Gabby Williams and her 180 degree turn around. Huskies roll, 98-18 over Vanguard.
STORRS: There were times during her freshman season that the University of Connecticut women’s basketball coaching staff was never really sure what they were going to get from then first year player Gabby Williams.
Head coach Geno Auriemma would shake his head at times and wonder what on earth was going on in with the talented but inconsistent guard/forward on any given day.
If the fact that she started the Huskies second exhibition, a 98-18 (yes, that’s not a typo) win over Vanguard and the words coming from her coach as she enters her second campaign, much has changed and those consistency worries may be a thing of the past.
“There’s still so moments when we have to remind her of how good she can be,” Auriemma said, “But I would say a 180 from last year. From today last year, to today. No comparison. The more comfortable she gets, the better passer she’s becoming. And she rebounds it differently than when everybody else rebounds. Like her and Stewie are the only ones you see going to get rebounds. Other guys, rebounds come to them, these two guys, they go get rebounds. That’s kinda nice to see.”
Williams started the game with a pair of free throws, a major flaw in her game a year ago and never looked back, scoring eight of her 11 points in the first quarter to go with three of her team high seven steals.
Her improvement has not gone unnoticed by her teammates either.
“”We’re all very proud of her,” Jefferson said, “She’s very athletic and she comes in the game and starts with rebounds and once that happens, her all-around game comes around.”
What did Williams do to improve on a first year that featured a National Championship (the team got their rings and the title banner was unveiled on a very crowded Gampel wall before the game) and a one loss season?
“I think right after the season, she hit the gym,” Jefferson said, “She was working on her foul shot and her free throws and making sure she’s being much more aggressive when she’s in the game.”
Sunday’s game was played with several experimental rule changes that included a deeper three point line, a wider lane and a 24-second clock that included just eight seconds for a team to get the ball over half-court instead of the customary 10 while using a larger, men’s size ball.
For the most part, the Huskies seemed to like the pace, they usually run at break neck speed at times with 30 ticks on the timer.
“I thought it was good,” Jefferson said, “It got the pace of the game up a little bit. We had to think faster obviously because we had to get into our plays faster. Sometimes you saw we didn’t start our plays until 12-seconds so we have to make sure we are staring our offense faster.”
Jefferson seems to have found a seventh gear, if that even exists but her explosiveness is off the charts at the moment.
The senior leader had no problem with any of the experiments on Sunday, including the larger basketball as she led all scorers with 20 points, six steals and four assists in 28 minutes.
Her head coach commented on the progress of his point guard and what she has learned over the past three years but more specifically, her last post season.
“She’s gotten a lot better at ‘when to’,” Auriemma said, “And that’s what I want players to get better at. When you’re a freshman, you don’t know what to do and when to do it. So I think by the time you get to be a senior, everything is about when do I penetrate, when do I pull it out, when do I make this pass it, when do I go to the basket, when do I hit the pull up jump shot. When do I go for a steal, and she’s learned when to take a chance, when not to. All those things come from experience if you’re paying attention. That’s what makes you really good.”
“I think the way the NCAA Tournament played out,” Auriemma said, “You know, the most important thing a player can have, other than talent is confidence. So if you’ve got talent and the confidence she (Jefferson) gained playing in the NCAA Tournament, the way she plays, she’s at a great place right now.”
The season starts for real a week from Monday on November 16 when the Huskies travel to take on Ohio State.
NOTES: Six players scored in double figures with senior Breanna Stewart and freshman Napheesa Collier each putting up 15. Collier pulled of a double-double with 11 rebounds as she becomes more and more comfortable after two games.
Fellow first year player, Katie Lou Samuelson got a big roar from the Gampel faithful when she drained her first three-pointer at the 9:06 mark of the second quarter. She would finish 2-10 from three point land but still added nine points and seven boards.
After shooting just 1-11 in the first half from beyond the arc, the Huskies found the range in the second, connecting on six of 13.
UConn was called for a pair of three second violations on Sunday with the wider lane set up.
Getting the ball over half court against the Huskies is sometimes tough enough in 10-seconds, forget eight. Vanguard was called twice for it and ran out of time (24-seconds) on numerous occasions as the Lions turned the ball over a total of 32 times.