Freshman Walker a factor as UConn women roll in exhibition finale
Storrs — The words of advice were about as effective as one of Katie Lou Samuelson's majestic 3-point shots.
Samuelson, the former national high school player of the year was aided greatly by words of wisdom from the UConn women's basketball team's resident superstar Breanna Stewart early in her freshman season. Seeing how much the reigning "next big thing" struggled in the Huskies' first preseason game, Samuelson had some simple advice for Megan Walker.
"She has had a couple of tough practices and I think we have all gone through that," Samuelson said. "I tell her it is how you respond, show what you can do. When she got in, I am going to take credit for her aggressiveness because I said, 'go out there and be aggressive. You can do anything you want out there.' She just played great.
"Her pull-up is one of the deadliest things I've seen, she can get that off on almost anybody. A lot of times it looks like she's not going to shoot it and she shoots it. She is trying to fit in, and I hope today really gave her that boost of confidence."
Walker came off the bench to finish with 14 points, five rebounds and two assists in 20 minutes in the Huskies' 119-56 win over defending Division II national champion Ashland on Sunday at Gampel Pavilion.
Walker did much of her damage in the fourth quarter when UConn coach Geno Auriemma only played reserves. Walker was 4 for 5 from the field and hit a 3-pointer.
"I think it was just jitters, nerves," Walker said of her struggles in the first preseason game. "I had a better feel, I went into the game a lot more confident and I feel like that showed."
While the other three freshmen are still trying to earn minutes and the trust of the coaching staff, Walker has played 33 minutes in the two preseason contests. Azura Stevens is the only reserve to see more time on the court.
"Megan is really talented, she has a lot of different kinds of skills," Auriemma said. "The intensity and pace of the game, little by little she is catching onto it. You saw glimpses of it today. There are practices when she just flows right into what we are doing. She is a lot stronger than she looks and a little bit quicker than she looks, so I am hoping the way it looks right now that between her and Z (Stevens), those two combined we have two really good players to add to the five that started today."
The starting five had another impressive showing.
Kia Nurse was 7 for 7 from the floor including 4 of 4 from 3-point range and finished with 21 points and three assists. She's been UConn's top scorer in both games and is 9 of 11 from 3-point range. Napheesa Collier had 19 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and four steals and four blocked shots. Samuelson also had 19 points, Gabby Williams finihed with 11 points, 10 rebounds and six assists while Crystal Dangerfield seven points, six assists and four steals.
When the starters were in the game, UConn was 13 of 19 from the floor with 10 assists.
"We got excited on the bench cheering for our teammates and I think that is the energy we carry over from practice," Walker said. "We have done it 100,000 times making that pass and hitting that open shot."
Stevens chipped in with 16 points and 11 rebounds off the bench for UConn, which extended its winning streak in the preseason to 21 games. The last loss came to the U.S. national team in 2007 and since that time 20 of the 21 contests have come against either NCAA Division II or NAIA teams.
Early on in Walker's time on the court, the Huskies drew the ire of Auriemma after Ashland scored with ease on back-to-back possessions. Auriemma addressed many of his concerns in the direction of Walker and sophomore guard Molly Bent after calling a timeout.
"He said we have to pick it up, we need to play harder because they are competing as hard as us but we got together and turned it around," Walker said. "When Coach talks to you, it hits you unlike anybody else. It really just sets in when we talk to him."
UConn played without sophomore forward Batouly Camara for the second game in a row. Auriemma said there is no change in her status as she works her way back from a knee injury. The timetable for a return is up in the air but it is looking unlikely that she will be back for Sunday's season opener against Stanford.
Julie Worley had 17 points and Laina Synder 12 points and 10 rebounds for Ashland.