HARTFORD - Clouds in the form of injuries have hovered over the University of
Connecticut women's basketball program for almost a month, but freshman Tamika
Williams has been there game in and game out to remind folks that the sun will
come out tomorrow.
"She's been our most consistent player without question," said coach Geno
Auriemma in the wake of UConn's 107-77 payback to Boston College at the Civic
Center Tuesday night. "Each day her game expands. Of all the players who have
made it a point to do more, Tamika has done the most."
The night belonged to Shea Ralph, who celebrated her first career start with a
career-high 36 points as UConn avenged an unexpected 78-66 loss to BC on Jan
23. Ralph was magnificent, knocking down 10 of 12 field goals, 12 of 12 free
throws, and adding six rebounds, six assists, and five steals in 31 minutes.
The joke about there being only one team in the country that Shea couldn't
start for - the one she's on - stops here.
"The nice thing about this team is everybody understands what we do will give
us the best chance to win and each player the best chance to be successful,"
Auriemma said. "I envision Shea's role as a team leader because that's her
personality. And she was really, really good off the bench. We might have
played it out that way, but you have to play the hand you've been dealt."
Injuries to Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Amy Duran, and Ralph shortcircuited UConn's
uptempo game, which was gangbusters early in the season. With Ralph back,
UConn turned up the volume against BC and made a lot of noise, to the tune of
"We went back to what we were doing before," Auriemma said.
Williams played a supporting role with 16 points. It marked her 10th straight
game in double figures. During that span, she has averaged 15.6 points per
game and 7.6 rebounds. Five times this year she has recorded a double-double
and four times she has been named Big East Rookie of the Week.
The National High School Player of the Year has looked the part when UConn has
most needed her.
"When we got Tamika to come here I had never met her," Ralph said. "I had
talked to her over the phone. We shared a special bond. I had been National
Player of the Year and I knew there would be a lot of pressure. I kind of took
her under my wing."
Williams scores points in bushels from the low post. Her inside moves are
strictly big-time and she treats the baseline as if it's her living room. The
bugle sounded when the injury bug hit and Williams answered the call.
"My mom always says things happen for a reason," Williams said. "There's
nothing you can do about the injuries. But I knew I had to step up. When you
have great players around you, you don't have the urgency to try to dominate.
It's definitely not a physical thing, it's a mental thing. I knew I could do
Short on bodies, UConn turned to Williams and she responded.
"I knew Tamika would step up, absolutely," Ralph said. "She surprised me when
she got here. She didn't treat things like a freshman. She didn't act like
this was her first year and we'd have to wait on her. She did the things she
needed to do to help us win. You've got to love those players. I'm psyched
about having two more years with her."
Ralph and Williams have a very special on-court relationship. Each always
knows where the other is.
"Shea looks for me to post up," Williams said. "If she misses me, she says
she's sorry and promises to get me the ball the next time. I feed off her in
practice and in games."
Williams said she sensed a tone of urgency in Auriemma's approach once the
"There was no meeting," she said. "Coach and I didn't sit down and talk. But I
knew we needed to fix some things. I was aggressive on the boards, but I
needed to be aggressive all over the court. Even when I got a double-double, I
knew there was more I could have done. I would have been embarrassed if I
didn't step up."
Her teammates have noticed.
"Tamika's a great player from a basketball standpoint," Marci Glenney said.
"She's got size and speed and strength. Those are gifts that we're all not
born with. When she and Asjha are on, nobody can stop them. It opens up a lot
of things for the rest of us."
Williams and fellow freshman Asjha Jones are roommates.
"They're both smart and they talk basketball a lot," Auriemma said. "They live
basketball, talk basketball, and play basketball. I hope they turn out to be
Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe before they're done."
Against BC, Williams made one baseline move that gave Auriemma goose bumps.
"That was a guard's move in a big guy's body," he said. "Tamika can block
shots, make steals, rebound, and score. There's really not much she can't do."
Associate head coach Chris Dailey writes notes to players' families to keep
the homefront informed. Early in the season, she wrote of Williams, "She's
doing great. There are still one or two people at the university she hasn't
Dailey believes Williams soon will be UConn's best defender because "she's got
Williams' feet move so quickly, sometimes it appears she travels.
"Asjha always says that," Williams said. "She says I walk all the time. It's
my spin move. Some refs call it, but most don't. I make a whole spin before I
dribble. I call it my ballerina move."
Williams will dance on more than a few heads before she graduates and she'll
do it with style.
"Tamika's a great player, but she's an even greater person," Ralph said.
"She's really amazing. She's smart, funny, and caring. I love her to death."
There are scorers and rebounders and ballhandlers and passers and defenders.
All are needed to produce a successful team. But Tamika Maria Williams, who
has answered the bell for UConn under cloudy skies, can't be typecast. She is
the most valuable of all personnel. She's a basketball player.