Williams and Samuelson spark Huskies while Dailey suprised with Ring of Honor.
STORRS: Ask any coach at any level of organized high school or college basketball and they will tell you.
The hate Senior Days or Nights just the same.
The emotion that pours out of a player when they are honored with family in tow and a grateful fan base cheering them on can sometimes be too much for the athlete to handle, at least for a bit.
On Saturday afternoon before their second sellout of the season (Notre Dame was the first), the University of Connecticut celebrated perhaps their most successful class of all-time when they honored seniors Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, Morgan Tuck and Briana Pulido.
One would think these hard core, three-time national champions might be immune to these emotions, but you would be wrong. These are true to life human beings who get the gravity of just what has transpired over the past three-plus seasons and what might be coming down the line.
After partaking in the honors portion of the program, which included seeing Stewart and Jefferson inducted into the Huskies Ring of Honor along with a shocked assistant coach Chris Daley, the seniors and the rest of the team still had to play a game.
In one of the strangest first quarters in recent memory, the home team trailed Tulane by a 13-2 score at one point with what seemed to be a lid firmly attached to the home team's rim as they started an astounding 0-for-12 from the floor, 1-16 for the period.
Nobody could buy a basket. Only a pair of Stewart freebies made their way onto a lonely scoreboard and that 11-point deficit was the largest they had experienced all year, make that many a year.
That all changed in a hurry in the second quarter when one Gabby Williams entered the game at the beginning of the second quarter and gave the team what she does best, instant energy and incredible defense in a big hurry.
“Gabby knows,” head coach Geno Auriemma said, “that we’re not going to wait for Gabby to make an impact on the game. So she knows when she comes off the bench that it has to happen right away. Today was a perfect example of a kid dominating a game. Took four shots and dominated the game. The minute she walked off the bench, the minute she walked on the floor, she scored and we picked up. Right from that moment, we knew the game was over. She’s the main reason for it.”
Sure enough, the Huskies outscored Tulane 51-11 over the next two quarters to run away with an 80-40 final to improve to 28-0 overall, 17-0 in the American Athletic Conference.
While Williams provided the defensive spark, it was the freshman, Katie Lou Samuelson, who made sure the embers turned into a raging fire, even if things didn’t start that way.
“I could tell when Lou missed those first three shots,” Auriemma said, “that her mind was on those shots rather than ‘what else do I have to do?’ You could just see it, it was all over her face. There was a play down in front of us that she didn’t make, that to us she should have made and she was running back to half court and there was kind of a lull in which I was very upset with her and I said something and she kind of nodded her head and about five seconds later, she made the three from the quarter. That started the whole thing for her.”
Samuelson ended the game with 21 points while Stewart recovered from the slow start to post a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
The Huskies wrap up the 2015-2016 regular season on Monday night when they host USF at Gampel Pavilion at 7 p.m. before starting the AAC tournament on Saturday in the second round game.
NOTES: A very special surprise was in store for Dailey as she was inducted into the Huskies Ring of Honor.
Not many people have meant more to every player to come through the program since Auriemma and CD came on board.
Did she have an idea and just how good did it feel?
“You can’t even describe it because I wasn’t expecting it,” Dailey said. “He (Auriemma) does not keep secrets very well so I didn’t know anything and he didn’t say anything. I knew some of my family was coming. My sister lives in London so she came from London and my brother came from Ohio so I had no idea that a lot of my cousins and aunts were here. So to see your name up there is emotional because I know my parents would be really, really proud. They were here at the beginning when really nobody was here. I just know that they are upstairs smiling down being really proud rooting for the Huskies.”
If you can think of another more influential figure in UConn women’s basketball history, aside from the head coach, it would be Dailey who fought through her emotions when she talked about her parents.
“I think that the most important thing is putting her up on that wall kind of puts her next to, not below or above but next to, all the people who would not be on that wall if it weren’t for her. So I think it is very appropriate. Every one of those players that are up there would tell you that they would not be there without a bunch of stuff that CD did. Not above those guys, not below those guys but next to all the legends at UConn.”