Women’s Basketball: Huskies look to maintain hot start to conference play in road test against USF

Connecticut's Katie Lou Samuelson (33) and East Carolina's Dominique Claytor (23) chase the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Greenville, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. Connecticut won 96-35. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Connecticut's Katie Lou Samuelson (33) and East Carolina's Dominique Claytor (23) chase the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Greenville, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. Connecticut won 96-35. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

The UConn women’s basketball team heads south Saturday to take on the USF Bulls at the USF Sun Dome in a battle of the two best teams in the American Athletic Conference.

The No. 1 Huskies (12-0, 2-0 the American) are fresh off a 96-35 win against the ECU Pirates on Wednesday and remain undefeated in over four years in the American Athletic Conference with a 72-0 record in regular season play. UConn will look to maintain this record start when they take on USF, arguably the second best team in the conference.

The Bulls (12-3, 2-0 the American) are found just outside the top-25 in the national polls, two votes shy of a spot in the rankings. USF has faced some tough opponents thus far, including three mutual non-conference foes with UConn. The Bulls played Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Michigan State in the first half of the season and lost to all three opponents, opponents that UConn beat by a combined 67 points.

The Huskies will be wary of USF’s two best scorers, junior guard Kitija Laksa and senior forward Maria Jespersen, who cause problems for even the best teams.

Laksa, a native of Riga, Latvia, averages 21.5 points per game and dropped 36 points on the Irish. Laksa finished 9-11 from 3-point range in that game, and is shooting 43.7 percent from beyond the arc this season. Despite her shooting prowess, the Huskies held Laksa to just 35 points in three meetings last season.

Jespersen averages 17 points per game as a 6-foot forward with a solid mid-range game. She has good footwork in the paint and shoots 47.4 percent from the field, and has the ability to stretch the floor and shoot the three, evidenced by her 36.2 3-point shooting percentage. Jespersen is the Bulls’ leading rebounder, grabbing an average of 9.7 boards per game, and can occasionally dish the ball out as well, averaging 1.8 assists per game.

Six Huskies average double figures in scoring, but UConn’s best scorer is unquestionably junior guard Katie Lou Samuelson. The Huntington Beach, California native averages 19.3 points in just over 28 minutes per game. Samuelson is as efficient from 3-point range as she is from mid-range, shooting an even 50 percent from beyond the arc and 53.6 percent from the field. Samuelson also tacks on 4.9 rebounds per game and 3.6 assists per game, respectively.

The last time Samuelson and the Huskies met the Bulls, it was the American Athletic Conference championship game and Samuelson scored 40 points on 12-14 shooting from the field and 10-10 shooting from beyond the arc in an all-around dominant performance from UConn.

Samuelson will get the chance to see if she can repeat that effort and lead the Huskies to another conference victory 7 p.m. Saturday in Tampa, Florida.


Chris Hanna is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball and football. He can be reached via email at christopher.hanna@uconn.edu. He tweets @realchrishanna.