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Williams Ready For Postseason This Time Around. By Rich Elliott.

POSTED March 06, 2016
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By Rich Elliott

UNCASVILLE – The postseason can be overwhelming at times for a young player. Sophomore Gabby Williams was no different last season for No. 1 UConn.

Williams had previously seen the Huskies play tournament games on television. But that did little to fully prepare her for what it is like to actually compete in games where one loss ends in elimination.

There were points during the postseason a year ago when Williams held her own. There were others when she did not. However, as the Huskies kicked off the postseason Saturday in the quarterfinals of The American tournament against East Carolina, it was clear that Williams is a completely different player right now. She generated 14 points (7-of-9 FG), nine rebounds and four steals in 19 minutes in a 92-51 victory before 7,033 at Mohegan Sun Arena.

``I definitely give Gabby like the Most Improved Player (Award), especially from last year to this year,’’ UConn red-shirt junior Morgan Tuck said. ``When she comes in she’s making plays right away, whether it’s scoring, rebounding, getting steals … I think she really showed that in the Tulane game (Feb. 27). It was bad and then Gabby came in and it turned around. So I think Gabby’s really worked hard and it’s really paying off.’’

The Huskies (30-0) will face fifth-seeded Tulane (21-10) in the semifinals Sunday at 4:30 p.m. (ESPNU). Behind 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists from Kolby Morgan, the Green Wave defeated fourth-seeded Memphis 70-64 Saturday.

The energy with which Williams plays is nonstop. Unafraid of contact, she crashes into bodies in the lane with aggression in her quest for rebounds. She also utilizes her ridiculous athleticism to jump over opponents to secure a rebound.

And offensively Saturday, in a true barometer of where she is right now from a confidence perspective, she stepped out and made a 16-foot jump shot early in the fourth quarter.

``I feel like there’s a little bit more on my shoulders this year, especially with the position I’m in compared to last year,’’ Williams said. ``So I’m going to need to contribute a lot more and I think I’m ready for it. I’m excited. I think I’m getting more confident in calling for the ball. My jump shot I’m more confident in. And going into things like this I feel like can do that a lot more, be more aggressive.’’

UConn, who is 9-0 all-time at Mohegan Sun Arena, has won at least 30 games for the 11th straight season and in 21 of the last 23 overall (785-56). The Huskies have also won 28 straight conference tournament quarterfinal match-ups.

Tuck (five rebounds, five assists) and Katie Lou Samuelson (four assists) each finished with 16 points to lead the Huskies. Breanna Stewart had 15 points, eight rebounds, three assists and moved into fourth place all-time in team history in rebounding (1,104).

Kia Nurse contributed 13 points.

Williams had totaled 28 points, 12 rebounds and eight steals in 82 minutes over the previous five games before breaking out against East Carolina.

``She’s able to I think get herself inserted into the game and make some plays early,’’ Auriemma said. ``And I think her confidence level’s way higher than it was last year at this time, and that’s a big part of it. In order for players to get into the game at tournament time, postseason, they have to have a tremendous sense of confidence in themselves and be playing with a lot of confidence. And kids that don’t, don’t play. And kids that do, play. And she seems to be at a different place than she was last year at this time.’’

Williams averaged 10.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in 16.0 minutes in three games during the AAC tournament last season. She then averaged 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in just 10.0 minutes in six games during the NCAA tournament as UConn won its third straight national championship.

Judging by the level of confidence that Williams has in herself right now, and the level of confidence that her teammates have in her, the expectation is that those statistics are likely to rise over the next few weeks.

``I think just the way she played (Saturday),’’ Stewart said. ``Just the way she’s all over the place – offensively, defensively, rebounding, scoring points. That’s what she can do and she has the talent and the skill to impact the game like that. So we just need her to continue to.’’

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