Samuels has been ‘fearless’ for No. 8 Huskies headed into Top 25 matchup with Maryland
Geno Auriemma has been asked more that once as the UConn women’s basketball team’s season has started: with 13 available players this year, instead of the seven that sometimes graced the roster a year ago, who is going to lead the team in scoring?
“Somebody asked me that,” Auriemma said after the Huskies’ season-opening victory over Dayton a week ago. “I said I don’t know. ... If I give her enough minutes, Q. Points per minutes played? That kid is not shy. She just loves the lights.
“It could be anybody.”
On Sunday, UConn (1-1) lost to NC State in Raleigh, North Carolina, 92-81. Superstar Paige Bueckers, returning from a season away due to a torn ACL, finished with 27 points, Aaliyah Edwards with 21 and freshman Qadence Samuels — otherwise known as Q — with 14 points, including four 3-point field goals.
On Monday, Samuels, the 6-foot guard from Forestville, Maryland, was named Big East Freshman of the Week, shooting 53.8% from 3-point range through her first two games.
Maybe Auriemma, though approaching the topic of Samuels leading the way jokingly, what with so many other talented players on the UConn roster, is on to something.
Eighth-ranked UConn meets No. 20 Maryland beginning at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Gampel Pavilion, looking to bounce back from the unexpected loss Sunday. UConn was ranked second headed into Sunday’s game with the Wolfpack, with NC State unranked.
The Huskies also have games on the horizon vs. No. 3 UCLA, No. 11 Texas, No. 17 North Carolina and No. 19 Louisville, all in the next month, which means Auriemma’s star-studded lineup — including two former No. 1 recruits in Bueckers and Azzi Fudd — needs to come together sooner rather than later.
Starting guards Fudd and Caroline Ducharme finished a combined 5-for-16 shooting against NC State, 1-for-9 from 3-point range, with 11 points, two rebounds and six fouls. The Wolfpack outrebounded the Huskies 41-29.
“Losses give you an opportunity to self-criticize, self-evaluate and realize, I think, ‘What is it that we have to get way, way, way better at?’” Auriemma said following the loss.
“Sometimes it’s things you don’t know and sometimes it’s things you’ve been afraid ‘I hope they don’t happen.’ Hopefully, this is something we can go home and put some film together and really look at what are the things that stood out the most.”
Auriemma called Samuels, who averaged 12.3 points per game in the Huskies’ three-game European tour in August, “fearless, that kid.”
“That kid’ll run up and down and she can’t see straight ’cause the world is spinning all around her and she has no idea, ‘Are we on offense? Are we on defense? What are we doing?’” Auriemma said over the summer.
“And if the ball touches her hands, it’s up in the air and in the basket. I’ve never seen a kid just catch and shoot like, ‘This is what I do for a living.’ And when she’s fresh and she’s knocking them in, as soon as she shoots, everybody turns around and runs back on defense. When she’s got it going, man, wooo.”
Auriemma predicts that Fudd, the sharpshooter, won’t have many poor shooting nights and that his team’s multiple scoring options will make it difficult for other teams to defend.
He said that some teams jell more quickly than others, even a team laden with veterans, as he has now.
“Aaliyah, that’s a constant,” Auriemma said. “Azzi, that’s a constant because she’s gonna get enough shots. Paige could care less. Paige scores 10 points and gets 10 assists every night, she’s happy as long as we win.
“It’s an interesting scenario (who’s going to score). I’m anxious to see myself.”
The Huskies now must contend with Maryland (1-1), which is coming off a 114-76 loss to defending national champion South Carolina, which ascended to the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press Top 25 this week.
Maryland got its first win in the series against UConn last season, 85-78, at Maryland. UConn was without starters Fudd, Bueckers, Dorka Juhasz and Nika Muhl for that game, with just seven available players. Edwards led the Huskies with 25 points.
This is the final game in the home-and-home series between the teams and Maryland’s first-ever game at Gampel Pavilion.
The Terps are led by 6-foot-2 guard Shyanne Sellers with 23 points per game and 6-1 guard Lavender Briggs with 6.5 rebounds per game. Sellers was named to the 10-player Preseason All-Big Ten team.
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