UNCASVILLE — For the third straight year, and fourth overall, the UConn Huskies (32-0) have won the American Athletic Conference Tournament over the USF Bulls (24-8) by an absurd score of 100-44. In their 107th straight win, sophomore shooter Katie Lou Samuelson scored 40 points on 10-10 shooting from three point land, as she outscored the Bulls by herself until 3:14 remaining in the final quarter.
“Today she played great basketball, she guarded the other team’s players, she rebounded the ball, and she was engaged in the game,” Head Coach Geno Auriemma said about Samuelson. “She had this look about her that was just different and I don’t think it is because she was making threes, I think that was the reason why she made as many threes as she did.”
The Bulls were unable to follow the UCF Knights lead from Sunday and keep the game close early. The Huskies started the game up 12-0 and finished the first quarter with a 30-11 lead. In the first quarter, Samuelson had 11 points on 3-3 shooting from deep, junior Gabby Williams was 4-4 from the field with eight points and sophomore Napheesa Collier hit a buzzer beater three to finish the quarter with nine points.
“Today we played great. I thought today everything we tried to do panned out,” Auriemma commented. “Every defensive call, every switch, every rotation that we tried, every single thing we tried to do we did it exactly the way we planned to do it.”
UConn in the first quarter looked hungrier on defense, like it was the first game after a week off. They were able to outshoot, outrun and outhustle the tired legs of the USF Bulls. The runner-ups did not score their first bucket until 5:29 left in the first, as the trio of Williams, Collier and Samuelson was too much to handle in the opening period. The Huskies shot 63.2 percent in the first and were 4-7 from deep, refraining from committing a turnover and forcing eight turnovers by USF.
“They shot the ball so well; we took three timeouts in the first quarter,” USF Head Coach Jose Fernandez said. “They were able to do a lot of things defensively to take us out of stuff.”
If it could be believed, the Huskies bettered their performance in the second quarter, pouring in 32 more points and holding USF to 12 points in the quarter. Samuelson started the quarter with an inside post move, beginning a 7-0 run for the Huskies. At halftime the score was 62-23. Samuelson was 7-7 from deep with 29 points and Williams was 6-7 from the field with 12 points and four assists.
As a team, the Huskies were 10-14 from behind the arc and shot 70.6 percent from the field. The Bulls only made nine field goals. Their leading scorer was Kitija Laska, who had nine points on 3-7 shooting from behind the arc. Their other star, Maria Jespersen, struggled mightily as she was 1-7 from the field in the first half for three points. Jespersen finished with a total of five points on 2-12 shooting, to go with six turnovers.
In the third quarter, Samuelson hit three more threes to finish her night with the perfect 10-10 mark from behind the arc. UConn shot 11-16 from the field in the third quarter, and held USF to just five made field goals as they were relentless on offense scoring 31 points and on defense holding them to 10 points.
“I think it showed just how focused we could be and how much better we could be on defense when we focus on that and that is what got our offense going,” remarked Samuelson about the team’s dominating performance. “We do perform better when we start with our defense and then it translates into offense.”
With all of the starters out, except for senior Saniya Chong in the fourth quarter, redshirt junior Natalie Butler had the chance to shine again, finishing as the lone player on either side to finish with a double-double, with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Collier finished with 15 points on 7-10 shooting with six rebounds and four assists in 22 minutes. Samuelson, the tournament’s most valuable player, made the All-Tournament team with Collier and Williams, joined by Laksa and Jespersen from USF.
“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,” stated Auriemma before asking, “What more can I say about it?”
The Huskies cemented their spot as the first overall seed for the looming NCAA tournament, as they will be waiting to hear who their opponent is on the NCAA Selection Show Monday March 13, 7 p.m. on ESPN.
Matt Kren is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.