Another year in The American Athletic Conference, another clean sweep for the UConn women’s basketball team. It is the sixth-straight season the team has been able to accomplish this feat, as they have a 102-0 record against conference opponents during the regular season.
No. 2 UConn (28-2, 16-0 The American) finished its regular season with a nail-biter against conference foe USF on Monday night, beating them 57-47. The team was not at full strength, as senior Katie Lou Samuelson did not play because she is dealing with back spasms that she sustained on senior day against Houston. However, she was able to make the trip with her teammates.
“When Lou’s not in the game, it’s a lot harder to get in the lane because we just don’t have the ability to stretch [opponents] out as much,” head coach Geno Auriemma said after Samuelson first sustained the injury. “We had to take [the offense] and really break it down into something very, very simple and basic.”
While UConn has been able to steamroll its conference opponents since they joined The American, this is a team that has struggled to score at times this year, especially without Samuelson on the floor. As a team against USF, UConn connected on 37 percent of its field goals as well as 27 percent from beyond the arc.
“[Samuelson’s] amazing. Honestly it’s unbelievable what she does,” freshman Olivia Nelson-Ododa said after Samuelson erupted for 32 points against Memphis. “She went 8-for-11 from 3, that’s unheard of, that’s amazing. She is really the only person that can really do that. Not to mention just getting involved with rebounds and assists and sharing the ball. She does all that so well.”
Whether or not Samuelson is able to play in the AAC tournament, UConn will need the supporting cast of Megan Walker, Christyn Williams and Nelson-Ododa to continue making strides. Walker has added a certain level of consistency to her game, Williams has come up when the lights have shined bright and Nelson-Ododa has emerged as a defensive threat.
“It’s the consistency that we really need to have from [Nelson-Ododa],” associate head coach Chris Dailey said. “The intensity level that you need to have in every game, but especially [against] South Carolina or at Baylor, you need to be ready to play at a high level.”
Nelson-Ododa got her first start of the season against USF and provided the team with a solid rim protector. She was able to reel in six rebounds and block two shots over 24 minutes, with her defense really stepping up in crunch time.
The Huskies will be taking on the winner of the SMU/ECU game that will take place at 2 p.m. on Friday at Mohegan Sun. UConn played each team once this season, both at home, and beat each handedly.
Against SMU on Jan. 23, UConn won 79-39 with Collier and Samuelson combining for 43 points. Collier did her best Dikembe Mutombo impersonation as she swatted away six shots. SMU’s Alicia Froling played her typical game, racking up 13 points and 13 rebounds, but Johnasia Cash, Swin’s cousin, drew some attention from Auriemma.
“[Cash] has got a little bit of Swin in her. She does,” Auriemma said after the game. “She’s got a little attitude. Swin was, I think, the one that had the most ever on our team probably. I said to the coaches on the bench, ‘This kid’s going to be a problem because she’s going to beat people up.’”
ECU’s swiss cheese defense was no match for anyone on the Huskies during UConn’s 118-55 beatdown on Feb. 6. Each starter had double-digit points, with Samuelson leading the way at 31. As a team, UConn shot 57 percent from the field and 46 percent from the 3-point line.
The most intriguing game of the tournament could be if UConn faces the No. 2 seeded UCF Knights. The last time UConn played them on Feb. 17, the Huskies won 78-41, but the Knights’ chippy play drew the ire of some of the Huskies. Samuelson was fouled hard several times and was caught in the middle of a couple of scuffles. Auriemma said after the game that he was proud of the way his team responded to the Knights overzealousness.
The first matchup for UConn will be at 2 p.m. on Saturday, and if they advance, they will play at 4 p.m. on Sunday. Should UConn win that game and advance to the championship game, that will be at 7 p.m. on Monday.
“Postseason play is not necessarily about your stars,” Auriemma said.”Postseason play is, what are your other players going to do? Everybody has certain key players that pretty much are going to play well in the postseason, they generally do. What separates winners from losers is what some of the other players contribute that night.”
Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.