Christyn Williams came to the UConn womenâs basketball teamâs bench at the first media timeout Wednesday with an airball and two turnovers to her credit.
But the junior guard was making the effort to pay it back on the defensive end against St. Johnâs sophomore Leilani Correa.
âI started off very poorly on offense,â Williams said. âSo I relied on my defense and after that I started to be more aggressive offensively. I feel like if I start off more aggressive defensively then my offense will come.â
It arrived on the first possession after the time out with a 3-ball from the left wing and she was off.
In a strong effort on both sides of the ball, Williams finished with 21 points while she and her teammates held the high-scoring Correa to two, 19 under her average, as top-ranked UConn routed St. Johnâs 77-32 in Big East play at Carnesecca Arena.
âWeâve been through scenarios like this in the past where you challenge one of your really good offensive players to be better defensively,â UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. âI talked to Christyn about that before we came down here. I said, âYou need to have game goals, not points per game goals but how many deflections goals, how many steals goals, how many times do I get to the free-throw line goals, how many rebounds goals.â Things like that.
âWe gave her a tough assignment. We had her defend the other teamâs best player and when you do that I think it takes up so much of your focus that the offense just kind of flows naturally. If youâre distracted defensively, if youâre all over the place on defense and your mind is on offense all the time and you obsess about it, itâs counterproductive. This was one of Christynâs best games, certainly the best game she has played this year, because it was a complete game.â
Williams was 8-for-11 shooting from the floor. While the rest of her numbers werenât anything great (one rebound, two assists, five turnovers, one steal), locking up Correa the way she did was good enough. The 2020 Big East Sixth Man Award winner netted her only basket on a layup following a steal.
The Huskies didnât need a reminder that Correa had scored 27 points in the second half against them two weeks earlier, finishing with 33.
âI didnât want that to happen again,â Williams said. âThat was really just the focus at the beginning of the game, and I came through with it.â
And when Williams is making some shots and bringing energy to the floor, she makes it so much easier on her teammates.
Freshman Paige Bueckers took another step toward becoming the second freshman to be named Big East Player of the Year with 20 points and nine assists. Junior Olivia Nelson-Ododa added 17 points while freshman Aaliyah Edwards chipped in 10 points off the bench. Junior Evina Westbrook didnât score but contributed eight rebounds, seven assists, and two steals.
The Huskies never trailed and led by double figures for the final three quarters. St. Johnâs plan to make it the first one to 50 points wins, if it had a plan at all, went out the window quickly.
âAnytime the tempo is too slow, that works against what we want to do,â Auriemma said. âNot that you canât play like that, but sometimes youâre caught in that kind of a game.
âWe caused a lot of rushed shots by them and missed shots and just enough turnovers to get us going. Then by us having an opportunity to score, now if youâre St. Johnâs you canât come down and run the 30-second clock down when youâre down 20. You force the other team to play catch-up and it just snowballed for them.â
The Huskies recorded 17 fast-break points and had 26 assists attached to their 33 field goals. They shot 64.7 percent from the floor and 50.0 percent from 3-point land.
And they looked comfortable doing it.
âI thought we came out aggressively, and our mentality was composed but yet we were still getting into them,â Nelson-Ododa said. âThat was pretty evident tonight, especially on the defensive end. Coming into this game, that was a key emphasis for us. We came out with that kind of aggressive mentality and that kind of led into our offense flowing and clicking for us.â
UConn looked comfortable in its first game as the No. 1 team in the country.
If Williams can give the Huskies what she gave them Wednesday on a consistent basis, it will be tough knocking them off that perch.
âWhere can she go from here?â Auriemma said. âI hope she feels, âI can do this and then some every single night.â Thatâs what itâs going to take in the NCAA Tournament.â