Samuelson has record night in guiding UConn to AAC Championship

Connecticut's Katie Lou Samuelson was 10-10 from the three-point line for 40 points in Monday's AAC Championship win against South Florida. Photo by Steve Slade.
Connecticut’s Katie Lou Samuelson was 10-10 from the three-point line for 40 points in Monday’s AAC Championship win against South Florida. Photo by Steve Slade.

AAC Tournament Final: No. 1 Connecticut 100, No. 3 South Florida 44

Katie Lou Samuelson recorded a game for the ages in the American Athletic Conference final Monday, scoring a tournament record 40 points, including an NCAA record 10 for 10 from beyond the arc in leading Connecticut to a 100-44 win over South Florida. The 6-3 sophomore also had five assists in 28 minutes of play.

Samuelson and the rest of the Husky starting five – plus Crystal Dangerfield from off the bench – simply dominated every possible way, in a nearly perfect game that cemented UConn as prohibitive favorites in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

Through three quarters, the No. 1-ranked Huskies led 93-33, shot 70 percent (35-50) from the floor, including 15-23 (.652) from beyond the arc. The defense held USF to 31 percent shooting, and turned them over 17 times, leading to 30 points. The Huskies turned the ball over just four times in those first 30 minutes with the starters on the floor.

The nets are in no jeopardy at the conclusion of the American Athletic Conference Tournament. UConn, the only champion the AAC has ever seen, no longer cuts down nets short of a National Championship. The Huskies won their 82nd straight AAC game, and their fourth AAC Tournament Championship in typically dominant fashion Monday night, defeating the Bulls for the third straight year.

UConn led 12-0 before Laia Flores scored on a contested layup with 5:26 remaining. The Huskies turned South Florida over five of their first six possessions, and blocked a shot on the seventh. Meanwhile, UConn moved the ball efficiently on offense, creating openings for Gabby Williams, Napheesa Collier and Samuelson to score 28 of the team’s 30 points in the quarter. Samuelson hit three of three shots from beyond the arc, surging toward her record performance. The Huskies led 30-11 after ten minutes.

UConn’s defense was nearly flawless, and only a few USF shots were open. Katija Laska led the way for the Bulls, hitting three times from outside, each with a hand in her face. Maria Jespersen, at 6-0 hardly a dominant post player, kept trying to score in the paint, and was blocked four times for her effort.

The story in the second half was Samuelson, once again. Alongside her astonishing shooting, her team approached perfection again, until coach Geno Auriemma pulled four starters before the end of the third period.

Auriemma stressed repeatedly after the game that Samuelson’s stellar shooting night came about from her concentration on other aspects of the game.

“We talked a little bit today about when Lou’s really aggressive and she’s making things happen on the defensive end and she really active, or when she’s going to the boards, she’s trying to get to the free throw line, then everything goes well for her,” Auriemma said. “And she was just in a frame of mind, and you could tell by the look on her face – she’s an amazing shooter and like all great shooters she was just in that zone. — I hope she can hang on to that for another month.”

Samuelson agreed that her great scoring performance came from not trying to score. She was not even aware that she had not missed a three, insisting an hour after the game that she still thinks she missed one.

“Actually, the last couple of games I was a little worried about my shot, and Coach just kind of told me to calm down, and everyone goes through that [missing shots],” she said. “So just focus and shoot it like you know that every one is going in. That’s how it felt today, and I just kept shooting, and it kept going in.”

“I think the thing that really helped me out was I didn’t start the game focused on threes, and they started going in and my teammates kept getting me the ball, and I was going to keep shooting until I was just going to keep shooting.”

Collier, however, was not at all surprised by the record-breaking performance.

“I’m just kinda surprised it didn’t happen sooner,” Collier said.

After the game, USF Coach Jose Fernandez absorbed the loss with his usual grace, but pointed out that the season is not done for the Bulls – a team which returned only one starter from last year.

“We need to remember that we’re going to the NCAA tournament and lots of other teams are not,” Fernandez said. “So you have to put this game in the rear view mirror & move forward & get ready for the NCAA tournament.”

NOTES ON THE TOURNAMENT:

Three to NCAA Tournament : The AAC will put three teams – UConn, USF, and Temple – into the NCAA Tournament. It seems likely that the only other mid-major with three teams will be the Big East. The AAC is growing, and improving each year. For a very young league, the steps forward have been pretty quick. New coaches like Katie Abrahamson-Henderson of Central Florida and Travis Mays of SMU will have their teams making noise in the league, and possibly in the country, within the next few years. Maybe next year, the AAC will put four teams into The Tournament.

Question of the year: Asked of USF’s Fernandez, referring to Samuelson’s ten threes: “Have you ever seen anything like that?” Silence. I’m sure Fernandez was thinking “That’s why it’s called a record: nobody has ever seen anything like that.”

The All-Tournament Team:

Katie Lou Samuelson, UConn – Most Outstanding Player

Napheesa Collier, UConn

Gabby Williams, UConn

Feyonda Fitzgerald, Temple

Marie Jespersen, South Florida

Katija Laksa, South Florida