UConn women host injury-plagued South Florida

Storrs — After playing four grueling games on the road, third-ranked UConn will enjoy the comforts of home for the second straight game when the Huskies host South Florida on Sunday in an American Athletic Conference women's basketball game at Gampel Pavilion (1 p.m., ESPN).

The Bulls (10-6, 1-1) have become UConn's biggest AAC rival, playing (and losing) to the Huskies in the last four AAC tournament championship games, including 70-54 in the 2018 final at Mohegan Sun Arena.

This South Florida team, however, arrives at Gampel with only nine scholarship players, including five freshmen, and without three of its top four scorers. The Bulls have lost four of their last five games.

Leading scorer Kitija Laksa, an All-America candidate and two-time All-AAC first team pick, was lost for the season on Nov. 15 after suffering a torn ACL in her right knee during a victory over Bethune-Cookman.

Two more players have also been sidelined since the start of 2019. Beatriz Jordao, a 6-foot-3 freshman averaging 11.3 points and 5.7 rebounds, suffered a left leg injury on Jan. 3 and will miss the rest of the season while fifth-year senior Laura Ferreira has been sidelined indefinitely with an unspecified illness.

In addition, USF lost 6-1 sophomore Silvia Serrat for the year before the season even began after she suffered a knee injury playing internationally for Spain last summer.

"I know how traumatic it can be to lose your best player, lose a key player, from a really, really good team," UConn coach Geno Auriemma told the Connecticut Post following Friday's practice. "I think they're starting to figure out what life after Kitija was going to be like, getting a handle on it. And then it just piles on.

"I think the latest one (Ferreira), I think that probably hurt more than anything else because it just came on top of what had already happened. Hopefully, they can figure it out. That's a lot of playing time for a lot of kids that weren't going to play a lot. Maybe that bodes well for the future, but that doesn't make things any easier right now."

The Huskies (13-1, 2-0) have depth issues, too, but theirs stems from a lack of production from the bench. While all five starters are averaging in double figures, only 6-4 reserve freshman Olivia Nelson-Ododa, has made a significant contribution (4.3 points, 2.6 rebounds).

Katie Lou Samuelson continues to lead the Huskies in scoring (19.6 points per game) while adding 8.3 rebounds. Fellow senior Napheesa Collier is averaging a double-double (18.1 points, 10.3 rebounds), while freshman Christyn Williams is averaging 13.6 points, junior point guard Crystal Dangerfield is averaging 13.4 points and 5.4 assists, and sophomore Megan Walker is averaging 10.8 points.

Samuelson is also just 13 points shy from becoming the 10th player in UConn women's history to reach 2,000 career points. She is coming off a 23-point, 10-rebound effort during the Huskies' 82-38 win over Cincinnati on Wednesday night.

In addition to being 26-0 all-time against South Florida, the Huskie have yet to lose a game since joining the AAC. They are 88-0 all-time over five-plus seasons and have one all five regular season and post-season championships.

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