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Eyeing A Bigger Role for UConn, Samuelson Working Her Way Back From Injury By Rich Elliott

POSTED June 27, 2016
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 By Rich Elliott

WEST HARTFORD – From a team perspective, last season could not have been any better for UConn sophomore Katie Lou Samuelson. The Huskies finished undefeated and made history by winning their fourth straight national championship.

From an individual standpoint, however, the ending was not at all how Samuelson envisioned. Instead of competing against Syracuse in the NCAA tournament final at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, she was forced to sit and watch after breaking the third metatarsal in her left foot on a layup attempt 39 seconds into UConn’s win over Oregon State in the national semifinals.

``I wanted to play so I wasn’t ready to be done with basketball. The season was done, but I just had to focus on getting better and getting my foot better,’’ Samuelson said Monday during UConn coach Geno Auriemma’s Fore The Kids golf tournament at Hartford Golf Club. ``I’m still kind of there right now. We’re not trying to push anything too far right now. There’s no point. No need.

``So I’m just trying to get better at the things I can do. And I think that just right after the season it was definitely weird trying to adjust that way, but then also to realize that we’re a lot different team and we’re all going to have to step up a lot more.’’

Samuelson is recovering well from her injury. She is able to get back on the court and run. She is shooting. And she spent her individual workouts working with UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph, attempting a lot of shots.

Samuelson, who led the Huskies with 78 made 3-pointers last season, said that she feels stronger with her shot right now. It has slightly changed physically from a year ago, which she believes is a good thing and cause for excitement.

``If I need to be out there going 100 percent I would be,’’ Samuelson said. ``But it’s the fact that I have a long season ahead next year. There’s things that could still go wrong so there’s no point in trying to just throw me back in there 100 percent. I feel good. I’m doing a lot. Working on a lot of different things. Those two months kind of, not set me back, but I had to get back in the rhythm of things like shooting. So there’s plenty of stuff that I can do and that I want to get back working with and get back to the speed I feel like I need to be.’’

Samuelson averaged 11.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 23.5 minutes in 37 games (22 starts) last season. With the departure of All-Americans Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck, she is the Huskies’ top returning scorer and seemingly in direct line with becoming the program’s next great player.

Samuelson averaged 12.4 points (.548 FG), 3.6 rebounds and 24.8 minutes in four and a half games in the NCAA tournament. She scored a season-high 22 points in the first round against Robert Morris and had 21 against Mississippi State in the regional semifinals.

``How many kids go to college and they talk about having an opportunity to play for the national championship and then the national championship game comes and you can’t play,’’ Auriemma said. ``I don’t know how much that has to do with it, but she seems to be a little different person in her approach to everything and just her demeanor and everything that she does. And maybe that’s freshman to sophomore year. Maybe it’s the natural progression. I don’t know. But she looks different. She acts different. And I’m kind of excited for her. I’m anxious to see what happens when we (start practicing).’’

Samuelson is looking to get stronger and emerge as a team leader during the off-season. Juniors Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams has already assumed a greater leadership role. Yet, Samuelson knows fully that more people have to share that responsibility next season.

``Try not to just stay in the background. It was easy to do last year with three seniors,’’ Samuelson said. ``All three of them are all kind of irreplaceable in their own ways. I’m just trying to take what they did for us and bring that down to the new players. We’ve kind of all are in a new role. I think every person on this team has got to do something different and there’s a lot of people that weren’t on the team. So everyone’s just trying to figure out things. But we’ve just got to stick together, and I’m really trying to step up and help people in any way that they need to be helped.’’

Auriemma commented that Samuelson is stronger and more assertive. For a budding star, it is exactly the path to be traveling.

``I definitely feel a big difference mentally and physically at this point,’’ Samuelson said. ``I think this off-season I’ve done a lot to get stronger in a lot of different areas and I know that (Auriemma) can see it. The coaches have seen the difference in individuals and stuff. A big step up I think from last year and last season. And I think just overall things don’t rattle me. I’m trying to stay mentally on top of everything and just do whatever I can to be a leader. Anything the coaches need me to do I’m going to try to do it.’’

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