UConn women's basketball sophomores show potential ahead of NCAA tourney

Published on Tuesday, 12 March 2019 21:26
Written by Carl Adamec

Journal Inquirer

MOHEGAN INDIAN RES. - Megan Walker and Mikayla Coombs came to the UConn women’s basketball team as 2017 McDonald’s High School All-Americans.

Except for a few bright spots a year ago, their impact was minimal. So much so that the Huskies were shut out of their league’s all-freshman team for the first time since 2002.

But if UConn is to contend for a spot in the NCAA Final Four in Tampa, Florida, next month, the sophomores will have roles whether they’d be big or small. They showed what they could add at the American Athletic Conference Tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Walker was named to the all-tournament team while Coombs did her part as a defensive stopper Monday night as top-seeded UConn defeated No. 2 Central Florida 66-45 to win its sixth straight tourney crown and earn the AAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“It means a lot to us when I look back to last year and comparing it to this year,” Walker said. “We’ve stepped into our roles and have more responsibility. I felt we did a good job getting things done this weekend.”

Walker had nine points, four rebounds, three assists, and three steals in the final and averaged 15.7 points and 7.0 rebounds over three games to earn her first postseason honor.

“I thought I did pretty well,” Walker said. “You always want to win and I like to think that when the pressure is on that I can perform well. I think that is what we all did.”

Coombs got the call from coach Geno Auriemma Monday night shortly after freshman center Olivia Nelson-Ododa picked up her second foul.

She played the final 11:49 of the first half and while she did not score, the Huskies outscored the Knights by 20 to take a 24-point halftime lead as she locked up and blanketed UCF top gun Kay Kay Wright.

“I’m just taking it one game at a time and building off of that,” Coombs said. “I knew I had to come in and face-guard (Wright) and limit her points. The coaches gave me a job and I tried to do it to the best of my ability.

“We’re at a point in the season where I’ve been in this position before. I was comfortable going in there knowing that if there was one thing Coach needed me to do, I was going to do it.”

Their teammates noticed the sophomores getting the job done.

“I’ve seen so much growth from both of them,” tournament Most Outstanding Player Napheesa Collier said. “The contributions we get from them are so much more than we got last year and they are just going to continue to grow.”

“The two of them did what they’re really good at this weekend,” Auriemma added. “Mikayla should be able to come in and play really good defense and Megan should be able to make shots. She didn’t make as many tonight as she did yesterday, but she made a couple of big ones.”

Walker, who was named to the all-AAC third team last Friday, has enjoyed success throughout the season. Coombs has been earning more playing time of late and while her offensive game needs work, defensively she can make a difference and give the Huskies’ best perimeter defender, Crystal Dangerfield, much-needed help.

A year ago here, Walker and Coombs were given AAC championship t-shirts after UConn’s win. The sophomores earned the ones they were wearing Monday night.

“It’s really important for us,” Coombs said. “It’s hard getting through your freshman year here. It’s so different and this program is about a continuation of excellence. Even late in our sophomore years there are times it’s like, ‘This is hard.’ But how we’re feeling now is great. There’s like a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Posted in The Bristol Press, UConn on Tuesday, 12 March 2019 21:26. Updated: Tuesday, 12 March 2019 21:28.