Before this game in the UConn women’s locker room, Geno Auriemma didn’t know if Katie Lou Samuelson was going to play due to a bad stomach bug. The illness weakened her and even forced her to leave the game to throw up on the sidelines in the first quarter.
The sophomore gutted out an incredible performance, leading the Huskies to their 87th-straight victory over the No. 4 Maryland Terrapins, 87-81.
Samuelson finished the game with a team-high 23 points, 12 in the third quarter alone. It was not her prettiest performance but without it, the Huskies probably don’t win this game.
It was a streaky first quarter which saw both teams trading runs. Katie Lou Samuelson hit an open three which started the game 7-0 run in favor of the Huskies. UConn’s defense was stout early on, holding Maryland to 0-for-4 from the field.
But the Terrapins finally woke up, sparked by three straight baskets by Kaila Charles. They would go on an 8-1 run to cut the Huskies lead to two points. Maryland would even it up shortly after but it wouldn’t last long. UConn responded with another 7-0 run to close out the first quarter.
As they’ve done too often this season, the Huskies struggled in the second quarter, opening the door for Maryland to climb back into the game. UConn went scoreless for over 2:30 and the Terrapins once again fought back to tie the game.
It would be the last time the game was tied.
In the blink of an eye, the Huskies took a nine-point lead with the half winding down. Kia Nurse drained a three and was fouled on the shot, converting a four-point play. On the next possession, Crystal Dangerfield intercepted a pass at midcourt and dished it to Gabby Williams for the lay-in. To top it off, Kia Nurse buried another three on the subsequent possession and forced Maryland to take a timeout.
Unfortunately, UConn did not finish the half strong. Gabby Williams got her third foul in the final minute and the Huskies’ inbounds pass was stolen by Blair Watson, who laid it in with 3 seconds left.
The Huskies came out of the halftime break in total control, scoring 14 straight points in just 2:30 as the lead ballooned to 19. At this point, it seemed the fourth quarter would be nothing more than a formality.
That was until both Gabby Williams and Napheesa Collier both got their fourth foul and Geno was forced to sit Collier while rolling the dice and keeping Williams in the game with over three minutes left in the third quarter.
With UConn’s post defense limited, the Terrapins clawed their way back into the game. The Huskies did not seem to have any answers on either side of the ball until, just as she has done all season, Katie Lou Samuelson knocked down a huge three-pointer, the first of eight-straight points for the Huskies.
But as they did all night, the Terrapins refused to quit and responded to UConn’s run by catching fire at the start of the fourth quarter. The Huskies couldn’t score at all while Maryland was penetrating the defense at will. The lead was cut to seven before yet another three by Katie Lou Samuelson.
The push from Maryland continued as they got within five. Napheesa Collier re-entered and immediately tipped a rebound to Gabby Williams to keep the Terrapins at arms length. Destiny Slocum did all she could to will Maryland back in the game, scoring 11 points in the final quarter. However, it would not be enough as Saniya Chong hit a dagger from three, just like she did last season against Maryland, to put the game away.
Remarkably, the Huskies come out of the gauntlet that was the pre-conference portion of the schedule a perfect 12-0. Their path to breaking their own record on 90 wins is crystal clear, with only four AAC opponents standing in the way.
Nobody expected them to be undefeated at this point in the season, especially in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. It’s a testament to the culture of the program Geno Auriemma has built and the growth of players like Williams, Collier, and Samuelson.