For a Huskies team that has more question marks than fans will be comfortable with, success this season seems to ride on the shoulders of the few established veterans. While UConn’s core of returners will need to step up across the board if another Final Four appearance is in the cards for 2020, Megan Walker will need to make the biggest leap.
Walker’s sophomore season for the Huskies was leaps and bounds better than what most would label a somewhat disappointing freshman campaign from the No. 1 recruit. She averaged 12.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in her second season and was consistently good for UConn. However, for the Huskies to have a good chance of heading to their 13th straight Final Four, Walker will need to be consistently excellent.
The junior showed glimpses of that necessary excellence last season — most notably in her 34 point performance where she single handedly outscored Tulane and became the first player in American Athletic Conference history to do so.
She also showed a string of excellence in last year’s AAC Tournament in the absence of Katie Lou Samuelson due to her back injury. Walker played all but eight minutes across the three game stretch, impressing on the glass in the first two games and contributing a strong 24-point performance against South Florida in the semifinals.
Again in the Huskies’ do-or-die Elite Eight appearance against Louisville, a team who handed UConn a loss earlier in the season, Walker stepped up by draining four threes and corralling 12 boards to send UConn to Tampa. It was a glimpse of her ability to be great against elite opponents on the biggest stages.
Last season the flashes of excellence were enough from Walker with Napheesa Collier there to pick up the rest of the pieces. This year, if Walker doesn’t step into that role and do a little bit of everything for UConn, there won’t be anyone else to fill in the gap.
Of course, trying to replace Collier’s production for the Huskies is an tall task to put on one players shoulders. Collier averaged over 20 points and 10 boards per game last season while also adding 3.5 assists per game and scoring 1.14 points per play. Walker will need to make another big jump in her junior season to help replace that gap.
Luckily for the Huskies, Walker is poised to step into that role. She has an excellent perimeter shot makes it easier for her to increase both her scoring volume and efficiency. On the glass, Walker will need to have a stronger presence than she did last year, but she will have help. Sophomore Olivia Nelson-Ododa is expected to enter the starting lineup and has already proven to be stronger on the glass in her time with Team USA at the FIBA AmeriCup this summer. UConn also added grad transfer Evelyn Adebayo, one of the best returning rebounders in the NCAA this season.
Still, if the Huskies find themselves in New Orleans this year, it will likely be on the heels of an AAC Player of the Year Award (or at least consideration if one of her teammates wins it) and All-American nods for Walker. If she can step up to her new role as an upperclassman on this UConn team, her numbers and performance will be among the best in the nation..