ALBANY, N.Y. - Gabby Williams did the things Saturday sheâ€™s done for the UConn womenâ€™s basketball team throughout many of the 147 career games she has played.
Itâ€™s the reason the All-American senior forward has at least one more game in a Huskiesâ€™ uniform.
The Sparks, Nevada, native had 15 points, seven rebounds, six assists, two steals, and two blocked shots in 33 minutes Saturday as No. 1 UConn advanced to the NCAA Tournament Albany Regional final with a 72-59 win over fifth-seeded Duke.
â€śGabby did everything we needed her to do and expected her to do,â€ť UConn All-American Katie Lou Samuelson said. â€śThatâ€™s one thing that always comes out in March with her. Sheâ€™s going to play like that and play the best that she can. The way she took over and did all the things she does for us was really good.â€ť
UConn (35-0) will go for its record 11th consecutive Final Four appearance Monday night when it takes on No. 2 and reigning national champion South Carolina at the Times Union Center. The Gamecocks made it to the regional final with a 79-63 win over No. 11 Buffalo. The Huskies defeated South Carolina 83-58 in Columbia on Feb. 1, taking a 29-point halftime lead.
It will be the first time that UConn will play the reigning national champion in the NCAA tournament since 1997 when it lost to Tennessee in the Midwest Regional final in Iowa City, Iowa.
â€śThe last time we played South Carolina we got out to a really early run,â€ť Williams said. â€śI donâ€™t think any of us are expecting it to be that easy again. We know theyâ€™re going to put up a fight.â€ť
In Williamsâ€™ only previous appearance against the Blue Devils her freshman season she was a non-factor, playing just six minutes and scoring all five of her points in the final three minutes of a 31-point rout.
How much progress has she made? Hereâ€™s what Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie had to say.
â€śI donâ€™t know her personally, but she seems just fabulous. She seems low maintenance, wonderful to coach, always goes hard. I think Iâ€™m going to echo Jay Bilas. Jay Bilas loves her, talks about her all the time, about just a wonderful player in womenâ€™s basketball. Iâ€™m going to go with him and be on that club, the Gabby Williams Fan Club, because I think not only is she so consistent, but she just doesnâ€™t bat an eye to anything.
â€śShe competes at an Olympic level of focus, and obviously Iâ€™m sure sheâ€™s learned a great deal from Geno (Auriemma) and his staff. But Iâ€™ll tell you what, sheâ€™s a very special player. They just donâ€™t come around very much, and sheâ€™s the closest thing to Maya Moore to me without the outside shooting as much, but still with that body type and the way sheâ€™s consistent. Sheâ€™s very clever and very good, and she was a big problem for us.â€ť
Williams smiled when she heard McCallieâ€™s comments.
â€śMaya Moore without the outside shot. Just throw that in there, make sure you know,â€ť Williams said with a laugh. â€śI mean, itâ€™s a huge honor to even be in the same sentence as her. I think itâ€™s ... I donâ€™t know, I would never call myself Maya Moore. But that is a huge compliment.â€ť
Moore is the only player in UConn history with at least 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 300 steals. Williams could join her with eight rebounds against South Carolina.
UConn has never lost to South Carolina (6-0) but a loss Monday night would end the college careers of Kia Nurse and Williams. With 147 wins in 149 games, the seniors hope they have three more to go.
â€śThe fact we have Gabby on our team is a bonus,â€ť Nurse said. â€śLike everyone sees every night from her, she contributes in so many ways at both ends. She puts the ball on the floor and stretches defenses, her passing ability, her rebounding, the defense she brings, all those things she does are tremendous. Itâ€™s been great to have her on our side.â€ť