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UConn freshman Megan Walker Making Strides

The highly-touted freshman’s ability to contribute without scoring helped UConn defeat No. 3 Notre Dame

UConn�s Megan Walker (3) drives past Notre Dame's Marina Mabrey (3) during the Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs UConn Huskies women's college basketball game in the Women's Jimmy V Classic at the XL Center in Hartford, CT on December 3, 2017.
UConn�s Megan Walker (3) drives past Notre Dame's Marina Mabrey (3) during the Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs UConn Huskies women's college basketball game in the Women's Jimmy V Classic at the XL Center in Hartford, CT on December 3, 2017.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Megan Walker may only be a freshman, but she’s already making a name for herself on the UConn Huskies women’s basketball team just a few games into her first season with head coach Geno Auriemma.

Of course, Walker is not just any freshman. The Monacan, Virginia native came to Storrs this summer as the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2017 - the fourth No. 1 recruit to join the program this decade.

The first two - Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart - went on to have impressive careers. KML was a lights-out shooter that set the the NCAA 3-point record (since broken by Kelsey Mitchell), and Stewart won four national titles and four Final Four Most Outstanding Player Awards. They both now play in the WNBA with the Seattle Storm.

The third No. 1 recruit, Walker’s teammate Katie Lou Samuelson, was a preseason All-American this season and has already established herself as one of the game’s premier scorers.

That’s a lot of hype for Walker to live up to.

Even on a team loaded with talent, Walker has already managed to earn significant playing time. Through seven games this season, Walker is averaging 17.6 minutes per game, serving as the first player off the bench while Samuelson was out with a foot injury.

While Walker is a gifted scorer who excels in transition, her skillset is more complete than what Mosqueda-Lewis and Samuelson offered as freshmen. Walker’s ability to impact the game with her defensive and rebounding abilities have helped her gain the trust of Auriemma and her teammates in big games like Sunday’s victory over No. 3 Notre Dame.

With Samuelson out with a foot injury and Gabby Williams dealing with migraines, Walker played crucial minutes in crunch time in the second half, hauling in five of her six rebounds in the fourth quarter to help the Huskies to an 80-71 win.

“Megan has a lot of talent. She can do a lot of things and rebounding is one of them, and she showed that [against Notre Dame],” Auriemma said. “She proved that she can make plays in this kind of a game and this kind of environment.”

Walker also knocked down one free throw and added an easy bucket on the break to finish the day with three points and six rebounds in 16 minutes against the No. 3-ranked Irish.

Even though Walker is only averaging 5.6 points per game this season, she has shown flashes of an impressive offensive repertoire.

There has been effortless drives and easy finishes to the hoop past defenders. There has been pull-up jumpers drained at the elbow. There’s even been some knock down 3-point shooting, like when Walker hit her only 3-pointers of the season on three-straight possessions on the road against No. 5 UCLA and finished with 13 points.

Walker’s offensive skills were not on display against Notre Dame like they were against the Bruins, but her ability to impact the game without doing much on offense against the Irish left a lasting impression on her teammates.

“She did a great job. She doesn’t even need to score like she against UCLA where she had three 3-pointers,” Napheesa Collier said of Walker. “Those rebounds were just as big as her points in that game. Doing that helps us build trust in her in big games.”

Just a few games into her first season, Walker’s performances against top-five teams like UCLA and Notre Dame show she is not afraid of the big games that come along so frequently at UConn. But like any freshman, her most important task will be to string quality games together and become consistent throughout the season.

“UCLA was a great game for her, then the next couple of games were a little bit off. For her to persevere through that and come into this game and fill one of her many roles on this team was fun to see,” Azurá Stevens said of Walker. “She had some really key rebounds.”

Going forward, Walker’s development will be worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses. It may be early into her career, but the freshman wing is already showing that she is more than capable of being the next great player to come through this legendary program.

While this year’s UConn team is certainly talented enough to win without her, Walker’s versatility would be a major weapon for the Huskies off the bench and could give Auriemma a reason to use a legitimate seven-player rotation for the first time in years.