With every mistake, every time the ball bounced off the rim, Christina Williams went deeper into her head, gnawed by doubt.
After an impressive first season with the UConn Huskies, she knew what her teammates and coaches expected from her.
Hell, I’m not going to measure up, the sophomore said at the beginning of last season.
Despite encouraging words from his teammates, Williams couldn’t get out of his funk. She worked hard in training, hoping to find her rhythm and become the player she knew she could be.
But UConn coach Geno Auriemma has pulled them aside. They’re unpredictable, he told Williams.
The note is pinned. All areas? Do you?
She knew players she thought fit that description, players who often argued with the coach and were complicated on the surface. She wasn’t. But, Auriemma explains, Williams didn’t listen to management. They gave her some adjustments, but after a few plays she went back to the way she used to do it.
At first she refused to believe it, certain that it contained fasteners. But slowly Williams began to realize that Auriemma was right. She worked even harder. And toward the end of the season, she began to find her feet on the field. Williams helped lead the Huskies to the American Athletic Conference title and is looking forward to the next NCAA Tournament.
But it didn’t last long. Instead, she was abruptly sent home to Little Rock, Arkansas, after the tournament was cancelled and a coronavirus pandemic crippled most live sports.
Her dreams of confetti were just that, and the only basketball she would soon play was the one she grew up playing. But it made a difference.
I had to get back in the game and that made me fall in love again,” Williams said. I only had one band in the garden, and I wanted my sister to come and get me. I had access to the school circuit, so I used it, and our strength and conditioning coach sent us home to train. But it was really a return to the roots, and that helped me a lot.
That break gave her the perspective she needed. When she was finally able to return to Storrs, Connecticut for her junior season in July, Williams was ready to get to work. UConn No3 is undefeated, but has only played eight games in eight weeks since the start of the season. The Huskies’ biggest games against Louisville on the first weekend of the season and against Baylor earlier this month were canceled because of a coronavirus. But Williams and UConn will play their biggest off-conference game since the start of the season on Thursday (ESPN/ESPN App, 7 p.m. ET) when the Huskies travel to Knoxville, Tennessee for the first time in 15 years to take on 25th-seeded UConn.
And Williams wants to showcase his new direction and mentality on the national stage as well. Ms. Williams says she now knows she can make a valuable contribution in all areas, not just as a shooter. If she misses a shot, she tries to forget about it as quickly as possible. If she has an offensive night, she knows she can make up for lost time on the other end of the court and that her teammates, especially freshman Paige Buchers and teammate Olivia Nelson-Ododa, can make up for lost time.
I tried so hard to be better than freshman year, and it backfired.
Christina Williams, UConn guard.
This change was obvious to everyone around her, including Auriemma.
She’s been much, much more consistent since the beginning of this season, he said. When you become a junior at Connecticut, you have to be a very, very, very good basketball player, which means you have to be very good at a lot of things.
And I think Christina is on her way. I think she puts a little more time and effort into doing things differently than she feels comfortable doing. This has made her a better player and will continue to do so. She should have one of those All-American seasons, that’s what we expect from her.
Williams had a successful high school career, winning major awards and leading Central Arkansas Christian to a state title in his final season. She arrived at UConn in the fall of 2018 as the first recruit in the country and with all the expectations that brings. She immediately made the starting lineup – the first player since Breanna Stewart – and it didn’t take long for her to prove she was ready for the college level.
In the fifth game of his college career against Notre Dame, then ranked No. 1, Williams scored 28 points to lead the Huskies to an 89-71 victory. It was an incredible breakthrough, and she seemed poised to become the next superstar in this legendary program. But she says she hasn’t thought about it.
I didn’t feel any pressure because deep down I knew I was just a beginner, she said. So if I screwed up, oops, I’m just a rookie. I had no responsibilities and I was just playing a game I loved.
Williams was named AAC Rookie of the Year and was a member of the league team. She should have started her second season with more confidence than ever, but suddenly she understood what was expected of her and knew she had to be a leader on and off the field. She has had to struggle with the weight of her new role.
Because I had a great first year, I think that’s what I decided to do last year, Williams said. I tried so hard to be better than I was in freshman year and it got out of hand. Assuming my shot wasn’t lost last season, I wouldn’t have made an impact on our team. I was thinking: Why am I here? And I went to see the ghost.
Williams was named CAA first team and first team in the all-around tournament last March and averaged 15.6 points and 4.9 rebounds, but still calls this season the worst in her basketball career.
Junior guard Christina Williams is averaging 14.9 points per game and 3.4 goals per game while shooting 46.9% from the field for UConn (8-0). David Butler II – Sports in the United States Today
Since Thursday’s game against Tennessee, Williams is averaging 14.9 points and 5.3 rebounds and is second on the team in terms of minutes played. She spends time on the bench – this is only the second time in her career that she has been restrained. In an 87-50 win over Providence, she was 9 years old. Janvier sat on the bench for the last 16 minutes. But on Tuesday, in a 103-35 win over Butler, Williams scored 17 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals in 29 minutes. After the game, Auriemma said she had probably had the three best experiences of her career. He went on to say: You have to show it.
With so many restrictions and changes due to COVID-19, and as one of three seniors on a young team, Williams is taking her leadership role more seriously than ever. She thanks the seniors from her first 2018-19 season – Nafisa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson – for helping her acclimate, and she’s trying to do the same for seven freshmen this season. The team is essentially isolated from the others – classes are entirely virtual and players live together in groups of four – so Williams does his best to keep the atmosphere going. She organizes trips to the grocery store and team dinners cooked with fryers because, well, that’s about all they can do, but she believes that camaraderie remains high.
We’re together all the time, so we’re very close as a team, she said. The pandemic helped in a strange way because it helped our chemistry. We don’t have anywhere else to go, so we just have fun together in our own little bubble, and I think that shows when we play.
It wasn’t just fun. UConn took a 14-day break just before the season opened due to a positive test within the program. The first three games have been cancelled and the constant uncertainty is a permanent problem. Fans were not allowed to enter the Gumpel Pavilion, and Williams felt their absence. She says she did her best to create an atmosphere for herself and her teammates, but admits it’s hard to maintain that level for 40 minutes every night without the energy of the crowd.
But Williams and the Huskies remain focused on the eternal goal of winning the national title. The last UConn championship took place in 2016 – a drought in the eyes of UConn fans – and bringing the trophy back to UConn and joining the ranks of the legendary players that preceded it is something Williams has always wanted for donning a jersey.
There are so many great players who have come here, and their awards are hanging on the wall in our training room, she said. Sometimes I read names and hope to be there someday. That’s why I came here. I remember looking at the banners, the plates and the prices before I even got involved and thought about it: I want to go.