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women’s basketball UConn’s Walker back in the lineup

December 18, 2018

STORRS — When the UConn women return to game action Wednesday, marking the end of a week-plus break, they will be a bit closer to full strength.

After missing time because of strep throat, sophomore forward Megan Walker will be back in the starting lineup for the top-ranked Huskies’ visit to Oklahoma (8:30 p.m.).

“I’m doing a lot better,” Walker said Monday following practice at the Werth Center.

Walker hasn’t played since an 89-71 win over Notre Dame on Dec. 2, when she had 12 points and eight rebounds in 35 minutes. She began to feel ill the next day and sat out two games, starting with the backend of UConn’s two-game road trip — a 98-42 rout of St. Louis.

“I was in St. Louis and I went and saw a doctor there,” Walker said. “They tested me for strep and it was negative. They did a (mononucleosis) test and it was negative, so they really just thought I had the flu. … But on Thursday (Dec. 6), they did another strep test once we got back here and it was positive. That’s what it was.”

Walker, who is averaging 11.6 points and 5.9 rebounds over 29.7 minutes per game this season, cautioned she’s still not 100 percent despite returning to practice Dec. 10. She said she’s still trying to regain her stamina after not doing much of anything while sidelined.

“I feel like since taking 10 days off, it’s still going to be a process to get back to where I was,” she said. “But I’m starting to feel better leg-wise, getting up and down (the basketball court), getting used to that again.”

Added coach Geno Auriemma: “It took a while to get back in the swing of things, but she hasn’t missed any time since. It started out just halfcourt stuff and it’s gotten back to normal, like everything. She got pretty dehydrated and she didn’t eat much, so she was a little bit sluggish. Little by little, it’s coming back.”

Junior Kyla Irwin made her first two starts in Walker’s absence and was effective, recording a career-high 10 rebounds against St. Louis and six points and three assists against Seton Hall.

For the Huskies, and especially Walker, there’s an eagerness to get back on the court after a break because of final exams. They play Oklahoma and California (Saturday, 3 p.m.) this week, then won’t play again until after New Year’s.

“It’s all pretty tough, knowing that you have all these exams coming up,” Walker said, reflecting on the previous week. “You only have a short window of time to prepare. That and having to concentrate in practice in stuff, it can be overwhelming. But as a team, we got through it really well. Now we can enjoy winter break and just focus on practice.”

And games, of course. Practices were shorter and less intense than usual last week for the Huskies, who remained atop the Associated Press poll at 9-0.

“They were shorter,” point guard Crystal Dangerfield said. “People had to get to their exams. … But they were really detail-oriented, and we had to focus a lot. It’s the exams that were mentally taxing.”

Why, hello: It takes nearly five hours to drive from where Christyn Williams attended high school in Little Rock, Ark., to Norman, Okla. So, while Wednesday’s game won’t qualify as a homecoming for the freshman guard, it will be an opportunity to see some familiar faces.

Williams said she’s expecting around 10 friends and family members to be in attendance at the Lloyd Noble Center.

“I get excited because they get to watch me play in person, she said. “It’s always fun.”

Williams, who is averaging 13.9 points and 3.6 rebounds, said she’s also friends with Oklahoma freshman Madi Williams. They were teammates in AAU and played against each other in the McDonald’s All-American Game.

“Once we’re on the court, we’re enemies,” Williams said with a smile. “It should be fun. We’re both living out our dreams, playing D-I basketball.”

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour

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