If there is one player on the University at Albany women’s basketball team who doesn’t need a Five-Hour Energy drink, it’s 6-foot-2 senior center Keyana Williams.
“That’s what I bring to this team, energy. I’m full of energy from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and I’m the same player all day. If you’re down, I’ll pick you up,” said Williams, who provides vocal leadership for the 27-3 Great Danes, who take on third-seeded North Carolina in Sunday’s opening round of the NCAA tournament in Newark, Del.
The game will tip off at 2:30 p.m. and be broadcast on ESPN2.
“Nothing gives me more joy than rebounding and playing defense,” said Williams, who has started 27 of the 29 games she played this season. “That’s my role. I don’t mind playing with other players who like to score points. I did the same thing back in high school. My job is to box out and grab rebounds. I believe that when you rebound the basketball, you can show your dominance even more than when you score points.”
Williams, nicknamed “Key,” said she is all about the team.
“If I was more interested in scoring, we wouldn’t be the team we are today,” she said. “Our team is full of players who know their roles. I don’t have to score for this team to be successful.”
Although she is a regular starter, Williams averages only 3.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 16.4 minutes per game. She has to share the post position with 6-8 sophomore Megan Craig, who is much more of an offensive threat.
“Keyana is a very aggressive player. She plays very hard,” said UAlbany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson. “When she grabs the ball, she holds it high, and she slams it hard to her body. She gets pumped up when she grabs a rebound or blocks a shot. She can be a very hyper girl. I need someone out there to help keep everybody get motivated. Key is always right there to make sure everyone is in their right place and doing the right thing. You can see her get everyone else pumped up. She won’t let anyone get down.
“She knows her role is to rebound and to play defense. When she sees a loose ball, she’s the first one to grab it. She likes that job.”
Williams, a Kingston native, relishes her second trip to the NCAA tournament.
“This means so much to me,” Williams said. “People don’t understand that when I was a freshman and I lost in the first round of our conference tournament, I thought that was how it was supposed to be. I figured I would just enjoy the college basketball experience and not get too upset.
“But Coach Abe changed everything when she came here. She made me a better person and a better player. We have raised the image of the UAlbany women’s basketball team, and now people expect great things from us. We expect great things from ourselves.”
Williams said if the Danes can avoid a slow start, they have great chance to beat the Tar Heels.
“I think the biggest key is to handle the pressure,” Williams said. “They will have their guns loaded, and we must remain poised. We won’t bow down. We must stay positive, no matter what happens.
“We are excited about playing in the NCAA tournament once again, because we know what it takes. When we played Texas A&M last year, we were just happy to be there. We want to win this time.”
“We’re back to being the underdogs, and that’s just the way we like it,” said Abrahamson-Henderson. “North Carolina is a very athletic team. We will probably play a lot of zone against them. One of the keys to the game for us will be how they match up with Shereesha Richards and Julie Forster, because they are both a little smaller and maybe a little quicker than their post players. Shereesha and Julie will be hard to box out. The other key is that we must get to the foul line.”
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Bob Weiner at 395-3147 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his take on UAlbany basketball anytime by checking out the Division I hoops blog at www.-dailygazette.com/weblogs.