UConn women ready to roll again
STORRS – Early on in their careers Katie Lou Samuelson’s game focused on lofting up three-pointers and not much else. Kia Nurse? Shooting wasn’t her forte. Nepheesa Collier was automatic around the hoop but dishing off wasn’t the expectation. There was no Crystal Dangerfield.
And they were still good - National Championship good. And now they’re better.
The Huskies finished their exhibition season Sunday at Gampel Pavilion wrecking defending Division II national champion Ashland University, 119-56. OK, it’s Division II, understood. But these Eagles are no chumps.
Coach Robyn Fralick’s team has two national titles and a runner-up in the last six years, compiling a 181-23 record in the time period. They were 37-0 a year ago. Division II but with pedigree.
Hardly sisters of the poor, regardless of the division. However, maybe they knew it, if not, now they know it. Division II ain’t Division I and nobody is UConn. This wasn’t about Ashland, it was a nice opportunity for them, but it was about where UConn is with Stanford looming in the season opener next Sunday.
They are in a good spot. Trust me.
UConn has always been a pick-you-poison opponent. You don’t guard one person and get it done, doesn’t happen. But this season’s arsenal has the potential to bigger and better than most.
Samuelson had 19 points on 9-of-15 shooting in just 19 minutes. Collier also had 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting. Nurse missed a foul shot and nothing else. She scored 21 points on 7-of-7 shooting including 4-of-4 from three-point land.
The Huskies scored 45 points in the first period and at one point led by 68 points, 79-21 points in the fourth quarter. Ashland was here for the experience, not quite sure this drastic of an experience.
Samuelson had seven points in the first 53 seconds. The kid that came from Mater Die High School in Huntingdon Beach, California came with three-pointers on mind. A long way from home with long range on her mind.
The touch, the range – it’s all still there but there is so much more now. Post-up, drive, air it out from distance, the maturation of her game is immense making her a match-up nightmare. Only one hoop came from beyond the arc against Ashland.
“I feel much more comfortable now just doing so many different things. I am not concerned about the `three’ at all any more. I’m going to shoot it when I’m open and I feel confident with my three-point shot it but if it’s not going in it doesn’t freak me out any more like it used to,” said Samuelson. “I Think I’ve grown as a player overall. I’m not as concerned about scoring. I know I can so other things, pass the ball and distribute the ball.”
Samuelson admits it was easy to think one dimensional as a freshman.
“I was talking with Shea (assistant coach Ralph) about freshman year and said it was my easiest year,” laughs Samuelson. “We had Stewie (Breanna Stewart), Mo (Moriah Jefferson) and Tuck (Morgan Tuck) and I’d say I’m open in the corner, run back on D and then say I’m open again. Now I’m reading what the defense is giving and whatever they choose to give me I’m going to use it to my advantage.”
Nurse sees a new and improved Samuelson.
“Lou does a great job of cutting and moving without the ball understanding that people are going to try and take away her three-point shot,” said Nurse. “Her post game has improved, her driving game has improved. Being more of an offensive player not only with the ball in her hands but without that’s where I have seen the difference. “
So while Samuelson has become more Stewie-like with the diversity of her game creating an even bigger concern for the other side, it just starts there.
Nurse starting hitting the three-pointer with more consistency last year. Now if she’s the one left open in the pick-your-poison game, the price will be paid.
“Every single practice is the matter no defense on you so try and knock down the shot and I try keep that mindset and have confidence in the shot so to make it look as natural as possible,” said Nurse.
Auriemma has noticed and sees opponents paying a price.
“Freshman and sophomore year we used to say all the time in practice damn doesn’t matter where we put here she ends up with more open shots than anybody on our team,” said Auriemma. “She spent a lot of time working on it (three-pointer) and I wouldn’t call her a really good shooter freshman year. She was pretty good as sophomore but it wasn’t until latter part of last season she became comfortable with it. Right now she has a tremendous level of confidence with it. There are so many defenders you have on your team and going to use a couple of them up on other guys I think she’s going to get a lot of them.”
Then there’s Collier who surrounded her point total with seven assists which seemed to both take Auriemma by surprise and add a smile to the day.
Mix it in with the leadership of Dangerfield at the point and the poison count has gone up. Dangerfield repeatedly found open people and included a picturesque behind-the-back pass to Nurse for a layup.
Throw in 16 points from Azura Stevens and 14 points from Megan Walker and you have a powerful arsenal. Auriemma was asked if he would like to have more time to prepare for Stanford or he was ready.
His response was that the four practices left were enough. The team’s performance said it is time for the season to begin. The options have been there and there are new options and they are improved options. Here come the Huskies again.