Two-and-a-half weeks ago, Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico laughed as she held out her hand, pretending it was in an icebox. She was acting out sophomore guard Danielle Rauch’s squats as she tried to prevent her left hand from sweating while staying in shape.
Rauch broke her hand a day before Michigan’s Feb. 6 matchup against Purdue and missed the game because of her surgery that day.
Bones take six to eight weeks to heal.
Last Thursday against Nebraska, Rauch returned after just four.
“She says she has a plan, we’ll see,” Barnes Arico said after a Feb. 19 victory over Illinois. “I don’t know, I’m not getting excited about it.”
There wasn’t a lot to be excited about. It was the second injury in as many weeks after senior forward Kayla Robbins tore her ACL, and Rauch couldn’t do any hard labor for two weeks. But as one of the emotional leaders on the team, she was immediately determined to get back in the game.
“When I got my stitches out, I went right into conditioning,” Rauch said. “I had a strength and conditioning plan with our strength coach. Every single day we had something, whether that’s on-court sprints, on the treadmill, in the weight room, just doing everything I can to keep my wind up.”
Her hard work kept her fit, but then came her shooting and handling.
As the backup point guard, she’s crucial to giving sophomore guard Amy Dilk rest, and her return would mean Dilk didn’t have to play 38 minutes every game anymore — if she could keep up her handles.
“I just kind of worked on it every day,” Rauch said. “Kept working on it, worked on it until I felt comfortable enough and was able to practice this week.”
Against Nebraska last Thursday, Rauch debuted her new look: Black tape around the middle of her hand, snaking up to wrap her middle two fingers. She was warming up, four weeks after breaking her hand and requiring surgery.
After spending four weeks sitting toward the end of the bench, when it came time to find her spot she looked to sit closer to the coaches, eager to tell them she was ready to play. Except that chair was now sophomore forward Emily Kiser’s. An awkward half second where both looked at the chair later, Rauch moved to the end of the bench.
She only sat for nine minutes before entering the game.
Rauch played 22 minutes in the Big Ten Tournament, the seventh-most on the team. She wasn’t the biggest contributor on the court, but her contributions have always been as an emotional voice and leader more than anything else.
She scored just two points all weekend. They came from a jumper at the corner of the key on Saturday, when Ohio State left her unmanned, not respecting her shot. She stopped her movement across the court, as if suddenly becoming aware of her space, and pulled up. The two points tied the game at 47 early in the fourth quarter, capping off a massive comeback before the Buckeyes pulled back away.
“She was a kid that was playing 30 minutes before she hurt that hand, and now she’s trying to just get back in to give us a couple minutes here and there to maybe give Amy a break,” Barnes Arico said. “I don’t think she’s 100 percent.”
There are two weeks before Michigan plays its next game. By then, Rauch’s new look might be a bare hand.