UConn’s Gabby Williams made presence felt against Stanford this time
Updated 11:33 pm, Monday, November 13, 2017
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The irony may have been lost on Gabby Williams, but it seemed only fitting that when she reflected on her “healthy scratch” the last time the UConn women’s basketball team faced Stanford, she did so in the hallway of the home of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets.
While UConn coach Geno Auriemma typically isn’t as confrontational towards the media as Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella, his decision in 2014 not to call upon Williams was reminiscent of what Tortorella or several other NHL coaches have used as a form of motivation over the years.
Williams has gone on the record saying that she wasn’t emotionally ready to contribute in any way to her team’s success back in 2014 when the Huskies suffered an overtime loss to the Cardinal. That certainly wasn’t the case on Sunday.
Williams’ line of 11 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and one rather emphatic blocked shot in 25 minutes don’t completely convey her impact in top-ranked UConn’s emphatic 78-53 victory over No. 10 Stanford in the star-studded Countdown to Columbus doubleheader.
When the game got off to a sleepy start, it was Williams, the All-American forward, who turned up the intensity on the defensive end. She finished with six of the Huskies’ 16 deflected passes based on the numbers kept by UConn. If Stanford had been in charge of the tabulating, the number might have been much higher. There was one stretch in the first half when it seemed like the Stanford bench would rise up in celebration if a pass was made without it grazing the finger tips of the ultra-athletic defensive catalyst.
“It felt like a completely different game, a completely different atmosphere and I looked at it as I am a completely different player, just kind of stepping back and looking how far I came is pretty cool,” Williams said.
The WNBA Draft lottery was held the day after Williams’ impressive debut. The popular line that gets uttered is that Williams’ draft position would be improved greatly if she displays the ability to show range on her jumper. Sure enough, the Huskies’ first points of the game came courtesy of a Williams’ jumper not far inside the 3-point line.
“It is one of those unique stories that when you think back to her as a freshman and today, how much progress she has made is so many areas,” Auriemma said after the Huskies won their 22nd consecutive season opener. “At Stanford she didn’t get off the bench, here we are and she is probably as good as anybody who is playing this weekend. It’s a testament I think to her, how hard she has worked and I am happy for her. I think she is going to have a tremendous year. She started that game off with that little jumper, people are going to give it to her all year long and I hope they do.”
It might have been mentioned a time or two on ESPN’s broadcast that the Huskies’ women’s collegiate basketball record 111-game winning streak ended in stunning fashion at the 2017 Final Four.
A loss to Stanford on Sunday would have meant that the Huskies suffered the unthinkable — back-to-back losses. No current UConn players were alive the last time that took place, and thanks to a dominating final 18 minutes of the first half that had to seen to be believed, UConn extended perhaps the one streak that best exemplifies the program’s dominance the last 25 years. The last back-to-back losses suffered by the Huskies came 26 years ago with a 14-point defeat to Providence in the 1993 Big East tournament and 74-71 loss to Louisville in the first round of the NCAA tournament a week and a half later.
“I don’t have the answer to some of this stuff, why we do what we do, why things happen that have happened,” Auriemma said. “We try to show up and play and it is a long time ago, that last game. Even when we lose and we have a game coming up, we are pretty good at putting it behind us and moving onto the next thing. We try not to carry anything with us. That is a big part of it. We have guys who like to win and when they lose, they don’t take it that well.”
The Huskies have lost 59 games since their last losing streak. During that time, UConn came the closest to suffering consecutive defeats in 1999 when it lost by 12 points at Boston College and escaped with a one-point win over Rutgers the next time out. More recently, there was an eight-point win over BC following a blowout loss at the hands of Notre Dame in 2004. Ten months later, the Huskies fell to North Carolina in the 2004 Jimmy V Classic and then needed overtime to outlast South Florida.
“They have had losses but they have done a great job of creating a program when they always bounce back,” UConn junior guard/forward Katie Lou Samuelson said. “You are not going to let (a loss) define what comes next.”
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