Samuelson leads way as No. 1 UConn women hold off No. 14 Cal
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Geno Auriemma expects this UConn team to be regularly tested this season, and the top-ranked Huskies certainly had to earn their two road victories in a four-day span.
“This is how the majority of the world lives,” UConn’s coach said of playing tough games out of town. “It’s not bad living in the real world.”
Katie Lou Samuelson had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and No. 1 UConn held off a late rally from 14th-ranked and previously unbeaten California in a 76-66 win Saturday.
Napheesa Collier added 16 points, six rebounds and four assists in the Huskies’ 126th straight regular-season victory and 58th consecutive in nonconference play. On Wednesday, Collier had 23 points and a career-high 17 rebounds to lead UConn’s 12-point comeback win over Oklahoma, 72-63.
Samuelson, whose two older sisters played at Cal rival Stanford, shot 9 for 14 as the Huskies (11-0) landed five players in double figures — and needed all those contributions.
“Our margin for error obviously has changed over the years. This is one of those years where we have to be prepared to grind it out every night,” Auriemma said. “It’s like that’s our thing this year, we hope for the best and prepare for the worst. In some parts of the game tonight we got the worst. I think the more of those situations that we’re in, the better team we will become.”
Asha Thomas scored 22 points with six 3-pointers as the Golden Bears (9-1) used a late 9-0 run to make it interesting in the final minute. They hosted the No. 1 team in the country for the first time in program history.
Cal star Kristine Anigwe, averaging 23.6 points and 13.7 rebounds coming into the game and the only player in Division I with a double-double in every game so far, was limited to 10 points on 5-for-16 shooting and 14 rebounds as Cal shot 38.2 percent (26 of 68).
Anigwe grabbed her 1,000th career rebound in the second quarter, becoming the third player with 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds on the Cal men’s or women’s teams.
“We’re a different team than we’ve ever been,” Anigwe said. “It’s disappointing to lose because I really, really believed we were going to win this game.”
Crystal Dangerfield had 15 points, freshman Christyn Williams added 13 and Megan Walker scored 12 as UConn shot 57.4 percent.
Cal stayed within 38-32 at halftime despite being outshot 61.5 percent to 36.4 percent but also forced seven turnovers. But the Huskies quickly turned that lead into double digits, going ahead by as many as 17.
Six of the Bears’ first seven field goals were 3-pointers for the early lead, along with Anigwe’s snazzy cross-over late in the first.
UConn and Cal began the weekend two of only 12 remaining undefeated teams in Division I. This marked the second matchup in a four-year, home-and-home series.
When Auriemma asked Lindsay Gottlieb to start the series, Cal’s coach knew she had Anigwe and Thomas and said, “Let’s be the program on the West Coast that plays UConn four times.”
“I think we made UConn have to beat us. They had to beat us,” Gottlieb said. “They needed contributions from all five starters. ... I love the fight of our team.”
“I think we only raise our expectations from here,” she added.
A Cal program-record crowd of 10,818 attended at Haas Pavilion.
“This is pretty special. We appreciate you showing up today,” Gottlieb told fans afterward. “UConn’s really good but I think these young women in white deserve that you come back.”
Seattle Storm WNBA champion and former UConn star Breanna Stewart watched courtside, and new Sparks coach Derek Fisher scouted the game from media seating.
UConn: Auriemma entertained spectators while taking part in “A Chat with Champions,” a fundraising event for the Cal program, alongside Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr on Friday night with Gottlieb moderating at Cal’s Memorial Stadium.
Gottlieb asked Auriemma if, with 25 seconds left and down by three, he would take a 3-pointer or go for two and foul. He chose two and foul.
Gottlieb: “Good to know for tomorrow!”
Auriemma: “We’re almost never in that situation.”
Cal: The Bears dropped to 0-5 all-time against the AP top-ranked team — the previous three also against the Huskies. The Bears haven’t beaten a top-five team at Haas Pavilion since a 66-52 victory against No. 3 Rutgers on Nov. 21, 2008. ... Anigwe was recognized before tipoff for becoming the third player — male or female — in Cal history to reach 2,000 points while Thomas was honored for joining the 1,000-point club. ... During the week, Cal lost guard Mi’Cole Cayton for the season after she underwent surgery to repair damaged cartilage in her right knee.
UConn: At Baylor on Jan. 3.
Cal: Host Harvard on Dec. 30.