HARTFORD – Facing three ranked opponents in the span of five days is no easy task. It’s even more difficult when a team is without arguably its best scorer.
But for the UConn Huskies women’s basketball team, no Katie Lou Samuelson is no problem, as they still found a way to dominate the No. 15 Maryland Terrapins 97-72 Sunday afternoon at the XL Center.
The game had a wild start that included 7-0 runs from each team. When the dust settled after the hectic stretch, it was the Huskies who began to pull away, as they always seem to do, claiming a 32-11 lead at the end of the first quarter. Sunday’s matchup came almost 11 months after the Terrapins gave UConn a scare last season, as the Huskies pulled off a narrow 87-81 win on the road in that game.
“(UConn is) completely ahead this year than they were a year ago, when you watch them on film,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. “I think they can be even more aggressive because of the great length that they have…you can’t simulate that in practice.”
UConn (3-0) forced Maryland (2-2) into 11 turnovers in the first quarter, and converted those turnovers into 13 points, a stat line that mirrored the first quarter against California on Friday night.
While the Huskies’ impressive defense was the same old song and dance for much of the game Sunday, the offense struggled to maintain possession for stretches in the game, turning the ball over 25 times over the course of the afternoon.
Still, UConn finished the game with a season-high 97 points and six players finished with double digits scoring. The versatile Gabby Williams contributed to both the good and the bad, finishing with 15 points, 11 rebounds and three assists, but adding 10 turnovers by herself.
“We’ve got some scorers on our team,” Auriemma said. “And we share the ball pretty well. And sometimes we try too hard to share the ball. Gabby is a pretty good example of that today.”
With Samuelson out with injury for what could be an extended period of time, Huskies’ sixth man Azurá Stevens stepped up big time to make up for her absence. Stevens finished with 18 points on 7-12 shooting, along with 12 boards, four of which were on the offensive glass. On one such offensive rebound late in the first quarter, Stevens kicked the ball out to an open Kia Nurse for three to give the Huskies a 29-11 lead.
Samuelson’s absence depleted UConn’s bench as Stevens slid into the starting lineup, but Auriemma thinks the team could be okay if Stevens maintains the level of play that she displayed on Sunday.
“This could be what gets us over the hump until Lou gets back,” Auriemma said. “I can’t think of anybody better that we could put in there with Lou out than (Stevens).”
With the game well in hand in the fourth quarter, Coach Auriemma gave his young bench a run out on the court. The Huskies responded by allowing the Terps to score 31 points, and committing 10 turnovers in the fourth quarter alone compared to Maryland’s one turnover.
Auriemma kindly referred to those players as “the JV part of Connecticut basketball” after the game and said he was extremely disappointed with their lack of effort on the defensive end.
Despite Auriemma’s disappointments within the win, the Huskies will now fly out to the West Coast to take on No. 8 UCLA Tuesday in their third game against a ranked opponent in five days. The long flight and short rest with a less than stellar bench could hurt the Huskies, especially with Samuelson expected to miss multiple games.
“I always assume the worst (with injury)…,” Auriemma said on Samuelson’s prognosis. “(The doctors) are saying now it could be two weeks, could be less, could be more. I just know she’s not playing this week, and who knows? I’m not counting on her, well today, and the next three games for sure.”
UCLA has two outstanding stars in All-American point guard Jordin Canada and uber-athletic forward Monique Billings. Canada, in particular, could be difficult to handle and it will be on UConn point guard Crystal Dangerfield to minimize her influence on the game.
“I knew we had UCLA marked (on the calendar) early, so that’s been a focus. Being in practice, being able to keep people in front of me,” Dangerfield said. “She’s a great guard, so that’s gonna be a focus going into the game on Tuesday.”
UConn will play the Bruins, who just took down No. 3 Baylor, Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. ET.