UConn Women Put 99 In Books; Huskies Roll Past SMU, 83-41 – Hartford Courant
The 99th consecutive victory came 818 days after the last loss and unfolded in a nearly-full Gampel Pavilion, in front of a raucous crowd on a Saturday afternoon.
The UConn women’s basketball team soared over its final hurdle before its showdown with South Carolina on Monday night. The 83-41 victory over SMU set Geno Auriemma‘s team up for a shot at a big round number: 100 victories in a row.
UConn (24-0) entered the season with a 75-game winning streak in its rearview mirror, and few expected this team to extend the run into the New Year. Yet after marching through its nonconference schedule and rolling through its first 12 American Athletic Conference games, the Huskies are somehow sitting on the threshold of another milestone.
Does the streak reach triple digits? South Carolina is ranked sixth in the country and possesses one of the more talented rosters in the country.
The prime time game in front of ESPN’s cameras will be one of the biggest challenges of a season sprinkled with challenges.
“I’ve said this 100 times: We’re going to lose [at some point],” Auriemma said. “It could be Monday. I could be next weekend. It could be the following weekend. We’re going to lose. It’s not if; it’s just when. Of course we’re going to lose.”
This much we knew Saturday: UConn was not going to lose to SMU (13-11), the team it beat for its 91st consecutive win. The Huskies have never lost to an AAC opponent since the conference was formed in 2013. The win Saturday was the 75th in the conference, including postseason tournament games.
And it was a typical UConn win, with contributions from multiple players. Napheesa Collier had 13 rebounds and 10 points on an uncharacteristic 4-for-11 shooting day. Gabby Williams had 11 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals. Kia Nurse had 13 points, while Saniya Chong had 13 points, seven assists and no turnovers.
Then there was sophomore Katie Lou Samuelson, who did not practice Thursday and Friday as she was fighting an illness. Auriemma said Friday he wasn’t sure if she would face SMU or if her minutes would be limited.
But Samuelson, with an eye on Monday night, insisted she was ready. After two subpar shooting games, Samuelson was 8-for-13, including 3-for-6 on three-pointers, and had a team-high 22 points. She had 19 in the first half, when the Huskies ran to a 44-22 lead.
Samuelson, one of the best outside shooters in the country, was 0-for-7 on three-pointers last Sunday against Tulsa. She did have 20 points at Cincinnati on Tuesday, but she was 3-for-11 from three.
Against SMU, she converted her first three-pointer 4 minutes, 22 seconds into the game. She had 10 points in the first quarter, when UConn opened a 22-14 lead.
She continued to play with energy in the second quarter, when UConn outscored SMU 22-8 and put the game away. Samuelson finished with three steals, four rebounds and two assists.
The two days off were just what Samuelson needed to recharge her batteries.
“I think a little bit of rest was needed for me,” Samuelson said. “You don’t get much as the season goes on. Everyone’s kind of feeling tired here and there, so it was nice for me to be able to get those.”
This is the time of year when fatigue — physical and mental — sets in for college players. The Huskies have been facing inferior opponents for the past six weeks, yet have managed to maintain a high level of play. In its 12 conference wins, UConn has won by an average of 44 points.
Yet Auriemma said he sees causes for concern. He said he does not think his team is playing as well as it did in December, when the Huskies beat such ranked opponents as Texas, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Maryland.
“We’re not where I want us to be at this point in the season,” Auriemma said. “A game like Monday night maybe comes at the perfect point for us. Maybe it’s exactly the game we need at exactly the right time. A team that we know, if we don’t play our A game, we could lose. So it’s good. It’s good that we have that kind of game right around now.”
When the Huskies were moving closer to the record 90-game winning streak, the players avoided the topic until Auriemma addressed the team in late December. After discussing the history surrounding the streak, the team decided to embrace the run.
Now they’re again playing for history. But this is different.
“I think that we realized that you know that it’s a big deal that we won that many games in a row so far,” Collier said. “But I think we aren’t really focusing on 100 for the next game. We’re focusing on South Carolina as a team, their strengths and stopping them.”