Replacing a player like Morgan Tuck isn’t easy. As one of the most consistent and versatile players on the UConn women’s basketball team, simply asking a player to step in and match Tuck’s 14.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game is a tough task for any player.
However, Gabby Williams did just that in the Huskies’ 106-51 win over UCF.
With Tuck out for the first game of her projected two-week absence due to right knee pain, Williams made the most of her first start since Dec. 9 with a career-high 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting in 21 minutes.
“When you have somebody like Morgan out, it’s not ideal, obviously. She’s probably the most solid individual on our team,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “So as bad as it is to not have Tuck there for Morgan especially and for us as a team, it was an opportunity for some individuals and for our team to get a little better and grow up a little bit. Gabby was great.”
Williams didn’t waste any time getting started, scoring seven points in a 17-0 run for the Huskies to end the first quarter. After coming out with 2:07 left in the first quarter, the sophomore entered with 6:55 left in the first half and scored four points for the 27th double-figure scoring game of her career.
Williams’ fast start was a major reason the Huskies prevented a similar start to their game against Houston, the only other game where Tuck was unavailable. In that game, the Huskies trailed the Cougars 15-14 in the first quarter before coming back for a 76-37 victory.
This time, UConn put the game out of reach early, finishing the first quarter with a commanding 32-9 lead.
“Houston, we didn’t really do that,” Williams said of stepping up without Tuck. “Even in practice, you notice when when Morgan is gone because she does everything. We needed something from everybody tonight without her and I think we got that.”
While Tuck utilizes a fundamental post game and the ability to knock down the outside to be productive on offense, Williams is very much the opposite, relying heavily on her extreme athleticism to grab rebounds, finish layups and play relentless defense. Those skills were on display more than ever Wednesday night, as the Reno, Nevada native added seven rebounds, four of which were offensive, as well as three steals and two assists to go along with her 19 points.
“With my athleticism, you know I can go up and get those rebounds, so it’s things like that bring the energy,” Williams said. “Today was rewarding, because everything from practice transferred over, mainly defense. … I got a couple steals tonight from that, and I’m definitely glad we worked on it.”
Williams wasn’t the only Husky to step up without Tuck in the lineup. Natalie Butler poured in 20 points on 9-11 shooting in 19 minutes, and Napheesa Collier added 14 points and seven rebounds, usually in replacement of Williams.
“Natalie and Napheesa, they had huge mismatches in there, and they took advantage of it, both of them,” Auriemma said. “They both got a lot done, they were both active.”
The game marked the first for Butler without a splint on her left thumb, which was used to protect it after surgery on the thumb caused her to miss the first 10 games of this season.
“It was definitely weird,” Butler said on playing without the splint. “I was excited to finally get it off, and I’m so thankful that it feels great and no issues with it, so it’s all good. I just have to continue to focus each game, there’s always something to improve on.”
Dan Madigan is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.