With junior Kia Nurse reinjuring her ankle at the outset of the game, and leading scorer sophomore Katie Lou Samuelson shooting 2-for-12 from the field, junior Gabby Williams took over the game. Williams helped lead the young and battle-tested UConn Huskies (25-0, 12-0 The American) to their 100th straight victory over, in a win over the South Carolina Gamecocks (21-3, 11-1 The SEC). Williams had a career high 26 points and 14 rebounds in the 66-55 home win, as the Huskies showed great composure and experience in a gritty and grind-it-out victory.
After being selected to the Wooden Award final 20 players list, Williams did not disappoint on the biggest stage of the year. From start to finish, Williams played like one of, if not the, best player in the country as she was able to ignite the struggling UConn offense and take over the game on both sides of the ball. Along with her 26 points and 14 rebounds, Williams was able to add four steals, four assists and two blocks. The list of adjectives to describe her performances seem to be diminishing by the second.
“You can’t describe how Gabby Williams can come here and have no expectations of ever being Maya Moore but have a Maya Moore performance tonight,” Head Coach Geno Auriemma noted. “She did it exactly when she needed it and exactly the way it needed to be done.”
In the opening quarter, the Huskies struggled to find their early rhythm. Samuelson had four early misses within the first minute and Nurse looked unable to move laterally on the court. Williams was able to provide the Huskies with offense early, scoring six of the first eight points and 10 in the first quarter, giving them a 19-16 lead.
“It sucked losing Kia because she is such a leader,” Williams said. “I had to step up vocally, I think our younger guys stepped up and everyone just had to do a little bit more to make up for it.”
For South Carolina, Wooden award watch player A’ja Wilson shined in the first quarter, with an early seven points on 3-for-4 shooting. The talented forward was able to execute early and often in the first half, but like her Gamecock squad she went cold in the second half, finishing with 17 points, and no field goals in the final 20 minutes.
In the second quarter the Gamecocks came back, taking the lead at 29-28. They started to lose momentum, however, once sophomore Napheesa Collier got going inside. Collier, despite fouling out late in the fourth quarter, was able to provide UConn with a much needed offensive compliment to Williams, as she finished with 18 points and nine rebounds.
She had maybe the biggest play of the game as well. Following a deflection from senior Saniya Chong, Collier was able to take the ball and convert a layup while being fouled, which gave the Huskies a 7-0 run to end the half, blowing the roof off Gampel Pavilion. At halftime, the Huskies led 35-29, as the Gamecocks went scoreless for the final 2:27 of the half and their standout center Alania Coates was held to four points and six boards in the first two quarters.
In the final two quarters, UConn never lost the lead. South Carolina cut the advantage to two points at 37-35 but Collier and Williams were just too much for the Gamecocks to handle. Williams notched her career high point total with 2:36 to go in the third quarter, and South Carolina finished the quarter once again struggling to shoot, giving the Huskies a double-digit lead with a quarter to play.
“There is no one else like her in all of college basketball” Auriemma said about Williams. “Someone send me a video tomorrow of someone like her and I will change my mind, but there isn’t. There is not right now.”
The Huskies were just too much for the Gamecocks in the third and fourth, as they forced South Carolina to shoot 25 percent in the third quarter and 27.8 percent in the fourth. Even with the fourth quarter beginning at 10:40 p.m., the Gampel crowd and the UConn players were full of energy, and were able to close out the No. 6 ranked Gamecock squad.
“This game was won by effort and I am really proud of how tough and composed we were today,” Williams said. “That is just the culture we have here.”
Part of it had to be the fact that they won their 100th straight game in a row, but after the game, something seemed uniquely different. This game was unlike any ever played in Gampel.
“It is not even the number that is so special, it was the environment tonight,” Williams said. “It was the fans, the alumni being here, the amount of coverage we had and how many people watching the game. That is what was special for me; it is not really the number at all. What is so different between 99 and 100 anyway?”
Matt Kren is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.