HOUSTON - And with 3:36 remaining in the UConn womenâ€™s basketball teamâ€™s game with Houston on Sunday, Katie Lou Samuelson rested.
After playing every second of the previous three contests and the first 36:24 Sunday, the two-time All-American senior got to sit back and relax as the top-ranked Huskies closed out an 81-61 win over the Cougars in their American Athletic Conference opener.
â€śYou have to be ready and you do that by preparing in practice,â€ť Samuelson said. â€śWeâ€™ve had tough practices but you also understand that with this team itâ€™s a need to play more minutes. I want to play all the time, everyone does, but I understand my role might be to have to play 40 minutes. So Iâ€™m going to be prepared for that and Iâ€™m not going to underestimate anyone we play.â€ť
Samuelson saw her run of consecutive double-doubles end at four as she had 19 points and nine rebounds. Classmate Napheesa Collier added 18 points and nine rebounds with fellow starters Megan Walker (14), Crystal Dangerfield (13), and Christyn Williams (12) also reaching double figures.
Collier and Dangerfield also got some time off Sunday after three straight 40-minute efforts. Collier came out for the first and only time to start the fourth quarter, while Dangerfield got a brief break midway through the second quarter. Both finished with 30 minutes of action.
â€śYou prepare as hard as you can in practice because our practices are so much harder than games,â€ť Collier said. â€śAnd when youâ€™re tired in practice, you have to find a way to keep pushing yourself to be conditioned better even though itâ€™s already good. The other night against Baylor we played 40 minutes and weâ€™re banging each other the whole time. You get exhausted. But you have to be able to push through that and work through that.â€ť
Since the start of the AAC, Huskies have been among the leaders in just about every statistical category in the league except one - minutes played. The only UConn player to finish in the top 10 at seasonâ€™s end was Stefanie Dolson, who was ninth at 32.3 minutes in 2014. A year ago, Kia Nurseâ€™s team high of 33.1 minutes per game placed 17th.
Through 13 games this season, the Huskiesâ€™ five starters are in the top 17 with Williams (34.3), Dangerfield (34.2), and Samuelson (34.1) ranking 4-5-6. No other AAC team has more than two players in the top 18.
Theyâ€™ve been able to get away with it because of breaks for final exams and holidays. But this past week started a stretch that will see UConn play two games per week through the end of the regular season.
â€śMore than physical, it becomes mental,â€ť UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. â€śYounger players donâ€™t know how to push through when theyâ€™re tired mentally. They allow every little thing to affect them so you have to keep an eye on that. To me, the first place it shows up is when youâ€™re not active on the defensive end. The other night at Baylor was an example of that. We played 40 minutes and made one steal. Thatâ€™s indicative we were content. Today was way better.
â€śBut I think our conditioning is good and the games are still spread out. Itâ€™s not like you are playing back-to-back games. The games are only 40 minutes and there are three-minute TV timeouts. The key is trying to get some players into the game because youâ€™ll need them for various reasons. You need Olivia (Nelson-Ododa) to get better. You need someone to come in and give someone a breather, not because those other guys are tired but because you want to change the game a little bit. Little by little, hopefully weâ€™ll get there. Itâ€™s been a struggle.â€ť
Nelson-Ododa did give the Huskiesâ€™ reserves their first bench points since Dec. 8 with a second-quarter layup. She added a free throw later and Batouly Camara tacked on a bucket in the final 90 seconds.
By then, UConn (12-1 overall, 1-0 AAC) had done its job, bouncing back from Thursdayâ€™s loss at Baylor that cost it the No. 1 ranking and pushed its incredible streak of games without back-to-back losses to 938. The Huskies are 59-0 following a loss since the start of the 1993-94 season.
The Huskies believed Thursdayâ€™s loss would be a learning experience, but what was learned Sunday?
â€śNothing that I didnâ€™t know,â€ť Auriemma said. â€śCoaches are good at knowing their team. The world is different than 15-20 years ago. You donâ€™t see the pain and hurt after losses. It doesnâ€™t seem to bother kids as much. Thatâ€™s the world they live in. Itâ€™s temporary. The thing you want from your team is to respond. I thought we responded pretty well. But our team doesnâ€™t have a lot of highs and it doesnâ€™t have a lot of lows. Our response was what I thought it would be. We didnâ€™t get down in the dumps. We didnâ€™t get (mad), which bothered me.â€ť