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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

UConn's Williams expanding her game

Gabby Williams went into her first collegiate season with her eyes wide open.

With her final two high school seasons cut short due to knee injuries, Williams had plenty of catching up to do when she arrived at UConn. She had to work herself into position just to be able to practice and then had to adjust when the coaches informed her that she would be playing forward.

With Williams scoring in double figures five times in her first nine collegiate games and twice having back to back 10-rebound games, it all looked so easy for Williams. The reality, however, is that the learning on the fly aspect of her freshman season was more challenging than it might have appeared.

"I didn't know what was going to happen, I don't think I thought that far ahead," Williams said. "I was like 'I am here now, let's see what I can do.'"

So how did the high school guard make the move to the front court?

"Just put in extra hours, I didn't know one post move so I had a lot to learn," Williams said. "I depended on my athleticism for a lot. I think a lot of it was just mostly the coaches being patient with me and making sure I got it right."

It didn't hurt that she is a world-class high jumper who finished fifth in the event at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials. Even if she didn't know exactly what she was supposed to do, she aggressively went after rebounds and when given the ball in the lane, all she did was lead the Huskies with a 63.7 field-goal percentage. She was also UConn's third-leading rebounder even though she played only 15.6 minutes per game.

Unlike a season ago, Williams has been able to spend the entire year working on her game. She has been putting in the work adding range on her jump shot and improving in other areas so she can be more than a reliable finisher in the low block.

"I've been working on my ball handling so hopefully I can move off the block," Williams said. "I do call myself a forward. That is kind of a funny thing now, I like it more down there than I did playing guard. Obviously the coaches know best and they saw something that I didn't see the entire time I have playing basketball so I had to put my trust in them."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma is asking Williams to make gradual improvements to her game and likes what he has seen.

"In the (off)season she has put a lot of time in the gym and she is getting really comfortable and that kid is going to be really good," Auriemma said. "I don't know how far away but right now if we get her comfortable 15 feet away (on her jump shot) that makes it really hard for people. I remember when we recruited Meghan Pattyson and people said she is a 5-10 power forward, how are you going to win a national championship? We didn't but we went to the Final Four. You put somebody who is an incredible athlete, she is good around the basket who as she gets a little bit better shooting the ball, it is a tough matchup for people."

Williams was feeling good enough to try out for the U.S. team playing in the FIBA U19 World Championships. She did not make the 12-member squad but believes the experience was still a positive one.

"It was disappointing because that was my first shot at it," Williams said. "I think even being there I gained a lot of confidence, I was working more on the off the ball screen stuff and mid range and that kind of stuff. I think my shot improved while I was there. Coming back I saw things I need to work on so I think it really is a blessing."

Last year Williams spent plenty of time with Morgan Tuck as both recovered from knee surgeries. This year they are working together doing individual drills as they both look to expand on what they can do on the court.

"We are doing our individuals together and we are both working on the same stuff, expanding more than just back to the basket kind of stuff," Williams said. "It is going to be harder for people to guard us with our mid-range game."

One teammate who hasn't been around to work with Williams is fellow rising sophomore Kia Nurse. Nurse, who was just named to the Canadian team playing in next month's Pan Am Games, has been back in Canada working with the national team. On Monday, the day she was named to the Pan Am Games squad, she also joined her brother Darnell (a top prospect for the NHL's Edmonton Oilers) lighting the flame in the stadium being used to host the soccer competition at the Pan Am Games.

"It is really fun just to watch her," Williams said. "We got really close last year so she tells me about it. I know how much she loves her brother and how much she loves her country so it is really cool to see her with the success that she has."

Williams is putting herself in position for a successful sophomore season with good old fashioned hard work.

"Just paying attention to every detail that I can, how fast I am getting the ball up and that kind of thing because now is the time to do it," said Williams, who said she is taking hundreds of jump shots on a daily basis. "Maybe up to a thousand (per day), just shoot as much as I can."

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