Samuelson Starts For UConn, Delivers Her Best Performance Yet
STORRS: The home crowd, a large one (9846), showed up in force to show the No. 1 team in the country a little love. And the home team, the University of Connecticut Huskies, reciprocated with a blistering first half in an eventual 104-49 win over Temple at Gampel Pavilion.
Starting her second game of the season, freshman Katie Lou Samuelson responded with her best performance of the year with 21 points, 16 of them in the first half when the home team ran out to a 57-21 lead.
“I was definitely happy with today,” Samuelson said, “I’m hoping that I can keep it rolling like this but every game I’m going to try and do what I can to help the team out in different ways and relieve the pressure for the seniors. If I can hit shots consistently then it will be a lot easier for them to do what they have to do.”
The win was the 53rd straight for the Huskies as they roll along with their 16-0 mark, 6-0 in American Athletic Conference play.
The first quarter, the Huskies highest scoring opening quarter of the year, featured everything the rest of the country should fear including a sequence that included three blocks on one possession by the Owls, two by Breanna Stewart and another by Kia Nurse.
It was 32-10 after the first 10 minutes and over like a first-round knockout.
When this offensive juggernaut plays the kind of defense it did early and often on Saturday night, it’s both beautiful for the fan base and a nightmare for the opposition.
Never settling on what appears to be perfection is one of the reasons the Huskies remain so dominant and the game plan against Temple reflected that.
Head coach Geno Auriemma had liked the look his offense got when he put Samuelson in to take some of the attention off of Stewart, allowing her to do more of what she is best at. Fellow freshman Napheesa Collier had been starting, giving the Huskies three bigs inside with Morgan Tuck and Stewart joining the first year player.
“We had noticed a couple of things,” Auriemma said, “We didn’t feel like we were getting Stewie in as many different places as we used to get her because we were not able to just let her roam around because we already had two big guys in there (Tuck and Collier). So I think by eliminating one of them gave Stewie a lot more room to do a whole bunch of other things, changed the matchup that she would have defensively regarding who would be guarding her and bring in another shooter (Samuelson) who is getting better and better every day.”
In that deciding first quarter, the Huskies held the Owls scoreless for 6:59 while blowing out to a 32-7 lead.
Samuelson and Stewart would combine to shoot 17 of 23 from the floor on the night, 8 of 12 from 3-point land.
The freshman, who scored in bunches in high school, has had her ups and downs so far this year, struggling with her shot at times.
Was there a moment that things started to click?
“I think it started in practice a week or two ago,” Samuelson said. “The coaches really had been on me for a while and I finally just buckled down in practice and worked as hard as I could. I tried to do a bunch of different things instead of just heading down the floor and I think it has been translating into my game. So I’m going to continue to do that.”
Learning the ropes from one of the best players ever to don a Huskies’ uniform doesn’t hurt and having Stewart as a mentor has helped the first-year player immensely.
“I watch Stewie a lot and try to learn from her,” Samuelson said. “She’s a great player and she’s come out of her way to help me so I’m going to learn from her and appreciate the year I have with her because people don’t always get that opportunity. So by watching in practice how versatile she is I am definitely going to try to score in different ways and do different things like she does.”
Stewart, for her part, is more than willing to help out a player who will shoulder a good deal of the responsibility a year from now when the All-American is gone.
“The fact that she was knocking down shots was huge,” Stewart said, “But the fact that she was doing other things like rebounding the ball, playing defense and passing … She had a great all- around game.”
Her head coach is noticing a big difference in his first year player as well.
“Sometimes you can just look at her body language,” Auriemma said, “Sometimes you look at her face and you look at her demeanor and you just go ‘wow, she’s really comfortable right now’. To me that’s how I gauge it.”
The emergence of another star on the Huskies does not bode well for their opponents down the road. But if we know Auriemma and his coaching staff, they are always teaching for a bigger and more important date.