ST. LOUIS She proved to be versatile.
With her right hand limited because of injury, Missouri State senior guard Casey Garrison resorted to shooting with her left hand in games over the past three weeks and achieved results that surprised her coach, her team and the competition. During a three-game stretch after she sprained her right thumb in practice, the Missouri Valley Conference preseason Player of the Year averaged 16.7 points per game, 4.7 rebounds, three assists and two steals using her left hand in victories over Wichita State, Evansville and Southern Illinois.
In those games, Garrison shot 57.6 percent from the field, 62.5 percent from behind the three-point arc and 87.5 percent from the free-throw line. Her best performance in the run came against the Aces on Feb. 17, when she went 8-of-10 shooting from the floor including 3 of 4 from three-point range to earn a game-high 20 points.
Before the streak, Garrison had never used her left hand to shoot during a game in college. Early in her standout career at Bolivar (Mo.) High School, however, she began shooting free throws left-handed in practice. Eventually, she received permission to attempt such shots with her weaker hand when her team held a large lead.
Garrison continued to develop her left hand in college, and the work paid off in a way that surpassed her expectations. On Feb. 20, she won her 13th career Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week honor after averaging 18.5 points and 61-percent shooting in the victories over Evansville and Southern Illinois.
It was shocking how comfortable I felt to shoot the ball with my other hand, because any other time Ive used it, it did feel funny, said Garrison, who is averaging 17 points per game this season. If it went in, I was like, OK, it was luck. A few times when I shot it, and I let it go, it felt natural, and it felt comfortable. It felt like I was shooting with my right hand.
Prior to the Evansville game on Feb. 17, Garrisons versatility allowed for a moment of humor. Before the Bears eventual 14-point victory, the three-time first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference selection recalls saying to Missouri State coach Nyla Milleson, Well, I guess Im left-handed now.
At the time, Milleson knew Garrisons right hand was sore, but the coach was not aware the player was going to shoot exclusively with her left hand. However, Garrison had used her left hand in other ways outside basketball before. Although she is right-handed, she writes and holds silverware with her left.
As a result, Garrisons adjustment to using her left hand on the court was small.
Shes such a complete player, said Milleson, who is in her fifth season coaching Missouri State, which is 20-6 overall and holds first place in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 13-3 record. A lot of times players who score as many points as she does have a big flaw in their game someplace. There is not anything she cant do. She passes the ball well. Shes a great defender. Shes very good on the boards particularly on the offensive end. Theres really not a weakness in her game. Shes so intelligent.
That knowledge has allowed Garrison to maintain her team-high scoring average despite the thumb injury. She wears a splint on her right hand. But she said her thumb is improving, and she hopes she is healed within the next two weeks.
Garrison said she switched back to using her right hand to shoot in victories over Indiana State last Friday and Illinois State on Sunday. Still, she is confident she can use her left hand if she must do so again.
It was something I was fortunate to have worked on for the last few years, Garrison said. When this injury came up, I was able to use it.
And fortunately for Missouri State, she was able to continue her high level of play.