UT coach Pat Summitt said Monday that Williams will start Thursday when the Lady Vols face Arkansas in an SEC women’s basketball game at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Sophomore Shekinna Stricklen, who had been the starting point guard, will line up for the opening tip against the Razorbacks at a wing position while continuing to help at the point.
“I think she truly wants to help our team and she knows she can,’’ Summitt said of Williams. “I think she’s more serious now than at any point in time. Off the bounce, she’s the best we’ve got.”
Williams relieved Stricklen at South Carolina and responded with a season-high 17 points and a team-high four assists in a 60-55 comeback victory. Even after Stricklen returned in the second half, the 5-foot-11 Williams manned the point for some key possessions down the stretch.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley described Williams as “a luxury” as a reserve and said that her size created a matchup problem for South Carolina’s players.
“We’ve always told her she has such potential,’’ UT teammate Angie Bjorklund said after Sunday’s game. “She just has to play with confidence.”
Williams’ role was upgraded after Stricklen suffered through a three-game stretch in January in which she committed 19 turnovers. Summitt and associate head coach Holly Warlick compiled a DVD of five set plays for Williams to study and she did her best to get a better handle on UT’s offense.
Williams, who played point and shooting guard at Northeast High in Clarksville, Tenn., ran the point while Stricklen was at the wing during portions of last Thursday’s 85-56 victory over Auburn.
Summitt thinks the lineup change ought to be a relief to Stricklen.
“I think her not feeling the burden of playing that position all the time will be good,’’ Summitt said. “I think she’ll be more comfortable when she knows she has help. I think she saw (Sunday) that she has some help.”
Stricklen scored all nine of her points against South Carolina in the second half.
The role of backup point guard Briana Bass, on the other hand, remains in flux. She played one minute Sunday. Summitt said the decision was based on UT going to its zone defense and utilizing the Lady Vols’ height.
“I think it all depends on situations in the game,’’ Summitt said.
In starting Williams, Summitt is mindful of filling a key role with a player who she has criticized this season for suspect work habits and a casual demeanor.
“It all depends on her,’’ Summitt said. “I can’t tell you she’s going to be doing this all the time. She’s young. We’ll take this one game at a time.”