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With Stewart By Her Side, Samuelson Making Progress for Huskies. By Rich Elliott.

POSTED February 25, 2016
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By Rich Elliott

STORRS – Katie Lou Samuelson was the best high school player in the nation last season. She has the awards to back that up.

Still, everything that Samuelson accomplished at that level did not fully prepare her for what she was about to endure on a daily basis from UConn coach Geno Auriemma. He seeks perfection in practice. He seeks perfection is games, especially when a player is as highly-touted as Samuelson.

Auriemma is merciless on his most talented players because he wants to bring the best out of them. This was something Samuelson had not yet experienced. It is also something senior All-American Breanna Stewart could relate to because she has regularly felt the wrath of Auriemma throughout her marvelous career.

``It’s the most difficult transition of any high school to college program,’’ Stewart said. ``This is the best program for women’s basketball. And Coach Auriemma doesn’t let you get away with anything. It’s not what you’re used to when you have Coach Auriemma coming in and just on you right from the get-go. It’s what you want in the end, but while it’s happening sometimes you’re questioning what’s going on. But once you realize what he’s trying to do, what he’s trying to get out of you, once you get on the same page it’s a lot easier.’’

It took some time before Samuelson was able to properly filter Auriemma’s prodding. Stewart played a significant role is helping her progress. And with slightly one than a week before the start of the postseason, Samuelson finds herself in a good place.

She continued her late-season surge Wednesday by delivering a career-high 21 points (8-for-13 FG) and five rebounds in 24 minutes to lead No. 1 UConn to an 88-41 victory over SMU before 7,504 at Gampel Pavilion. Samuelson has now led the Huskies in scoring in consecutive games for the first time.

``It’s hard mentally to adjust to this type of style,’’ said Samuelson, who also made a career-high five 3-pointers. ``I haven’t been coached by anyone like him and it’s definitely been a challenge. But I think I’m starting to get kind of used to it. I think that my confidence is up more than it was at the beginning of the season and I just feel more comfortable out there to make plays and help out. So I’m pretty comfortable and excited about moving forward.’’

Natalie Butler, Courtney Ekmark, Tierney Lawlor, Kia Nurse, Briana Pulido, Morgan Tuck and Gabby Williams were honored at halftime for earning at least a 3.0 grade point average in the 2015 Spring or Fall semesters.

UConn (27-0, 16-0 AAC) extended its winning streak to 64 games en route to clinching The American regular season championship for the third straight year.

Samuelson leads the Huskies with 52 3-pointers, becoming the eighth freshman in team history to reach 50. She has also reached double figures in scoring in 10 of the last 13 games, averaging 12.2 points in this span, and has committed just six turnovers in her last 164 minutes.

``She’s had a really, really good last 10 days. Two weeks maybe,’’ Auriemma said. ``She just has a different kind of presence about her. She reminds me so much of Stewie when Stewie was a freshman. There’s a lot of great stuff going on that at any time during a game there will be just, `Wow.’ She does a lot of things. And then there’s things that she still struggles with out there. But given where she was in December and where she is today she’s made a tremendous amount of progress. And every day in practice she gets a little bit better.’’

And Stewart, who added 14 points (5-for-6 FG; 4-for-4 FT), six rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals Wednesday, has been right there for Samuelson, serving as a sounding board. Stewart endured her own struggles during her freshman season before breaking out in the NCAA tournament and earning the first of her three straight Final Four Most Outstanding Player awards.

Incidentally, Stewart was averaging 12.2 points heading into the postseason in 2012-13. Samuelson stands at 10.0 right now.

``She’s awesome,’’ Samuelson said. ``And she’s really been a role model for me here. And good to have because she’s been like an older sister almost taking me in. I think from the beginning she kind of really helped me and took me under her wing, and not only on the court but off the court. We hung out a lot and got to spend time together and just be really comfortable with each other. So then once practice started and she kind of saw how I was struggling she took me over and tried to tell me how her freshman year was and how she got through it. So just from the beginning she’s really been helping me out.’’

There was never any doubt that Samuelson could shoot or score. The question was could she do other things to help the Huskies be successful. And she has steadily progressed in that area.

Samuelson drew a charge with 54.3 seconds left in the first quarter Wednesday. She too routinely battled for position in the lane in an attempt to rebound the ball at both ends.

``She’s a good player,’’ Auriemma said. ``When you get somebody that’s a really good player and they’re talented eventually that’s going to come out. And it’s been a lot. I’ve been on her a lot about a lot of things. And there’s still another month in the season and she’s got to make a lot of progress in this next month for us to get to where we want to go. How many 3s did she make today? 5? OK, well, you didn’t come 3,000 miles to make one. The guy you replaced used to make five with her eyes closed.

``So now you’ve got to do the same thing in the tournament so that we can be kind of a similar team going into the NCAAs. But just doing that is not going to be good enough. When Kaleena (Mosqueda-Lewis) was a freshman that’s all she did and she didn’t win a national championship (in 2011-12). You’ve got to do more than that in order to win championships. So that’s what I’m on Lou about all the time.’’

The postseason gets underway for UConn March 5 in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Auriemma will not stop pushing. Not at this time of the season. Samuelson is fully aware. She has formulated a plan for coping with this. It is a plan that has yielded progress and success.

``Just try to take it, learn from it, but also block it out at the same time,’’ Samuelson said. ``I definitely can’t let it get to me when he’s too negative or when he’s too positive either, which is `not.’ I just try to focus on my teammates and they’ve really helped me out a lot. And whenever he gets on people or on me they’re there to support me and let me know what I could do to do better. So I think that’s really been one of the main factors.’’

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