Before UConn women’s basketball’s holiday break, Christyn Williams stood in front of the assembled media speaking candidly, as she often does. This time, Williams admitted that scoring wasn’t coming to her as easily as it did during her freshman season — or at least it felt that way. Her numbers weren’t bad by any means, she scored 14, 12, 12 and 13 points in her previous four games. But it wasn’t the type of leap that many expected out of Williams as a sophomore.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit scoring ... I feel like I’m in my head a little bit, which is normal, I guess. I don’t know,” she said at the time.
But after that, Williams appeared to snap out of it, averaging 19.6 points over a five-game span beginning with UConn’s first contest in the new year against Wichita State. However, that form wouldn’t last. If anything, Williams’ struggles have been exacerbated.
She reached double-figures in each of the first 15 games this season. But in the 11 games since, she’s only reached that mark four times and has only shot over 50 percent from the floor twice. Aside from occasional outbursts — such as a 26-point performance at ECU and a 20-point effort against Memphis — Williams is having trouble putting the ball in the basket.
Her slump hit a new low on Saturday, when she recorded a season-low three points in the win over UCF. Williams only put up six shots — also her lowest this season.
As a former guard herself, Shea Ralph spends much of her time working with the Huskies’ backcourt. Williams’ cold streak even has the assistant coach perplexed.
“I think if we all knew [why Williams is struggling], she’d be out of it already,” Ralph said. “This is probably one of the greatest struggles of her basketball life and when you get to Connecticut, you think it’s all going to be unicorns and rainbows. You put on the jersey and you’re an All-American, a national champion. And when you get here, you realize how hard it is.”
Ralph floated the same theory that head coach Geno Auriemma (who missed practice on Monday after attending the Kobe Bryant memorial in LA) offered, suggesting that defenses were giving Williams extra attention after Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson’s graduation.
However, that doesn’t fully explain it. Williams scoring numbers were fine early in the season before falling off a cliff recently. It’s not as if Collier and Samuelson left midseason. She’s getting the same amount of attention now as she did back in November. If anything, it would make sense for opposing teams to focus less on Williams until she can prove to be a legitimate scoring threat again.
To her credit, Williams hasn’t gone into a shell because of her on-court issues. Instead, she’s done the opposite, choosing to rely on her teammates and coaching staff even more to get her through this rocky period.
“I think these kids are used to trying either somebody fixing their problems for them or them just deciding like ‘Well I can figure this out.’ But you can’t,” Ralph said. “And that’s part of playing a team sport. She’s starting to understand that she needs help and I think she’s been leaning on her teammates. I know she’s been leaning on the staff.”
After practice last Friday, Williams stayed on the court to shoot while Auriemma watched nearby. Effort hasn’t been the issue for her. Instead, it seems to be more mental than physical. While Williams said she doesn’t go on social media during the season, Ralph still thinks it’s more difficult for the sophomore to get away from her struggles now than it was when she played in the early 2000’s.
“That’s the hard thing about kids these days because you guys everybody knows about it. It’s on TV, it’s on social media, people are probably [direct messaging] her ... It’s miserable,” Ralph said. “We didn’t have cell phones so I could just go in my room and shut it out ... It’s a constant chitter-chatter in your head.”
When the ball didn’t go in the basket for Williams in the first half of the season, she chose to focus on doing other things to impact the game in other ways, such as rebounding or playing defense. But now, Ralph wants Williams to focus only on doing what she does best and letting the rest of her game follow suit.
“When people are struggling, I think they need to remember what you’re great at, remember why you’re here, try to do those thing,” Ralph said. “What is Christyn great at? What is she most comfortable? Where does she draw her most confidence from? And do those things and the other stuff will start to settle ... Sometimes when you get in your head like that, you’re thinking so much that even the really good stuff you do just disappears because all you’re doing is thinking about the stuff you suck at.”
And if Williams can do that and combine it with the work that she’s putting in, Ralph is confident her fortunes to shift in the near future, even if it isn’t evident immediately.
“I think she’s going to turn a corner soon,” Ralph said. “It’s just not going to be an overnight thing. You’re gonna see it but it’s going to show itself slowly and all of a sudden everyone’s going to go ‘She’s playing great.’ All of a sudden you’re going to say ‘There’s Christyn. There’s the kid we’re used to seeing.’ It’ll happen. It just won’t be the epiphany that everyone wants for her.”
Nelson-Ododa sporting new gear
After taking a shot to the nose on Saturday against UCF, Olivia Nelson-Ododa was seen wearing a face mask at practice on Monday, according to the Hartford Courant’s Alexa Philippou. Though the sophomore center’s nose isn’t broken, the mask provides some protection just in case she catches a stray elbow or hand to the face again.
Playing with the mask can be an adjustment for a lot of players. But Ralph said there’s been no change in Nelson-Ododa, something the coach credited to her toughness.
“She’s handled it great. Liv’s matured a lot over the last several months,” Ralph said. “That knock to the face and she’s out here today like nothing happened. A lot of people, that would’ve put them down for a couple of days but I’m impressed with her.”
Huskies clean up awards
After a two convincing wins over AAC opponents last week, UConn cleaned up the conference’s weekly awards. Megan Walker took home the Player of the Week honor with 19.0 points and 8.0 rebounds in the pair of games while Anna Makurat was named Rookie of Week with 17.5 points and 5.0 rebounds.
Makurat’s performances were impressive enough that she was also named the USBWA’s Freshman of the Week. She’s the second Husky to earn accolades from the organization, joining Megan Walker, who picked up the National Player of the Week award after the team’s wins over Notre Dame and Seton Hall.