Christyn Williamsâ strong postseason performance to complete her junior year had her and the UConn womenâs basketball team believing she was ready for a senior season that would live up to all the expectations for a former No. 1 high school recruit.
But in the Huskiesâ first 10 games, the Little Rock, Arkansas nativeâs campaign has mirrored the teamâs - up and down, consistently inconsistent.
Game 11 against Butler on Wednesday was more what Williams has been hoping for. While she didnât shoot the ball all that great in finishing with 19 points, she had four assists to one turnover and a career-high seven steals in the rout of the Bulldogs.
Sheâll look for more of the same - or even better - today when No. 10 UConn takes on Xavier in Big East action at the XL Center in Hartford.
âCoach has been on me about impacting the game in more ways than one, specifically defense and getting more steals,â Williams said. âHe challenged me to get two steals a game so I kind of took that to heart. People look at me as a scorer and thatâs how I look at myself, but there are other things that I can do on the floor as well. So Iâve just been trying to do that these past couple of games.â
Williams is averaging 14.2 points for the Huskies (8-3, 3-0 Big East) on 43.6 shooting from the floor. Her seven steals in 31 minutes Wednesday doubled her seasonâs total accomplished over 364 minutes.
It was the kind of effort UConn saw last March when it won the Big East tournament title and advanced to its 13th consecutive NCAA Final Four. In the Big East tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena, Williams shut down leading scorers Leilani Correa of St. Johnâs, Maddie Siegrist of Villanova, and Selena Lott of Marquette. Her strong work against Syracuseâs Kiara Lewis and Iowaâs Caitlin Clark in San Antonio helped pave the way to a trip to the national semifinals. She was named to the conference all-tournament team for the third straight year and to the NCAA River Walk all-regional team.
This season she had a career-high 31 points against Minnesota in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament but followed up by shooting 6-for-18 in the semifinals against South Florida and the championship game against South Carolina. Since going 8-for-16 from the floor at Seton Hall Dec. 3, she didnât shoot over 40 percent again until the last two games against Creighton (5 for 11) and Butler (8 for 18).
âChristyn got a steal in the Creighton game Sunday,â UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. âShe kind of came out of nowhere and stole it and went in for a layup. So this past week I made a couple of comments like, âWhat if you get two of those every game? Thatâs easy, right? Those are four, five six easy points, right? What if you got two offensive rebounds? What if you did these kind of things on a regular basis? What would that do for your game if you got more involved?â She had a huge impact on the game (Wednesday) in a lot of ways she hasnât had this entire season.
âIt still took her 18 shots to score 19 points. Thatâs not the type of efficiency that sheâs going to want going forward. You need to make more shots. How do you that? Well, if youâre just waiting and obsessing about shooting the ball, and you go through a stretch where the ballâs not going in, you start obsessing about it more and it goes in even less. If youâre doing all these other things it takes your mind off of, âIâm shooting it bad. Why? I missed the last three 3-pointers. Why?â You donât have time to think about those things because youâre too busy doing all these other things that are impacting the game. I think one way to get that consistency of playing well every night is by focusing on all these other things and then the points come as an added bonus.â
Not only did Williams perform well against Butler, so did her classmates Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Evina Westbrook.
Nelson-Ododa had a season-high of 19 points to go with seven rebounds, five assists, and three steals in 25 minutes. Westbrook came off the bench for the first time in 105 collegiate games and contributed 13 points and four assists with no turnovers - her first game this season without a turnover - in 25 minutes.
âAfter the Creighton game,â Auriemma said, âI made it a point to say to our three seniors, âThereâs no easy way to say this, but we need more from you guys. You need to perform better. Thatâs it. Whatever that means to you, you have to play better.â That shouldnât be taken as pressure or a challenge, thatâs a statement of fact. Coach said that we need to do more. Hopefully they took it to heart, the three of them, and hopefully this is the start of a beautiful thing.â
It could and should continue against Xavier (6-8, 1-4), which is coming off a loss to Providence on Tuesday. The Musketeers have not beaten a ranked team since taking down Kansas on Nov. 26, 2009. That Xavier team under coach Kevin McGuff advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight before losing a buzzer-beater to Stanford.