No Lou? No problem
STORRS – No Lou? No problem
Katie Lou Samuelson limped into the XL Center Arena Sunday afternoon her injured right foot ensconced in a black boot. She spent her time at the end of the UConn bench which is where we will she spend the at least the next three games.
UConn didn’t miss a beat. Not that the Huskies want to be saddled with the situation for any longer than they have to. After all Samuelson is their best shooter, vastly improved on the defensive end, and All-American. But it sure is nice to have Azura Stevens.
The 6-foot-6 Duke transfer was one of three Huskies to post a double-double with 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting points and 12 rebounds in another runaway against a top 20-team this time No. 13 Maryland falling, 97-72 at the XL Center.
It was a rapid, successful turnaround from being the first person off the bench.
“We had something pretty unique last week, we had a sixth man that was better than any sixth man in the country in my mind,” said Huskies’ coach Geno Auriemma. “And now we don’t have that. Azura has to transition from that role to a new role. I thought once she got her legs under her – you know she’s still not in game, doesn’t look like she’s 100 percent into it yet, but she was way better today than she was last game.
`She just keeps getting better as season goes along. It’s taking a while. She made some shots today and made some plays. It’s a work in progress.”
Stevens could care less about her role. Starter, sixth-man – it doesn’t matter. She just wants to get back into rhythm after sitting out a year after transferring.
“I’m just trying to focus on helping out the team any way I can. Obviously with Lou being out I knew I’d be called on to step up and start and so I’m really just trying to do my best for the team,” said Stevens. “ Whatever role I need to play that’s what I’m going to do so whether I’m coming off the bench as a sixth man or starting just trying to do my job for the team. “
Stevens admitted the cobwebs from a season off have not always been easy to shake.
“It’s been kind of hard just persevering through getting and sometimes I have to remind myself that I was out for a whole year so it definitely fun feeling back in the groove but I still have a ways to go. But I feel more comfortable each game.”
Stevens effort was complimented by a solid team offensive performance. Napheesa Collier added 13 points and 11 boards while Gabby Williams had 15 points and 11 boards. Williams actually had a triple-double but it was one of those you kind of want to scoot by without the attention, a very solid 15 points and 11 rebounds joined by 10 turnovers.
Kia Nurse continued to reinforce her status as a long-range threat with 21 points that included five three-pointers. And Crystal Dangerfield added 10 points making it all five starters in double figures and Megan Walker with 12 points and the Huskies offense was Dangerfield committed just one turnover, her first of the season
The two teams traded seven-point runs to start the game and then the Huskies took off. A 25-4 run in the final 7:40 of the first quarter excited the crowd as the lead hit 32-11. Nurse victimized the Terrapins with four three-pointers and the Huskies shot 14-of-23 in the period while forcing eight turnovers.
“When we have someone go down with the ability of to shoot the three-pointer like Lou does it’s a matter of everyone stepping up in a little bit of their own way and I think one of the things I can do and one of the things I have gotten better at since coming to UConn is my three-point shot,” said Nurse.
Maryland is young this year and received a nice effort from Kaila Charles (13-of-22, game-high 29 points) but 10 of those points came in the fourth quarter against UConn’s second unit and there was little other help.
UConn led at half, 46-21 and at one point had the margin up to 37 points, 75-38, late in the third quarter. The Huskies did a dominating job on the backboards, posting a 57-35 advantage.
It there was a gray cloud with undefeated UCLA coming up Tuesday night at Pauley Pavilion and beyond that, it may be the bench. With Stevens now in a starting role that leaves only freshman and still learning Megan Walker as a promising sixth-man.
Based on a disappointing second unit that gave up more points in the fourth quarter than UConn allowed in the first half (22-21) and committed 10 turnovers, Auriemma admitted what’s there is a mystery.
“Right now I think our bench is searching,” said Auriemma. “Right now were hoping Megan can do a little bit of what she showed today. Beyond that I think we have some work to do. I’m not sure. Based on what I saw in the fourth quarter not much.”
As for Maryland what the Terrapins saw in the first three quarters was more than enough.