She only missed that first weekend. She’s just a competitor. That kind of tells us a lot about what she has in the tank in terms of wanting to compete. —Utah head coach Lynne Roberts
SALT LAKE CITY — When Utah coach Lynne Roberts saw the size of Tori Williams’ ankle, she assumed the worst.
“It was a bad sprain,” Roberts said of the freshman guard, who rolled her ankle in the first minute of Utah’s first conference game. “It was huge and purple, and everybody deals with pain or adversity differently. You have freshmen and you’ve gotten to know them through the recruiting process, but you’re still learning about them as you’re coaching them.”
So Roberts wasn’t quite sure what to make of Williams assurances that she’d “live in the training room” so she could get back on the court for the team’s road trip to Washington the following weekend.
“I’m thinking, ‘Oh, yeah, sure you are,'” Roberts laughed. “Your ankle is as big as a grapefruit. I appreciated it. I love that she wanted to play.”
But did she expect her to earn Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors two weeks later? Nope. And who could blame her?
Williams said that when she first tried to walk on it, she couldn’t put any weight on it.
“I tried to stand on it and walk on it, and I just fell,” she said. “That’s when I knew I wasn’t going back in that game.”
Williams "lived" in the training room, and she ended up missing just those first two conference games.
“She only missed that first weekend,” Roberts said of Williams who earned her first conference honors after helping Utah to its second consecutive road sweep including a victory over No. 22 Arizona. “She’s just a competitor. That kind of tells us a lot about what she has in the tank in terms of wanting to compete.”
Williams' toughness may have been a revelation, but her talent wasn’t. Roberts said the Idaho native was highly recruited, considering offers from most of the Pac-12 schools.
Williams said she never aspired to play for a certain program or a specific conference. Instead, her goals were a bit more personal.
“Honestly, I just wanted to go where I felt more comfortable,” she said. “I wanted to go where I thought they’d make me a better player. When I got here, I had that feeling of home. It was just a family atmosphere, and the coaches want you to succeed in basketball, but they also want you to succeed in life.”
The daughter of two college basketball stars, Williams seems destined for the hardwood.
“I never played another sport,” she said. “I just grew up watching basketball my whole life, and just always having a basketball in my hand.”
That may account for her comfort on the court as a freshman. Not only does she lead the Pac-12 freshman in 3-pointers (37), but in helping Utah to win both games this weekend, Williams averaged 12.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and three assists. She had just a single turnover.
This weekend was the second consecutive road sweep for the Utes, who’ve already equaled last year’s number of conference victories — and they’re not even at the midway point yet.
This weekend they take on two ranked teams at the Huntsman Center. First, it’s No. 18 Oregon State on Friday, which will be the team’s Pink-out game in raising awareness of breast cancer, and No. 7 Oregon on Sunday at noon.
Williams said she has high expectations for herself and her teammates, in part because of how they deal with frustration.
“I think when you’re down, when you’re really down (in a game), it’s hard to get back up,” she said. “With this team, we just find a way to get back up and get back in the game. We feel like when nothing is going our way, then we just find a way.”
She said the team has talent, great chemistry and incredible leadership. Williams singled out senior Tanaeya BoClair as not only a great team leader, but the player who has helped her adjust to the collegiate game.
“She is just a really positive person,” Williams said. “If we’re down, she’ll huddle us together, and say, ‘We got this. Let’s bring the energy up.’ And everyone respects her so much, we bring the energy up.”
While Roberts is “cautiously confident” about the Utes' possibilities this weekend, Williams is just confident.
“I definitely have expectations because we’re a really great team,” she said. “Coming in here they are all good teams. But we’re better than we were last year, and we’ve just got to keep pushing and going really hard in practices.”