There’s a certain trajectory you’re supposed to take when you’re a basketball player at UConn. Freshman year, you’re not going to be relied upon for the team’s success, and you have wiggle room to figure things out. Sophomore year, you should be more consistent, more capable of making an impact on the floor. Still, you’re most likely not going to be integral to how well the team does.
Junior year? As Geno Auriemma said, “there is no, ‘my bad, we’ll get it next time.’”
We’ve reached this junction in the careers of Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa, albeit with more responsibility than most juniors face: They’re unexpectedly the elder statesmen on a team with no seniors remaining after UConn’s 2017 recruits all transferred or, in the case of Megan Walker, left early for the WNBA. On a team with six freshmen, two sophomores and a transfer who has yet to suit up for the Huskies, they’re the most experienced players in Auriemma’s program.
No matter that Williams and Nelson-Ododa are coming off somewhat inconsistent sophomore seasons. This year’s Huskies will only go as far as the pair takes them. And with the season only days away, the two seem to be heading in the right direction.
“Christyn and Liv, they’ve been exactly what we wanted them to be,” Auriemma said. “They’ve been great.”
Williams as aggressive as ever
After such a promising freshman year, Williams looked ready to take off. She dropped 28 points in the regular season against Notre Dame and averaged over 17 points per game in her first-ever NCAA Tournament. Though she notched 14.6 points per game as a sophomore, she wasn’t the elite scorer UConn needed her to be. She struggled at times with both her three-point shot and finishing at the rim, and disappeared in big games against Oregon and South Carolina.
Since returning to campus over the summer, Williams has made it clear both in her words and her actions that this year is a clean slate. Auriemma has never seen her look so assertive getting to the basket. Williams, who was named preseason Big East player of the year, says she feels the most explosive she’s ever been, in part because she spent the offseason getting in better shape.
“There’s a little more of an aggressive mentality in her game,” Auriemma said. “There’s more plays at the rim up to this point than at any time that I remember. All the other shots are still there. But there’s more of a willingness to get to the basket, and we’re putting a lot more emphasis on the opportunities that you’re going to get. You need to take advantage of those opportunities.”
The mental aspect of the game will be crucial for Williams, who last year struggled with her confidence when she couldn’t get shots to fall. If that happens this year, she says, she knows to focus on getting to the rim and converting from the line to find her groove. Auriemma is also