UConn women honor the past and present and beat Houston
STORRS - You might say there were a few things going on inside Gampel Pavilion on a sloppy Saturday. There was some women’s basketball to start with and we’ll get to that in a minute. But that was only a portion of the afternoon.
There were roars galore and a dead silence and it came from a multitude of directions. It was Senior Day for two of the Huskies’ all-time greats, Nepheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson, who were honored with a heartfelt blast of appreciation from the crowd of 10,167. But if it all started there it sure didn’t end there.
At halftime UConn icon Rebecca Lobo had her No. 50 number retired and hung from the rafters as her family and teammates shared in the adulation poured on a program hero. When Lobo was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame, Lobo had said in her speech that she owed much of it to Huskies’ coach Geno Auriemma. On this day, Auriemma returned the sentiment. “I am where I am because of you,” he said.
There was more. Sitting behind the UConn bench near Lobo was NBA legend Kobe Bryant into to catch the Huskies whom he knows well having worked with Katie Lou Samuelson and Nepheesa Collier and become well-acquainted with the program. It doesn’t hurt that his daughter Gigi is pretty big UConn fan.
Although not seen during the women’s game, UConn and NBA legend Ray Allen was also at Gampel and his number will be retired with Lobo’s tomorrow at the men’s game.
And just to add to it all, a UConn student brought the Gampel roof down not to mention making his parents happy or just himself by sinking a half court shot to win $10,000. Oh and we should add that Auriemma was indeed back after missing two road games due to illness.
Got all that? Gampel was hopping. And yes, there was some basketball played with the No. 2 Huskies (27-2) grinding out their 116th straight American Athletic Conference victory with an 83-61 victory over a pesty Houston team.
The basketball is where the air seemed to come out of Gampel. In a scramble near mid-court for a loose ball Samuelson went down with 3:36 left in the first half. After a short time she got up with trainer’s help and walked gingerly to the bench. Continually rubbing her lower back and side on the right side, she left for the locker room before the half.
Samuelson reemerged before the second half started and played the first 3:22 before coming out and did not play again. The extent of the injury and if or how long she will be out was not known.
“Anytime anybody has to sit out you are concerned with what the potential is,” said Auriemma. “We thought she could give it a shot in the second half and obviously she couldn’t. So we’ll see (Sunday) how she feels and Monday how she feels and we’ll go from there.”
Prior to Samuelson going down the Huskies were in battle. Whether it was a spirited effort from Houston or all the other attention-getters that were part of the day, this wasn’t going to be a regular season rout.
The Cougars stroke five three-pointers in the opening 4:09 to open up a 17-7 lead.
“The issues that you have all year don’t go away. We seem to be the kind of team that is kind of caught in some ways,” said Auriemma. “We work really, really hard to keep people from going by us and then there’s too much room to shoot and a couple of mistakes here and there. They still have to make them and they made them. Our offense I think is what bothered me the first five minutes. It wasn’t so much defensively; I think our offense was really bad the first five minutes.”
The Huskies finally caught fire and reeled off the next 10 to tie the game, 17-17,with Crystal Dangerfield (19 points, eight assists) driving in for a hoop and canning a 10-foot banker to spark the comeback. Still, Houston led, 23-22 at the quarter break.
The Huskies found some breathing room in the second quarter before Samuelson went down with a 14-4 spurt to open up a 36-27 lead. Christyn Williams started the run with a pair of free throws and a couple of Dangerfield steals led to baskets and the Huskies looked primed to pull away.
Despite Samuelson’s injury, UConn took a 40-30 lead at the half.
Houston (15-13, 9-6 AAC) was still in the mix, trailing, 52-41, midway through the third quarter before UConn went on a 10-3 spurt to end the quarter with a 62-45 edge.
Collier was, well, Collier on a day when the Huskies needed a lift tossing in 29 points and nine rebounds. And the Huskies were able to find a way on a day with some much a part of the scene.
“It was just kind of staying in the moment,” said Dangerfield of the Huskies’ focus. “We knew how big today was and coach has said after practice (Friday) it was golng to have the feel of a tournament game and it did, It was that that kind of crowd and that kind of feeling and we had to come out and respond.”
And the grind?
Coach said teams like that we’re going to see and this is what we are going to have to be able to do,” added Dangerfield.