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UConn women’s basketball Walker, Williams will have to step up for program

April 8, 2019

TAMPA, Fla. — A 35-3 record, a conference championship and an appearance in the Final Four.

For most programs, that’d be a dream season. But not at UConn, where the expectations are championship-or-bust.

With the 2018-19 season in the books, let’s take a step back and recap with some takeaways:

Closing the book: A record of 145-5. One national championship. And 4,743 combined points, making them the highest scoring pair of classmates in the history of this iconic program.

The numbers are incredible.

As seniors, Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson were thrust into more prominent roles, not only as playmakers but also as leaders. Both players successfully handled those responsibilities, carrying the Huskies to their seventh straight 35-win season and 12th Final Four in a row.

Collier, a first team All-American, became the first Husky to average a double-double (20.8 points and 10.8 rebounds) since Rebecca Lobo. Meanwhile, Samuelson averaged 18.5 points, including 29 in a heroic performance in the Elite Eight against Louisville.

Learning curve: Megan Walker turned the page from an inconsistency riddled freshman year, developing into a complementary scorer and rebounder next to the Big Three. Walker, the former No. 1 overall recruit, averaged 12.1 points and 6.7 rebounds, and displayed a deft shooting touch in the Elite Eight.

The Huskies will need Walker to take another step forward next year with Collier and Samuelson both in the WNBA. But, if the postseason is any indication, the 6-foot-1 forward appears capable of doing so.

A look ahead: Christyn Williams, the cool, calm and collected guard from Arkansas, became an effective scorer. Her freshman counterpart, Olivia Nelson-Ododa, a 6-4 forward from Georgia, showed signs of being a valuable rim protector.

While both players showed some growing pains, the big picture is promising. Williams, who will take on an even larger role as a sophomore, delivered some of her best performances against top competition.

The big problem: Azura Stevens’ early departure for the WNBA left a glaring hole in the post, which the Huskies never managed to fill. While a weak bench certainly hurt, the Huskies’ largest problem this season was the inability to rebound.

With help from 6-4 Jessica Shepard, Notre Dame out-muscled the Huskies on the glass in the Final Four. Shepard pulled down 13 of the Fighting Irish’s 54 rebounds.

While Nelson-Ododa helped off the bench in that department, the Huskies sacrificed offense with her on the floor.

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour