Samuelson, new Huskies adapt in UConn women's exhibition opener, a 95-39 win over Texas Lubbock.
EAST HARTFORD: So it begins.
The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team is back, looking for their fourth consecutive National Championship and on Monday night, they kicked off the 2015-2016 campaign in typical style with a 95-39 win over Texas Lubbock in an exhibition at the XL Center.
This time of the year it’s so much more than the score, it’s about the development of that year’s squad. How the pieces are going to work, who’s going to mesh with an eye always on down the line.
To that end, the usual suspects did what suspects always do, they performed with their usual lethal abilities.
Breanna Stewart (25 points in 29 minutes), Kia Nurse (18 points in 28 minutes), Gabby Williams (16 points, 12 boards in 25 minutes) and Moriah Jefferson (15 points, 6 assists in 27 minutes) led the way with a breathtaking display at times that still causes you to marvel at the speed and prowess this team can hit you with.
No, these games are all about the others, the newcomers, the next five off the bench.
To that end, there were some good and not so good moments for the Huskies back-ups that are made up of Katie Lou Samuelson (8 points on 3-11 shooting, including a 0-6 start) Naphessa Collier (5 points on 1-7 shooting) and Courtney Ekmart (2 points, 0-4 from the floor).
An okay start but nerves were clearly on display, as one would expect.
“I was definitely excited to get out there,” Samuelson said, “But obviously I was a little nervous. Our entire team was kind of fast paced and crazy to start.”
The Huntington Beach, California high school player of the year didn’t have a dream start, she was 0-7 early, 0-6 from beyond the three point line before she connected in the opening minutes of the third quarter.
“Sometimes they’re not going to fall,” Samuelson said, “It was nice to final get one in the third quarter, I just kept shooting.”
Shooters shoot is the old adage and as the Huskies look to replace the most prolific three point shooter in school history in Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Samuelson will get her share of chances in the pre-season and the regular season.
“Players that are good shooters,” head coach Geno Auriemma said, “Eventually will make enough shots, that’s not a problem. What makes them really good players is the same thing that helped Kaleena which is becoming a good basketball player. Where you can do a bunch of other things other than shoot the ball.”
Samuelson got the start on Monday, something she didn’t find out about until just before game time.
“It added a little to my nerves but I was really happy to finally get out there,” Samuelson said.
Collier did pull down seven rebounds in her 23 minutes while pitching in with three steals and three assists and showed the ability to get to the boards on a regular basis.
Having Stewart and Jefferson as leaders who remember back to the days when they first stepped on the floor can only help the newcomers as they adapt and after game one, Jefferson was impressed with what she saw from the freshman, despite the challenges game one brings.
“It’s difficult when you play your first game,” Jefferson said, “Especialy when you are playing in a gym you have never been in, in front of friends. I think they came out and fought the nerves and continued to play even when the first couple of shots didn’t fall.”
Williams is now a sophomore and gone are her days of not being in the flow, both at practice and during games.
“I’m not lost anymore,” Williams said, “I know our offense and I know what kind of basketball we like to play and I know what pace I have to go out there with so that helps a lot.”
While the Huskies try their best to duplicate the speed of the game in practice, there’s something about game time that picks the pace up to an entirely different orbit.
Game one, albeit an exhibition is in the books and the journey to April is officially underway.
NOTES: It took a while to get used to the four quarters rather than two half change that is in effect this year. Four 10-minute quarters take the place of two, 20-minute half’s.
On Sunday in Storrs when the Huskies take on Vanguard in their second exhibition, several changes will be tried out.
They include: The width of the lane will be 16 feet, which is 4 feet wider than NCAA play.
The 3-point line will be moved back from it’s current 20 feet, 9 inches to 22 feet, 1 inch.
A 24-second clock will replace the current 30-second clock.
Teams will only get eight seconds to get the ball over half court, down from the current 10.
The game will be played with a men’s basketball instead of a women’s basketball.