MOHEGAN INDIAN RES. — UConn coach Geno Auriemma let Gabby Williams decide whether she was healthy enough to play in Tuesday’s American Athletic Conference tournament final.
Williams, who was held out of the UConn’s semifinal victory over Cincinnati in order to rest the sore hip she aggravated in Sunday’s quarterfinal — the first game she missed since not playing in a loss at Stanford on Nov. 17, 2014 — had no intention of missing two games in a row. She was back into the starting lineup against South Florida.
The two-time all-AAC first-team selection didn’t miss a beat, providing team-highs in points (19), rebounds (7), assists (6) and steals (5) as top-seeded UConn cruised to a 70-54 victory and the program’s fifth straight AAC tournament title. It was the Huskies’ 23rd conference tourney title overall.
“There was no decision for me to make,” Auriemma said. “She came to shootaround and got dressed and went through everything. I said (Monday), ‘Let’s see how she feels tomorrow,’ and she went out there and went through it as if, ‘I don’t know what the big deal is, I’m playing tonight.’ And I said, ‘OK, that’s how we’re going to go, so let’s go.’ ”
The Sparks, Nevada, native, who is averaging 10.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.2 assists in 31 games this season, was 9-for-11 from the floor, including a perfect 5-for-5 in the first half.
“(The decision) was made when I woke up this morning,” Williams said. “I knew if I was going to make the decision to play, I would have to go out there and attack it like any other game. I didn’t want to show that I was only halfway there. I was going to play like I always do.
Williams, whose 142 consecutive games played streak was the eighth longest in UConn history before it was snapped Monday played 32 minutes, six minutes above her season average
“Her presence is irreplaceable,” junior forward Azura Stevens said. “When she’s playing, her energy and effort is contagious and it seeps into all of us.”
Williams didn’t appear to be affected by her hip, but did have an injury scare late in the fourth quarter.
After banking in a jumper with 6:25 remaining, Williams was undercut by USF’s Tamara Henshaw and unable to break her fall before a hard landing on the court. She stayed down for a brief moment, but was able to collect herself and walk off the court under her own power after committing a foul on the Bulls’ subsequent possession.
She left the bench area and went back into the tunnel, but soon returned to the court and re-entered with 4:11 left. Asked if she landed on her injured hip, Williams offered a “no comment.”
Although she played only 16 minutes in the first two days of the event with the hip issue, Williams joined Stevens — the Most Outstanding Player — junior guard Katie Lou Samuelson, and sophomore point guard Crystal Dangerfield on the all-tournament team.
“I knew she was tough and she went out there and proved it once again,” Dangerfield said. “She’s our leader, our emotional leader.”
“It was a huge boost. Gabby does things that none of us can do on the court,” Samuelson added.
The Huskies will learn their NCAA Tournament draw Monday. Auriemma said he’ll give his team a three-day break.
“I’m going to enjoy this time off,” Williams said with a smile. “I need it.”