How a bigger opportunity has allowed Elizabeth Williams’ two-way play to shine

On one end of the floor, Sky forward Elizabeth Williams guarded former MVP Jonquel Jones, and on the other end, she attacked the Liberty forward with a couple of power dribbles in the post before shooting a sweeping right-handed hook shot.

Williams, who finished with four points, seven rebounds and three assists, was the primary defender on Jones and held her to six points on 3 of 5 shooting in the Sky’s 86-69 loss Sunday at Wintrust Arena. Williams is enjoying a career resurgence after a disappointing 2021 and 2022 seasons.

“She’s been very good for us with rim protection, and because of that, she’s allowed us to put more pressure on people because if you get beat, it’s going to be somebody back there helping us,’’ Sky interim coach/general manager Emre Vatansever said.

“She’s a big part of it, that’s why she’s playing a whole lot of minutes for us.”

Williams, a 2020 all-defensive team member, has been known as a stout defender throughout her career. She’s fifth in the WNBA in blocks per game with 1.6.

“The other thing about defense is how hard you play; a lot of it is effort,” Williams said. “Sometimes the better defenders are the smaller players, the players that feel overlooked a little bit, and I tried to take that mentality on defense.”

She said that she enjoys being the last line of defense and that a lot of her defensive prowess comes back to playing more than she has in the past.

Williams has played in a career-high 36 games and is averaging the most minutes (29.9) since the 2020 season. With her length and athleticism, Williams serves as a deterrent for opposing players in the paint, but she said her defensive success also comes from her mentality.

Williams’ teammates feel at ease with her being on the backline and understand her defensive value, but Sky forward Ruthy Hebard said that Williams deserves more credit offensively.

“She is so smart, and we can trust her to be there if we get beat,” Hebard said. “She’s doing great at blocking shots, but honestly, we need to give her credit, she’s been really good offensively as well.”

“Offensively, has been her biggest jump this year,” guard Dana Evans said before the game. “Offensively, she’s more aggressive to start with. She’s looking more to attack.”

Williams is averaging 10 points — her highest total since the 2020 campaign — and her 2.4 assists average is almost double her previous career high. On Sunday, Williams tied a season-high for assists in a quarter with three.

She said that her comfort operating as the ballhandler in dribble handoffs has come from a lot of experience. Williams said that the roster construction has allowed her to display more of her game.

“You see things more, you read things more,” Williams said, “but I have the opportunity now with the types of guards we have to make decisions off pick-and-rolls and dribble handoffs, so it’s been nice to show that.”

Williams’ propensity for defense helps her in her offensive attack.

“You have to make the defense think,” Williams said on how she operates out of dribble handoffs. “I always think about what I hate on defense, and it’s the people who aren’t predictable who are the hardest to guard. I just try not to be predictable in those actions.”

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