On Sunday, UConn women’s basketball will battle the Louisville Cardinals with the right to go the Final Four on the line. Here are three things to know ahead of the Albany Regional final.
Some things to keep an eye on today:
UConn women’s basketball doesn’t need to be reminded that regular season meetings have little bearing on what happens if two teams meet again in the NCAA Tournament. Last year, the Huskies beat Notre Dame 80-71 at the XL Center in December and then fell to the Fighting Irish 91-89 in the Final Four.
But this year, the roles are reversed for UConn’s meeting with Louisville. Instead, it was the Cardinals who won the regular season meeting 78-69. So how do the Huskies in the NCAA Tournament when playing a team that beat them in the regular season? It hasn’t happened often, only four times since 1995.
The last time it occurred was all the way back in 2012-13, Breanna Stewart’s freshman year. The Huskies lost to Notre Dame three times that season — twice in the regular season and in the Big East Tournament final. But when the two teams met again in the Final Four, it was UConn that prevailed with an 83-65 victory.
The season before that, Notre Dame beat the Huskies twice in the regular season as well. UConn won the Big East Tournament rematch in the final, but Notre Dame had the last laugh with a 83-75 overtime win in the Final Four.
Back in 2000-01, UConn lost to — you guessed it — Notre Dame in the regular season and again in the Final Four.
The first time the Huskies beat a team in the NCAA Tournament after losing to them in the regular season was at the turn of the millennium, the 1999-2000 season. UConn fell to Tennessee at home in February before returning the favor in the national title game to capture the program’s second-ever championship.
So a 2-2 record — half of which came when the current players were all younger than four years old — doesn’t really tell a whole lot. But interestingly, this will be the first time UConn faces a team it lost to in the regular season before the Final Four.
Is Lou Healthy?
Katie Lou Samuelson’s back injury has been covered ad nauseam throughout the postseason, a trend which will continue throughout the course of UConn’s NCAA Tournament run — however long that may be.
The senior certainly didn’t look like herself against UCLA and appeared to be in some pain after getting fouled in the second half. Samuelson didn’t speak to the media after the game while Geno Auriemma said, “Lou’s mobility is not the same as it was. I’m sure that her back is still an issue.”
When asked about it on Saturday, Samuelson didn’t exactly clear anything up.
“At this point in the season, it’s all mind over matter,” she said. “There’s people all over the country that are playing still that have injuries and have little things that are bothering them. Stuff that’s going on with me, I’m not letting it affect me. I’m doing whatever I can to feel my best, but mentally if I feel good, then that’s good enough.”
Here’s my reading of the situation: Samuelson seemed to be progressing after the conference tournament and even through the first and second rounds but appears to have suffered a setback at some point — maybe against Buffalo or in practice since then. At the podium on Saturday, Samuelson just looked...off. It was noticeable from the second she stepped onto the podium, something the others around the team could see.
It would be a shock if Samuelson didn’t play tomorrow — her toughness isn’t in question considering she played most of last season with a major ankle injury and has played three games so far with a back injury.
The bigger question will be how effective she’ll be. Samuelson didn’t contribute much to the stat sheet against UCLA but did get a huge steal and momentum-swinging and-one in the fourth quarter. If she can’t bring the production the Huskies have come to expect of her, Samuelson needs to step up in the big moments again.
Is Nelson-Ododa an Overlooked X-Factor?
While Megan Walker and Christyn Williams project as the biggest x-factors against Louisville, freshman Olivia Nelson-Ododa could have a sneaky big impact. Like UConn, the Cardinals don’t have a ton of size with their tallest player being the 6-4 Kylee Shook — the same height as Nelson-Ododa.
However, Nelson-Ododa also boasts an impressive wingspan to pair with her height, making her a force defensively. Auriemma had plenty of praise for the freshmen ahead of Sunday’s game.
“You know, Liv does impact the game on the defensive end because we just don’t have anybody that can give us that kind of look,” he said. “You know, there’s less lay-ups when she’s in the game. There’s less offensive rebounds when she’s in the game. There’s a couple more blocked shots. So sometimes just seeing her standing in the middle of the lane is enough to change the way a team wants to play on offense.”
In the first meeting, Louisville shot the lights out and UConn’s defense struggled to find ways to knock the Cardinals out of a rhythm. But with Nelson-Ododa in the game, that would let the Huskies’ perimeter defenders play tighter and more aggressive defense, making it more difficult for Louisville to get open shots.
On the other end, Nelson-Ododa’s offense is still a work in progress but there have been flashes of her ability. She knocked down a few elbow jumpers earlier in the tournament and against the Bruins, surprised the defense by driving to the basket.
“She’s very confident right now,” Auriemma said. “I’m hoping that she adds some offense.”
As Auriemma noted last week, anything can happen in the NCAA Tournament and there would be no better time for Nelson-Ododa to have a true offensive breakout game than in the Elite Eight against Louisville.