UConn redshirt senior Westbrook returns for chance at championship

Published on Monday, 12 July 2021 19:47
Written by CARL ADAMEC

Journal Inquirer

STORRS - Evina Westbrook had 48 hours following the UConn women’s basketball team’s NCAA Final Four loss to Arizona on April 2 to make herself eligible for the 2021 WNBA Draft.

The redshirt senior knew well before the deadline her time would be better spent with her Huskies teammates for another year.

“One, I want a national championship,” Westbrook said Tuesday as the Huskies met the media at the Werth Champions Center. “Two, it would have been really, hard for me to leave these guys. I didn’t want that on my chest. I didn’t feel like I was done yet.

“I sat down with my parents and said, ‘I don’t feel like I’m done.’ And it feels right to be back here, it feels right to be working with them. I feel good about it.”

After spending two years at Tennessee and a third sitting out due to NCAA transfer rules, Westbrook emerged as a team leader for the Huskies on and off the court a season ago earning praise from coach Geno Auriemma, his staff, and her teammates. National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers called Westbrook the team’s Most Valuable Player.

Westbrook felt she had more to give UConn, though she was projected by some to be a first-round pick in the draft.

“Our last game just wasn’t us,” Westbrook said. “It was a tough loss, a tough way to go out. But I think we learned so much from it. We did have some really great moments, not only on the court, but off it.

“I watched it when I got back home by myself. I really tried to analyze everybody, not just myself. Where did we go wrong? What could we have done better? What was everyone thinking in that moment? Right now it’s a learning tool for us. Now it’s time to move on.”

In her first year playing at UConn, Westbrook averaged 9.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.3 assists as the Huskies went 28-2, swept the Big East regular season and tournament titles, and advanced to their 13th consecutive Final Four. She reached the 1,000-point plateau for her career in UConn’s Sweet 16 win over Iowa when she just missed a triple-double, finishing with 17 points, nine rebounds, and 10 assists.

The Salem, Oregon native played and started all 30 games and averaged 30.7 minutes per outing. It wasn’t always easy following major surgery on her left knee on Dec. 31, 2019. But she persevered.

“It was actually tougher mentally,” Westbrook said. “Basketball is a tough game mentally anyway. But dealing with COVID, games getting canceled and postponed, all of that stuff. It was mentally exhausting.

“With my body and my knees, there were definitely moments I struggled. But my teammates picked me up through everything, just like I tried to help any of them when they needed it.”

The oldest Huskies player - she turns 23 in September - says she’s become a learner as much as a leader in her time at UConn.

She has a lot to look forward to as the Huskies return their starting lineup and welcome Ohio State transfer Dorka Juhasz along with a highly touted recruiting class. UConn will also travel to Oregon this season to face the Ducks. Eugene is about an hour away from Westbrook’s home.

For her, there’s unfinished business as she said in an April 4 social media post making her return to UConn public.

“Coach told us that he could see a difference in the returners coming back and just our young guys coming in being super-competitive,” Westbrook said. “They’re wanting to get better, wanting to learn. We’ve been really getting after it.

“I think we got better the month we were here and we need to continue to get better. “We’ve got to go home and not let this all go to waste. It’s been a great experience the last month, but we need to keep working.”

Posted in The Bristol Press, UConn on Monday, 12 July 2021 19:47. Updated: Monday, 12 July 2021 19:50.