UConn women: Samuelson is eager to regroup
By Carl Adamec Journal Inquirer
WEST HARTFORD - Katie Lou Samuelson looked around at some of her teammates working at coach Geno Auriemma’s Fore the Kids charity tournament at Hartford Golf Club Monday and suddenly felt old.
The UConn women’s basketball team’s junior All-American turned 20 two weeks ago today.
“We have more younger guys than older guys and it’s weird that now I’m one of the older guys,” Samuelson said. “We need to bring a certain level every day to help us get where we want to go.”
Only two Huskies - seniors Gabby Williams and Kia Nurse - have played more minutes at the college level than the 6-foot-3 guard. And while they return four starters - including three All-Americans - from their 36-1 team that reached the NCAA Final Four for the 10th consecutive year, nine of the 13 on the roster will be playing their first or second seasons at UConn. That group includes transfers Azura Stevens and Batouly Camara and four freshmen who make up what is considered a top-three recruiting class nationally.
The Huskies have been together for the last month taking summer session classes, working out, and playing pickup games. They’ll take a break in July before returning around Aug. 1 to practice prior to their tour of Italy later in the month.
“It will be more interesting to see when we start practices for Italy,” Samuelson said. “That will be the real test for them to be involved. It’s been a lot of teaching and getting them acclimated to how things run here and the level we need to be that.”
Samuelson will help set the bar high.
She is coming off one of the best sophomore seasons in UConn history. She averaged 20.2 points on 48.6 percent shooting from the floor while reaching the 1,000-point plateau for her career, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.2 assists in 37 games. She set a NCAA record by going 10-for-10 from 3-point land against South Florida in the American Athletic Conference Tournament final on her way to earning Most Outstanding Player honors and a career-best 40 points.
The Huntington Beach, California, native was the AAC Co-Player of the Year alongside classmate and teammate Napheesa Collier and was a consensus first-team All-American. When she was honored as part of 10-member WBCA team on April 1, she secured her spot in the Huskies of Honor program. Her name is already on the wall at the Werth Champions Center practice facility in Storrs alongside fellow 2017 All-Americans Collier and Williams.
“Sometimes I’ll forget that it’s there but I’ll look up and see it,” Samuelson said. “I know that this summer we’ve worked at a lot of stuff and there are a lot of things that I want to get better at. It’s motivation to keep up and pass what I was able to do last year and be the best I can.
“I need to be stronger and be able to play through anything. I don’t want to be taken out of the game by the other team being physical. I want to be strong, get open when I need to, and not be a liability on defense. That’s a big thing for me. And I want to be more of a leader in all aspects and do that more by action by being consistent in every facet.”
Like her teammates, she is also motivated by the ending to last season as UConn saw its four-year reign as national champion and its record 111-game winning streak ended by Mississippi State in overtime in the Final Four semifinals in Dallas.
It was a tough day for Samuelson, all around. While watching the first semifinal between Stanford and South Carolina, her older sister - Cardinal senior Karlie - injured her ankle in the first half. Stanford, which was in control against the Gamecocks, saw its advantage get away with the honorable mention All-American on the bench. She returned in the second half but was not the same. South Carolina defeated Stanford and, two days later, Mississippi State for its first NCAA crown.
“I probably should not have been watching,” Katie Lou Samuelson said. “We were just getting ready to go and we all saw it. I had to just ... She came back out and that made me feel better before our game.”
Karlie Samuelson went on to sign a free-agent contract with the Los Angeles Sparks and was among the final cuts for the reigning WNBA champions. She received her degree from Stanford this month and in September will leave for Italy to start her professional basketball career.
Katie Lou’s challenge will be to help the Huskies bring the national championship back to Storrs.
“We have a lot ahead of us, a lot of new people,” Samuelson said. “It’s going to be a fun year.”
And, she hopes, one for the ages.