Megan Walker couldn't help but smiling as she watched another 3-pointer go in. At this point there was nothing to do but smile.
She had already scored 28 points — now 31 — for the biggest night of her career thus far. She would knock down one more three to bring her total to 34 points and 10 rebounds for the first double-double of her career.
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Walker outscored Tulane on her own, with the Green wave putting up just 33 points in UConn's dominant win Wednesday night. It was a game full of positives, from Walker's performance to the Huskies' defense to bouncing back from an ugly win over USF. Here are a few of the takeaways:
Hard work paying off for Megan Walker
Walker checks out of the game with 34 (‼️) points.— UConn Women's Hoops (@UConnWBB) January 17, 2019
UConn leads 72-33. #BleedBlue
Wednesday night was a breakthrough for Walker, who's been searching for consistency since arriving at UConn last year, and the game against Tulane marked her fourth consecutive solid performance.
"Those games help you a lot," Walker said. "[I'm trying to] build off of them one game at a time, so I've just got to keep moving and getting better."
Coach Geno Auriemma said there's been something different about Walker since she returned from Christmas, and that she's working harder. The result was a big performance against the Green Wave that he said he couldn't be more proud of, noting that her success could be key to UConn winning in the future.
"She's a really tough matchup for people, so if we can get her consistently going -- and then you put her and [Napheesa Collier] together -- that's a difficult combination for most people," Auriemma said. "The shots that Megan takes are generally really, really good shots, and she's so strong. She can be so physical that she just overpowers you sometimes inside, and then she's so confident in her threes. We had a conversation recently and I said, 'Meg, there are two things I want to see you do. I want to see you offensive rebound and get to the free throw line.' And that's exactly what's been happening."
Defense continues to progress
In one of its strongest performances to date, UConn's defense showed signs of improvement against Tulane. The Huskies held the Green Wave to four points in the first quarter and 18 percent shooting. UConn had 51 rebounds, 11 steals and five blocks in an effort Auriemma described as "great."
"We wanted to make that point [on defense] tonight, especially with how the game went the other day," Crystal Dangerfield said. "So I think if we can figure out what we did well and keep working on that when we get into practices then we can build on that."
Shooting problems persist
UConn may have won handily, but they also continued to deal with shooting problems. They shot 46.6 percent, and just 29.2 percent from behind the arc. They've dealt with these problems the past few games and, despite taking good shots Wednesday night, they're still facing them. The first half was particularly rough, with the Huskies going 2-of-13 on 3-point attempts before Walker started connecting in the third quarter.
"We're in batting slump right now," Auriemma joked. "We've got to mix it up, turn our hats backwards. We need some rally caps. We can't get a shot to drop."
Christyn Williams taking steps in the right direction
After a few quiet games, Christyn Williams is starting to understand her role a bit more. The freshman starter may have only had two points, but she also accounted for six rebounds and four steals in a performance that made Auriemma confident she's moving in the right direction.
Said Auriemma: "I met with her on Monday, and she said, 'I didn't realize how hard basketball was when you don't have the ball in your hands.' ... I said, 'Now you know some of the stuff your teammates were doing when you had the ball all the time [in high school],' so now players have to learn that, and she's starting to get after it a little more defensively. You saw that tonight. She made a couple really good defensive plays. It's a tough adjustment for young players who are used to so much success in high school. What do you do when you don't have the ball? I thought today she got more opportunities than she has, and that's a function of her working harder, a little bit, today and us changing sides of the ball more to get people involved."
Moving past USF
In a game that will be known this season and beyond as "the day Auriemma benched his starters in the first quarter," UConn didn't look like themselves at all. They got out to a rough start, and Wednesday night they wanted to make up for that. After a dominant performance against Tulane, the Huskies are hoping to keep that momentum moving forward and put USF in the past.
"It's definitely a confidence booster," Collier said, "because when we do so many things wrong in the game before you just want to come back and show the coaches and show ourselves what we can do."
This article is written by Kelli Stacy from The Hartford Courant and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.