Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Guru's Take: Samuelson's Record Night Leads UConn to its Fourth American Conference Crown

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Apparently, if you’ve seen one UConn women’s basketball team you haven’t seen them all.

Yes, there is a commonality to the fact they win, they win by a lot, they don’t take possessions off, they do all the right things.

So why bother to spend multiple afternoons or nights that 95 percent of the time you know in advance what the end result will be?

On Monday night the Huskies offered an emphatic answer here at the Mohegan Sun Arena in the American Athletic Conference championship why it is worth the effort to keep coming back to watch Hall of Famer Geno Auriemma’s squad do its thing.

You may not have much suspense brewing at the outset in terms of whether perhaps the never-ending consecutive win streak – now at 107 – might finally be snapped except when the opposition are the marquee folks from the penthouse district of the national rankings.

But what is unknown is whether on a particular night you will be able to walk away from witnessing a memorable display of exemplary greatness in either team or individual performance.

Such was the occasion when such a moment transpired and kept transpiring and became the event within the event of the unbeaten Huskies here running roughshod over South Florida on the way to a 100-44 triumph and maintain the monopoly of owning what is now all four American trophies.

Just 24 hours earlier after the third-seeded Bulls (24-8) had taken down second-seeded Temple and as they looked ahead to the third time this season they would meet UConn, Kitija Laksa framed the expectation quoting the phrase, “The third time is the charm.”

Unfortunately, it was not the choice as the night quickly began playing out.

The correct one would be closer to “everything comes in threes” as in three straight UConn (32-0) wins in this game over USF, and three straight triumphs over the Bulls this season, but most specifically, the three ball that kept coming from Huskies 6-foot-3 sophomore guard-forward  Katie Lou Samuelson.

Shooting a perfect 10-for-10 from beyond the arc, Samuelson, who finished with 40 points, had put on a display of basketball firepower akin to the scoring greats of the game in either gender from Pistol Pete Maravich to the current stardom across the country by that female other Husky Kelsey Plum of Washington.

“There’s not much you can say when you see something like that, the way it transpired,” Auriemma said afterwards. “No way to adequately describe it, it’s just a feeling we just had something going on that’s kind of hard to capture and you want to capture it and hold on to it for a long, long time.

“And it started off the first three or four possessions defensively we kind of set a tone of the way we wanted it to go and made hardly any mistakes at all defensively, and that just got everything going down the other end,” he continued.

“For the most part this season, when ‘Lou starts making shots early, it just changes everything for our team because she just has the ability to blow games wide open and the confidence we get from that spills our to everyone else,” he said of Samuelson, easily named the most outstanding player.

“More important to me, it was the way she played, not just the way she shot the ball.”

By halftime it was apparent that Temple’s Feyonda Fitzgerald’s performance Friday night in the Owls’ quarterfinal win over Houston in the record books was going to last just two days instead of having a shelf life that would normally last far longer.

At the break the native Californian had 29, the old record before Fitzgerald eclipsed it by one previously. And after the break she just kept going.

Her total for the half, also a record for the conference tournament, came off of 9-for-11 from the field and connecting on all seven trey attempts.

Samuelson said she was more focused than recent days.

“I kept shooting and it felt good,” she said. “And I was getting open shots and my teammates kept getting me the ball.

“I actually didn’t know I made all my shots today.”

Said teammate Napheesa Collier, who had 15 points and is capable of having as big a night as Samuelson.

“I’m kind of surprised it didn’t happen sooner because she’s such a good shooter. We all know that ‘Lou is a great player so the fact she came out and played so well tonight, I’m really happy for her. There’s no way you shoot 10-for-10. That’s just crazy and unbelievable.”

On the night, Samuelson was 12-for-14 counting the non-3-ball attempts, and 6-for-6 from the line.

Gabby Williams, adding to the marksmanship, was 6-for-7 to score 12 points, Saniya Chong had 11, and Natalie Butler off the bench was 4-for-6 scoring 10 points.

It was one of those nights where many watching the scoreboard would complain about the constant mauling delivered by UConn but would quickly dispense with that and cheer Samuelson on knowing they were witnessing some history.

The 10-for-10 on the long range shots set an NCAA record for accuracy. The 10 also tied a record here for the entire tournament and Samuelson had 17. In the three games UConn took the floor, she also set a new overall scoring American record with 71 points, four better than the previous mark of 67.

As for how the game evolved in general, the Huskies jumped to a 12-0 lead and by the end of the first period with a 30-11 advantage what kept attention on the game was how sensational would Samuelson be.

“They were special. They were very, very good,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said of UConn’s night. They shot the ball so well. We took three time outs in the first quarter.”

Dorotty Nagy had 15 points for USF and Laksa scored 13.

Behind Samuelson’s honor, Temple’s Fitzgerald, USF’s Maria Jespersen and Laksa, and UConn’s Collier and Williams made the all championship team.

“I told our team, `Don’t let this game take away the season this team had,’” Fernandez said. “… We have to get this game in the rear view mirror, move forward, and get ready for the NCAA tournament.”

Meanwhile, Auriemma had to answer the recurring question put to him all season as this UConn edition has defied preseason expectations in the wake of graduating three superstars.

“Today, they were pretty locked in,” Auriemma said. “Are we great? Are we not great? Are we almost great? Are we pretty good? We have been good enough to win every game and every time they have needed to be better than good, they have been better than good. What more can I say about them.”



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