STORRS - Gabby Williams doesnât want to be forgotten when sheâs gone from the UConn womenâs basketball team.
The senior forward will have her place on the wall at Gampel Pavilion when she joins the Huskies of Honor program next month. But she also wants to leave a part of herself on the floor by the way her younger teammates handle themselves.
âWhen youâre a senior, itâs your turn to take that role as a leader,â Williams said. âI had guys before me who taught me how to do it. I want people to look to me now to be that spark and when theyâre seniors they can say they have learned it from me.â
Williams was the only player of UConnâs top six not in double figures Tuesday night but no one had more of an impact on the top-ranked Huskiesâ 80-44 American Athletic Conference win over Central Florida before 5,482 at Gampel Pavilion.
For 25 minutes, UCFâs style - deliberate and physical - controlled the action. If the Knights could shoot straight it might have been a more interesting affair than it was.
But then the All-American stole a pass by UCFâs Aliyah Gregory, threw the ball ahead to Crystal Dangerfield, and then raced down the court to get the ball back from her point guard for a layup. It brought life to the Huskies on the court, the bench, and arena.
âGabby Williams single-handedly turned the game around in the second half,â UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. âThe game basically came down to Gabby turning the game around. Once that started to happen and we started to get into our stuff before they could set their defense up ... The layups, the mid-range, the threes start dropping and itâs a completely different game. The biggest difference from the first half to second half was Gabby Williams, plain and simple.â
âIt wasnât something you draw up. Thatâs what great players do. Great players change the game by making great plays, not by taking something from the playbook and running it.â
Williams finished with eight points, 13 rebounds, and five assists. Reserve Azura Stevens (19 points, 10 rebounds) recorded a double-double and was joined in double figures by starters Kia Nurse (13), Napheesa Collier (12), Dangerfield (11), and Katie Lou Samuelson (11).
The Huskies (14-0 overall, 4-0 AAC) got their 100th straight win in regular season play. But in every season comes games a team has to grind it out and UConn did that.
âNot everything is going to come easy,â Williams said. âWe have to learn that before we learn it the hard way. Today was good for us to have a game we didnât win in the first five minutes. It was a good test.â
The game was still competitive at 37-25 when the Huskies got the pace more to their liking with the help of Williamsâ key play.
âShe kind of telegraphed the pass and I went up to grab it,â Williams said. âI saw Crystal, and me and Crystal have good enough chemistry that she saw me.
âWe just needed a play to get us going. I think everyone got caught up in the physicality and shots werenât falling. I was trying to show that we can do more than knock down shots and tried to turn things up on the defensive end.â
Kay Kay Wright led UCF (11-6, 3-1) with 17 points.
It was the second time that the Knights, who came in on top in the AAC in scoring defense, had allowed 80 points. UConn was averaging 98.0 points over its last six games to take the national lead in scoring offense.
But sometimes itâs not pretty.
âIt would be great if we could call every school and say, âHey, this is the way we want you to play because this is the fun way to play,â â Auriemma said. âUCF does whatever they have to do to be successful. They want to try to win the game. I would do the exact same thing. The way they play defensively, the way they play offensively is to shorten the game and limit possessions. I get that. I thought that the first half we didnât handle it. The defense was great the first half. Our defense was great the whole game.
âIt took time for some of our players to understand the way this game was going to be played and to embrace the way it would be played. To be a great team you have to be able to win every which way. Once we got that squared away we were good to go.â