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women’s basketball Confident Christyn Williams knows who she is

April 4, 2019

TAMPA, Fla. — Geno Auriemma says certain people just know who they are.

Not who they want to be. Not some phony version hidden behind fake bravado or insincere humility.

Christyn Williams, the UConn head coach insists, knows who she is. Even before Williams donned a Huskies uniform, Auriemma would drive home the point about the 5-foot-11 guard from Arkansas. He called her fearless, supremely talented more confident than the typical freshman.

Williams didn’t let him down. At Auriemma’s charity golf tournament last June, Williams, only a few months out of high school, told UConn fans to quit worrying.

“We’re going to get that championship,” Williams declared without hesitation. “People are going to feel UConn.”

Then, just over five months later in only her seventh collegiate game, Williams put on a show. The No. 1 recruit in the country poured in 28 points, including 16 in a mesmerizing first quarter, in an 89-71 victory over the No. 1 team in the country, Notre Dame.

Naturally, with UConn and Notre Dame due to meet again in the Final Four on Friday at Amalie Arena (9 p.m., ESPN2), Williams found herself harkening back to that breathtaking performance amongst a crowd of reporters.

“To be honest with you,” she admitted, “I don’t think that was my best game. I had 28 points, yeah, but if you look at the stat sheet …”

Williams then pivoted to her performance — 16 points and seven rebounds, including four offensive — against Louisville in the Elite Eight, as if to say she’s capable of being more than just a scorer.

“She’s grown at such a fast pace for a freshman,” senior Katie Lou Samuelson said.

Williams is a tireless worker and a perfectionist — both qualities that the ever-demanding Auriemma looks for in recruits. Yet, like most first-year players, she’s dealt with her highs and lows.

“It’s funny,” UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey said, “because her personality on the court is very different than her personality off the court. She’s confident, but more quiet off the court, and you have to have that.

“That’s the biggest thing you need, is confidence.”

That confidence has only grown in March. Williams has elevated her game at the most important time of the year, averaging 17 points in the NCAA Tournament. The hope, of course, is that she’ll carry that success into Friday’s rematch with the Fighting Irish.

“We’re going to need her to do it,” guard Crystal Dangerfield said. “If she’s not doing it, we’re definitely going to get on her to do it. We need that to be successful against Notre Dame.”

Williams was a spectator for last year’s Final Four against Notre Dame, watching the 91-89 buzzer-beating loss over a dish of shrimp pasta at the Cheesecake Factory in Arkansas.

“I don’t even think I finished my meal,” Williams said, explaining that she was a bundle of nerves even though she was still in high school. “I was committed to UConn at the time, so that’s my team going down for the second year in a row the exact same way. That was heartbreaking, really.

“I can’t imagine what they felt. To be able to play in this game against the same team, it’s just a dream come true. That’s why I came here. I told myself if I got the opportunity to play in this game that would be so — I’m excited.”

After pulling herself out of a midseason rut, where she scored only 29 points over a seven-game stretch, Williams has morphed into a vital part of the Huskies’ quest for a record 12th national championship. She’s averaging 11.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists for the season.

“The freshman wall, you know, it hits everybody,” she said. “I struggled. It was just overwhelming. College basketball, learning all the plays … there’s just a lot of things that hit all at once.”

Her confidence waned.

But now? She’s on the big stage, eager to do what she can to back up her bold prediction.

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour