women’s basketball Williams regaining her swagger

February 9, 2019

STORRS — Christyn Williams possesses the sort of energy and enthusiasm — or “swagger,” as Katie Lou Samuelson likes to call it — that her team generally lacks.

The problem is, it’s been a while since the Huskies have seen that side of Williams.

“I think it comes out in bursts,” Samuelson said following Wednesday’s 118-55 victory over ECU. “For her to play with that energy — if she can just get used to playing at that tempo and playing for each other — it’ll be a lot easier to get out of that little slump that people go through freshman year.”

The hope is that with her 15-point, six-assist performance in the Huskies’ latest triumph over an American Athletic Conference team, Williams is that much closer to getting out of that slump.

It’s been an unsurprisingly turbulent road for Williams since that sensational December afternoon in South Bend, Ind., where she put the Huskies on her back and erupted for 28 points in an 18-point victory over then-No. 1 Notre Dame. She’s since struck a series of pot holes that have reminded her how difficult this game can be.

“Every night, you’ve got to play, and if you get shots to fall … you can handle it,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said last month. “But when you’re going through that, (where) we’re already at almost 20 games, we’re already at almost a high school season, and you can’t get the ball to get in the basket, that just adds to your frustration.

“Probably for Christyn, there’s nothing that a couple dropped 3s, a couple layups, and a couple free throws won’t fix.”

Easier said than done, of course. Williams has hit shots over the last month, just not as many as she would like. The 5-foot-11 guard was 1-of-16 from 3-point range over a seven-game stretch before connecting on 2-of-3 attempts against ECU.

“Did you see my reaction?” Williams asked rhetorically. “I was so happy. It’s been a struggle these past couple games, so to finally see one go in — actually two go in — I was very happy.”

So, too, were her teammates, realizing that Williams — who’s averaging 10.7 points and shooting 50.3 percent across 31 minutes per game — is an important puzzle piece in their quest for a 12th straight Final Four.

“She’s funny because she plays with a little bit of swag and a little bit that we don’t necessarily have all the time on this team,” Samuelson, a senior, said. “She’s fun to cheer for so I want her to get back into her rhythm and try to attack, gloat a little bit.”

The Huskies want Williams, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2018, to get back to being confident, or better yet, cocky. They want her to play with the same determination that she displayed during Friday’s practice at Gampel Pavilion, when she had seven straight shots blocked before finally scoring on her eighth attempt.

“She definitely does like to play with a certain swagger,” forward Kyla Irwin said. “I think that’s part of her personality. That’s going to help us. That’s a momentum-changer.

“She’s on the court, so she’s got to stick with it.”

Forward Napheesa Collier said she doesn’t worry about Williams, knowing that freshmen tend to experience their share of ups and downs with regularity. Collier, who is tied with Samuelson for the team-lead in scoring (18.9 points per game), has been delivering the same message to Williams.

It goes something like this, Collier said: “We’re just stressing to her that, ‘You’re so good at attacking, you can beat anyone one-on-one.’ ”

Williams is starting to listen.

“(Auriemma) thinks that I’m very passive,” Williams said. “So, yeah, that’s something I’ve been working on … getting to the basket, scoring.”

MARK IT DOWN: UConn has agreed to a home-and-home series with Maryland, it was announced Friday. The Huskies will host the Terrapins in 2020-21, then will visit College Park, Md., the following season.

The Huskies are 7-0 all-time against Maryland, including a 97-72 victory in their most recent meeting on Nov. 19, 2017 in Hartford.

Auriemma also confirmed Friday that the Huskies will play a home-and-home against Texas those same years.

“I think that’s what our fans want to see,” he said. “I think that’s why kids come here. They know we’re going to play everybody in the country. It’s fun for them and it’s fun for me and it’s great for our fans.”

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour

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