With Napheesa Collier, Katie Lou Samuelson and Crystal Dangerfield as the top three players in UConn women’s basketball, they have their core solidified. But they cannot do it all on their own, especially as the team goes deeper into March. This brings up the question of the remaining role players: Who is the most important X-factor to help UConn hoist its 12th national championship?
Michael Logan: The Huskies need Megan Walker to play at a high level in order to win a national championship. It is plain and simple. When she plays well, UConn typically looks and plays great. However, when she does not play well, the team struggles, as seen on Sunday night against Buffalo. She shot 4-for-16, scored nine points and had three turnovers. Thus, the Huskies offense struggled mightily in the fourth quarter, scoring only 11 points on 3-for-12 shooting.
Although Walker is not the tallest player on the Huskies, she is strong, and everyone knows that from the way she plays. Collier is absolutely unbelievable, but she cannot do it all by herself in the paint. While Samuelson has become much more versatile and has improved her rebounding abilities, Walker is more physical and adds an element that UConn craves.
Mariana Dominguez: The only top five team UConn defeated this season was then-No. 1 Notre Dame. Uncoincidentally, this was also the game in which freshman guard Christyn Williams had her career best performance. Williams scored 28 points and led the Huskies to a 89-71 over the Fighting Irish. Williams’ game has been up and down throughout the season but she has remained adamant throughout the tournament that she has not gotten any nerves before games. For the Huskies to win, they will need to benefit from another point-scorer besides Samuelson or Collier, and Williams is more than capable of making shots. In Sunday night’s 84-72 win over Buffalo, she made a sizeable contribution, notching 17 points. Going forward she will need to maintain her scoring streak to ensure UConn advances.
Logan: Williams is certainly an important cog, but UConn’s lack of size was exploited by Kalani Brown and the Baylor Bears. Walker had only two rebounds. Simply put, if UConn plays Baylor again and she snags only two rebounds, they will not win the game. However, if Williams struggles and Walker reels in 10 rebounds and knocks down some 3-point shots, the Huskies win. There is not a doubt in my mind. UConn needs to establish a physical, gritty presence underneath the basket. While Collier establishes that presence, Walker re-establishes that.
Dominguez: If UConn faces a foe with lots of size (such as Baylor) in the tournament, it will be even more important for the Huskies to knock out some outside shots. Walker is a formidable rebounder, but the game plan against a taller team should be to give touches to the players that will not be guarded as heavily. Being a freshman, Williams will certainly be given the most leeway of all the starters, but she can make any opponent pay for that by knocking in some shots. Once a team is forced to guard Williams, the lane will open up, allowing Collier and Walker to get to work and score in the lane.