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Christyn Williams throws the first punch in Elite Eight win over NC State

The senior got her side off to a strong start and then closed the door at the end to keep UConn dancing.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Down the stretch of her senior season, it’s easy to tell what kind of game to expect from Christyn Williams within a few moments of tip off. The senior gets a certain look in her eye where it’s clear she’ll going to be locked in on both ends of the floor. When it’s there, the Huskies’ chances are as good as anyone’s to take home the win.

It’s a look that’s been a consistent part of the Williams’ postseason experience over the last two seasons. Starting with the 2021 Big East Tournament, Williams starting locking down the opponent’s best player while bringing a different level of play in tournaments. That’s been the case this year as well, and the Elite Eight was no different.

Williams was aggressive on both ends of the court from the opening tip off to the final seconds of the double overtime period on Monday night.

With five seconds left on the clock in the contest, Williams broke away from the NC State defense and connected on a feed from Evina Westbrook for a wide open layup. The basket extended UConn’s lead from two to four points and all but secured the Huskies a trip to Minneapolis.

It’s fitting that Williams iced the win. Even though Paige Bueckers’ heroics down the stretch rightfully stole the spotlight, the senior guard was integral in putting UConn in the position to earn its 14th consecutive trip to the Final Four. Williams set the tone for the Huskies from the start of regulation, scoring the team’s first two baskets and seven of their first nine points.

The hot start has been a consistent element of her 2022 postseason from the beginning of the Big East Tournament through Monday. She’s led the team in scoring at the end of the first quarter in all but two postseason games thus far and eclipsed five points in the opening 10 minutes against every opponent other than UCF.

It’s quite a change from last year when UConn struggled in the early part of games and got off to a slow start in the season-ending loss to Arizona. After the defeat, Williams admitted the Huskies underestimated the Wildcats. She’s determined not to let it happen again.

“We’ve definitely learned from that game to not ever take anybody lightly and just come out and try to throw the first punch every game,” she said.

Williams continued throwing that punch in the first quarter against NC State, not only being the first Husky to find the basket but scoring nine points in the opening 10 minutes to give UConn a two-point lead at the break. No one else on the team had more than two points in the first period, so Williams took it upon herself to keep the Huskies in the game.

While her shooting cooled off throughout the remainder of the game, Williams still finished with 21 points, behind only Bueckers with 27. Even when shots weren’t falling, Williams still made her presence felt on both ends. She added three offensive rebounds in the game, contributing to UConn’s 14 second chance points — an area in which they edged out the Wolfpack by 11 points.

Williams was also an integral part of the defensive effort that stifled the offense of NC State’s guards. Despite the double overtime game, the Huskies’ backcourt held the trio of Raina Perez, Kai Crutchfield and Diamond Johnson to just 23 points in the ball game. Perez finished the game 1-8 from the floor, Crutchfield was 4-10 and while Johnson did shoot 50 percent from the field, she only attempted three triples in the ball game. That wire-to-wire defensive effort paved the way for Bueckers’ performance down the stretch to be enough to win the game.

Looking ahead, the Huskies will need Williams to continue throwing that first punch if they hope to avoid the same fate as their last four trips to the Final Four. Stanford will be the toughest test of the tournament yet and UConn needs another locked-in performance from Williams to advance to the national championship game.