On a day honoring the Huskies’ seniors, it was a sophomore that stole the show.
Katie Lou Samuelson did a little bit of everything with a 29-point, five-assist performance to lead the No. 1 UConn women’s basketball team (28-0, 15-0 the American) to a resounding 91-48 win over Memphis and send seniors Saniya Chong and Tierney Lawlor out on a high note at Gampel Pavilion.
“Today for the most part, she was pretty active. She scored a lot of different ways which was a good sign. Obviously she shot well from behind the arc but she also did a bunch of other stuff and found others way to get involved,” head coach Geno Auriemma said of Samuelson.
Prior to her scoring outburst against the Tigers, Samuelson was struggling with her shot, shooting just 32 percent from the field in her last three games.
Saturday was certainly different.
Samuelson put those struggles to rest right from tip-off against the Tigers, hitting a 3-pointer on the Huskies’ first possession and getting fouled to complete a four-point play. She followed it up with a layup in traffic on the next possession to put UConn up 6-0.
“It was definitely a great way to start the game. It was even better that [Lawlor] gave me the pass,” Samuelson said.
While Samuelson said postgame her shot has felt good in practice despite the results not showing in her last few games, she was happy to break out for another big-time shooting performance. After hitting five 3-pointers in 20 attempts in her last three matchups, Samuelson hit five against Memphis on just eight attempts.
“I’ve been shooting really well in practice, the same as I normally do. It just hasn’t been going in in the games, but it was nice to shoot well today” Samuelson said. “It’s always nice to have good shooting games. It just gives me more confidence.”
Memphis would trail by as little as three in the first quarter after a 3-pointer from Taylor Williams made it 8-5 less than two minutes in. From there, the Huskies would rattle off a 16-0 run to stretch the first quarter lead to as much as 19. After a quick 6-0 run from the Tigers, Crystal Dangerfield got on the board with back-to-back buckets for UConn’s final points in the first quarter as the Huskies led 30-13 after one.
The Tigers struggled to get anything going for the rest of the first half, going scoreless for the first five minutes of the second quarter before a 3-pointer from Brea Elmore made it 40-18. Elmore would finish the night with a team-high 19 points and was joined by Cheyenne Creighton in double figures with 12 points.
All the while, Samuelson kept on scoring, following up her 11-point first quarter with 12 points in the second to finish with more points (23) at the end of the first half than the Tigers (20).
Samuelson stayed hot in the second half, adding on six more points to finish with 29. The 29 points marked the third-highest amount the California native has scored this season and put her at 992 points for her career. With eight points against USF Monday night, Samuelson can become the third Husky this season and 44th player in program history to reach the 1,000-point mark.
“I know how excited I was when Kia [Nurse] got it and Gabby [Williams] got it,” Samuelson said of her teammates reaching 1,000 career points this season. “It’ll be cool if I reach that.”
She also showed off her passing ability in the third, hitting Chong in stride with a long outlet pass for an easy layup. Chong wrapped up her final game at Gampel with 14 points and seven assists, while Napheesa Collier chipped in 19 points on on 9-13 shooting.
Samuelson hit her fifth and final 3-pointer of the night with just over five and a half minutes to play in the period to put UConn up 65-22 to stretch the lead to 43 points, the largest of the game. Her night would come an end with 8:30 left in the fourth quarter, and seniors Chong and Lawlor were joined by Molly Bent, Kyla Irwin and Natalie Butler to finish out the last seven minutes. In that span, the Tigers outscored the Huskies 13-10.
With Samuelson back on track and junior guard Kia Nurse set to return to basketball activites this Wednesday, the Huskies look to be in good shape for their regular season finale Monday night against USF as well the conference and NCAA tournaments. On Monday, UConn will head down to Tampa with a chance at the program’s ninth perfect regular season.
“If we go down there and win and these guys could finish the regular season undefeated, that would be a hell of a thing for this group,” Auriemma said. “We started in Florida and we’re finishing in Florida, and there’s been a lot of stuff in between.”