CAC group welcomes Williams back to state

Christyn Williams’ homecoming Thursday didn’t turn out as she’d planned, but her cheering section wasn’t deterred.

Williams, the Central Arkansas Christian alum and 2017-18 Gatorade National Player of the Year, returned to Arkansas on Thursday for a hastily scheduled game between her University of Connecticut Huskies and the Arkansas Razorbacks. Williams scored 17 points, but Mike Neighbors’ 19th-ranked Razorbacks upended No. 3 UConn, 90-87, at Bud Walton Arena.

It was the first loss of the season for the Huskies, who have won 11 national championships.

“We had about eight kids on our team go up, most of them with their parents, and six or eight former players and some of her family,” CAC coach Steve Quattlebaum said Friday. “She had a good contingent of fans cheering for her.”

Lady Mustang assistant coach Jason Gates called it “a neat experience”.

“It’s still a little surreal looking out there and seeing a former Lady Mustang playing for the No. 3 team in the country,” he said en route from Fayetteville. “We are all proud of her, and I’m already looking forward to getting to see her play in person again.”

Besides Quattlebaum and Gates, the CAC contingent also included current players Bethany Dillard, who was a freshman on the 2018 state championship team when Williams was a senior; Reese Shepard, Riley Bryant, Ava Knoedl, Carleigh Petlak, Peyton Gaston, Katie Odom and Stella Smith.

“It was great to be able to have the opportunity to see Christyn play in person, especially during these crazy COVID times,” said Dillard, who will play for Union University in Jackson, Tennessee next year. “It was also fun to have a little team reunion since a lot of the girls from our old team live in Fayetteville.”

Quattlebaum said the local contingent had some split loyalties during the game.

“Some of my younger ones were cheering for the Razorbacks, and I was, too, but I wanted her to play well,” he said. “She played pretty well. Most of the girls who played with her were cheering pretty hard for UConn.”

WIth Covid restrictions, seating was limited to about 4,400. Quattlebaum said signs outside the arena indicated a sellout. It was the largest crowd to see a women’s college basketball game this season.

He has seen her and the Huskies play over the last couple of years at SMU, Oklahoma and Tulsa. This time, though, it was a little harder to see her before the game because of seating restrictions.

“When I go watch her play, I usually go down toward the floor and yell, ‘13 (her jersey number)’ so she knows I’m there,” Quattlebaum said.

This time, though, an usher stopped him. When Quattlebaum told him he was Williams’ high school coach, the usher told him he, too, was a former high school coach in Texarkana.

“I said, ‘You probably knew Ryan Mallett (the former Razorback and NFL quarterback),” Quattlebaum said. “‘He said, ‘Know him — I raised him.’”

The usher wound up being Jim Mallett, the father of Ryan, who is now coaching at Mountain. Home High School.

Quattlebaum did get a quick visit with his former player before the game and a bit longer one afterward.

“We usually stay around after the game and eventually can get on the floor, but with Covid they were running us out of the gym,” he said. “We hung around a little afterward, and as they were going to the bus, she came by and gave us a little hug.

“She was pretty dejected. She wasn’t in much mood to talk anyway.”

They also didn’t get a chance to visit with the UConn coach Geno Auriemma and his staff.

“They played pretty well, but I’m sure they didn’t play as well as they were capable,” Quattlebaum said of the Huskies. “I thought once they came back, they’d stretch it out, but that’s a credit to Mike’s kids. They were fired up. He does a great job, so positive. You can tell they love to play for him. You could tell they were into it and playing hard.

NOTE: Christyn Williams was selected to the 2021 Ann Meyers Drysdale Award Top 10, as announced by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women's Basketball Coaches Association Tuesday.