UConn torches Towson in tournament opener
STORRS – This one was never about beating Towson University. No offense to the Tigers but UConn’s first round NCAA Tournament games are not about victory but margin of victory. The last time anybody came close, well, there wasn’t a last time anybody came close. So we can’t even go there.
The was a foregone conclusion before it started but just to reemphasize the point No. 2 UConn bolted out to a 31-7 first quarter lead en route to a 110-61 blistering of the Albany Region’s No. 15 seed Friday night in front of a crowd of just 4,159 fans at Gampel Pavilion, spring break for the Huskies leaving a lot of seats minus fannies.
The victory earned the Huskies (32-2) a meeting Sunday with the region’s No. 10 seed Buffalo who rallied down the stretch while Rutgers wilted to upset the No. 10 seeded Scarlet Knights, 82-71.
With the outcome never an issue here, this was all a hint or possible preview of what can be offered up down the tournament road for the Huskies. There is a rare uncertainty that lingers over the Huskies this season. There are weaknesses, there are vulnerabilities. The Final Four, a UConn staple for more than a decade is no sure thing.
So what can the Huskies offer up? Stage I says plenty when the game is right. And a big part of the game being right is Katie Lou Samuelson. After almost three weeks of inactivity due to a back injury suffered against Housatonic Mar. 2, Samuelson returned to the court with careful style.
In just under 22 minutes of action, Samuelson scored 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting, including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc, while dishing out six assists and grabbing five rebounds. It was a performance that had both coach Geno Auriemma and Samuelson feeling pretty good about the return and the future.
Samuelson played all but five of her minutes in the first half as the lead hit, 64-24, before being pulled midway through the third quarter having accomplished what needed to be done.
“(Katie Lou) talked about getting her wind back and trying to get her game her legs back and I think we got that accomplished which is what we were trying to do,” said Auriemma.
“Definitely excited that this first game I could get back into everything and I think Sunday will be good. I felt good,” said Samuelson.
Samuelson is an absolute must if Final Four and national championship aspirations can be approached. But so is the idea that the Huskies will need all hands on board in a season where there is no room for error or letdown. All hands were on board in the opener.
Nepheesa Collier was Nepheesa Collier. Translation – almost impossible to stop and very rarely off. Collier poured in 23 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Crystal Dangerfield added 20 points and Megan Walker 16.
But again looking down that road, nobody’s performance was more noteworthy that than of Christyn Williams. The lefty-slinging freshman was 8-of-12 from the floor and knocked down four three-pointers to finish with 21 points.
I wasn’t really nervous, I was really excited to play,’ said Williams. “It’s just crazy. Last year at this time I was home watching all the games on TV. I was really excited to play today. I’ve been working on my three-point shot this past week. I feel like I was open a lot and a lot times I passed the ball.”
For the game, the Huskies tortured the nets, canning 41 of 70 (59 percent) and drained 15-of-29 from three-point land. The only Huskie who did not score was Batouly Camara. Meanwhile Towson (20-13) shot just 3-of-21 in the first period and 23-for-73 in the game.
“We ran into a buzz saw,” admitted Towson coach Diane Richardson.
It didn’t help Towson’s cause that the Huskies may have somewhat of a chip on the shoulder because of the perceived snub with the No. 2 ranking.
“We wanted to come out with bang and we came out swinging and we shot the ball really well,” said Collier. “I think what we’ve proven is that when we’re good, we’re really good and I thought we played really well. “
So what the Huskies offered up was the type of package they will need in the coming days – a healthy Samuelson, big games from its big performers and contributions from all five players. Yeah, it was Game I and Towson while showing a healthy side of grit is not what the future holds. But for Game I it was a start.
"At this time of the year you have to make sure that your good players play really well and if they do you have a chance to win and play again. And our best players played really well today,” said Auriemma. “And when they do we are a hard team to contend with. If you get Pheesa, Katie Lou and Crystal playing well and then you get our young players to play well we are going to beat a lot of really good teams."