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UConn Women’s Basketball: Megan Walker and Christyn Williams X-Factors vs. Louisville

The Huskies’ youngest starters will be critical in the Elite Eight.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

ALBANY -- When UConn women’s basketball takes the court against Louisville on Sunday, the Huskies will be playing with the exact same roster that they had back in January -- a roster that lost to the Cardinals 78-69. But in the two months since then, UConn is a much different team for two big reasons: Megan Walker and Christyn Williams.

In that first meeting, those two players only scored 12 combined points. Walker grabbed 12 rebounds but was still a one-dimensional player. Williams, meanwhile, admitted she didn’t really impact the game.

“I was going through the freshman slump,” Williams said. “I didn’t know my role, everything was overwhelming, coach was mad at me, I didn’t play that much.”

But since the postseason began, Williams has been a completely different player. She’s been aggressive with the ball in her hands, attacking the rim and creating opportunities for herself and teammates instead of letting the game come to her.

The freshman reached double-figures in every game since the start of the conference tournament and is averaging 17.7 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, good for second on the team in that span.

For Walker, she became a bigger scoring threat to add to her abilities as a strong rebounder as the season wore on. She may only be the fifth scorer on the floor given the other four starters she plays with, but Walker gets buckets when UConn needs them.

“Meg has been stepping up, hitting big shots almost every game,” Katie Lou Samuelson said.

Williams’ flourishing ability as a go-to scorer helps to open the floor and force opposing defenses to account for her instead of keying in on Napheesa Collier, Crystal Dangerfield and Samuelson. That also means Walker will likely be given the attention defensively, giving her more chances to find the basket.

Head coach Geno Auriemma has said all season that he knows what to expect out of the veteran trio of Collier, Dangerfield and Samuelson. But while Collier and Dangerfield have mostly been consistent, Samuelson is a question mark with her back injury. It didn’t seem to affect her too much in the first two rounds when she scored a combined 28 points. But against UCLA, the senior only scored six points and looked visibly limited.

Samuelson is unlikely to be at 100% for Sunday, but if Walker and Williams can take on a bigger load, that can mitigate the effect of a reduced capacity Samuelson.

“They’re going to be huge. I think they’re going to be the key,” Samuelson said. “The way we all step up big and the way we can all combat whatever defense they try to do to stop Phee and stop us, we all have to be ready to go.”

Louisville prides itself on its defense and will make life hard for the Huskies’ big three. If UConn hopes to advance to a 12th-straight Final Four, Walker and Williams will need to take full advantage of the opportunities the Cardinals’ defense gives them.