The main question for the No. 2 UConn women’s basketball team heading into the NCAA tournament, was whether or not the underclassmen would play with the same aggressiveness as they did when Katie Lou Samuelson was sidelined – now that she returned to the lineup.
The short answer to that question is, yes, they would. The team showed that quickly during their 110-61 win against No. 15 Towson on Friday night.
“I like that Christyn (Williams) and Megan (Walker) were able to play a lot of minutes, meaningful minutes under pressure last weekend,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “I like that now they feel that they don’t have to stop being like that just because Lou’s back.”
Senior Napheesa Collier said having Samuelson back in the lineup was just what the team needed, heading into the tournament.
“It was great to have Lou back. She’s obviously someone I’ve been playing with for four years,” Collier said. “So to have her back on the court with us, it felt really good. I thought she looked great and I kind of had a ‘ahh’ moment every time she tried to get a rebound.”
Auriemma jokingly said he knew Samuelson was back to her normal self from one of the first plays of the game.
“I knew she was back to 100 percent the first possession,” Auriemma said. “They shot it, she had a chance to box the kid out and rebound it and she’s more concerned about saving herself, which is what I told her to do. So I’m glad she paid attention. She made no attempt to get the rebound.”
Auriemma said that while he expected the younger players to continue to contribute with Samuelson back, it was refreshing to actually see on Friday night.
“The thing about young players is you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get and that’s why I said our best players have to play really, really well,” Auriemma said. “Crystal (Dangerfield) has to play well. Pheesa has to play well. Lou has to play well. If we get those three playing at a really high level then everybody else can just fill in. And then if we get our young players to really play well, then we have the chance to beat a lot of really good teams.”
Walker got the Huskies going right from their first offensive possession. Samuelson was double teamed in the low post, so she dished it out to Walker who knocked down the mid-range jumper. She would go onto finish the game with 16 points, four rebounds and four assists.
The sophomore forward was able to flex her muscles in the low post and back down on her defender to score in the paint throughout the game. But she was also able to knock down two 3-pointers.
Williams was aggressive from the beginning for UConn as well. The freshman attacked the lane, utilizing her quickness and shiftiness to finish around the rim. She said she was not nervous, and it showed.
While Williams was able to get through the lane with ease, she also made Towson pay from beyond the arc. The guard finished her night with 21 points and four assists.
“I’ve been working on my 3-point shot this past week with (assistant coach) Shea (Ralph),” Williams said. “In practice we get a lot of shots up. So I felt like I was open a lot of the times I shot the ball today.”
Fellow freshman Olivia Nelson-Ododa did not play her best game of the season, but she was valuable in her time off the bench. In just about 14 minutes on the court, Nelson-Ododa had nine points, two blocked shots and three rebounds.
The 6-foot-4 forward flashed her ability to knock down mid-range jumpers. With 5:49 left in the fourth quarter, Nelson-Ododa hit a jumper around the foul line from a pass by Walker.
The very next possession, Nelson-Ododa used savvy footwork to go around the defender to hit the layup and draw a foul. This brought the Huskies to 100 points.
If the younger players continue their maturation, the tournament will only get more and more interesting.
“I think what we’ve proven so far is that when we’re good, we’re very good and I thought we played really well today,” Collier said.
Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.