With No. 99 in the books, Huskies look for No. 100 on Monday versus South Carolina.
STORRS: A nearly sold out Gampel Pavilion greeted the top ranked team in the country as they looked to take another step towards their 100th consecutive victory, which they hope will occur on Monday night when they square off with the number six team in the land, the South Carolina Gamecocks.
No. 99 went into the books with relative ease in an 83-41 win over the SMU Mustangs behind 22 points from sophomore Katie Lou Samuelson, who scored those points in just 25 minutes after not practicing the past two days because of an illness.
The campus in the sleepy little city known as Storrs was alive with fans dressed in pink for the Play4Kay initiative and the signs on the way in let folks know that this indeed was a near sell-out, the first of what should be consecutive capacity crowds.
There is something about a sold-out building, especially one on a college campus that is enthralled with their team, one that not many thought would be approaching the century mark in consecutive wins in what was supposed to be a down (?) year.
Again, though on Saturday, the Huskies (24-0, 12-0 in the American) proved why they have consistently made short work of foes from the AAC who have still failed to ever find themselves on the correct side of the ledger when the clock struck zero.
Now, the season doesn’t end on Monday night when the Gamecocks come to town, looking to do something nobody has been able to do since UConn last lost to Stanford sometime in the early the 1900’s, or so it seems.
It’s funny, when you watch this team play on a regular basis, they don’t overwhelm you but gradually put you in a sleeper hold as you eventually pass out and lose.
That’s not much consolation to the last 99 teams who have found themselves getting that deep sleep at some point but it’s true. This team does not come put teams away as teams over the past three years would.
Take the first half on Saturday. A 6-0 start stalls when the shots don’t fall and the Mustangs go on a 6-0 run of their own. After one, it’s 22-14 behind eight from Samuelson who didn’t practice on Friday due to illness but still came out and gutted out a terrific first half.
Down just eight going into the second, SMU was within striking distance didn’t help themselves with 15 first half turnovers that the Huskies turned into 19 points.
Before they knew it, which is the norm, the lead ballooned to 20 and ended at 22 at the break at 44-22.
Samuelson nearly outscored the Mustangs herself with 19 first half points on seven for nine shooting.
In the third, the pedal went to the medal as the home team raced out to a 14-4 start in the frame as the running game went full throttle.
Samuelson would sit the final 15:27 and why not?
22 points on eight for 13 shooting, including three of six from downtown.
The sophomore wanted to show her teammates that this game mattered to her, no matter how she felt.
“I love playing,” Samuelson said. “So, I just wanted to go out there and have fun so we were all ready and could clean everything up for what comes ahead.”
Teammate Kia Nurse appreciated the effort from Samuelson.
“To do that is a testament to her mental toughness,” Nurse said. “And to who she is as a character and a teammate and that’s something we need.”
After scoring 14-points in the first quarter, the Mustangs scored just 27 over the next three frames, thanks to a 24.6 shooting percentage.
Head coach Geno Auriemma used the second half of the game to rest some of his starters in preparation for the Monday night game that, while it wins nothing but their 100th in a row but still has some significant meaning because of who UConn is and who they are playing.
“There are not a lot of Monday night games in woman’s basketball that are going to generate the kind of interest that this game is going to,” Auriemma said. “Some of it is because of the number, 100 but I think it (the interest) would be there regardless of the number.”
The Gamecocks would certainly like to be able to claim the prize of ended the longest winning streak in NCAA woman’s basketball but they have to come here and play in this building, the site of so many classic games over the years.
Samuelson was asked what she is looking forward to on Monday night.
“I think just having such a great game and such a great atmosphere,” Samuelson said. “Coach was saying he knows he’s not going to have to worry about us being ready to go or exited for this game. It’s something that will come.”
NOTES: Five Huskies scored in double figures with Naphessa Collier (double-double with 10 points and 13 boards), Kia Nurse (13), Saniya Chong (13) and Gabby Williams (11) pitching in.
Williams became just the third UConn woman’s player to grab over 200 rebounds (201), 100 assists, 50 steals and 25 blocked shots in a season.
She joins Maya Moore (who was on hand on Saturday) and Breanna Stewart as the only three players to accomplish the feat in the programs history.
South Carolina come in with a 21-2 record, their losses coming to Duke and Tennessee.
The Gamecocks are led by A’ja Wilson (17 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and Aliana Coates (14 ppg and 11.5 rpg)