards and pulled up for jumpers as she inspired the rest of the team with her tenacity.
``She gives her heart, her all, all of the time,'' sophomore Gwen Jackson said. ``I've tried to model my game after her. She goes out there 40 minutes and never looks tired.''