HARTFORD — Katie Lou Samuelson had high expectations heading into her freshman season at UConn. The Huntington Beach, California native came to Storrs as the No. 1 recruit in the country and approached nearly all of former Husky Kaleena Mosqueda Lewis’ records at Mater Dei High School before coming to UConn.
After a rough first two games in which she shot just 27 percent from the field and 1 of 9 from the three-point line, Samuelson broke out for a 14-point second half to help No. 1 UConn beat Nebraska 88-46 in front of 10,113 at the XL Center.
“I think I really focused more on getting inside and doing other things first before just relying on my three-point shot, because in past games it wasn’t falling for me,” Samuelson said. “This game, I tried to do more things and that just got me going, and then I did hit some shots, so overall it was just really good and I just have to build on it from here.”
Samuelson got started scoring late in the third quarter. She buried her first three of the afternoon to put UConn up 59-28, and stepped in to take a charge on the Cornhuskers’ following possession. Samuelson then took her defender to the hoop and made a tough left-handed finish to score five points in just over 40 seconds.
“She looked, just looked like she was more engaged, more aggressive,” head coach Geno Auriemma said of Samuelson. “I can tell that some shots were going to go in after she took that charge, because she started to feel really good about herself.”
Breanna Stewart and junior Saniya Chong joined Samuelson in double figures for the Huskies. Stewart led all scorers with 25 points and added 10 rebounds for her first double-double of the season and the 26th of her career. The senior forward finished the game 10-11 from the floor, making nine straight shots to start the game before missing a three-pointer late in the third quarter.
Chong finished with 10 points.
“To see Lou [Samuelson] and Saniya both come out and play really well was awesome, just because they’ve been having some up and down games, that kind of thing. This is what they needed for their confidence,” Stewart said.
Samuelson wasn’t the only highly touted freshman on the court. Napheesa Collier added 10 points on 5 of 5 shooting from the field and Nebraska’s Jessica Shepard was held to just 10 points and five rebounds after entering the game averaging 23.3 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
Collier and Shepard ranked sixth and third, respectively, in last year’s Hoopgurlz recruiting class rankings.
“They’re not just scoring points, but they’re getting assists, getting rebounds and being active all over the floor,” Stewart said of Collier and Samuelson. “When you have freshmen who are willing to do that, it makes a lot of things a lot easier.”
Shepard and the Huskers remained close with the Huskies for most of the first quarter. Nebraska led 10-7 for nearly half of the opening quarter before Stewart made a three-pointer to make it 10-10. Stewart’s three sparked a 12-4 run for UConn to end the half with a 19-14 lead.
After scoring two points and grabbing five rebounds in the first quarter, Shepard was a nonfactor on the glass for the remainder of the game. Shepard added eight more points and finished the last three quarters without a rebound. Shepard had trouble dealing with the length and quickness of Stewart in the post.
“She’s not easy to guard, that’s obvious,” Auriemma said of Shepard. “That’s where Stewie has made a lot of progress, and that’s where it’s comforting to know that we’ve got somebody protecting the basket back there that can make it difficult.”
UConn (3-0) headed into the locker room with a 40-24 lead at halftime and began to pull away for good by outscoring Nebraska 23-6 in the third quarter. The Huskers (4-1) shot just 23.1 percent from the floor in the third with Shepard, Natalie Romeo and Rachel Theriot scoring two points each while Stewart, Samuelson and Moriah Jefferson each had five points in the quarter for the Huskies.
Jefferson finished with seven points, giving her 1,109 for her career and moving her into a tie with Kelly Faris for 35th on UConn’s all-time scoring list.
Samuelson would lead the Huskies with nine points in the fourth quarter to seal the Huskies’ third win of the season and 40th straight. The win marked the fourth time in program history the Huskies have put together a win streak spanning at least 40 games.
The victory over the Huskers marks the start of a four-game stretch in eight days for UConn. The Huskies hit the road Monday night to take on Chattanooga. The Mocs enter their matchup with the Huskies just a week removed from a 59-57 loss to in-state rival No. 4 Tennessee at home.
Prior to coaching at Connecticut, Auriemma worked as an assistant under current Mocs head coach Jim Foster while Foster was head coach at St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia.
“I look at it as a great trip, obviously I have a long, 40-year relationship with him [Foster] and his family, so in that respect I’m looking forward to it and I’m looking forward to playing them in their arena, I’ve never been in there and I’ve heard great things about it,” Auriemma said.
UConn takes on Chattanooga at 6:30 p.m. and the game will be televised on SNY.