BRIDGEPORT - The toughest part of Katie Lou Samuelson’s afternoon Sunday was done even before she got to the floor at Webster Bank Arena for practice.
Moments before, the UConn sophomore guard watched on a laptop as her older sister, Karlie, kept her college career alive as Stanford rallied past Notre Dame 76-75 to win the Lexington Regional in Kentucky and advance to the Final Four in Dallas.
“That was amazing,” Katie Lou said with a smile as she headed for the court.
The top-seeded Huskies take on No. 10 Oregon in the NCAA Bridgeport Regional final tonight.
UConn’s media availability Sunday coincided with the start of Stanford’s comeback from a 16-point third-quarter deficit. As Samuelson answered questions, she was glancing at assistant coaches Shea Ralph and Marisa Moseley for updates.
“Right now I feel very sick to my stomach from watching,” Samuelson said. “I get that nervous for every game she plays whether it’s the last game or any game.”
Samuelson played in last year’s Final Four. Watching her older sister trying to get there for a second time in her career was harder.
It’s also been trying for their father, Jon, who was in Lexington for Stanford’s Sweet 16 win over Texas Friday, then drove to Cincinnati and flew to Bradley International Airport Saturday morning to get to the Huskies’ 86-71 win over UCLA here. He returned to Lexington in time for the Cardinal’s comeback victory that included 15 points on five 3-pointers for Karlie.
“I was watching the game and they put the camera on Lou’s dad, and I’ve never seen a happier guy in my life,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “He has to be shot from all the plane miles he is doing back and forth.
“Stanford has been so steady all these years. When Lou came here, it was not an easy thing for the Samuelsons. You have kids 3,000 miles apart. Trying to figure it all out and keeping your fingers crossed, ‘Well, maybe they’ll both play in the Final Four.’ Now one of them is already there. Hopefully we can get there, as well, and the family can go crazy figuring out who to root for.”
Jon Samuelson is set to return to Bridgeport for his youngest daughter’s game against Oregon.
“It’s awesome,” Katie Lou said. “I really appreciated the visit. I talked to him for a couple of minutes before the [UCLA] game and he said, ‘Don't worry about me. This is the most fun that I’m going to ever have. This won’t happen again.’ No matter how tired he is and how much sleep he doesn’t get, he’s happy to see both of us.”
Earlier this month, Katie Lou was named the American Athletic Conference Co-Player of the Year and was the Most Outstanding Player of the AAC tournament after scoring a career high 40 points with the help of a NCAA record 10-for-10 effort from behind the arc in the final against South Florida.
Last week, both Katie Lou and Karlie were picked to their respective WBCA All-Region teams, making them eligible for the WBCA All-America team that will be announced in Dallas.
Karlie was also chosen to the Pac-12 all-conference team for the first time and on Sunday was named to the all-tournament team in Lexington.
“Karlie works so hard and she’s basically every coach’s favorite player because of the things she does that won’t show up in the stats or box score, things that people look for when they vote for awards,” Katie Lou said. “For her to get that recognition is awesome and I'm so proud of her.”
Karlie is also a favorite of Katie Lou’s coach. Karlie had a scholarship offer from Auriemma before choosing Stanford as a high school junior.
“I always loved Karlie,” Auriemma said. “She was always one of my favorite players, one of my favorite kids when we were recruiting her. I’d bet you a week doesn’t go by when I don’t say, ‘We’ve got the wrong Samuelson here. They got the one who plays really hard, is really emotional, dives on loose balls, plays good defense, gets her hands up on shooters. We got the wrong one.’ I must say that at least once per week just to get Lou mad. It works all the time.”
What would make her angrier is falling to Oregon and denying the Huskies a record 10th straight Final Four appearance.
The Samuelson sisters, who played one year together at Edison High and another year at Mater Dei High, have not played against each other.
UConn and Stanford played home-and-home for six consecutive seasons before the series ended after the 2014-15 season, when the Cardinal handed UConn its last loss.
The teams would not meet in the NCAAs until the final. Stanford will play Stockton Regional winner South Carolina or Florida State in the Final Four semifinals Friday. If UConn gets past Oregon, it would meet Mississippi State, the Oklahoma City Regional winner, in the semis.