College Park, MD — In the most anticipated game of the season and in front of a sold out crowd, UConn’s Katie Lou Samuelson was sick — literally — but it didn’t slow her down.
Both the Maryland Terrapins and the Connecticut Huskies entered the Xfinity Center on Thursday night undefeated, but only UConn walked out with that same title, beating Maryland 87-81.
In an aggressive and high-stakes game, many players were bound to settle with sharing the spotlight, but UConn’s Samuelson grabbed it from everyone.
For Samuelson, it was a cold winter’s day in College Park, Maryland and she was sick enough not to play — a shocker for the team once they reached the Xfinity Center.
“There’s been a lot of stuff running through and it just kind of came very suddenly. Today when we found out about it, it was right before warm-ups,” said head coach Geno Auriemma.
But, with the most anticipated game in women’s college basketball this week, just about an hour away, Samuelson laced up her shoes, took to the court and lead her team to victory scoring 23 points.
Throughout the first quarter, Samuelson’s launch to stardom was mostly hidden, as her performance easily was overshadowed by Terps’ Kaila Charles and her own teammate, Kia Nurse, whom she would later team up with the secure the win for the Huskies.
However, not getting the initial attention did not stop her at all, she went on to finish the first half with only six points, but apparently she was only getting started.
After managing a rather low-profile first half, it was her poise in the second half despite her sickness –and a stern team halftime talk by coach Auriemma- that really flicked on the lights for her to shine and she took off.
During the third quarter, she did almost everything: completing a four-point play, hitting pull-ups and draining three’s. Her consistency continued to flourish for the Huskies even when Maryland executed a strong comeback in the final 10 minutes of the game.
“I think Katie Lou Samuelson continued to show why she was the number one player of the year coming out of high school. She was sick and throwing up in the trash can over on the side and then goes out and gives that type of performance in the second half. I thought it was a gutsy performance by her,” said Maryland head coach Brenda Frese.
Much like Michael Jordan, and what he did in his famous “flu game,” Samuelson did not back down from the competition as her stats continued to rack up point after point. Maryland found themselves in a big hole during the third period, but the Terps great run in the fourth did not faze Samuelson at all.
Whenever the Huskies needed a big basket, they could count on Samuelson to get points added to the score for them. It wasn’t just Samuelson though, as Nurse hit big shots as well to help UConn. Nurse would end the night with 19 points.
By the end of the game, everyone had almost forgotten Samuelson was sick.
She finished with 23 points and was undeniably the Huskies’ key to staying ahead throughout the first three-quarters and through the strong, yet unsuccessful Maryland comeback.
“Lou grew up a lot tonight. It was not easy for her to do what she did. She was pretty spectacular,” Auriemma said.
The No. 1 team walked away with a huge victory to stay undefeated, however, if they didn’t know before, they have something very special in Samuelson — who showed no sickness would keep her away from a big game.