Jessica Shepard after tearing ACL: 'I'll be back'

With 1:46 left in regulation on Saturday, Jessica Shepard’s rookie season with the Minnesota Lynx came to a crashing halt before it really got the chance to ever get started.

Shepard was driving the lane with the Lynx trailing, attempting a lay-up when she landed awkwardly on her right leg. She immediately went to the ground and stayed there for a few minutes before a team trainer helped her off the floor. Shepard didn’t put any weight on her right leg as she headed back to the locker room.

The Lynx lost to the L.A. Sparks 89-85 on the day Lindsay Whalen’s historic No. 13 jersey was placed in the Target Center rafters forever.

On Sunday, the worst fears for Shepard were confirmed. An MRI revealed a torn right ACL. Six games in, Shepard’s inaugural WNBA season is over.

“When I messaged with her yesterday it was kind of up and down. You go through the same thing I went through throughout the day. A pit in your stomach for her, but we all know it’s a part of it, you just hate to see it happen,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said after Monday’s practice. “Then she has those bright times where just you’ve got to put the work in now and focus on getting back.”

Shepard was 3-of-6 from the field for six points in more than 25 minutes before the injury.

She had averaged more than 18 minutes per game in her first six games, scoring 4.7 points, grabbing 5.7 rebounds and getting 3.5 assists per game.

Her overall numbers may not jump off the page, but the Lynx will miss her depth off the bench. She scored a career-high 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting in a recent win over the Seattle Storm.

Shepard’s absence means a few position changes, and others having to take on more responsibility.

She’ll have surgery in the next two weeks, and she won’t be going through the recovery process alone.

“Just trying to be as supportive as I can. Just texting her, seeing how she’s doing, asking her if she needs anything,” fellow Lynx rookie Napheesa Collier said. “This is a really rough time and no one wants to go through this, but we’re all here for her and trying to be as supportive as we can.”

Shepard was flooded with social media messages once the injury became official. That includes her former Notre Dame teammate and current Dallas Wings rookie Arike Ogunbowale. She wrote Shepard’s name on the side of her shoes for their game Sunday against the Washington Mystics.

It’s not the first time it’s happened. Shepard tore her left ACL in 2014.

“Jess is a great person, that’s one of the reasons why she’s getting so much support. People love her, and she’s such a great teammate, such a great person,” Collier said. “You never want to see this happen to anyone, and I think everyone is going to rally behind her.”

The Lynx have their first game without Shepard Wednesday at the New York Liberty. Minnesota has lost two of its last three games, and is coming off its first home loss of the season.

Reeve has work to do to get Minnesota’s offense going. The Lynx are No. 10 of 12 teams in scoring at 75.2 points per game. They also lead the WNBA at 18.8 turnovers per game. They had 21 turnovers in Saturday’s loss to the L.A. Sparks.

That’s not a stat you want to be a league leader in.

“We met today, and we’re not doing it anymore. Wait till you see us next time, hopefully in New York. But we’re going to shoot a shot before we turn it over. We’re going to play fast and we’re going to shoot a shot before we turn it over,” Reeve said. “I’ve been a bad coach offensively since the start of training camp, and I slept at a Holiday Inn Express last night. So it was better today offensively, so I’m hopeful that we can carry it over.”

If nothing else, Reeve can laugh at herself as she tries to find scoring on a team entering the season without Whalen, Maya Moore and Rebekkah Brunson. They’re now without Seimone Augustus, Shepard and Karima Christmas-Kelly missed Saturday’s game for personal reasons.

It means more duty for Sylvia Fowles, and other role players have to step up when given their opportunities.

“You need everyone when you’re down two players. You’re at 10 and then you don’t know from one day to the next. So everybody’s got to be ready,” Reeve said.