UConn rolls in NCAA tourney opener as Samuelson returns
Storrs — For the fans watching the UConn women's basketball team play Friday night at Gampel Pavilion, everything old was "Louuuuu" again, with the return of previously injured All-American Katie Lou Samuelson.
Samuelson was introduced as a member of the Huskies' starting lineup for the first time in 19 days to a chorus of "Lous" and there was certainly enough polish everywhere else, too — truly everywhere — as No. 2-seeded UConn hit the NCAA tournament at a full-scale sprint.
Napheesa Collier had 23 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots — 18 points and nine rebounds by halftime — and the Huskies showered first-time NCAA participant Towson, the 15th seed, with 15 3-point field goals on the way to a declarative 110-61 first-round victory before 4,159 fans.
"I thought she looked great," Collier said of Samuelson, her fellow senior, who suffered back spasms during UConn's Senior Day celebration against Houston on March 2 and missed four games, including the American Athletic Conference tournament. "I kind of had a (nervous) moment every time she tried to get a rebound."
"They were on fire tonight," Towson coach Diane Richardson said in describing UConn's marksmanship from 3-point range. "They got into the groove. We tried to contest every one of them but they were going in."
Freshman Christyn Williams hit four 3-pointers for UConn (32-2), which advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament to meet No. 10 Buffalo at 7 p.m. Sunday (ESPN), also at Gampel Pavilion, as the Huskies continue their pursuit of a 12th straight Final Four appearance.
Samuelson and Crystal Dangerfield hit three 3-point field goals each, Megan Walker two and Collier, Kyla Irwin and Molly Bent one apiece.
Perhaps the 3-point festivities were in honor of the return of Samuelson, who now has 371 of them, second all-time among UConn players?
"I have been working on my 3-point shot this past week with Shea (Ralph, assistant coach and former UConn All-American) and in practice we get a lot of shots up," Williams said. "I felt like I was open a lot of the times I shot the ball today."
Samuelson finished with 11 points, five rebounds and six assists in 22 minutes, shooting 4-for-7 overall and an effortless 3-for-5 from 3, playing just enough time to get herself back into game shape, UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. Williams had 21 points, Dangerfield 20 and Megan Walker 16.
Samuelson, the 6-foot-3 guard, didn't score in the first quarter against Towson, but came back with a pair of 3-pointers in the second quarter, the first with 8 minutes, 24 seconds remaining.
She went to the bench with 3:25 to play in the first half in favor of Mikayla Coombs, but returned to start the second half, scoring on the front end of a fast break and following that with another long-range shot less than a minute later.
Meanwhile, UConn, which Auriemma predicted had become even more cohesive by virtue of working through not having Samuelson in the lineup the last few weeks, led Towson by 40 at halftime (64-24).
The Huskies shot 67.6 percent in the first half (25-for-37) and 64.3 percent from 3-point range (9-for-14), getting contributions from all comers.
UConn scored 14 straight in the first quarter, getting back-to-back 3-pointers from Williams, and finished the quarter with consecutive three-point plays from Dangerfield and Collier to make it 31-7.
The Huskies hit the 100-point threshold for the fourth time this season on a three-point play by freshman Olivia Nelson-Ododa with 4:32 to play.
"At this time of the year, you have to make sure your really good players play really well," Auriemma said. "I mean, that's simplistic, right? If they do, you have a chance to win and play again. Our best players played really well today; when they do, we're a hard team to contend with. ... It was great. It was a great way to start the tournament."
"We wanted to come out with a bang. I thought we came out swinging, which is what we wanted to do," Collier said.
Redshirt sophomore guard Kionna Jeter had 18 points for Towson (20-13).
At Gampel Pavilion, Storrs
Buffalo 82, Rutgers 71
UConn 110, Towson 61
Buffalo (24-9) vs. UConn (32-2), 7 p.m. (ESPN)