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Every coach Jessica Williams ever had tried to fix her shot.
Whether she's shooting 3-balls or free throws, the sophomore guard for the University of
Toledo releases the ball at her chest and sends it high into the air. Her form is unlike anyone else's on the Rockets' roster, or anyone on most of the teams they play.
"I've always shot like that," Williams said. "That's the way I was taught to shoot, with a lot of arc."
Williams has never been able to consistently make shots using a more conventional release, but she expected coach Tricia Cullop would try something when she arrived on campus last spring. That had always been the reaction she received on the first day of practice.
Cullop didn't say a word.
"Coach Cullop loved my shot. She didn't try to change anything, which was nice," Williams said. "She said, keep shooting. Ultimately that gave me more confidence in my shot."
In the Mid-American Conference season, Williams' rainbow stroke has caught fire. The
5-foot-8 Westerville, Ohio, native has scored in double figures in all six MAC games for the Rockets, who are 5-1 in the West and 11-8 overall heading into their game tomorrow at Akron. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Ohio at 2:30 p.m.
Cullop has made several changes in how things are done in UT's practices and games, but she refrained from making any major mechanical recommendations to Williams.
"Everybody has a comfort level," Cullop said. "The last thing you want to do coming in is totally change somebody. It's working for her.
"I think the biggest compliment to her is when teams are rotating on defense they're yelling: shooter, shooter. They have to know where she is at all times."
Williams is averaging a team-best 14.5 points in league play and is shooting 44 percent on 3-pointers. She's leading the team with 33 minutes per game in MAC contests, yet among Rockets who have started a game she is the only one with a positive assist-to-turnover ratio.
Williams splits the point guard position with freshman Naama Shafir and plays a lot of shooting guard as well. Cullop has been pleased with the amount of responsibility Williams has been able to handle, considering she averaged two points in 11 minutes per game last year.
"I've been very impressed with her steady growth," Cullop said. "We count on her to take care of the basketball, to get us going. Our team has an awful lot of confidence in what she does."
Williams started off conference play with an offensive explosion. She scored a career-high 24 points against Western Michigan on Jan. 7, hitting all five of her 3-point attempts.
With teams keying so much on Shafir since she displayed her scoring ability early in the season, Williams is one of many beneficiaries of the defense sometimes overplaying the flashy freshman.
"A lot of times, Naama is drawing the best perimeter defender on the team because they know what she's capable of," Cullop said. "They can't just focus on Naama. We have a very balanced scoring attack. 'J' has greatly benefited from the defensive focus Naama has seen."
Williams credits her scoring increase to her "teammates just finding me."
"We don't want to settle for
average," Williams said, "so we've worked really hard."
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