By JIM FULLER
New Haven Register
STORRS â€” No one in the sell-out crowd of 10,167 fans at Gampel Pavilion on Monday night received an invitation to the University of Connecticut womenâ€™s basketball teamâ€™s shoot-around several hours before the top-ranked Huskies squared off against No. 4 Louisville.
If they had been granted access, it would have been clear that UConnâ€™s leading scorer, Katie Lou Samuelson, was about to add to her national player of the year credentials.
Samuelson scored 19 of her game-high 26 points in the first half and the Huskies dispatched the Cardinals, 69-58, for their 19th straight win against a team ranked in the top five in the Associated Press poll.
â€śSheâ€™s been like that at practice. She was like that this morning,â€ť UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of Samuelson. â€śShe just had this feeling and this look when I talked to her that today was going to be a really good day for her and she knew it.â€ť
Louisville coach Jeff Walz joked that the plan was to leave the sweet-shooting junior wide open, figuring she would be too shocked to connect from the perimeter. Asia Durr, the Cardinalsâ€™ top scorer and teammate of Samuelsonâ€™s on a pair of USA Basketball gold-medal winning teams, has seen Samuelson in the zone that she found herself in during the first half.
â€śSheâ€™s always in that mood,â€ť Durr said. â€śGreat players take advantage of that, they always want to score and want to make plays. She did a great job of doing that tonight, we had mental breakdowns. She dumped it down to her post players instead of taking a shot. That is what great players do, they feel the game out and make great plays.â€ť
Samuelson scored her 1,500th career point in the first quarter when the Huskies used a 19-0 run to blow the game open.
It came in her 94th career game and only Maya Moore, Kerry Bascom, Breanna Stewart and Rebecca Lobo got there in fewer games.
The Huskies led by as many as 20 points in the quarter, took a 20-point lead at halftime and saw the advantage grow to 22 early in the third quarter before Durr led the Cardinals back.
â€śI just think I was really focused today, no screwing around, do what I could to get myself prepared,â€ť Samuelson said. â€śA huge part was our defense and it starts mainly with Kia [Nurse] on Durr and Gabby [Williams] on [Louisvilleâ€™s Myisha] Hines-Allen just the way they played and shut them down [in the first half] let us have that momentum on offense.
â€śWe executed all of our plays perfectly and we ran each one to get a different option every single time.â€ť
Louisville (25-2) got back within 15 early in the third quarter. Walz thought if it could be in the range of 13 points by the end of the third quarter, perhaps there would be a chance to come all the way back.
Instead, it was a 17-point lead heading into the fourth quarter and Louisville never was able to get closer than 11 points and that came in the final minute.
â€śWe had some good shots in the first quarter and we missed,â€ť Walz said.
â€śI thought we took some that were too quick that led to transition for them and that is something you canâ€™t do.
â€śYou have to make an extra pass, you have to make them guard you and after the first quarter.
â€śThatâ€™s the one thing about them, they can score and unfortunately they scored a bunch in that first quarter and it put us behind the 8-ball.â€ť
Durr and Hines-Allen were scoreless in that decisive first quarter when they combined to miss all six of their shots thanks in large part to the defense of Nurse and Williams.
Williams finished with 12 points, 15 rebounds and six assists. She moved past Kara Wolters and Peggy Walsh and into seventh on UConnâ€™s career rebounding list.
Napheesa Collier had 14 points, six rebounds and four assists as UConn started a season 25-0 for the 10th time in program history.
It also marked the teamâ€™s 25th straight season with 25 victories and is the 27th time overall the Huskies have hit the 25-win plateau.
Durr had 20 points, Hines-Allen finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds and Arica Carter chipped in with 12.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.