The No. 1 seeded UConn women’s basketball team defeated ECU 92-65 in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament without star senior Katie Lou Samuelson ever stepping onto the hardwood.
Samuelson is out for the conference tournament after going down with an injury in the second quarter of the Huskies matchup against Houston on March 2nd. She has been suffering from back spasms since the initial injury.
“Things don’t run as smoothly when you take somebody like Lou out of the lineup,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “So, it’s taking us a little bit of time to kind of find our bearings here.”
The Huskies (29-2) clinched the regular-season conference championship and headed into the conference tournament as the No. 1 overall seed for the sixth straight season.
The conference tournament has been held at Mohegan Sun Arena since the conference’s inception.
UConn did not know who its opponent on Saturday afternoon was going to be until Friday when the Pirates (16-15) narrowly defeated No. 9 SMU 50-48 in overtime to advance to the quarterfinals against UConn. The matchup marked the third-straight year the Mustangs and the Pirates met in the first round of the conference tournament.
The first quarter was a sloppy start for UConn defensively as they allowed ECU to score 22 points. The Pirates’ Lashonda Monk scored nine for her team in the first.
In the second quarter senior Napheesa Collier began to take over offensively for the Huskies. While the defense did not dramatically improve, Collier amassed 29 points and 10 rebounds in just two quarters to keep the Huskies afloat. The program record for most points in a half is 30 and was set by Tiffany Hayes in 2010.
“It still surprises me,” sophomore Megan Walker said of Collier’s scoring ability. “Phee’s a monster.”
Freshman Olivia Nelson-Ododa also provided a boost for UConn. Nelson-Ododa made her second career start on Saturday afternoon, filling in for Samuelson. She grabbed 17 rebounds for the Huskies along with boasting five blocks.
The Huskies came out of halftime much more aggressive than the previous two quarters.
“I thought they had really good fight in that second half,” Samuelson said after the game. “I think we came out aggressive and I think everyone contributed. The first half, I feel like, we were just relying on Phee to kind of take care of things and some people were sitting by watching but the second half, one through five, everyone really put their best effort.”
Collier ended the game with a season-high 37 points. She was just two points short of her career-high of 39 points and recorded her 18th double-double of the season.
Walker also recorded a double-double off of 14 points and 10 rebounds. Four out of the five UConn starters ended the game in double figures.
On Saturday morning Samuelson and Collier were named to the 15-player National Ballot for the 2019 John R. Wooden Award. UConn is one of only two programs with multiple candidates up for the award.
Before the game, the Huskies were presented with their conference awards from the regular season. Collier was named both the Player of the Year and the Defensive Player of the Year. She is the first player in conference history to earn both accolades. Freshman Christyn Williams was named the Freshman of the Year and Auriemma was named Coach of the Year. Collier, Samuelson and Crystal Dangerfield were named to the All-Conference First Team and Walker was named to the All-Conference Third-Team.
Next up, the Huskies will play USF on Sunday at 4 p.m. in the conference semifinals. UConn defeated the Bulls’ 57-47 earlier this week for their final game of the regular season.
“They’re really good at getting you to play at their pace,” Auriemma said of USF. “So, you gotta figure out a way to speed them up…”
This will be the Bulls’ sixth straight conference semifinals game. USF lost their star senior Kitija Laksa on Nov. 15 after she tore her ACL and has been playing with a depleted roster since then. Despite that, the Bulls’ were able to defeat No. 4 Houston earlier on Saturday to head to the semifinals against the Huskies.
Mariana Dominguez is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.