Samuelson hits milestone as sloppy Huskies win
Storrs — It was in explaining his decision to pull the entire starting lineup 4 minutes, 35 seconds into Sunday's game that UConn coach Geno Auriemma noted — part tongue-in-cheek, part business — you can't tell players what to do anymore, you have to suggest it.
"So, I suggested that they sit down," Auriemma said.
On a day Auriemma would stamp as "lousy," calling his team immature, there were still some fairly cool things that happened for the third-ranked Huskies in a 63-46 victory over South Florida before 9,534 fans at Gampel Pavilion.
First, UConn (14-1 overall, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) saw senior Katie Lou Samuelson eclipse the 2,000-point barrier for her career with a 19-point effort against the Bulls.
Samuelson became the 10th player in program history to reach that milestone, joining all-time greats Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart, Tina Charles, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Nykesha Sales, Kerry Bascom, Diana Taurasi, Kara Wolters and Rebecca Lobo in earning that distinction. Samuelson entered the day needing 13 points.
And there was what Auriemma would later refer to as the best part of the game.
Of the second unit he employed to replace the starters — Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Kyla Irwin, Mikayla Coombs, Batouly Camara and Molly Bent — Bent, who seemed to restore the Huskies' energy level, was a show-stopper.
Bent, the 5-foot-9 junior guard, hit two 3-pointers to finish with a career-high six points and added three assists and two steals in a career-best 21 minutes. She earned the right to start the second half in place of freshman Christyn Williams, who was scoreless for the first time in her career.
"I think for me it's been over-thinking," Bent said of her limited role with the Huskies to this point. "'Oh, I got a turnover; I need to settle back.' Today it was good for me. We weren't expecting it, so there wasn't as much time to think. ... I don't think I really had a thought. It was a dead ball. We had to run over and go in."
UConn trailed 6-4 when Auriemma substituted five-for-five and South Florida led 14-6 before Bent and Irwin hit back-to-back 3-pointer to close the quarter, pulling the Huskies within 14-12. UConn got outrebounded 12-5 in the quarter and allowed six offensive rebounds.
And that was with South Florida (10-7, 1-2) traveling to Storrs with only eight players. The Bulls are without Silvia Serrat, Kitija Laksa and Beatriz Jordao for the season due to injury and are missing Laura Ferreira, averaging 15.8 points per game, who is ill.
"We've come up here with much more talented teams who didn't rebound and defend as well as we did today," said South Florida coach Jose Fernandez, whose team has met UConn in each of the four AAC tournament championship games since the league's inception. "Five of those eight kids who played today were freshmen, so it was great to get a lot of my younger kids some time."
Fernandez was asked if he ever subbed out his entire lineup in frustration before.
"Well, I couldn't have done that tonight," he said. "It would have been 5-on-3."
UConn's starters returned to start the second quarter. The Huskies took the lead for good at 20-18 on a layup by Megan Walker and held a 26-20 edge at halftime.
UConn began the third quarter with an 18-4 run to open things up, starting the second half with a jump shot by Walker and a 3-pointer by Bent. Samuelson capped that run on a fast break layup which followed a steal by Williams, giving the Huskies a 44-24 lead and Samuelson her 2,000th point.
Samuelson added five assists and two steals. Walker had 14 points and Napheesa Collier 12 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots.
"We didn't come out ready to play," Samuelson said of Auriemma's early substitution. "Everything from head-to-toe should have been better. ... The look on everyone's face just seemed a little off today.
"I wasn't happy with the way I played overall today. It was an interesting game to get 2,000 in. I tried to just ignore it. It was the farthest thing from my mind after that."
Enna Pehadzic finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds for South Florida, which outrebounded UConn 42-26.