HARTFORD The UConn women’s basketball team took on yet another ranked opponent in the Ohio State Buckeyes Monday night at the XL Center. It wasn’t an easy start for the Huskies, but ultimately they shut down the Buckeyes’ star Kelsey Mitchell and went home with an 82-63 win that brings them to 10-0 on the year.
Sophomores Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson came to UConn with big expectations, but had relatively small roles last year, primarily due to the brilliance of Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck.
However, for a team that was doubted by many critics at the beginning of the season, the two sophomores have stepped up and become tremendous leaders for the undefeated Huskies. That is especially true on the offensive end, where Samuelson and Collier have consistently been among the top two or three scorers on the team all season.
“I think we’ve had to kind of play with a chip on our shoulder,” Collier said. “We lost a lot of talent last year so we came into this season knowing we had to work harder to accomplish the same goals.”
Against Ohio State on Monday, Samuelson and Collier ended up with game-highs of 26 and 27 points, respectively, and were undeniably the focal point of the UConn offense. Besides the two leading scorers, only Kia Nurse managed to score double digits for the Huskies with 11 points.
“What I like is that [Collier and Samuelson] seem to be responding to all the things that we’re asking them to do,” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “It’s not like they were walk-ons and are playing their brains out. They were probably two of the top ten high school players in the country coming out so what they’re doing isn’t surprising and they’re just really, really good.”
Both players had an incredible third quarter, increasing the lead over the Buckeyes and fueling UConn’s win. Samuelson got the second half started with eight points just four minutes into the quarter, while Collier had 15 points in one of the best performances in a single quarter since the women’s basketball format changed prior to last season.
“Napheesa looked very, very tentative at the beginning. I probably subbed her out earlier than I ever have in any of the other games,” Auriemma said. “But once we got settled down, once she got a feel, Napheesa offensively, man, she has got a lot going for her.”
Samuelson also has got a lot going for her offensively, as she made UConn history Monday night by joining Maya Moore, Kerry Bascom, Diana Taurasi and Breanna Stewart as one of five UConn women’s basketball players to score 200 points in the first ten games of a season. That kind of association bodes pretty well for Samuelson’s future if she ends up like any of those Husky legends.
Gabby Williams can do a bit of everything
While Collier and Samuelson have done the bulk of the scoring for the Huskies, perhaps no player does more for UConn than junior Gabby Williams. Williams does everything for the team and she does it all well. She can be a scoring option if need be, but more importantly, she racks up rebounds and makes the right passes, and is a huge force defensively as well.
“There’s two kinds of rebounders,” Auriemma said. “Ones that end up with rebounds and ones that go get rebounds. They rebound outside of their little area. Some players aren’t very good at it, but Napheesa and Gabby, they go and find the ball. They’re good at getting the ball before you do. That really is what a rebounder is.”
Looking at her stat-line game after game, it seems like she is always on triple-double watch and is a real x-factor for the Huskies. Williams ended up with only seven points Monday night but had 12 rebounds, seven assists, six steals and two blocks.
“I think Gabby has played the best out of all of us,” Samuelson said. “She does so many different things on the court. I think that comes with how we’ve approached this year, like we have a chip on our shoulder.”
Williams has especially improved her ability to distribute the ball this season, already posting 50 assists this year after having 51 all of last season, which suggests she could be the glue behind this young team looking for its fifth-consecutive national championship.
Auriemma wears his best “Sager suit”
Recently, TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager passed away after a long battle with cancer. Sager was beloved by many for his love for the game and especially the variety of wild suits he wore to games. Auriemma paid a little tribute to Sager on Monday night by wearing his craziest suit to the game, but it was a little dull and fell a short of expectations.
“That’s about as bad [a suit] as I have, I’m not a real loud kind of guy,” Auriemma said. “I don’t have a lot of really wild sport coats. I’m on a fixed income here.”